Prepping for a party

From oxford shirts to linen skirts, some tips on how to dress the part

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / July 1, 2010

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A word on this week’s column: I regularly receive letters from readers asking for style advice. Here are some of those questions. Feel free to send along a question if you find yourself in a sartorial quandary you’d like to share.

Q. My husband and I are invited to a very upscale party in August. We are both in our 70s. The invitation states that we should wear “Preppy Party Attire.’’ Do you have any suggestions as to what we should wear? KATY

A. Since we live in the epicenter of prep-dom here in New England, I’m shocked that the party invite specifically calls for preppy attire. Usually it’s as inescapable as mosquitoes and lobster rolls in the summer. If you need a quick primer on preppy style, leaf through catalogs from J.Crew or L.L. Bean. J.Crew practically rose from the pages of “The Preppy Handbook’’ (another good source for your research). L.L. Bean has a new Signature line that is a more fashion-forward take on traditional Bean prep. Take a walk through the Ralph Lauren store, or watch the films of Whit Stillman. Since you and your stylish spouse are in your 70s, I fully encourage you to have fun with this. Wear a summer maxi skirt with a white oxford, or hunt down a vintage Lilly Pulitzer dress. It’s all about creating a look of privilege and ease — or at least faking the look. I also enlisted some help with your question from Jeffrey Ammeen. He’s creative director of Hapsel, a company known for making seersucker, a preppy staple. He says:

“Preppy party attire can encompass a variety of looks. Because it is an upscale event, your husband’s best bet is to wear a suit, seersucker or something in light-colored linen is appropriate. He can pair either of those with an oxford shirt in a soft color such as lemon yellow, celery green, or light blue along with a plaid bow tie or necktie or one with a preppy motif. In keeping with the preppy theme, I’d opt for white bucks or loafers with a coordinating belt or suspenders.

“As for you, you can never go wrong with a crisp white blouse. Pair that with flowing linen pants or a long linen skirt in either navy blue or khaki. If you go with the long skirt, I’d suggest belting the blouse, and if you opt for the pants, I’d choose a skinny belt in either brown leather or gold. Accessorize with a silk scarf, one with a nautical theme offers a nice preppy touch. Gold ballet flats are an elegant way to round out the outfit.’’

Last week, I answered a question from a gentleman who is planning a trip to Paris. He sought counsel on what to wear to look like a native. In my response, I forgot the most essential accessory for pulling off a French look (no, not a baguette). Fortunately, eagle-eyed reader Carolyn noticed my omission: “The one necessary accessory for a man to look Parisian is a long, rectangular scarf. Lightweight linen or cotton in warmer months; wool the rest of the year. Wait and buy several upon arrival so you learn how to casually loop them around your neck. Same goes for women.’’

Also last week, I answered a letter from a woman with foot problems who was looking for heels that she could wear without pain. Our expert on the subject recommended ballroom dancing shoes. A few readers thought differently. Catherine wisely scolded me for not offering this option to the heel dilemma:

“Why didn’t you say flats can be great too? Look at Jackie Onassis. She was a style icon, she always wore flats, and looked great doing it! Find some fun flats, they do exist. Embrace what life has handed you even if it is a bad back or ankles, and wear what works for you with confidence. It is the confidence, not the shoes, that makes anyone look better.’’

I also heard from local shoe designer Susan Ryder, who has worked for companies such as Nike, Reebok, and Clarks.

“She needs a shoe with enough room in it to accommodate her orthotic (a custom made foot bed). Orthotics can measure up to 3/16ths of an inch depth. While some shoes have a removable insole, most will still not give her enough room. There are a couple of shoe brands that are developing fashionable comfort shoes. One is the company I design for called Aetrex. Zappos carries most of our shoes. But Susan would be better off going to a good ‘sit and fit’ store where a podiatrist will look at her feet. There are only a couple of these stores in the Boston area. I recommend Footstock.’’

Christopher Muther can be reached at