W hat would the guys in the suit crowd wear if they allowed themselves to be dressed by pros? That question gets answered every year at Gentlemen's Haberdashery, a benefit fashion show for the Heart of Jesus Retreat Center in Santa Ana that grabs up a bunch of actual local captains of business and industry (and in some cases, their sons), stuffs them into some of the finer threads from men's shops and parades them down a runway before the eyes of several dozen women.
We went along to watch The Suits perform in their unnatural habitat.
HE: They strayed from the day-to-day corporate armor, true, but in one sense they kept their conservative credentials. You couldn't see any of the guys in anything that looked like prole gear. Denim was apparently considered pretty radical (and the few examples that did appear were finely tailored and pressed), and not one outfit that came down that runway was going to cause the slightest ripple of comment on the trendy nightclub circuit.
Having said that, let me add that I liked most of the stuff. The suits, particularly, were a world away from business as usual: a broad variety of fabrics, textures, colors and cuts, none of which could have been called common in the board room. I suppose it's too much to hope for that outfits like those will elbow their way into the corporate culture, but seeing them on actual Company Men was refreshing.
SHE: For me, the best part was watching the women watch the men. I don't think I realized how much women love to see their men decked out until that day. They whistled when the guys looked sexy. Howled when they did the smallest antic. Applauded when they struck a pose.
Later, it occurred to me that each man had been outfitted \o7 very\f7 carefully, with color and clothing style chosen specifically for their skin tone, hair color and body type. No wonder the women went wild.
The men--who included business leaders such as Antonio Cagnolo, Stanley Pawlowski, Larry Hoffman and Thomas Wilck--never looked so dapper. Before the show, Pawlowski, an Anaheim banker, said he loved the variety of color displayed that was going to be shown on the ramp. "(Designers) have gotten away from the blacks and grays and into colors, which I like. They give me a lift."
HE: Well, sure. And wouldn't it be wonderful if more guys in the glass towers had the brass to dress like that all the time? But in some quarters, giving up the monochromatic corporate uniform is thought to be a sign of frivolity or, worse, weakness. So don't hold your breath.
Still, some of the more casual clothes were spiffy. There were some nice, understated golf duds and some terrific textured sweaters that were colorful without screaming.
There was one item that appeared a few times that made me crazy, though: saddle oxfords. There is only one place a man can wear saddle oxfords and not look goofy, and that's on the golf course. And the shoes had better have spikes on the soles. Apart from that, saddle oxfords are the cloddiest shoes on earth. They make grown men look like Buster Brown, and their sex appeal registers in negative exponential numbers.
SHE: Saddle oxfords are hot. I think they're a super resort look, especially if they're white on white. Great for loafing around the desert or strolling on a cruise ship.
Other \o7 now \f7 items for men, according to the show's fashion coordinator, Kitty Leslie: boldly patterned sweaters, khakis, tinted eyeglasses (shelve those contacts), vests (especially over T-shirts and under ultra-casual sport coats), penny loafers, pastel anything and striped shirts.
HE: Sounds like it all falls nicely around the inventories of the stores whose names kept getting repeated during the show: POSH, At-Ease, Gary's & Co., Nautica and that wild, wacky, zany bastion of hip, Brooks Brothers. None of these clothes are exactly cutting-edge, but then they weren't really designed to be. I like these stores a lot because, for the most part, their stock corresponds to my tastes, which are those of a relatively conservative 41-year-old Southern Californian.
The fact that penny loafers and khaki are being talked about as hot fashion trends bears this out. When did you last see a high school kid in a pair of Bass Weejuns?
SHE: For most of the men on the ramp, business suits make up the largest part of their fashion inventories. Cagnolo, who owns Antonello restaurant, confessed to owning 25 suits, "mostly in green and blue shades," he said.
Larry Hoffman admitted to having 40 suits, including several tuxes. A resident of Newport Beach, he keeps most them in a storage unit in Costa Mesa. "I live in a small house at the beach," he said. "A storage unit comes in real handy."
Who says men can't be clothes horses?