Finding your way in the fashion maze

At a time when clothes are too expensive to make many buying mistakes and when the choices for dressing are apparently limitless, a little guidance has become the order of the day.

Two recent books, one for women and one for men, are aimed at helping readers untangle the fashion picture and find the style that is exactly right for one's own figure, income, lifestyle, environment, and career ambition. The first is "Womanstyle: Your Personal Guide to Timeless Fashion" by Leah Feldon (New York: Clarkson N. Potter Inc. $14.95).

The author has been a New York photostylist since 1968 and is a master at assembling eye-catching fashion ads and photographs that look out from the pages of leading magazines. She knows the top manufacturers, stores, designers, and models.

"At one point, I thought style was innate and that you either had it or you didn't have it, and that it would, therefore, be very hard to teach it," she explains in an interview. "But during the last 11 years in the fashion business , I have watched fashion models come to New York from all parts of the country, and I have seen them develop their own style within one year.

"This has been true because they were working with the best stylists, designers, and editors. So I came to see that style was a matter of exposure and that it certainly could be learned. I decided to do my book to help women learn the basic principles of personal style, so they could always put themselves together without fear of fashion."

Recently, Ms. Feldon says, she ralized there were no hard and fast rules governing fashion any more. No one was decreeing that women had to wear white gloves or pillbox hats, or Chanel-type suits, or anything else, for that matter.

"I noted also that women felt much freer to reject what seemed stupid or wring to them (such as miniskirts). But I observed that most women felt intimidated by the massive amounts of clothes there were to choose from, by the options they were bing called upon to exercise, and even by the fashion magazines, which invariably showed very slim models impeccably turned out, with never a figure flaw in sight.

Ms. Feldon asserts that every woman, if she really applies herself, can learn to view herself objectively and to experiment and shop until she finds those lines, colors, silhouettes, and textures which most enhance her figure. She insists it isn't all that hard, once the determination to do so is made.

She adds, "Of course, I think we also have to train our eyes to find the right fashions from all that are available to us. I constantly tell women to expose themselves to as much good fashion as possible, to make many trips to the stores, to learn to comparison shop, to learn to recognize the points of quality.

"I think many women make a mistake not to check out the designer departments, no matter what their income is. A woman who studies a Bill Blass blouse at $138 will know how to compare the quality of a similar $42 version. Also, you can pick up the best buys when the designer shops have sales."

Nobody these days wants to follow fashion slavishly, she says, but almost everyone wants to "stay within the flavor" of current fashion when making a new purchases.

What about tossing out clothes after a season or two? "Oh, never!" she exclaims. "I'm a big believer in recycling clothes by changing their hems, or their collars, or the accessories one wears with them. I hate to throw things away, and I've got frienly old clothes I've worn for years. I really like them the more I get to know them. I've just taken the big collars of 10 four-year-old silk shirts, and now they seem like new again.

She defines style as "your total being, from the way you walk to the way you apply your cosmetics to your choice of clothes. To get it you must never imitate. You must be your own person."

Her advice: "Buy the best, just buy less. You are much better off wearing a few quality garments than a slew of mediocre ones."

In her book she outlines a budget-conscious "unsuited look wardrobe" for $700 and a more bountiful budget for $1,300, with a sum of $500 added to each, which includes a $220 overcoat, a $180 raincoat, and a $100 pair of boots.

While she believes taht "simplicity is the key to chic," she thinks there will be plenty of occasions for dressing up in the 1980s. A guide just for men

William Thourlby's book for men, "You Are What You Wear," a $2.25 paperback published by Signet, is heavy on the psychology of fashion and of "packaging yourself for success." But, if you dig far enough, it offers helpful information for the man who is looking for the most appropriate way to present himself at all occasions.

Mr. Thourlby says that he learned many of the pointers that he shares with readers from the wardrobe departments of major Hollywood studios and from his 25 years of experience as an actor, model, menswear clothing store owner, teacher, lecturer, and writer.

He reminds men, "Remember, your appearance is the one factor you can control. So equip yourself with the knowledge of correct dress, just as you do the rules of etiquette and of good manners, and always be aware of how to use them."

He advises businessmen to "dress simply" and never to be a fashion plate. "Dress now the way you plan to dress 20 years from now, quietly, traditionally, and with sure taste." He tells men that the high cost of clothing today means they have to think of new purchases as "investment clothes," and he shows them where to shop and how to recognize quality.

He thinks any good suit that is well taken care of should last at least eight years. The mistake that many men make, he says, is in not keeping clothes brushed and cleaned and properly hung up.

While he says that the scruffy anti-establishment look of the 1960s is now almost entirely gone, he feels that many men still do not know how to dress well. Many of his letters come from wives and mothers who are eager to help young husbands and sons learn the correct dress. The author finds that most men are far more knowledgeable about men's fashion designers than they once were, however, and that they speak about clothes designed by John Witz, Ralph Loren, Pierre Cardin, or Yves St. Laurent.

This June, thousands of young college men will be graduating and applying for first jobs, he points out. After years of casual campus dress, many of them will not have a clue to what to wear to the interview. Mr. Thourlby's advice to them:

"When applying for your first job, wear a medium to dark gray natural-shoulder suit, white shirt, and regimental striped tie. Wear black, lace-up shoes, either wingtip of plain toed. Forget the school ring.

"If you are married, wear a small, plain wedding band. WEar black over-the-calf socks. Carry a plain black or brown leather briefcase devoid of combination or ornate locks."

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