My gripe today is with the Fashion Foundation of America, which has just voted Pope John Paul II the "Best Dressed Statesman of 1979."

I want to make it perfectly clear that I am a big admirer of Pope John Paul II and believe he should receive any honor bestowed on him.

But when it comes to clothes, I don't think he should be allowed to compete with people like President Tito, Jimmy Carter, Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher or the Ayatollah Khomeini.

It just isn't fair to the other statesmen of the world to go up against His Holiness when it comes to clothing.

All John Paul's raiments are made by hand. I have it on the highest authority that he spends more money on one cape than Menachem Begin spends on his entire wardrobe. The cost of the pope's slippers could shoe Madame Gandhi for the rest of her life.

When it comes to headgear, there isn't a statesman in the world who can hold a candle to one of the pope's skullcaps.

No matter what you think of him personally, I believe it's unfair to make Fidel Castro run against John Paul II in the best-dressed statesman category.

There may be a few South American generals in full uniform who could make it a contest -- Ferdinand Marcos is no slouch when it comes to dressing up for formal occasions, and the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia can get it all together when they have to. But except for Queen Elizabeth II when she's opening Parliament, John Paul is in a class by himself.

The foundation tried to get off the hook when it announced the pope as winner by saying it took "special note of the fact that the pope added a light touch of fashion when he donned a Mexican hat during his trip to Mexico last year."

With all due respect to the pontiff, even Henry Kissinger looks good when he's wearing a Mexican hat. The judges also said that John Paul II wears his robes far better than most recent pontiffs have.

I don't believe this. Every pope I've known looked great when he put on his vestments, because when it comes to papal attire, clothes make the man -- man doesn't make the clothes.

Why am I getting so excited over this? The reason is quite simple.

I've always dreamed of making the list of best-dressed statesmen, ever since I bought my first J. C. Penney polyester suit. This year I thought I'd be up against Giscard d'Estaing, Helmut Schmidt, Kurt Waldheim, Andrei Gromyko, Anwar Sadat and Zbigniew Brzezinski. I was sure I was a contender.

If I had known that Pope John Paul II was in the race, I most certainly would have asked the foundation to take my name off the ballot. It's like asking Princess Margaret to compete against Cher.