Q.What are shearling coats, and why are they so expensive? I wasplanning to get one for my boyfriend this winter, but some are soexpensive, and I'm not sure if the cheaper ones are any good. Theyall look and feel like they would be very warm.
L.S., Buffalo, N.Y.
A. Shearling (also known as sheepskin) is not exactly fur, notexactly suede, and not exactly wool, but somewhere in between. Whatit is exactly is the sheep's hide - with leather on one side and thewool left on the other side. As it is made of the pelt of sheep,unlike wool, it obviously cannot renew itself. This helps explainthe high cost.
Size, cut, weight and quality of skins also affect price. Themost useful (and least expensive) cover-ups are short jacketsfashioned of sturdy shearling, pocketed and zippered. A popularfashion length - three-quarter, also known as fingertip or car coat -is long enough to cover a suit jacket or blazer but can be too bulkyfor comfort when driving a car. In contrast to the rugged shortjackets in typical brown shades, full-length coats and ones made offeatherweight, supple skins (often in dark bottle green or the hotnew frosted two-toned 'snow top' color) are more flamboyant and quiteexpensive. Weight makes a huge difference in price; the lighter thegarment, the more expensive.
All shearling coats are warm, versatile, masculine, casual andcozy. They are terrific for winter weekend activities such assupermarket shopping and spectator sports. They are not exactly fortraditional business wear.
As for special care: Being natural skins, they can withstand alight drizzle, but may not fare well in a heavy downpour. Shearingcoats should last about 10 years; a slightly worn, weathered look isperfectly acceptable in shearling. But when your coat does needcleaning (after a couple of years), be sure to have it done by asuede and leather expert.
Since almost all shearling coats are of high quality, I'm sureyour boyfriend would appreciate even a not-too-expensive one. If heis cost-conscious, he'll be pleased over time that shearlings are agood value.
Q. A few years ago I sprang for two custom-made suits to fit mybody: Size 46 jacket and 32-inch waist. I looked stunning in thesesuits, but now I've put on pounds and they do not fit.
I've been looking at some off-the-rack suits now that my bodyhas changed somewhat. Oxxford's Manhattan cut seems like it will fitme off the rack with minor modifications, as well as the Zegna brand.I don't mind paying for quality, considering it is conservatively cutand, therefore, timeless, but I'd rather my closet not become amuseum for expensive clothes that I can no longer wear.
Any advice on off-the-rack suits, specifically the amount of'slack' acceptable where the jacket meets the waist now that I'mgetting older and it's becoming harder to hold the line of my girth?
E.W.D., New York
A. I can understand why you needed to have your suitscustom-made. The difference between your jacket and your waistmeasurement (an almost unheard-of 14 inches) seems to indicate youdid a great deal of body building. The standard difference (or'drop' as it is called in the clothing industry) is closer to 6inches. It is unrealistic to expect to maintain such measurements.As bodies get older, weight shifts and proportions change.
You are correct that so long as you stay with timeless suits,conservatively cut, it is not frivolous to buy top-of-the-line.Since you are accustomed to paying custom-made prices, you cancomfortably buy the best ready-mades available. Oxxford is one ofAmerica's finest suit makers, and Zegna is one of Europe's topmanufacturers. And I'm sure Mr. Greenfield would be happy to haveyou buy the ready-made suits he now makes for both Brooks BrothersGolden Fleece line and the Marcus line at Neiman Marcus. They areknown for luxurious fabrics and superb tailoring.
Incidentally, well-made suits should have 2 1/2 to 3 inches atthe girth (the waist of the jacket), room to 'let out' fabric.Oxxford leaves enough in the pant and jacket to adjust up or down twosizes without affecting the balance of the coats. Men who buyhigh-priced clothes rightly expect to wear their suits for years.Realistically, however, you can only expect so much - if you gain 6inches in your waist, your suit expenditures could be wasted.
Image consultant Lois Fenton answers men's questions onperfecting their image. Write to Male Call, Fashion Department,Chicago Sun-Times, 401 N. Wabash, Chicago 60611.