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Accessorizing suits is not just a matter of what suits you

Dear Mr. Smith: I have two questions about suits. 1. Is it still true that one should wear only lace-up shoes (no slip-ons or loafers) with suits? 2. Should you tie your tie in a Windsor knot if wearing a double-breasted suit?

Regarding question one, no, but really yes. What I mean is, current fashion is extremely flexible and all sorts of variations on the old conventions can pass as elegant, even in conservative environments. This is only true, however, if you are actually fashionable. That is to say, if you are wearing a hip suit, you may wear hip shoes. You are then in the advanced class, and advanced-class guys wear lace-up or slip-on ankle boots with funky suits. Any cool slip-on shoe with a high vamp - the tongue of leather that covers the top of your foot - can be matched to a suit if you are really stylish enough to choose one that doesn't look like a penny loafer.

And that's the danger: I can't see any advanced-class guy wearing a shoe that has a vamp so low as to qualify as a loafer. But then the very word loafer makes me feel slightly nauseated: I think of those ghastly things with tassels or of boat shoes and then I'm reminded of business students at Queen's and I have to go and lie down.

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And then I would add that I myself would never wear anything but a lace-up shoe with a proper suit and tie. I might wear ankle boots if I were wearing a suit without a tie. But with a tie, always classic lace-up shoes. That's what I mean by yes, not no: Yes, in contemporary fashion you can do it, but then contemporary fashion is rather ugly sometimes.

Re: question two, the idea of wearing a fat knot with a double-breasted suit comes from a sound principle: The peak lapels of the d.b. tend to be wide. If your lapels are very narrow, you want a narrow knot to match. However, I would be more concerned with the shape of the shirt collar: If the collar has a wide spread, then you might want the wider Windsor to fill it out. I wouldn't worry about it, though: I think skinny knots look cool against anything. You don't want to look as if you've thought too hard about anything (I know that's hard to take seriously, coming from me). And besides, skinny knots with spread collars on double-breasted suits is how Prince Charles does it, and he always looks like, well, a prince.

Russell Smith's new novel, Girl Crazy, has just been published.

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