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Secrets of the Well-Dressed Man

July 02, 1998|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION WRITER

Getting dressed isn't difficult for children. All they have to do is pull on a T-shirt with a plaid hippopotamus applique on it and jump into some matching plaid overalls. It's not always as easy for grown-ups to decide what goes with what, which is one reason most men feel safe in a traditional suit. After all, a navy suit, blue shirt and red tie seem almost as predictably meant for each other as Garanimals.

But since fashion rules, particularly those that apply to business attire, have relaxed, the conventional choice isn't always the cool one. "Men's Wardrobe" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), the 22nd book in the popular "Chic Simple" series of primers on paring down in order to get it right, has arrived just in time. It tries to clear the murky waters of practical and stylish dressing, presenting solutions for what to wear for every occasion, from fly fishing to job interviews to a best friend's wedding.

"I think men want to know the rules; then they can break them," says Kim Johnson Gross, a former fashion editor at Esquire and Town & Country who conceived the books with partner Jeff Stone. "Most men don't want to feel out of it."

An eclectic assemblage of quotations is scattered throughout the book, providing some humor amid the tips on wardrobe building. Homer Simpson is the source of a quote that touches on men's desire to fit in. "I can't wear a pink shirt to work," he says. "Everybody wears white shirts. I'm not popular enough to be different."

The odd couple of Richard Nixon and Elvis make a point about how one man's sense of what's basic varies from another's. "You dress pretty wild, don't you?" Nixon asked. "Mr. President," Elvis answered, "you got your show to run and I got mine."

As entertaining as the quotations are, what distinguishes the book from other male style guides are many colorful photographs of well-dressed "scarecrows." "We don't use models because we don't want the reader's eye to be distracted," Gross explained. "We really want you to look at what we're showing in terms of the mix of elements or the proportion."

The book's goal is to provide as much information as possible. Even the end papers include checklists and clothing sources. The "Chic Simple" motto is based on an Australian aboriginal proverb, "The more you know, the less you need." Gross explains: "If you simplify your life, de-junk it first, then you can surround yourself with the things you need and enjoy. Our philosophy is that you start with basics, which are beautiful, in and of themselves, and then you build from there."

Back to Hollywood: The attention-getting photos of Monica Lewinsky by Herb Ritts in the current Vanity Fair are being upstaged by a sassy shot in the same magazine of Jennifer Lopez, wearing only satin trunks by Collette Dinnigan. David Letterman has mentioned the picture often enough to provide evidence of a mild obsession with Lopez's rear, which is considerably more ample than the average starlet's. (Sexy undies like the ones Lopez models will be sold for $130 at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and San Francisco, beginning Aug. 15.)

Her co-starring role in the newly released "Out of Sight" is more than a triumph for an ethnic actress who might have been denied such a part in the past. At one time, she probably would have been told, "Oh, you can't be a movie star. Not with a body like that. Come back and see us after you've had some liposuction."

Which would have been ridiculous, because there is nothing wrong with Lopez's figure. But she has a voluptuous woman's silhouette that doesn't conform to the underfed standard Hollywood usually offers. (Next to Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow looks like an adolescent boy.) Happily, directors who some years ago would have tried to focus on her stunning face, or find ways to obscure her curves, are now celebrating them.

Lopez's rise to stardom is not only well-deserved but heartening. If the movies can accept the many ways in which women can be beautiful, maybe women who aren't swizzle-stick thin can value themselves too.

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