Kindly Diva Assistance – How to Dress (for Men)

Boston is stuck in a clothes rut of terrifying proportions. The construction workers (lots of construction workers around – thank heavens) wear jeans, t-shirts and work boots. College students dress so horribly, we will pass over them. Professors wear khaki pants, dark leather belts and short or long sleeved cotton, oxford-cloth shirts (plain color or thin stripe) and Weejens. I have nothing against preppy, but when you’re surrounded by hundreds of them it’s sort of unnerving.

What about a pair of dark blue pants I want to ask? Maybe a (work with me now) shirt that is made of a different material than oxford cloth. Maybe something in an interesting stripe or perhaps a colorful pattern? You can tell the guys who grew up outside of American because they wear (gasp) green khakis and striped polo shirts and leather shoes not made for sailing yachts.

How well I remember the most delicious peach shirt with a green and blue paisley pattern that I got on Corsica for my brother (who for some reason decided to return it to me) which I wore for years. A man who can wear paisley…. you know it doesn’t matter that he didn’t get a cover story in Physics Today, it doesn’t matter that he got passed over for a MacArthur Genius grant (again), doesn’t matter that the copy machine exploded at an inopportune time and ruined his experiment – a man who wears paisley on campus will surely be the king of that campus.

Some other ideas (spotted on non-American students): guy in grey khakis shorts; grey, teal, and white rugby shirt and plainish white sneakers. Guy in khakis with black polo shirt untucked (thus the obligatory black belt was either still in his closet or thankfully concealed) and black lace-ups and the guy with khakis that had a sheen to them and a cross-weave silk shirt in gold and brown. I felt like writing them all little thank you notes.

Basic Rules:

1) American men have the imaginative capacity of wombats. What does an American male wear to dress up? Khaki pants, an oxford cloth shirt, a dark blue blazer, dark socks and some sort of thick leather shoes, preferably by Bass and probably accompanied by pennies.

2) On the other hand, when an American man actually decide to learn about clothes, they then go too far in the other direction. They become bathroom hogs, putting six different products in hair and bore you to tears with dissertations about the care of alpaca coats. Similarly, if you finally get most American men to talk about emotions, the only feelings that they ever manage to access are their own.

If a man you want to date ever shows more interest in your clothes than you do (hint if he looks at your shoes and guesses the designer), you need to switch him immediately and irrevocably into “friend” category. Imagine having to have to run the gauntlet of his over-developed taste every time you get dressed.

Darling, get your revered auntie a handkerchief, she is tearing up at the mention of blue blazers and wombats. It reminds her of dating frat rats, who generally have the clothing sense of bellybutton lint. In fact, if they clothed themselves in only bellybutton lint, it would be a vast improvement. Either they are of the blue blazer brigade (rule 1 – stem dead on the issue of clothes) or (what’s worse) they vastly over-estimate their taste (rule 2 – have read four issues of GQ and think they are ready to take on the world). Oh thou adorable niece, I would rather have you take up with a camouflage-wearing techno geek (once you are 35 and old enough to date) who you can gradually wean into bulky turtlenecks and the glories of muted silk shirts than some hind-bound, J Crew-worshiping, would-not-know-a-good-cashmere-if-it-nibbled-on-his ear frat boy.

Look at the all the poor lost men on ‘casual Fridays.’ You need only walk around a high-tech company, any company with the word ‘insurance’ in the title, or law firm on a Friday to know why your aunt now dates only plumbers, carpenters, construction workers, and fireman. I simply could not take one more fellow in khakis and a button-down cotton shirt. Were they all brain-washed at birth I ask, merely in the spirit of inquiry.

Verily I say unto ye sloppy denizens of – there is a world of sartorial choices out there, entire undiscovered continents of clothes for you to explore. No man over 15 who wishes to make an impression (besides the fact that he is ready for play-school) should wear long, baggy shorts apart from sports activities, the comfort of his own apartment, or occasional Saturday morning errand-running. There. It needed to be said and I have said it. And no fussing at me about ‘comfort’ – comfort schmumfort. Comfort is knowing you look appropriate for the occasion, not to mention dashing. Tweed coats, tuxedo slippers, kilts, and bow ties have never been uncomfortable.

If you fall in love and need to sew little labels into his pants as to what activities are appropriate for this piece of apparel, have at it. Your sisters will thank you. Or simply give up. When he’s working late, watch a European movie (we suggest anything with Jean Reno) and weep into your afghan, but get those tears dried before he returns. If he’s a good man and thinks the world of you, divas know they cannot have everything and sometimes that means they marry the sweetest man in the world, who happens to have the fashion sense of an emu (notice I didn’t say a rat – even rodents manage to keep their fur handsome).

Now occasionally, like a swan among mallards, like an elk among the hyenas, strolls a man in a pressed, spread collar shirt, a shade lighter than peacock blue, with French cuffs, an acid yellow tie, a dark blue tropical weight wool suit, almost transparent silk socks and thin-soled black slip-ons with an Art Deco silver buckle on the side, discrete hair promenade usage and a watch with a regular dial face and crocodile skin band. You want to write him a thank-you note [on monogrammed, linen-finish card stock with a fountain pen (blue-black ink)].

Mr. black-and-white checked sports jacket, maroon cashmere sweater, black jeans and black up-scale penny loafers – We salute you! We stand and cheer! Mr. black leather shirt, tight jeans and red patent leather lace-ups we commend your attempt at individuality while lamenting the results.

But since it is not fair to criticize without offering assistance to those lost, erring sheep I offer you the perfect simple outfit – unmentionables; close fitting white or colored undershirt; pants in any dark shade, small amount of pleats are ok – bit neither clownish nor tight; a pressed, solid shirt worn untucked in any lighter shade (smashing in peach, but ok in dove grey, Nile green, Dutch blue etc.) sleeves rolled up one or two cuff lengths); worn with leather driving moccasins. This is slovenly, comfortable, acceptable almost every where, suggestive of driving fast cars, playing baccarat, drinking good beer, handling Dostoevsky, and being an excellent fencer. If you men want to go slightly less formal, wear black clunky shoes and jeans with an inch turned up cuffs and good white dress shirt, not tucked in. The summer alternative is one of those oh-so-cool Cuban/ Puerto Rican pintucked/ embroidered cotton short-sleeved shirts. No, don’t turn up your nose, you have to wear it with the right attitude – drink a few mojitos before leaving the house, listen to some samba – which is good advice to anyone at anytime. If all else fails, pretend you are French or Iranian.