A dozen years of marriage, and my husband still wants to know if he should wear the brown shoes or the black ones. I wouldn’t even think about further confusing his mornings with oxblood.
It isn’t just the shoes. It’s stripes and checks and solids, too. It’s knowing when to wear a sport coat and why relaxed fit is a problem. Years and years of color coaching, styling, and shopping with this man, and he seems not to have learned a thing.
I can’t help but think of his wardrobe struggles as my own personal and professional failure. The word “style” has been part of my job title virtually our entire relationship. I remember one of the first times he waited in the living room of my Chicago apartment while I changed clothes three, maybe seven, times before our date. He looked right past the ensemble I eventually settled on (black floral slip dress over a T-shirt—it was the late ’90s) and wondered aloud how this girl (me!) he thought of as “deep” (yes!) could care so much about something as superficial (not true!) as clothes. What followed was hours of animated debate about the impact of appearance over pinot grigio at a dimly lit café. All these years later, we can still go several rounds on the mood- and attitude-altering powers of apparel. Then I remind him to throw a sweater on before the babysitter arrives.
Like many women, I blame myself. Did I enable his fashion blindness by shopping for him, rather than with him? Did I gloss over the finer points of mixing pattern? Did I fail to emphasize good tailoring? I realize it’s wrong to compare him to my father, who is one of the best-dressed men I know. And no, I do not have “daddy issues.”
Maybe none of it is my fault. Or even his. A recent University of Minnesota study explains away my husband’s failure to pick up the finer points of fashion. “Women have higher awareness—they notice more details and think about it more often,” says Lucy Dunne, assistant professor of apparel in the U of M’s College of Design. Her study, “Clothing Management and the Smart Wardrobe,” finds overwhelmingly that women want to dress better, while men just want confirmation that they look acceptable.
“Certainly there are women who don’t care (about clothes) and men who do, but you can’t divorce it from the culture we’re in,” Dunne says. “Social contracts train women to think about appearance more, to put a higher value on appearance.”
It wasn’t always that way. Men used to dress more flamboyantly than women, Dunne points out. But after the French Revolution, style became more somber. Men focused on productivity and left expressive dress to women.
Next time my husband complains that sweaters are hot and itchy, I will tell him to be glad velvet waistcoats are no longer the style. Although I hear Tom Ford may be working on a throwback collection.