Clothes Make The Man? Golly, Do They Ever!

THERE'S surprising news for farmers, ironworkers, coal miners, lumberjacks, and others who use their hands and muscles to make a living. You are on the cutting edge of male fashion.

Yes, the dandies in Manhattan who decide what's in, what's hot, have come out with their new line of men's clothes. And as the men's fashion writer for The New York Times put it:

``When designers make more clothes for the woods than for the nightclub, something is up. Burliness, honesty, naturalness and integrity - these are the qualities American men's wear designers celebrated in their fall showing last week . . . Preening is probably out.

``Several designers sought inspiration from workingman and woodsman contexts for the collections. Bill Robinson made zippered suits out of gabardine-twill mechanic's clothes . . . Mr. Abboud's show was devoted to rugged outdoors.''

There was a picture of a handsome male model, dressed as if ready to go out and stalk a grizzly, although he might have trouble finding one on Manhattan's upper East Side. (Someone should have told him that grizzly hunters do not pose with hand on hip.)

I suppose that's a positive change. For awhile, the in-look was that of Gordon Gecko, the greedy financier in the movie ``Wall Street.'' Yuppies were greasing back their hair and wearing power suits. But as The Times' writer

said: ``The predatory elegance of the white-collar criminal has had its day.''

So now, instead of looking as if you will soon be indicted for insider trading, you want to give the impression that you've spent the day scrambling along steel girders or fixing a transmission. Or as the fashion writer said, you want ``burliness, honesty, naturalness and integrity.''

That's fine, I suppose, but I'm not sure how honest it is for someone who works for an advertising agency or an investment-banking firm to stomp around Manhattan looking as if he drives a John Deere tractor.

It could be confusing. The doorbell rings, you open it and say: ``Ah, the plumber. You got here fast. Let me show you the troublesome sink.'' And he says: ``No, sir, I'm here to explain that annuity you wanted. I have it right here in my lunch pail.''

Out of curiosity, I called Norb Weisman, who sells work clothes. His family has owned Jack's Men's Wear in Chicago for more than 40 years. I asked him how he felt about the high-fashion designers cutting in on his product.

``There's nothing new about it, '' he said. ``It's been going on for years.

``I get idiots coming in here all the time to buy work clothes, and they're yuppies. It's usually a young guy with a young woman, and they're usually obnoxious. What they're buying is not needed. The men want to dress so they feel tough. It aggravates the (bleep) out of me.

``I think they want to look like they're ordinary, like they're part of the earth. It's a yuppie costume. It's their way of saying, `Hey, look at me. I'm not a business-management consultant, an advertising assistant,' or whatever they really do. They're saying, `I'm an ordinary Joe, and I'm tough and I'm earthy, and I do a hell of a job in bed.'

``It makes them feel less like the functionaries they really are.''

Norb was almost shouting at the thought.

``I can spot them. When a guy puts on a pair of work boots, then starts turning around in front of the mirror to see how work boots look on him, that bugs the (bleep) out of me.''

So he said he treats them rudely and sometimes even throws them out.

``I don't like when they come in here and start messing around with my stacks of clothes. It's a game to them, but I have my own integrity, my own conscience.

``It's like when I gave up camouflage because I couldn't stand the people who would come in and say, `Hi, we have war games this weekend, and we'd like some Army camouflage clothes.' It's absolutely crazy. There are real people getting killed out there in wars, and I'm supposed to listen to this?

``You know, one day I put on a work jacket and wore it home. My wife says: `What the hell is that?' I said to her: `I'm making a fashion statement.' ''

Despite what Norb says, I'm going out to buy a lumberjack shirt and canvas pants.

I wonder if they sell anything I can spray under my arms. In case I forget to sweat.

(Copyright, 1991, Chicago Tribune)