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Mar 17, 2010

Do not tell your husband how to dress

I know many of you are wondering whatever happened to Michael's makeover (the one he'd asked for).

My friends, it never quite happened.

I realized soon after starting and Michael had taken his own "before" shots (a red flag), that I couldn't do it.   I sensed right off the bat that he wasn't really ready to give me carte blanche, and that it would feel like a battle of wills.  He wanted to choose his colors; he wanted to comb through the aisles at the Salvation Army.  I came to an important conclusion:

Do not tell your husband how to dress.

This also goes for wives, partners, parents, friends...

Children, maybe.

Nobody wants to be told what to wear by you -- not even the ones who say they do.

I learned something else, too:

If you are uncomfortable with the way someone else dresses, guess who has the problem?  (Hint: it's not them.)

But what if -- you ask -- the person solicits your advice?

In that case, I recommend drawing up a contract with a crystal-clear stipulation that your husband/wife/partner, etc. understands that he/she may be subject to criticism (or what feels like criticism) but nonetheless agrees to accept this information without getting a) defensive, b) hostile, c) sulky.

But what if, despite being signatory to the above contract, this person STILL will not accept your -- completely solicited, mind you -- advice?

In that case, take the contract, tear it up, and have a good laugh.

Honestly, this is the only way to preserve a happy relationship.  The vast majority of us do not want to be told how to dress, especially from someone we love.  The very concept of love suggests that we are accepted as we are.

Dressing badly is not like smoking.  It's not going to jeopardize anyone's health.

As a sewer, what you can do is to create things you think your husband/wife/partner, etc. will like and solicit their input if you want it.  But once you give your creation to them, you have to let it go.  They'll wear it or they won't.  They have to be the ones making the choice.  It's theirs now.

That's it: the best relationship advice you'll ever find on a sewing blog!

So what do you think, sage readers?

Do you ever give others advice on how to dress?

Have you had success?  Are there particular strategies that work/don't work?  (Do you have any friends?  How about ex's?)

I'd love to hear about your experiences!


  1. I have learned that even my kids have their own ideas, thankyouverymuch. I now only make suggestions (or very occasionally demands) regarding weather-appropriateness.

    Yes. I am that woman walking around town with children dressed oddly. I let them make choices (with limitations) when clothing shopping. In fact, I won't shop for their clothes without them. It's a waste of my money and time.

    And really? I have a hard enough time dressing myself every morning. I don't need to be responsible for dressing three other people.

    And I have learned one very important lesson through all of this (given that my formative clothing experience was "grunge"):

    You can do just about ANYTHING dressed like a princess.

  2. My dearest husband, whom I have known for about 7 years, has worn the same brand and style t-shirts, jeans, sweaters, and dress shirts for those 7 years. I have bought him one pair of underwear, and one Ben Sherman button-up shirt I found in an op-shop for $5.

    He likes to look nice, but changing his look, regardless of how I might suggest it, is just not on his agenda. He has said that he will be extremely honoured if I made him a shirt, but knowing him, it will have to be a pretty plain style (probably makes it easier for me to sew!). I plan to make him one for his 30th in April.

    So, my method is to embrace his casual, no effort style - he is totally gorgeous in everything he wears - and he thinks him dressing plainly leaves a nice clear backdrop for my vintage and hand-sewn frocks to shine!!

  3. My husband recently went on a shopping spree all of his own will. No really! We went to buy a sweater or two and came home with two pairs of boots, two jeans, two sweaters, gloves and a winter coat! He took me with him, because he does heed my advice - but I did not tell him to buy all that stuff, I just did not stop him. He singehandedly reinvented the concept of collateral shopping (same as collateral damage, but the only damage done is to your bank account). It was amazing.
    I often ask his advice about my clothing choices, too, because I know he will be honest. Vice versa, if I tell him he shouldn't leave the flat dressed like *that*, he won't. Simple as that, because we know it's not meant to be insulting but helpful. Sometimes in the morning, you just can't get that brain to work properly or those eyes to open and face the thing in the mirror, so it's good to know that someone else will do the job for you. ;)

  4. One girlfriend tried the "I'm not going out with you dressed like THIS" approach. She did too. But she didn't last long. Another took a look at the problem, had a few talks about "what do you like about this shirt? ah, the color" and gave me something with better fit and style in the same color. Much better.

    So I now take the same approach. Usually, things can be improved if you merely steer away from the most objectionable parts, sticking closely to what really matters to them. It's also better if you don't use sewing-guilt as a means of pressure "I spent a week making you this --- and you've only worn it once" is counter-productive.

    On the whole, telling people what to wear should be handled with as much caution as teaching people to drive :-)..


  5. I haven't really tried to guide any boyfriends on their clothing choices. My current boy of 6 years will ask if he should wear these shoes to this formal event, etc but thats about it.

    I have tried to give clothing advice to a friend before. She asked for my help, but never again. Funny thing is we bumped into my little brother that day so it turned out to be the three of us, and even when we said "no its the wrong colour" or "we think this cut would flatter you rather then that one" she left the store with all the clothes that resembled the clothes she already owned and left the items that flattered at the store.


  6. DF dresses like a slob and doesn't care that it's bleach spotted or faded. It drives me crazy, but other than "you're not going out like that" I just let it go. Yes, even though it bugs me.

    On the other hand, he has to give me the same consideration, so I get to wear what I like.

  7. I assert my will on my man's wardrobe by buying most of his clothes for him -- which seems to work out well enough for both of us. Although, we're in an interesting situation where he'd like to be more stylish, but at 6'9" and thin, options are limited to, er, Eddie Bauer.

    I did sew him an awesome hoodie that he loves. His fitting issues make him extremely appreciative when things work for him, which is a win.

  8. In the fifteen years I've been together with dh, I've tried several approaches, unsuccesfully. Although I *have* managed to convince him that ironed and neat is GOOD. (Or maybe it wasn't me, just his moving from tech-nerd position to a manager position.) Now I've given up, don't make him anything anymore, don't buy him anything but underwear and white t-shirts, and we are quite happy with the situation. Oh and I don't go clothes shopping together with him anymore, not after the last time when he dragged me into EVERY single men's clothing store in town until I got fed up and went home alone and grumpy - talk about picky!

    So I guess I have to agree with everything Peter says. Let your dear ones dress as they like. You are a wise man!


  9. The closest I come to telling people how to dress is sewing--especially for my niece. And since my SIL dresses her, I tend to show her what I want to make and the fabric and ask if she likes that. ;) At this point, Evie has no opinion... I figure we should dress her in all the frilly dresses we can before she gets old enough to object!

  10. I successfully made over my husband! When I first met him, he wore flannel shirts and tapered-leg jeans. Every day. He also did this weird comb-back thing with his hair. I introduced him to the wonderful world of dark-wash bootcut jeans, fitted t-shirts, and artfully mussed hair. Oh, and he grew an adorable beard He looks like every other retro girl's hipster boyfriend, but it's a vast improvement. He loves his new look too! A success story indeed! Yeah, I'm totally patting myself on the back here.

  11. Well, my husband gives me carte blanche with his clothes since he knows which one is the stylish one in our relationship...and it ain't him LOL! He does choose his own clothes, but willingly listens to my advice. I buy him clothes, too. Less now that we have kids and I have two other small people to mold. For the Littles I really only care what they wear if we are going someplace special. For the most part I let them choose their own "interesting" outfits during the week. I have barely enough time to get myself ready in the morning, so sometimes they go outside like mismatched clowns. I've gotten so used to it, I *usually* don't notice anymore. ;)

  12. OK, well, sure, GERTIE can do it. GERTIE can do everything.

    Gertie, Gertie, GERTIE. ;)

  13. I'm of the keep your opinion to yourself unless asked school, and then accept the verdict gracefully. But then, I never really understood why one person's idea of taste or style was any better than another persons despite many efforts to enlighten me. I do however succumb to the occasional "are you sure you want to go to the store in your slippers?"

  14. Stacy, my mother STILL picks out my outfits.

    No, but seriously, I think she was still picking my clothes till I was about 8 or 9 or so; I'll have to ask her. I've buried that memory along with so many others, ha ha.

    But I do remember that even when I was an adult she'd say things like "you're going wear THAT?" And it wasn't said with admiration.

    So you can see why I turned out the way I did.

  15. I'm bossy and outspoken. Let's just get that right out there up front.

    I have no problem calling out people on their clothes when they look good, and that feedback is always appreciated. HOWEVER, bad fashion needs to be called out, too. More in the way of fitting issues than "style" issues. Case in point is my cute little coworker who's got a bangin' bod. Girlfriend was sporting an assortment of baggy sweaters and jeans that hid all that luscious girly goodness, and I'd HAD IT. So I took her aside, discreetly chatted with her about it, and she agreed to shop Goodwill with me. While there, I piled two shopping carts full of clothes, we talked about fit issues for her body and what looked good on her until she started seeing the difference herself. $100 later, we got her a whole new wardrobe THAT FIT and she was THRILLED. She's shopped successfully on her own for about two years now.

    I've done this for at least 20 people. I'm like the Makeover Fairy and I love it!

    The Boyfriend's getting the treatment in April and he's on board with the whole plan. I know I'll have a "Gertie-style" success to show for it. And a rockin' hottie for a honey. No worries.

  16. I have to agree, when dressed like a princess you can get whatever you want! It's always worked for dd#4.

    Peter, you're right, people usually want to be left alone when it comes to their clothes... but it's SO hard to see someone dressed in something awful, you just want to help them look better darn it!

    I am guilty of telling my dh what to wear at home. He dresses up for work every day and looks wonderful, then he comes home and puts on old knit shorts and t-shirts. I've been known to say things like "you look wonderful for everyone else and then you wear this for me?!" I'd love to make him some casual after work clothes , I just haven't figured out what exactly that will look like. Any suggestions???

  17. OK, who wants to go shopping with Darci? (Me, me!)

    Mom2five, how about a caftan?

  18. The problem with never tell your husband how to dress is that men often have no difficulty having an opinion on how women should look. How about men who are always complaining that women just don't want "nice guys"?. None of them are courting full figured women of good personality and character, they are complaining about thin, much younger woman not being willing to look past their age, weight, and income. Huh? The same guys in 20 year old stained underwear would seriously object to 100 pound overweight women in a stained thong.

    Healthy relationships are reciprocal. I keep myself appropriately dressed and groomed, you need to as well. Men should not feel entitled to attractive partners when they themselves won't put forth equal effort to be well groomed. The largest part of sexual attractiveness is hygiene, grooming, great personality, and a healthy intellect.

    I have been a supervisor twice over the last 20 years. Women are their own glass ceiling, and hold themselves back in a few critical ways. One is dress code. Life is not an endless quest for constant personal gratification, and turning a reasonable dress code into a "repression" you have to constantly rebel against - your career will stall out. People are going to tell you things you don't want to hear - and the people who have the hardest time maintaining employment also have the hardest time getting along with others when they aren't getting their own way.

    Because of harrassment and discrimination lawsuits, you will never be effectively mentored. Due to legal risk, it is easier not to bother. Do you really want it to be easier to fire you than to tell you that the amount of eye makeup you are wearing is inappropriate for your company? School teachers have to dress a certain way, and it isn't the only field like that?

    Job candidates speak volumes about themselves when they don't bother to dress or behave as though the interview is important to them, and it is a part of the evaluation process - and your first hurdle. We have an entire generation of young people hitting a difficult job market without any sense of obligation regarding compromise, being a team player, helping out, good interpersonal skills, and yes - dressing appropriately. A big part of life is being able to take constructive criticism and being able to bend in appropriate circumstances.

    I like pretty vintage clothes, and vintage sewing patterns. As a legal secretary, I buy what I am budgeted for, and only after I pay into my savings and pay for my necessities. And I try not to be too out of bounds at work, some outfits stay social no matter how cute they are. Wardrobe can have a huge effect, and expecting that you never have to play by the rules is teenage.

    I have one sister who was class valedictorian in a technical field and has been looking for a job for a year and a half. It's not the economy - a 39 year old woman who dresses like a 16 year old sends a message she is immature and inflexible. Despite one failed interview after another, she is refusing to let anyone tell her anything. That's why she has spent 18 months looking for work.

    You may not able able to tell your husband or wife anything, but your children seriously need to grow up understanding their obligation to be willing to pay some dues - that includes compromising on the dress code every once in a while. It doesn't mean expensive clothing, simply well cared for and appropriate.

    How did we get to the point where middle class people started to believe that nobody ever had the right to tell them what they don't want to hear?


  19. Peter, I'll take you shopping whenever The Boyfriend and I come to NYC. Promise!

    @ Stephanie: You are so RIGHT on with your discussion re: clothing and job searches/promotion. I have a coworker who's COVERED in tattoos and has been complaining for THREE YEARS that she has to dress conservatively at work (enough to cover the tats). She thinks that her personal expression is being impinged by The Management. Her combative attitude expresses itself EVERYWHERE and she wonders why she's never taken seriously.

    I called her on it (of course), but she only wanted agreement with her POV and dismissed my advice to "get over it". I told her that if she was so offended by Management telling her how to dress, maybe she would be better suited working elsewhere.

    When you dress poorly, no one's going to take you seriously. Perception DOES matter. When you dress like a clown, smell or are poorly groomed, no one's going to hear what you say. They'll be too focused elsewhere to care.

  20. My husband and I both give each other extensive wardrobe feedback. He is quite happy to tell me when something looks too "Minnie Mouse" (a hazard when you love polka dots) or blousy or just doesn't quite GO. When I met him he wore a lot of way oversized clothes and too-light jeans and I pretty much gave him a makeover. He's generally fine with me shopping for him though he has very certain tastes and is not as bold with color as I am (translation: he has a frustrating love of gray and other neutrals when he looks amazing in brighter colors!)

    He imagines himself to be a slob because he loves wearing T-shirts, jeans, hoodies and sneakers, but that is far from the truth! He does generally refuse to wear suits, however, more's the pity...

    Also, I am campaigning for him to give up contact lenses and wear his awesome glasses (he picked them out) all the time.

    He is super interested in my sewing and has asked that I make him a hoodie and button-down, which I just bought patterns for... the hard part will be finding fabrics that are fun enough that I will enjoy sewing them but suit his taste.

  21. Jim and I will consult one another when choosing outfits, especially for a special or formal event, but usually we leave each other to our own devices. He loves his casual California beachy look (with a little prep thrown in for good measure) and I stick with my mostly tailored and conservative stuff. So far, it works for us.

  22. Well, you're right. Although I don't think of this as especially sewing-, or outfit-related. Your partner will be who they are, and you can be happy with it or not. You can't change them.
    Two exceptions: Over time, the "dominant" style may rub off. And, your partner may be misinformed on a somewhat objective fact (dress code rules, some fashion, what suits a body shape). If he/she is very confident, they may be able to take advice and act on it. In my case: DH is dressed different now than he was when we got together - but so am I, after 15 years! He likes me to go shopping with him, and in the end buys what he likes (though it's often something I pulled out and brought to the dressing room).
    Children: First, there's the fantasy of how to dress the perfect child. In my case, this doesn't suit the children's looks, personalities, and lifestyle. Second, there's the clothes I find suitable for their looks etc., some of which I sew and most of which I buy. Last, there's their own taste, which I am very happy to accomodate, because I believe it is the only way they can develop their (style) personality. So if they want me to sew something, or are given something I wouldn't have chosen but love it, well, more power to them!

  23. The boyfriend resists any and all change so I have not attempted to influence his style. My only effort in that direction has been to make him a pair of boxers in whimsical fabric.

    I would like to see him in a pair of jeans someday. He doesn't own any. I would also like to see him in a suit jacket with a narrower shoulder as I think his current suits make him look like a little boy wearing his father's clothes even though he is six feet tall. But looking around it appears that men's suit jackets are always styled with a wide shoulder. But I still don't like.

  24. About 10 years ago, I successfully helped my husband update and diversify his very classic look. I think the key to success was that all of the changes we made were not so far from his comfort zone. But I think that if you want to help your man out, you will get the most bang from the buck simply by helping him find jeans that fit well. Really, I think this article should be taken to heart:

  25. I have tried to make over my husband, but it has been a slow process. I realized early on that it couldn't be done in one weekend. So now I wait for opportunities to infuse his wardrobe with stuff that will look good on him (at x-mas and birthdays) and wait for opportunities to *ahem* "weed out" (unbeknownst to him) some of the bad things, like sweaters with holes, pen-stained shirts and down-right ugly ties, when he goes out of town. To be fair, if something of his happens to fall in the trash while he is away, I try to throw something of mine away too.

    But. If we are being honest here (and why not?), as good and pure as my intentions sound, it is not so much. I really only throw away something of mine so that if he asks if I have seen his fill-in-the-blank, I can say that it must be with my (predetermined) piece-of-clothing (that was most likely going to goodwill anyway), that is also gone. Which is true! I know it is not the whole truth, but at least it gets the most offensive stuff out of his closet :)

  26. I have successfully made over my husband, and more than once over the years. He can even shop on his own. We are even making progress on his not waiting until he's desperate. Of course, shirts are easy since he doesn't try them on. There are limits to what he'll wear, and getting him to try pants on, well that's another story. Does anyone else's husband stand strangely when they are trying on pants? It's bizarre, so I am thankful that he shops on his own more often than not these days.

  27. Hate to make you gals feel badly - but I have a bit of a different problem. My DH is an absolute clothes horse! Loves Italian shoes, recognizes a well-cut, well-made suit or shirt, can bandy about construction terms like french seam, knows what a tropical weight wool is, wonders where all the Egyptian cotton has gone. The price: a constant battle over closet space.

  28. Oh dear, you've been observing my marriage, but you're about twenty years too late with your good advice. I've been married (mumble, mumble, mumble) years and spent many of them trying to get my stereotypical engineer (need I say more?)(Disclaimer: This does not apply to female engineers.)husband to replace his disgraceful wardrobe before he was mistaken for a bum. This only resulted in a semi-annual argument each spring and fall when I would try to force him to buy new clothes. This inevitably resulted in people getting huffy and other unpleasant behavior. It was only embarrassingly recently that I realized that he was never, ever going to change and I subsequently gave up. (Hint: he's eligible for Social Security) Also, ALL of his ancestors came from Germany. (That's not to say that all people of German descent are stubborn. I'm not, for example.) Just to clarify the picture, you should know that last year he spent $125 on clothes.

    So, I'll second and third the conclusion that it does no good to try to manage one's spouse or significant other when it comes to how they dress. I know from experience that you'll save yourself the grief of always losing and improve your relationship by butting out.

  29. "Dressing badly is not like smoking. It's not going to jeopardize anyone's health."

    You are so right! In the larger scheme of life, a poorly fitting jacket or an ugly dress does not kill anybody. ;-)

  30. Unless it's so ugly it gets you killed!

  31. I am generally pretty clueless about men's fashion so I don't attempt to give input about how my husband should dress. Unfortunately he's not very savvy himself, so maybe some kind of training course is in order for both of us.
    And God forbid I should ever ask his advice about what I'm thinking of buying or wearing. He gets that 'deer in the headlights' look.
    My children are very opinionated about what they want to wear to school. Usually their fanciest Christmas dresses, or halter tops and shorts in the middle of winter. I've stopped fighting it and try not to think about what the neighbors are saying about my parenting.

  32. I've learned that I cannot do a thing about my t-shirt and jeans husband's clothing choices. I haven't given up in defeat, however. My strategy: enlist sympathetic friends. We've got a little Queer Eye for the Straight Guy shopping trip planned and he's agreed to go. I can't wait.

  33. I haven't tried to change my boyfriend's style so much as refine it. His style was always fine (nothing exciting in a good or bad way) and I can't picture him dressing any other way, but I'm helping to make the items a little nicer, classier - and he's totally on board. He wants to dress nicely and look like a well-groomed adult. After one or two successful shopping trips where I helped find him beautiful things that he loved (at great prices!) he now asks me to come with him every time. He knows what he likes (e.g. spread collars - surprisingly hard to find!) and I just try to help him find the best version in his price range. Only occasionally do I have to reign him in. Some of the ridiculous items he thinks are 'awesome!' I don't think he'd actually wear, but I try to nip it in the bud anyway. (I don't want to risk any white linen suits walking out of the store with him.) The only real threat is his apparent love for hideous paisley ties. It took me forever to find one at Macy's that was acceptable. He also has a nostalgia/desire for vintage clothes (he loves a three piece suit), but I'm not sure he's bold enough to go for them.

    But no chance of it going the other way. My boyfriend only cares about what I wear if he thinks it's really awful (and I'm not sure he's ever told me that) or if he thinks what I'm wearing is sexy. The only style opinions he's ever really expressed (and this was just recently) is that he wants me to try more vintage clothes and hairstyles. Luckily I have my mom for advice!

  34. i agree wholeheartedly with you ... the best way to ruin a relationship of any type is to offer advice (which is generally more like telling someone how they can do it better). instead i like to use times i'm asked questions to offer my opinion ... and i love that my youngest daugther (21 yo) and husband both ask. it's also been hard but over the years i've learnt that all i'm entitled to is the opportunity to share ... after that it's someone elses entitlement to act or ignore my opinion. and lots of times they listen and act ... yay for me! as for bad taste ... none of that happens in our house as a general rule ... except for the awful shirts my mother insists of buying for my husband and which he wears. now if only i could go shopping with my mother and get her to buy shirts i like!

  35. Maybe i am lucky or maybe love is blind, but i think my husband is absolutely stylish.

  36. I tell my husband how to dress when I feel like it! We both know that's part of my job. His job is to obey.

  37. I have given my husband guidance over the years that we have been together. I think if he had a definate sense of style I would have left it alone but he just didn't really care as long as everything was covered. So, as he didn't care, and my superficial self did care, I would like to think I opened his eyes to some nice possibilities that would bring out his rugged good looks (true story). Since we've been together, he has definately started to care more and have some fun dressing up. He gets this smug look on his face when he knows he's dressed nice... I created a monster...

  38. Completely off-topic, but I just found your blog through Sal's Almost Pretty, and I got all excited because you're a Lappin, and so am I! I wonder if we're related somehow?

  39. I helped a former neighbor buy a new wardrobe -- at his request -- to impress a woman. They're engaged now, so it may have helped. I like to think so.

    My current SO shops from his dad's closet and has no idea what size pants to buy, but I have little hope of changing that.


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