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July 3, 2000 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


So they finally cracked the code, huh? This remarkable development leaves BG with two inquires:

1. I need a new figure of speech. When I got really overwhelmed, I used to calm myself by saying, "Oh my God! I have to map the entire human genome! <pause> Oh no wait. I just have to organize my life." Now what?

2. Can they find the gene for fashion sense?

I mean, I know. Some people have it, some people don't. We should hold that against them no more than we should consider someone without D&G, CK, or DKNY in their wardrobe sequence to be genetically inferior.

But still. You asked, then I asked, then you answered:

Survival of the Phattest:
Can Fashion Sense Be Learned?

Dear Breakup Girl,

I just started seeing a guy. He seemed great, but has quickly proven that he doesn't know how to dress. I don't mean to be shallow, but I take care of myself and care how I present myself to others. He's a sweet, considerate guy and I'm at a loss. Help.

-- Jen

Aha. Jen has made the key distinction: conventional good looks, designer labels, we can take 'em or leave 'em on the rack. But as we discussed here, not all "appearances" are "surfacey," "shallow," "superficial." Now, I know that for some people, clothes are entirely -- and nothing more than -- functional. They're stuff you wear outside, not a statement. That said, when you meet someone on a date, that person often cannot help but assume that the way you appear is the way you want them to see you. It's not just that you want to make a good impression. You want to look like you want to make a good impression.

So, actually, I might put the question back to her: do "sweet" and "considerate" shout louder than his Hawaiian shirt? Are we talking about sartorially clueless, or spiritually careless? I'm guessing he's a sharp dresser on the inside, and that if he's that sweet, he'll really appreciate all her gifts.

And remember, this is so not an "aren't guys lame?" inquiry. Anecdote: guy friend of mine went on a date with a woman who totally turned him off by overdressing. Spike heels at Starbucks? Made him wonder if this date was more of an Event for her than it was for him; made him wonder if she could ever kick back by a campfire. Snap judgments, perhaps. But in a world where people make snap judgments, it does help to try to button things right.

Here are the comments I've pulled from my walk-in closet of Do Tells on this matter:

Carrie: I just ended a relationship (it was our sixth date) because the guy wore socks and sandals out to dinner. I don't think of myself as petty and shallow, but in my wealth of experience in dating, bad dressing is a sign of worse to come.

Melissa: I am dating a guy right now who cannot dress. I am very fashion savvy and keep up with the latest trends. When I first met him, he dressed like it was the 80s. But when I told him about his lack of fashion sense, he agreed to let me help him go shopping. Now he's dressed well, and I'm loving it. Some guys just need help, and some guys don't want help, but you never know which category your guy falls into until you ask!

The boy I find yummy is quite taken with drowning his slender, short (5'6") frame in these huge, long polo shirts that he doesn't tuck in, and it drives me mad. (When he does tuck his shirt in, revealing that oh-so-delicious waist, I drool.) He gets his clothes out of the Nerd Catalog. But... I don't really care. All I care about is he's a fabulous kisser and a great guy... and maybe if this goes till his next birthday, he'll get a polo shirt that isn't quite as long as the others.

Gregoire: "Style's not about money, honey. You have to be pretty rich to make the Worst-Dressed List."

Zola: Analyze what it is about what he's wearing that bothers you. Is it falling apart in front of you? Does it remind you of someone you no longer like? Does it look unflattering or bad on him? If he needs new clothes, be specific and tell him why. Telling him he needs a new wardrobe is bad strategy. Imagine how you would feel if somebody (dressed much better than you) said you needed a makeover!! Make shopping short and sweet, like getting new shorts to replace the ones whose pockets have all ripped out. Guys don't like looking "cute," or wearing a "different look," either. And only get him one item, maximum two items, at a time, if you get him something without him being there.
     This is how I did it, and he wasn't really a bad dresser. He was well groomed, but due to his happy-go-lucky personality and a punitive divorce, he hadn't bought himself clothes in a very long time. Our first date: a red polo shirt, green shorts and sandals. Two years later, I'm amazed at how much of his wardrobe is comprised of little gifts from me, here and there. I've even overhauled the socks and T-shirts! But I bought him clothes that were similar to what he was already wearing, in colors that flattered him, I did it slowly; he didn't feel threatened and so he liked everything. Also, his family gave him lots of compliments.

When I spot something I definitely want him to get, I usually put it up to him and say something generic such as, "Mm, that looks good, why don't you try it on for me?" When he does, I usually will give him a look like I want to jump him right then and there, checking out all sides of him and expressing how much I like the fit of it (a move that always works on me too!). I don't try to change his look... just polish it up a bit.

Josie: Tell him which items he chooses and wears that look totally shoopable on him. He'll not only love you for it, he'll probably ask you to go shopping with him, and you can suggest maybe 40% of what he chooses. Then compliment him when her wears the items.

And I gotta say, advice on this topic doesn't get more, er, solid than this:

Dante: I can provide a little input about the "s/he can't dress" situation because I'm not a snazzy dresser. This comes from a childhood of having the word "husky" attached to every garment I owned until high school and a continuing saga of loathing for sales critters at big & tall shops. If you're a portly man with cash to spend, but the only shopping option is a crude, polyestered woman telling you to try pants with a giant letter A on the tuchas, you put off shopping until your trousers are pre-rent for shivah. So my case is not that I can't tell what's fashionable, but that I know they don't make it in my size nor sell it on Earth.
     I did not always have the sense of fashion I needed: I was born an American male, so you can guess the handicap. My dad, a trial lawyer, showed me how to dress (knotting a tie, judgment calls on dry cleaning, the importance of silk and paisley), but it was living with a few female friends that taught me vision in personal style.

Should you be burdened with a fashion-challenged significant other, reform is possible. Patience and observation of your results will be key.

Teach simple things in each lesson and do not overwhelm the subject. For example, "Don't wear an overshirt that's lighter than an exposed undershirt" may seem obvious to you but can be as mind-blowing as Heidegger to another person.

You are trying to impart aesthetic judgment, a subjective matter that philosophers can spend thousands of pages exploring minutely. Do not be shocked if your commands are received as alien speech. "Honey, you don't wear a gold necklace and silver bracelets. You have to pick, and frankly, pick the silver." You'll get a doe-eyed look of despair, you will have to explain, and you will feel like a parent teaching a child to drive stick.

However, daunting as this sounds, it can be worth it. In less than a year, you will not need to dress your date before going out. You will have done your part to stop the decline of civilization, and isn't that a reward in itself?

I've only given a few clues on the subject, but I hope the options are clearer now. Just as I was not thankful for the first steps in my education, your mate may not dig this at all either. Be patient, but recognize it should triage time arrive. It can be a way to bond, after all, or a test that your mate isn't going to grow in life.

Good luck. Put the plaid thing down.


A few more accessories:



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