It's a struggle as old as the Crusades. He wants to wear Levis; she wants him in Dockers. He won't toss the sneakers he bought in 1985. She says either they go, or she goes. She window-shops at men's stores. If he goes in at all, it's kicking and screaming like James Cagney in a gangster movie. "You ain't takin' me in, coppers!"
So how do you solve this problem? How do women get men to put away the muscle shirt and pick up something in a poplin? Or perhaps a cotton batiste?
And that's assuming there is a problem. What's so wrong with the "regular guy" look?
A lot, says noted fashion designer Lloyd Boston.
Boston says so in his new book, Make Over Your Man, The Woman's Guide to Dressing Any Man in Her Life (Broadway Books, $29.95). Based on conversations with hundreds of women, and the 10 years he spent as an assistant to designer Tommy Hilfiger, Boston offers fashion advice for men. But not to men. This is sort of a handbook women can use to dress the man (or men) in their life.
Assuming men will go along with this. And that's a big assumption.
But to prove that real men will subject themselves to a makeover, Boston got Ginny Barber, wife of New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, to give one to her husband. In photos, the nattily attired Tiki appears to be smiling.
But the real issues here transcend fashion, style, and which cuff links go with which shirt. There are issues of freedom. Of independence.
Even issues of subterfuge.
Speaking from his New York studio, Boston explained why most men don't know how to dress well, why they should. And why it's okay for women, on the sly, to rescue them.
Question: On behalf of men everywhere, let me say I think it's pretty sneaky what you're doing here, Lloyd. May I call you Lloyd?
Answer: By all means.
Q: Admit it. Women will keep this book hidden from their husbands, boyfriends, fathers or sons. And they'll use it secretly, like one of those Hypnotize Your Friends for Fun and Profit books.
A: It depends on the man you want to dress. It could be a very fun coffee table experience.
Q: Lloyd. Lloyd. If the coffee table were under a tarp in the garage. It's a fine book, but I don't know many men who would knowingly allow it to be displayed in their living room. Right?
A: Well, some women will use it as a secret weapon. And you know why? Because they're constantly chatting with each other about, "Oh, wouldn't it be great if he just changed that shirt or didn't wear those shoes." It's a common point of discussion among women. Next to sex, clothes probably come next in line.
Q: Men aren't that much different. But with us, it's sex, sports and our dog. (pause) No, make that sports, our dog and then sex. (another pause) Forget the sex part. What were we talking about?
A: I have to say smart men will pick this book up first. Because this is a book about relationships and style.
Q: Men will pick it up? That might be a stretch. If I'm on an airplane and the guy next to me looks over and sees that I'm reading Make Over Your Man . . .
A: But look at the book Rules for Dating. Guys were picking it up secretly to figure out what a woman really wanted. That's the same premise.
Q: Still, the assumption here is that most men, if left alone, would go to work every day looking like Fred Flintstone. Without the tie. That we're fashion Neanderthals. That we know only two kinds of style: home and turn.
A: No, no. It's really about average guys. You see, guys put comfort before style. There are very few guys out there _ maybe a couple of architects, a couple of art critics, a couple of dandies who have come in from London _ who put style first. But the average American guys . . . if it feels great, that's all they're concerned about.
Q: Let's not get into the style-comfort debate. That could take weeks, years. Cost thousands of lives. And the dandies from London . . . no. Let's get back to women. So what you're saying is that in addition to everything else, men are also supposed to take all their fashion guidance from women?
A: Yes. Women grow up understanding the path of their lives through design.
Q: Run that by me again?
A: Sure. Clothes and accessories are like milestones in their lives. Their first pair of high heels. Or the lipstick they wore to the prom.
Q: I remember this pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars I had in sixth grade. Wrote the answers to a science test along the side. But it rained and I ended up with blue sneakers. You're right though. Unless I look down, I couldn't tell you what I'm wearing right now.
A: See? But women will stand around in their heels for eight hours, and they'll be screaming with pain. But style is all that matters.
Q: So Billy Crystal was right? "It is better to look good than to feel good?"
A: That's it. The thing is that average men talk about picking up girls or impressing women . . . instead of schlepping around in the same old sweats or khakis, why don't they listen to what women want them to wear?
Q: It might have something to do with the fact that women have been telling us what to do since the day we were born. And besides, most men shop only when absolutely necessary. It's like going to town for supplies. And we don't throw away things. Like shoes, pants, shirts, socks, underwear, coats and jackets. What's wrong with that?
A: First, let me say that the first makeover is always the hardest. Even that first new shirt . . . But you'd be surprised how much that love and validation will inspire a man to look for the next outfit on his own.
It's not about throwing away your entire closet. It's not about indicting a man and telling him he has to change the way he dresses. It's about looking at his lifestyle critically and just upgrading it slightly.
If anything, we've gotten so casual. But at the same time, I think we forget clothing is not our second skin. I think of it as our primary skin.
Q: You're losing me again.
A: You don't see people walking around naked.
Q: Around here you do. We've got at least three or four nudist resorts within . . .
A: Clothing is our bodies. What you put on your body sends a message to the world about who you are.
Q: Terrific. So according to you, I'm Al Bundy?
A: People need to think more critically about how they dress because it does send a message. Even before you get a chance to speak. And we're talking about pleasing someone we really care about.
Q: I can't just give them a few bucks? A gift certificate?
Q: How did you get into this line of work anyway?
A: My mom really got me started. She allowed me freedom to choose my own clothes. Remember the Garanimals clothes at Sears?
Q: You just said "clothes" and "Sears" in the same sentence.
A: When I was a kid my mother let me match the tiger with the elephant. Or the giraffe with the hippo. It wasn't the way it was supposed to go, but she allowed me to be creative.
Q: Another example of how little control men have over their lives. One more question, and I've been thinking about this since we started. Did you ever see the Rodney Dangerfield movie, Easy Money? Dangerfield and Joe Pesci develop something called the Regular Guy look. The clothes were awful (but comfortable), and everyone laughed at them. But the style caught on. That always gave me hope.
A: Hey, some of those clothes are kind of cool.
Q: Thank you, Lloyd. Thank you.
A: No problem.
Picking a suit
Considered the cornerstone of a good wardrobe. Understanding the details of a quality suit is key to making a sound wardrobe investment.
Hand-stitching is always the best. Stitching should perfectly match the color of the garment.
Be sure to check for pattern alignment at the seams.
Generally, lapel width should be 3 to 4 inches and should be kept in proportion to the entire jacket.
Because of their high hand traffic, care should be taken to purchase buttons that are of high quality. Avoid plastic buttons, or have them replaced by a professional tailor.
Classic suits are generally offered with one of three types of jacket vents:
SINGLE: Placed at the center of the back of the jacket, it is one of the most recognizable details of an American suit.
DOUBLE: The mark of a classic Hollywood leading man. The two vents are on the side hips of the jacket. Jackets with double vents are the most comfortable to wear.
VENTLESS: The cleanest and most body-hugging silhouette for a suit jacket. Flattering to slimmer men, the ventless suit can be restrictive to wear. The simplest movement can create large gathers.
Ties come in many fabrics. Silk is by far the best choice.
The standard tie lengths range from 54 to 58 inches. Men taller than 6 feet or men with large midsections will need longer ties.
A tie tack or tie bar is good for taming a tie on a windy day.
The well-accessorized man should own several watches. Sport watches should have strong leather bands.
A classic square buckle in silver or gold will always be stylish. The military buckle is a great sporty option.
Cuff links should be simple and refined, yet still offer a subtle and offbeat peek into a man's personality.
Eyeglasses should be simple without ornate details. Wire or tortoise frames are best.
Don't overstuff wallets. Money clips are great for elegant evenings.
Dress socks should be a solid color and made of wool or a wool and Lycra blend.
A stylish and reliable pen is an indispensible accessory.
Let's not forget the shoes
Most men neglect their shoes. Regular shoe care will lengthen the life of the shoe as well as maintain the appearance.
Keep a cedar shoe tree in each shoe to absorb moisture and retain shape.
Store shoes in open closet space to allow them to breathe.
Avoid wearing the same pair of shoes every day. Rotate your shoes and give them at least 24 hours' recovery time. It's good for the shoe _ and for the feet.
Brush and polish shoes regularly to clean and protect them from the elements.
Use soft fabric shoe bags when traveling to protect from scuffing.
Use a shoe horn to put shoes on rather than forcing the foot into the shoe, which will damage the heel.
Source: "Make Over Your Man," by Lloyd Boston