Revamping a wardrobe for the professional look; Young men: from jeans to gray flannels

About to start job hunting without much money for clothes? Trying to come up with a business world wardrobe after years of blue jeans and T-shirts? It doesn't have to be difficult or expensive, some men's clothing experts say, if one does a bit of planning.

The important thing, says Matt Powell, a spokesman for a major New England department store, is to think in terms of a wardrobe.m Otherwise, it's easy to go into a store and say, "I like these slacks," "I like that shirt," "I like this sweater," and wind up with three items, none of which go together.

"The guy has got to think about what he already has in his wardrobe," he says. "He may have a navy blazer. He may only have a pair of black shoes. He's got to think about all the parts he already owns and build upon those things."

Mr. Powell says that often a suit isn't necessary right away and is too formal for most of a young man's needs. Usually, he says, a young man can get away with a sportswear approach -- a sport coat and a pair of dress pants. In fact, he says the two foundations to a clothing package are a navy sport coat and a pair of gray dress pants. He calls them "classics" -- his favorite word when talking about planning a wardrobe.

"If you've got them, you're home free. You can cover almost every formal event up to a fancy dinner party, where you really might need a suit. And it's rare that someone of this age is going to be going to something like that. You can get into any fine restaurant in Boston dressed in a sport coat and dress pants. Those two things are classics. They were in style 10 years ago, and they're going to be in style 10 years from now."

But Lou Horvitz, vice-president and general merchandise manager of Filene's, a Boston department store, says that in retailing, at least, a two- or three-piece suit is virtually a must (although he concedes that in many other businesses sport coats are acceptable). Included in his list of basic traditional clothes that "are always going to be in style and always have been" are gray flannel or navy pin stripe suits and tan twill pants. He says that with such clothes, while subtleties may change -- lapels may be a quarter-inch wider or narrower one year to the next, for instance, --

Mr. Powell says the key to wardrobe building is to avoid fancy clothes -- double-breasted jackets, or cuffs or pleats on slacks.

"Those kinds of things are going to go out of fashion quickly. A classic straight-legged slack with a basic pocket, classic single-breasted blazer. That's the modeling treatment [he wants]."

He says one should be willing to pay a little more and get a good-quality sport coat and slacks. But he also advocates clothes that are washable -- slacks and jacket that are a mixture of wool and polyester, for instance, rather than pure wool. If one has to get clothes dry cleaned and pressed each week, expenses really mount up.

When picking shirts, he advises, avoid garish "fashion" colors, which can go out of style very quickly. He says it is impossible to go wrong with a light blue Oxford cloth button-down shirt, but adds that white or maize is also acceptable. Again, make sure they are easily washable.

Ties: "A classic striped tie." (Naturally!) It's also helpful to have at least two ties to go with each shirt, and for added versatility more than one shirt that can be used with each tie.

The one area in which he allows for more freedom is in sweaters.

"When you get into sweaters, you're getting into a little bit more of a fashion-type thing. The guy may want to buy something that's a little fun or a little bit different. Argyles, heavy shakers? -- that kind of thing is very fashionable right now."

Mr. Horvitz points out that even a somewhat limited wardrobe can look larger with proper accessories. Take a navy blue suit, for instance. With a white shirt and subtle tie, attention is focused on the suit, and it looks very dressy. With a pink or a striped shirt and a brighter tie, the accessories stand out and can give the suit a whole different look.

How to get quality? Both he and Mr. Powell suggest reputable stores and wellknown brands.

Mr. Horvitz says one way to cut costs is to buy store-brand clothes from stores with a reputation for quality. Most times, such merchandise will be less expensive than other name brands, while maintaining comparable quality. He says one reason store brands are cheaper is that the stores usually work directly with the mills and don't have to pay sales commissions, etc., which add to clothes prices.

When unsure of quality, ask for help from a salesperson. Compare a $24 sweater with a $35 sweater, for instance, and ask why one is more or less expensive -- what isn't in one garment that is in the other. Any good salesperson should be able to explain. It's also helpful to let salespeople know the type and range of merchandise needed, including about how much one can spend. That way, says Mr. Horvitz, they won't try to sell you designer shirts if you're looking for a more traditional shirt.

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