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I’m an active duty Soldier of 18 years and I have been married for the last three. On a regular basis I spend 95% of my time in some type of un-attractive uniform, so on the weekends or when I have time off I wear what I want. My taste in clothes is very specific (Ralph Lauren, J Crew, Brooks Brothers, Armani Xchange…you get the picture) and I’ve been this way all my life.
My spouse however is not, she’s very plain Jane.
When we first met we were both in uniform. On our first date she wore a tank top, jeans and flip flops. I wore slacks, a Burberry Shirt and Kenneth Cole shoes. We only went to Chili’s but this is normal attire for me. She later told me she felt uncomfortable on our first date due to the way I dressed.
Three years into our marriage neither of our tastes in clothing have changed. When we go out she actually tells me to wear something plain so I don’t out-dress her. She’ll sometimes get upset because she doesn’t feel like she has anything to wear. Now, I don’t push her to dress like me but I have tried to buy her clothes that I think compliment her. She now leaves her clothes shopping up to me because she thinks she just doesn’t have an eye for fashion.
Is there anything I can do to relieve her fear of feeling out-dressed?
I will have to wear two hats in order to answer this–the fun style hat, probably a lovely aubergine color, in a jaunty cloche style that flatters my face shape, the hat that encourages readers to think about silhouettes and cuts; and then also the practical relationship hat, probably a faux fur deal in a somber color with ear flaps and flannel lining which will ultimately serve me well and you well and keep all of us warm when it snows, but is not nearly as whimsical. Sigh.
There’s not a magic outfit that will fix this situation. Some of us only wear clothing because it gets cold in the winter and it’d be illegal to walk around naked in the summer. Some of us see clothing as an extension of our personalities and moods. Can there be peace and understanding between the two groups?
Yes. First, I see nothing inherently wrong with you wearing your pressed shirts and Italian shoes, and her wearing her t-shirts and flip-flops when you appear in public together. True, there will be a big disparity between your levels of dressiness. True, people will probably notice that. I suspect you wrote in not only because this disparity bothers her, but–let’s be honest–also because it bothers you.
Moving on to your desire to “fix” this. I refuse to believe that she has NO opinion on style. She probably finds thinking about style stressful or tiring and would rather focus her energy on other things, and truly, we can’t fault her for that, because if the audience reading this column would devote the same amount of time trying to curb global warming or feeding the hungry at soup kitchens as they did on style the world would be a much better place. Let’s all take a moment to be ashamed of our devotion to labels….Okay, back to Rick. I suspect your wife will never be a fashionista, but perhaps the two of you together can come up with two or three outfits that she feels attractive in, that she can turn to when you are going out together.
Get a collection of catalogs and/or magazines together that show especially beautiful ensembles for women: J. Crew, Vogue, etc. Flip through it together and dog-ear the pages of outfits she finds appealing. Then, go shopping. You don’t have to visit J. Crew; you’re just using the catalogs as inspiration to put together outfits. It is NOT enough that an ensemble be stylish, she should also feel comfortable in it.
If I were only wearing my style hat, this is where my response would end. I care deeply about style, and so my first reaction is to side with Rick and say that his wife needs to dress like him or stop being so sensitive. However, the warm flaps at my ears remind me that I would be remiss if I ignored the relationship part of this question. Boo. So here it goes: Truly, Rick, you both need to compromise here. Relationships surpass style in terms of priority. She needs to find some outfits that are dressier that she can wear to suit you, and you need to find some outfits that are more casual that you can wear to suit her. Then the two of you dress together to match not only each other but the occasion.
Going to Chili’s on a Wednesday evening? You can dress down. Going to a Christmas work party? She can dress up. Casual need not mean sloppy, Rick. You can wear nice leather sandals; you can wear dark-wash, tailored jeans. Think of it as a style challenge–how can you meet the requirements of casual but still satisfy your desire to look sharp?
If after all that, you still hate dressing down and she still hates dressing up, make it up to each other when you go home at night and wear nothing at all.
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