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Go for the "GoodFellas' look

Question: I hate button-down collars. They're too Ivy League and casual for my taste. Spread collars are not high on my list either. Of course, I'm familiar with the basic point collar shirts, because they're about all I wear.

But what is this new long, narrow collar I've been seeing in the magazines? Is this considered acceptable? _ R.

S., St. Petersburg

Answer: The point collar style you describe began in Hollywood with the well-dressed matinee idols of the '30s. It has had a recent revival. The shirt has long, soft points (with no collar stays) that are _ or at least appear to be _ closer together at the tips than the standard business shirt collar. Because the space at the top of the collar _ in fashion jargon, the "tie box" _ is also closer together than on a conventional point collar, the shirt requires a small four-in-hand tie knot. There is no room for a Windsor knot or even a half-Windsor.

Many men feel the look is too GoodFellas, too mobster-like. One man described it as "pajamas worn with a tie." But fashion-forward dressers love its novelty and dash. Some stores call this new collar "the Gary Cooper." In truth, its pedigree goes back even further _ it was originally known as "the Barrymore" (John, that is).

Several years ago the fashion-forward dresser wore shirts with small collars; the points were only about two inches long. Perry Ellis made this cut popular. It is not at all in evidence today.

A traditional straight collar shirt has points that are almost three inches long and about three inches apart at the tips. The most versatile collar, it is worn crisply starched or not, with collar stays or not, with a tie or not.

It even works with a bow tie (though daytime bow tie wearers usually choose button-down shirts). Most men wear their point collar shirts unadorned for a not-too-dressy effect; for a sharper, more dapper image, they may add a collar bar or pin.

Today the shirt you described looks right only with the new, softer cut "fashion suits."

Consistency in dress is important. You cannot put a conservative Brooks Brothers suit on with a long narrow shirt collar and look right. Well-dressed men do not mix discordant clothes with totally different styles and spirits.

Changes slow and subtle

Question: Do we really have to follow style changes or risk looking like we are so out of it that the world has passed us by? _ W.

K., Buffalo, N.Y.

Answer: Style decisions depend upon the person and the situation. Casual clothing is by definition less rigid than formal styles. In the business world, strict adherence to current fashion may or may not be necessary, depending on the industry.

In some fields a suit and tie are not essential. But if a suit is required, it generally means that the current established cut, fabric, etc. are expected.

Men protest that they will not be coerced into following the herd in the sheep-like manner that women change their hemlines with fashion's decree. Still, they are unwittingly and subtly manipulated into similar changes.

For instance, recently men have been buying wider ties. The reason: Manufacturers have oh-so-cleverly been increasing tie widths by small increments _ about an eighth of an inch each season. Thus, the new wider ties we see in stores did not just suddenly materialize out of whole cloth. Rather, the process crept up, and before you knew it all of your newer ties were wider than your old ones.

One fashion-aware man said to me: "Today I look at a 3{-inch tie in my closet, and it looks wrong."

On the other hand, my brother (a more typical male, who doesn't notice fashion changes until they are almost past) told me that he has reached his limit. He absolutely refuses to buy a tie any wider than the current 3} inches.

Isn't it interesting that clothing designers seem to have a sixth sense about this sort of rebellion? Throughout the vagaries of widening and narrowing, ties have almost never gotten beyond 4 inches. Men will just be pushed so far .


. and no more.

Women may buy skirts that are 4 inches above the knee one season and then yearn for the newest ankle-grazing style the following year. But if men allowed designers to push them to extremes, they could not phase out items gradually; they would be forced to throw out, give away or, at the least, hide a large portion of their wardrobes in the back of the closet to wait for a future fashion revival.

There are millions of ways that men try to conform to society's standards.

Clothes are just the most visible of these. And it may very well be one of the easiest areas for revolt.

Lois Fenton welcomes questions about men's dress or grooming for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally. Send questions to Lois Fenton, Floridian, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.