BELLE LEATHER Bomber jackets are excellent additions to a man's wardrobe


QI have a classic bomber jacket that is naturally somewhat beaten up, but still in style. I often have worn it to my office, taking it off when I arrived. My office only requires a tie, not a suit. I just received a promotion and I'm afraid this may no longer be appropriate. What do you think? And if not, what is an appropriate leather jacket?

A: Obviously, your office is not one with an executive dress code. It's clear the employees dress more casually. You'll have to check what your peers in your new position are wearing.

A leather coat is a wonderful item for any man's casual and weekend wardrobe. As a between-season coat, it is a worthwhile investment. The one exception is the longer leather topcoat.

Full-length leather coats have never been a staple of a gentleman's wardrobe. There is something rather "Goodfellas" looking about them. But shorter leather jackets of every variation -- from light-weight suede, through glove-leather styles, to more rugged bomber jackets and medium-length shearlings -- are very much in. So are the newly-popular anoraks (a fancy name for a hooded, outdoorsy-looking parka-type jacket).

Designers have become more creative. They have moved away from the hard look of stiff leather and introduced all manner of new colors and silk-screened patterns in light-weight styles. Suede shirts and leather sweaters, often combined with knitted fabrics, are soft and luxurious. No other natural material has quite the same rich buttery feeling people love to touch.

Everything has its pros and cons. Smooth leather is functional outerwear with cold- and wind-resistant properties requiring very little maintenance. Even so, when it comes time for cleaning, all leathers require the expertise of a specialist.

Unlike durable smooth leather, most suede (sanded leather made from the underside of the hide) and nubuck clothes (a DTC buffed finish made from the top grain of the hide) are on the delicate side. You don't just throw them on thoughtlessly. You must first check the skies or listen cautiously to weather forecasts before venturing out in a new suede jacket.

In a recent column concerning brown shoes, you said, "your shoes should always be darker than your trousers." I have a pair of heather brown trousers and a pair of medium-dark reddish-brown shoes (plain toe oxfords). Would you say these shoes and trousers might "work" together?

A: The important points to remember are: A man's shoes should not be a good deal lighter than his trousers, and this is most true when wearing a suit. In sport and more casual clothes, such as tweeds, weekend wear, and jeans, this toning need not always be so exact.

That's why in your example of heathery casual trousers anmedium-toned shoes that are only a shade or two lighter than the pants, the two can certainly work well together.

Where the mismatch is most jarring is in a dressy dark blue or deep gray suit partnered with medium brown (or heaven forbid, gray!) shoes. The balance is thrown off, and the harmony is disturbed. Somehow this draws the eye and the attention too strongly down to a lower level.

Incidentally, the "rule" that states, "Your shoes should always bdarker than your trousers," is not limited to brown shoes. Applied to other colors it helps explain why, with a suit, black shoes are always appropriate and adds further weight to the discriminating executive's (and my) distaste for white shoes.

Send your questions or comments to Lois Fenton, Today in Style, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Ms. Fenton welcomes questions about men's dress or grooming for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally.

Ms. Fenton, the author of "Dress for Excellence" (Rawson Associates, $19.95), conducts wardrobe seminars for Fortune 500 companies

around the country.

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