Are suspenders in style? Should dress socks match shoes or slacks? What’s the difference between chinos and khakis?
For the past five years, Andy Gilchrist — founder of Web site Ask Andy About Clothes — has fielded such questions from thousands of fashion-conscious readers.
“I’ve always been interested in clothing,” he says via telephone from Manhattan Beach, Calif. “Out of my wife and I, I’m the one who likes to shop.”
Gilchrist, 62, built his corporate career in occupational safety. But it was a part-time job at a Polo store near Redondo Beach, Calif., that caught his fancy.
“Probably that’s the most fun I’ve every had,” he says.
For most of the 5½ years he worked there, Gilchrist was the store’s top salesman — probably not surprising given his enthusiasm for the details of clothing. “I think it’s always been an interest of mine, even in high school,” he says.
Growing up in Kingman, Kan., Gilchrist says he would look forward to his family’s regularly scheduled back-to-school shopping trip to Wichita.
Early inspiration came from his dad, who would consistently strive to look his best, a trait Gilchrist laments as having largely faded from modern life.
“We’ve missed maybe a couple of generations there,” he says. “I’m not sure what happened.”
However, in the past few years Gilchrist says he has noticed men becoming more interested in dressing well.
“Now these guys have realized that clothing makes a difference on how people perceive you,” he says.
These days, Gilchrist spends about four hours a day on the site — “but it’s for fun,” he says — and enjoys help from volunteer moderators to handle queries and make sure things are running smoothly. The online forums, where visitors trade advice, ask questions and discuss the merits of men and women’s fashion elements, boasted 40 live members one recent afternoon.
The site has garnered enough of a following that users voted on an official Ask Andy tie pattern. An official pocket square and cufflinks are also in the works, Gilchrist says.
“Maybe I should go into licensing,” he says with a laugh, adding, “It actually pays the bills and provides a little extra for the official Andy wardrobe.”
Gilchrist says the most asked question is likely: Should dress socks match the shoes or the trousers?
“The answer is they should match the trousers so they can keep that continuous look,” he says.
(Naturally, other schools of fashion thought espouse “freelancing” socks of different hues for a more colorful approach — lending weight to the idea that all style is personal and rules are meant to be broken.)
Gilchrist usually takes a traditional tack with his advice, eschewing the fads for a more sophisticated look.
“The philosophy is a very conservative look so that it lasts for a long time, not just something that’s going to be in this season,” he says. “If you buy a suit, buy something that doesn’t have ruffles on the edge — or charteuse velvet — so it lasts a couple of years.”
One challenge for men is the casual look, to which Gilchrist devotes an entire page on his Web site defining.
“To pull off the casual look and to maintain an air of authority and professionalism is really, really tough,” he says.
All the advice he offered to customers eventually prompted him to produce a photocopied pamphlet, which three years later grew to become “The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes” ($19.95). The self-published CD-ROM volume — aptly named at approximately 800 printed pages and for sale on the site — includes a comprehensive approach to achieving the look.
Yet a main feature of Gilchrist’s advice is his emphasis on style and fit over price tags and designer labels.
“You can buy at Marshall’s or Ross or J.C. Penney or department stores,” he says. “You don’t really have to have money to look good. A lot of it is knowing what to look for — knowledge is power.”
Catching up with the Sartorialist
Scott Schuman, a.k.a. The Sartorialist, who was , earned high marks in his debut assignment for Style.com blogging from Milan fashion week. “The trip went well so they sent me to Paris,” Schuman writes via e-mail while jet-setting among the fashionati.
Style Q&ANow to some of your questions. If you have a fashion query for Style Patrol, .
What the heck do I wear to the Hamptons this August? I’ve never been there and I’m visiting my in-laws there for the first time. — Rachel, Rio Rancho, N.M.
New York’s tony beach towns on the far eastern end of Long Island are known for their celebrity-laden parties, star-studded fundraisers and well-heeled polo enthusiasts more than their surf.
Our first inclination tends toward Julia Roberts’ character in “Pretty Woman” — after her makeover. That look includes lightweight button-down blouses in pastels or polka-dots and simple, linen or cotton summer dresses.
For men, Gilchrist says, “It depends on whether you want to fit in or not.” He adds that wannabe Hamptonites consider “summer pastel colors, and also think high-end golf resort items — a seersucker suit, pink or blue shorts, spectator shoes, docksiders, top siders.
“It kind of depends on where they’re headed — a nice restaurant or the beach.”
Are men’s double-breasted suits still in style? — Rob Argabright, McKinney, Texas
The Style Patrol answer is that given the right fit, fabric and ensemble, a double-breasted suit — as with many primary pieces of clothing — can be made “in style.”
For a second opinion, we enlisted the help of Jim Lenoy, men’s department manager for Neiman Marcus at the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey.
“There are a lot of men (hopefully only 5’11” or taller) that are interested in the classic model of a 6 on 2 double-breasted suit. It has a true slimming look that makes the wearer appear very sexy. This is the only model I recommend. The old Armani 6 on 1 model from the early ’90s should stay in the past.”
“Six on two” means the jacket has six buttons, the top two of which may be buttoned.
I have been told, by those supposedly in the know, that it is wrong to have hacking pockets on a blue blazer due to its nautical origins. What say you guys? — A J Tinseth, Chicago
Hacking pockets, which are slanted for easier access during athletic activities, such as equestrian events, are found in sport coats and deemed a notch or so more casual than a blazer.
Lenoy weighs in: “Hacking pockets should be used only when designing a true gentleman’s tweed sportcoat. Think Italian or English countryside on a crisp fall day. The blazer can be used in place of a suit for a business setting or to be worn at a summer wedding. This makes the hacking pocket too casual for the blazer.”