Clothesed Minds

I don’t know when I started making my own decisions about what to wear — but it was a long, long time ago, after my mother got tired of offering advice that got ignored.  I think I’ve done just fine, as long as you don’t look at anything I — or any other person on the face of the earth — wore in the 1970s.

So, I look OK, even if nobody is ever going to confuse me with Carla Bruni.  I make well-reasoned, age-appropriate fashion purchases mostly based on what I consider to be my personal acid test: Will I have to hold my stomach in when I wear this? If so, forget it.  Let somebody young and toned and disciplined wear it.  I want to be comfortable.

But, in spite of what I consider to be my years of good taste, something strange has happened recently.  My husband, after decades of pretty much ignoring everything I wear, has developed opinion about my clothes.  Let me tell you, this is a little disconcerting.

I went window-shopping while we were in Italy last month — a habit that normally drives him comatose with boredom.  Not this time.  This time, he hung over my shoulder, announcing his opinions.

“That’s not your style,” he announced, peering at some outfit I was looking at.

“What do you mean — it’s not my style?” I snapped.  “If I like it, then it’s my style.  What do you know about it?”

“Not your style,” he repeated, kind of the same way a three-year-old throws something back at you.  “Definitely not your style.”

Well, maybe, I thought, it was just Europe that was making him weird.  You know, jet lag and the sky-high Euro and his repeatedly trying to speak Spanish in Italy; the cumulative effect would make anybody a little off-kilter.  No wonder he’d developed late-onset opinions about my wardrobe.  Once we got back to the left side of the Atlantic, it would probably all die down and he’d go back to ignoring what I wore.

Except, he didn’t.

“Where did you get that T-shirt?” he asked me a couple of weeks ago.

“Seattle,” I said.

He shook his head.  “What were you thinking?” he asked.

Good grief.  The truth is, by this time, I was thinking he should shut up and keep his opinions to himself.  “I like it,” I said, speaking through clenched teeth.  “If I want your opinion about something, I’ll be sure to ask you for it.”

He hasn’t given me any more unsolicited opinions in the past couple of weeks.  So maybe he’s quit reading articles about metrosexuals.

Here’s the conundrum, though: I always thought I’d like it if he took an interest in what I was wearing.  But now I know that was wrong, deluded, blinded.

I don’t want interest.  Interest is for financial transactions.  I want positive opinions.

You look gorgeous in that.

That dress is so flattering on you.

Have you lost weight?

Read those statements, if you’re male.  Repeat them over and over.  Memorize them and alternate when necessary.

Oh, sure.  You can quibble that women don’t really want your unvarnished opinions about their clothes.  They just want your approval.  And you would be right.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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5 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    Guess I’m lucky (so far). Even when I’m dressed like a bag lady, my husband keeps his negative thoughts to himself… Wonder why yours, after such a long time, suddenly decided to pipe up?

  • That’s a tricky situation.  Of course we adult women do not want unsolicited advice; however, it is nice if hubby notices what we are wearing and comments without criticism.  My husband and I just read The Five Love Languages and are digesting some of the pointers in that book.  I am sure a husband could come up with a comment for his wife that is without malice or judgment if he just really really puts forth some effort.  I wonder why your husband switched gears like that.  Maybe he needs a hug.

  • Craig Link

    After much name calling, face slapping, and general woman interactions , let me just make this one addendum to your women want your approval declaration.
    First- you need to have known said woman for no less than one to two years
    Second- failing that, you need to be under thirty
    Third- you need to look like Jude Law, Hugh Jackman or one of their love spawn
    and most important -Fourth- don’t do it. You would be shocked the sheer volume of invectives a woman can spew after a innocent nice dress comment on the first floor of the thirty floor elevator ride.
    I draw the line at the weather comments

  • Cindy A Link

    Ruth made me smile, but Craig made me laugh out loud!

  • Steve Link

    Silence is golden on these matters, but my spouse and I achieved detente on this years ago. First rule: I offer no opinions unless asked. Second rule: If you ask my opinion, I will be honest. Third rule: When offering my opinion, the less said, the better.

    There is no default for positive opinions; I may like it, really like it, or be ambivalent (if ambivalence can be said to be positive). The default for negative opinions is “I don’t think that is flattering to you.” No comments about size, fit, color, etc.; just whether it is flattering.

    My opinion rarely changes her decision, which is okay by me. Having been honest, my conscience is clear. She recently bought an outfit in Toronto. When asked, I offered the default negative opinion: “I don’t think it is flattering to you.” She pressed: “WHY is it not flattering?” (Remember the second rule.) This was awkward. I thought long about the answer before offering the unvarnished truth: “It looks like a maternity top.” She disagreed with that characterization and bought it anyway, but she’s not worn it yet. I will keep quiet when she does; she already knows what I think. And I suspect she won’t wear when with me.

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