By Georgetta L. Morque
“Men want to know what a woman thinks about their clothes — as long as it’s not their wife or mother.”
What to wear with a tweed jacket, how to coordinate a shirt and tie and what to bring on a business trip? For more than 30 years, Lois Fenton, a longtime resident of Rye Neck, has been answering these questions and more to help men look their best. An authority on men’s dress, she’s been a columnist, professional speaker, cruise ship lecturer, personal shopper, author, and blogger.
Earlier this month, Fenton gave a talk, “Dress to Succeed,” to Mercy College business honors students about to embark on interviewing for internships. She always brings props — suits, shirts, and ties — to make the presentation visual, provides handout, and distributes a few ties from her vast collection to those with the most interesting questions. “Just changing the tie can make an enormous difference in the look.”
While Fenton knows the push today is not to wear a tie (although still a must for an interview), she believes the tie is the one area where men can stand out in the crowd. Women have a million ways to express their personality through fashion but men are limited, she says. “The one place to express personality without looking like a show-off is to wear an attractive tie.”
In addition to lecturing and speaking to men at conferences, corporations and universities, Fenton has helped men save time and money with her personal shopping services. She’s hunted down Hermes ties at thrift stores and brought clients to major sales at men’s stores. “Using careful selections of colors and fit, men can pull off a look for less.”
And classic looks rarely go out of style, even a tux from a grandfather, notes Fenton. While women’s fashion changes every 35 seconds, men can build a wardrobe slowly and items can still work after 20 years, with some tailoring. Fenton has found that men ask very different questions about clothing than women. “No man has ever asked: ‘what’s new?’ Men ask very specific questions like: ‘Can I wear a pocket square with a sports jacket?’”
Fenton provides tips and do and don’ts on tasteful attire, along with practical instructions, such as how to tie a bow tie, which is not like tying a shoe, despite what one finds online. And she’s taught young men about the shoehorn since she’s found that many are unfamiliar with this tool.
Fenton entered the men’s clothing arena by a circuitous route that started when she was a young Carnegie Mellon student who became fascinated with the art of table setting after attending a dinner party. She joined a garden club and won the first prize for popularity in a flower show in the table setting category. She went on to lecture and present her designs at spouse programs for wives at their husband’s business conferences. When she received a comment from a man about her prices for a program for women, she decided to develop a men’s program.
Her interest in fashion stemmed from her role as fashion editor of her Pittsburgh high school newspaper. In time, with much research and applying her flair and knowledge of color and pattern combinations from table setting, she became well versed in the art of dressing men. It didn’t hurt that she raised four sons.
Fenton is a former Pittsburgh public school teacher and after relocating to Westchester, she worked in the men’s division at Neiman Marcus when it first opened in White Plains. There, she gleamed lots of information for her book, “Dressing for Excellence,” a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, published in 1986. “Male Call,” her Q & A column on men’s dress was syndicated for two decades, appearing in The Baltimore Sun and The Chicago Sun Times, among many others. It still runs in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
“Clothes can be a business tool and can help men feel more confident,” says Fenton, who finds her work rewarding and fun. And she has found men very receptive to her advice. “Men want to know what a woman thinks about their clothes — as long as it’s not their wife or mother.”