How to spot a European

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 19, 2004

I’ve never been one of those people overly concerned about fashion. Typically, if I can find pants that are long enough, yet can still fit around my pear-shaped hips, and shoes in size 14, I’m pretty happy.

And I typically don’t pay a lot of attention to what others wear, either. On the rare occasions when I go to a swank event – usually in my capacity as a reporter – the fashions are of little interest. Everyone typically looks the same – like a stiff – with a dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, shiny black shoes and perfect combed hair. I speak of the men, of course. You ladies always look lovely.

As long as someone doesn’t look like a complete slob, I don’t judge folks by how they dress.

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One such event was Friday’s grand opening celebration for Sara Lee’s new, $93 million liquid coffee facility at Wilroy Industrial Park. Suffolk plant officials were joined by a senator, congressman, state economic development officials, city officials and corporate officials from across the U.S. and Europe.

The company rolled out the red carpet with tables of sumptuous goodies along with their amazing brews. I sampled, or rather swilled, a cappuccino, something called whipped coffee, and grabbed a mocha on my way out the door. I’m typing this a mile a minute.

I was also struck by the immaculate condition in which Sara Lee building is kept. In the small men’s room I visited – as I mentioned, I had a lot of coffee – there was a cleaning checklist mounted on the door with a list of seven or eight items that included wiping down fixtures with a damp cloth, wiping down toilet seat, etc., that is apparently done twice a day. All items had been signed off on at 9:30 and was to be again at 2:30. I’d like to emulate their attention to detail.

The new equipment that is producing the packaged, liquid coffee was impressive as well.

But the one thing that really struck me about the event was the clothing worn by the European corporate officials.

I chatted briefly with Suffolk Finance Director Christine Ledford and we talked about how easy they were to spot.

First off, there was not a single white shirt in the bunch. Their suits, while dark of course, were mostly pin striped. Shirts were striped, or at least colorful and ties were bright and loud. There were some black shoes, but I spotted browns as well and they weren’t necessarily shined to the hilt.

Ledford pointed out the their trousers were narrow, much like those worn by PGA professional Jesper Parnevik, though a little more subdued.

Their hair, too, was different. It was like anything goes. It was mostly longer than their American counterparts, but looked as if they had merely toweled dry and run their fingers through it.

It was a really cool, laid back look that I liked a lot and there was something suave about it. They made the Americans look like a bunch of funeral directors. Even Sen. George Allen, himself an affable, laid back, good old boy, looked a bit rigid when standing next to a Sara Lee official.

I would like to see such style catch on here. There was just a sense of carefree, nonconformity about it that I found refreshing.

I might try it myself – all but the narrow trousers, that is. They’d be difficult to get around my hips. Regardless, Sara Lee is good for Suffolk and not just because of the jobs and investment, but for the fashion example they set.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via e-mail at