AVALON - Every summer morning, as the sunlight streams through the diamond-shaped windows of Tom Smith's walk-in closets, the Campbell Soup vice president of corporate audit surveys his fashion options.
What combination will he wear today?
This may seem like a nonissue. Pick a shirt. Pick a tie. Move on. But combinations are at the core of Smith's look - high-level executive smattered with a contrasting friendly punch. He achieves it with an array of sportcoats, striped shirts, and ties. The mixture of colors and textures is his signature style. It's his way of surprising people.
His summer-home closets are arranged so he can achieve that look every day for his commute to Cherry Hill.
For every sportcoat, Smith has three or four contrasting shirt-and-tie combinations. He hangs his ties with his shirts. The closets are organized by color. Blue is the base of the wardrobe. That makes sense, as Smith's fair skin and ocean-blue eyes look best with a cool palette. But greens, grays, and a few hints of tans are creeping into his collection as well.
Here is the ultimate sign of über-organization: Smith keeps pictures of each combination of shirt, tie, and jacket in the top dresser drawer so he won't forget which ones work best. Each picture bears key information: season purchased, label, and other possible combinations. He rarely deviates from his daily sartorial recipes, mixed up for him by salesmen at Boyds. Why fix what isn't broken?
"When I find things that work, whether it be color or brand or combination, I stay with it," said Smith, who is 53 and a bachelor. "This way I don't have to think too much about it."
Smith's wardrobe consists of two 80-square-foot walk-ins. In addition to his professional separates, there are T-shirts folded into perfect squares in dressers. Baseball caps lie neatly in cubbyholes. Barely worn windbreakers and candy-striped button-downs form an apparel rainbow for manly pop. (Those are only for the most casual of occasions, of course.)
The hangers on the left side of the closet face out. The ones on the right go in toward the wall. There is adequate space.
"I have it so I can stand in the middle of my closet, look up, and see all of my clothes immediately," Smith says, the twinkle in his eye hinting that fashion is more important to him than he lets on. "This way it literally only takes seconds for me to choose."
What's his closet philosophy?
"Keep it simple and organized. It took years for me to figure out the easiest way to do this. As the business world got more casual, men's fashion got a little more complicated. I wasn't wearing suits all of the time. It was more challenging and dressing became more fun, but it was hard to keep all the options together."
How did he develop such an affinity for fashion?
"In my junior year at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, there was a really good career-planning office that emphasized appearance. Before I started working in Center City, I bought three really good suits: one navy blue, one gray windowpane, and one grayish-black suit. They felt really good and they looked great. Then I got a job around the corner from Boyds, and I was hooked."
What do his closets say about him?
"It says I'm neat. I'm organized. That I care about my appearance and that I think it's important."
What's the oldest thing in his closets?
A robin's-egg-blue, subtly checked sport jacket. "It's by Ermenegildo Zegna. I just love the color. Look at the lining in this jacket. It looks great."
What's the oddest piece in his closets?
"This pumpkin- colored Canali jacket. It has tiny blue and orange stripes. It looks good. But it took a long time for me to decide if I really wanted to buy that jacket."
What's the combination he can't wait to wear this summer?
"This bluish Zegna jacket. This mint-green Isaia Napoli shirt and this greenish-blue tie with circular print. I'm just so excited about it. I think it's going to look good."
"I have an affinity for Italian labels: jackets and suits, Zegna and Sartoria Ravazzolo; shoes, Santoni; ties, Zegna; shirts, Brioni and Zegna."
"Not always, occasionally."
"Everything I send to the cleaners must be hand-ironed, no starch. I like my buttons hand-sewn as well. It makes for a nice, clean look."