MENSWEAR TAKES A STEP FORWARD

SUZANNE BOS-WELL does some of her best work in men’s closets. She picks and pokes and sifts and sorts. The old gets thrown out, the new gets organized and the former favorites get moved to the back of the bus. The 38-year-old brunette doesn’t have time to dilly dally around. At a cool $50 an hour, it’s her business to get you in shape-and, she’ll convince you that as the colorful heaps grow, you can’t wear sentiment.

Actually, Boswell won’t throw out that college letter sweater or your favorite workshirt. But, the men’s image consultant insists, you don’t need 14 of them, either. “Men always tell me,” she says about her closet discoveries, “that the pants and shirts are always for yard-work. Until I started doing this two years ago, I thought my husband was the only one who did that.”

Herb Boswell, in fact, got to hang on to a couple of his favorite work shirts, but saw the rest of his disorganized closet go the way of wide lapels. Today, he has his many suits organized by color and style-even day of the week.

Although there have long been wardrobe consultants for women, image consulting for men is a relatively new profession in the ever-growing field of fashion. And there’s a good reason for that, says Boswell: “Men have traditionally relied on their wives for helping them with their wardrobe. They were reliant on their wives’ input. The typical man I see is single-newly single.”

And those two short words tell the whole story: As the divorce capital of the nation, Dallas steadily produces a steady supply of newly single men, who are often eager to get back into the social scene. But, says Boswell, it’s not always an easy transition. “The newly single man, ” she says, “is in a position to be vulnerable. I find that these men usually have two sets of clothes: business suits and blue jeans. Nothing in between.” And about those workshirts, she says, most men really want to get rid of them. “They’re just asking for permission.”

Peeking into a man’s closet can have its unnerving moments, though, says Boswell. Once, she pulled open the closet door, only to discover a door rack of ties-all in the shape of nooses. “I’m usually quite composed,” she says, “but this one sent shivers up my spine.” Of course, she says, the man was simply in the habit of slipping off his ties without undoing them first. Boswell gently reprimanded him. “I told him that he should undo his ties everyday-it’s not good for them to remain in that shape.”



GETTING BACK into the social scene can be rough if the only variety you have is three-piecers or Levis. So, as part of her consulting service, Boswell goes shopping- sometimes all day-to fill out those sparse wardrobes. “This is the most important part of the process,” she says. “And the men realize its value when they start getting positive feedback on how they look.” Men, she says, are more interested in what women think of their wardrobes than what other men think. And according to a recent study, that’s precisely what women look at first when they meet men: their clothes. (Men, however, tend to look at a woman’s figure, then her face, and her clothes come in third.)

Boswell’s consulting services don’t come cheap: The initial interview runs approximately three hours and costs $125. After that, she goes into the closet for a three-hour housecleaning that will set a prospective client back another $100. (It’s $50 for every additional hour). At this point, the client is ready to go shopping.

You might think that store owners love to see Boswell coming, but despite getting reluctant men into stores, Boswell can be a mixed blessing to retailers: Many times she’s foiled a potential sale by proclaiming that the look “just wasn’t right.” “My allegiance,” she says, “is to the customer, not the store.”

So, she continually keeps an eye peeled for bargains, and when she finds something that looks right for one of her clients, she’ll put it on hold, call him up and tell him to check it out. Almost always, the client buys. “I’ll go to any sale,” she says.

Indeed, getting value for her client’s dollar is at the top of Boswell’s priority list. “There are consultants,” she says, “who will take every man to the $40 ties and European suits. It’s a great look, but it’s not for everyone-you must consider his job, lifestyle, build, personality and budget.”

Some of her clients come to rely on her for advice as well as clothes. “Sometimes,” says Suzanne, “they think I’m Mom Boswell. I’ll get panic calls about what to wear where.”



BOSWELL CAME OF age in menswear during the “Polyester Era,” a time, she says, in which men’s fashion was dominated by the comfortable double-knit fabric. She was working at Haggar Slacks Co. at the time and, in due course, was initiated into the world of fabrication and design. As part of the first team to design a sports coat for Hag-gar, Boswell learned the ropes of menswear, eventually heading the company’s coat design departments. (She has designed sport coat patterns for Bob Hope, George Bush and Roger Staubach, among others.)

Before the polyester craze hit, she says, men were trapped in tight “aware” clothes. But suddenly, men went from inflexible clothes to the comfort of doubleknit. “No longer,” she says, “did men have to pull up their pant legs to sit down. Everything moved with them.” Says Boswell, J.M. Hag-gar’s motto was, and still is, “Fast nickels are better than slow dimes.”

That was more than 15 years ago, at a time when the country was grappling with the war in Vietnam and the peace movement was infiltrating all segments of society. It was a timing coincidence that was no coincidence at all, says Boswell. Fashion, particularly menswear, she says, follows the economic and political directions of the country. At that time, there was a general feeling of dis-satisfication with the government, a general mistrust. Therefore, she says, men’s fashion exhibited a greater sense of individualism.

Boswell continues to draw parallels between the political landscape and men’s fashion by pointing to the width of men’s lapels, one of the best barometers, she says, of what’s happening overall in menswear. As the lapels widen, so does the entire silhouette.

“Right now the country is in a very conservative mood, and if you look at men’s lapels, you’ll see that they are quite narrow, but, in due time as we get more liberal, they’ll widen.”

In addition to wardrobe consulting, Boswell has expanded her field of knowledge to include teaching fashion and related courses at the Fashion Institute of Dallas along with a couple of FunEd courses. “The first thing people notice about you,” she tells her students, “is color. It’s the first psychological impact. Color communicates before anything else does.”

The Dallas man, says Bosweil, is usually a sober dresser who takes his cues from his business environment, i.e. banking, insurance and real estate. In summer as in winter, dark blue or gray suits are popular, with varying fabric weight, depending on the season.

Boswell, who’s from the Northeast, is familiar with the “Old School” dressing of Boston but finds that despite their conservative image, Dallas men are more “cosmopolitan” than they think.

But all “looks” aside, says Boswell, quality is the most important part of menswear.Men are used to quality, she says, and they’llreturn a garment if there’s a flaw whereaswomen are more content to sew on loosebuttons or fix hems. Womenswear dependsmuch more on styling and trends, but whenyou buy menswear, you buy it to last. “Valuemeans getting the very best for your money.Value has nothing to do with a sale or witha designer name.”

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