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Find your true shirt size

Question: I know you have said that shirts with double-number sleeve sizes (like 16-32/33) are just the compromise of the two-number shirts (like 16/32 or 16/33). But I think that is my correct size. How can I tell?

Answer: The best way to determine your exact shirt size is to walk into a couple of fine men's clothing stores and have yourself (neck and sleeve) measured. Often there is some variation in how two salespeople measure you. If two measurements are the same, you have found your true size. It may be that this in-between size (32{) is indeed your true sleeve size.

Let me clarify the different type of shirts, so you understand sleeve sizes better:

Sport shirts are usually sized in small, medium, large and extra-large. You have no options as to sleeve lengths. As an example, a large shirt almost always has a 34-inch sleeve.

Business shirts are made with specific neck and sleeve sizes, such as 16{ neck, 33 sleeve. Traditionally, shirt makers produced a full range of sizes. The best ones still do. Collar measurements are in half-inch progressions (from 14{ to 17); sleeve lengths are in full-inch increments (32 to 36).

But many manufacturers have hit on ways to cut corners and cost. One way is to make just two adjustable sleeve lengths, designated 32/33 and 34/35, eliminating their need to produce shirts in five accurately fitting lengths. Instead, you have a choice of only two, neither of which may be the precise size.

Here is where the "adjustable" feature comes in. An extra button sewn on the cuff allows you to tighten or loosen the cuff to compensate for the inaccuracy (and sloppiness) of the fit. Another way is to use slightly less fine fabrics and finishing details. These shirts cost less, but unfortunately the extra button is a giveaway that you got a bargain.

My advice is to stay away from the double-button cuff; buy finer shirts in actual sleeve sizes. Still, if your sleeve really does measure either 32{ or 34{ inches (the actual length of those 32/33 or 34/35 combos), you can save money. Here's what to do: Determine which is the correct button; cut off the other one. Save it in case you lose one. The world will never know you did not buy the very best.

Big boxers

Question: My husband is tall _ 6 foot 7 _ and likes boxer shorts in all-cotton in the tall size. His waist size is 44.

He used to get his boxers in the JCPenney or Sears catalog, but they no longer have them and they can't be found in any tall men's shops that I know of. If you can help, we would appreciate it.

Answer: I thought this would be an easy item to locate. Checking the catalogs, I saw the problem: Today, boxers in "tall" sizes are all a blend of polyester and cotton _ a far cry from all-cotton.

The Sears catalog stocks a cotton boxer but in a knit fabric. Of course, knits feel different; the texture is not like smooth cotton. Still, they have a big advantage over blended fabrics that tend to pill.

Rochester Big & Tall is an upscale company that caters to large and long men _ not always one and the same. They agreed it might be impossible to find a boxer in a smooth cotton in what they refer to as a "long rise." But they thought their boxer in a size 44 regular would probably be long enough to be comfortable because in quality boxers, the bigger the boxer, the longer the rise. Men who wear a long rise trouser generally fit in their "regular" size boxer. You might try one pair ($14.50 to $18 each) to check the fit; call them at (800) 282-8200.

Another source: The people at Chock discount catalog _ (800) 222-0020 _ explained that these days most men want briefs, not boxers. Stores look for products that move fast; most don't stock what doesn't sell quickly. Chock said they might find some cotton boxers hidden away. If they cannot get a style of underwear, it may not exist.

Every other source I contacted, from Brooks Brothers to Jockey, does not have an all-cotton boxer in a "tall." They all suggested your husband switch to briefs _ a solution I'm sure he does not want to hear.

A better choice might be washable silk boxers. The fabric is natural like cotton, extremely comfortable, patterns are fun to wear and the style has become so popular that they are available in many stores.

Write to Lois Fenton/Style for Men in care of Floridian, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Send e-mail to LoisFentonprodigy.com. She welcomes questions about men's fashion and grooming for use in the column but cannot answer mail personally.

About this column

Style for Men by Lois Fenton is a column for men who want to look their best at work and at play. Each Sunday in Floridian, Fenton will answer questions on a variety of subjects, from clothing and jewelry to grooming and fitness.

Author of Dress for Excellence (Rawson Associates, 1986), Lois Fenton has been an image consultant for 20 years, conducting wardrobe seminars for Fortune 500 companies around the country as well as offering her fashion advice on radio and TV and in newspapers. For six years, she was with the men's division of Neiman-Marcus, and for 15 years, she has been an image consultant and personal dresser to various men in business and industry.

Her fashion philosophy is this: Know the rules. Then you can break the rules to establish your own style.

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