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This week, the tables are turned on our men's columnist: He takes advantage of a visit from his most important sartorial influence, his mother, to ask her for her sophisticated generation's view on men's style and fashion. Mrs. Smith spent her youth in Africa, Europe and Canada. Her lifelong subscription to Vogue provided our columnist with his earliest and most influential reading material. She is now recently widowed and so paying greater attention to what men over the age of 50 are wearing. Our columnist here transcribes their conversation.

Dear Mrs. Smith,

You have famously great taste. Is there anything you don't like about how men are dressing now?

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Answer: I have always liked the classic lawyer-on-the-weekend look of navy blazer, pink shirt and khaki trousers, but right now I am finding it a little dull. It certainly is an immediate indicator of social class, but still, it's getting a little boring.

What I would rather see is a more European look, with a wrinkled scarf knotted at the neck, something a little looser. I like neckerchiefs and cravats. I like interesting belt buckles. I like a slightly imperfect look - something that doesn't look as if you've been trying too hard to dress up. So I don't really notice pocket squares and cufflinks.

I am so dismayed that so many men nowadays have huge bellies. Too many are overweight.

I don't like enormously baggy shorts: shorts should have a slim line and not be too long. I love that classic Kennedy-Kennebunkport-sailing look, with narrow shorts and a cotton sweater.

The worst thing about huge shorts is when they are paired with cheap flip-flops. It looks so sloppy. Shoes are so tricky. I hate huge fat puffy running shoes too (and on women as well). Sneakers should have a low, flat profile. White is always best. Dress shoes should be sturdy leather lace-ups - an English look.

My favourite shirt is still pure white - there's nothing like a crisp white shirt, and the better quality the cotton, the more masculine it looks. I don't mind a black sport shirt, but I don't want to see a black shirt with a suit and tie.

It's okay to have slightly longer or shaggy hair - like Bernard-Henri Lévy - as long as you have lots of it, and it's clean and shiny. But I am not impressed by how he opens four buttons on his shirt - it's trying too hard to be sexy. I don't like the unshaven look either: if you are going to grow a beard, do it, but nothing halfway.

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And you should always carry a clean handkerchief.Thanks, Mom.

Ask Mr. Smith a question, or view the complete archive, at Russell Smith's online advisory service,

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