Help a fussy, picky dresser look better.
October 8, 2009 10:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm embarrassed by the way my husband dresses. He says he wants to dress better, but that he "physically can't".

My husband has told me repeatedly that he wants to look more stylish and more professional (he's 30). This is great, because I'm tired of feeling like he's my kid brother instead of my partner when we go out. However, he has a bizarrely long list of tactile sensitivities that make it "impossible" for him to wear certain things because they're so uncomfortable that he "can't concentrate on anything else".

I don't really know what to make of these objections. I remember when I was a child thinking wool sweaters must be punishment for bad behavior, but I definitely grew out of it. Is he just being ridiculous, or could these issues be physically and/or psychologically real? Any other picky dressers have insight?

Here is partial list of his self-imposed sartorial restrictions, along with his rationales. (He also has a rather spartan aesthetic sense, you'll notice). He won't wear any of the following things except under extreme duress:

Things that are "scratchy":
denim (i.e. all jeans) and corduroy
synthetic fabrics or blends
wool or wool blends

Things that "make me feel like I'm suffocating":
slim-fitting shirts

Things that are nonspecifically "uncomfortable":
blazers and jackets
shirts tucked in

Things that "look dumb":
stripes, checks, or patterns of any kind
pink, yellow, purple, and pastels
(pretty much any accessory/nonessential)

Things that are "inefficient":
shoes with laces
owning more than one pair of shoes
owning more than one coat

The end result of these limitations is that he typically wears Gap chinos, a t-shirt, and slip-on shoes every single day. On dressier occasions he'll swap the t-shirt for a solid-colored oxford-type shirt, but only if it's half a size too big, loose at the collar, and untucked.


1) In the short term, what can he do to dress better within the boundaries he's set for himself? I'm not very knowledgeable or creative in this department, unfortunately.

2) More importantly, in the long term, can he be desensitized to blazers, belts, shoelaces and sweaters? How should he go about it, and how can I help?

Anonymized for my Mefite husband's privacy, who would die of embarrassment.
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (59 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'll go out on a limb here and say it: it sounds like your husband doesn't want to grow up, yet understands that his juvenile approach to dress is not really acceptable.

I seriously doubt that these constraints are real ones but ones that he has come up with in order to maintain some sort of control over an appearance with which he is increasingly uncomfortable.

The best fashion advice would be: find him a shrink.
posted by dfriedman at 10:17 AM on October 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

Polo shirts are dressier than t-shirts, at least, and are generally not worn tucked in. He might also look for lined trousers; most wool trousers (other than incredibly cheap ones) have some kind of lining, and I once owned a pair of flannel-lined jeans that were very comfortable (also very warm, but that's another story.)

As far as the shoes go, what do you mean by "slip-on shoes"? If he's just wearing Crocs or flip-flops or something, try upgrading to a nice pair of loafers.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:22 AM on October 8, 2009

Little to none of what you listed was a "physical can't", it was a "mental won't". "Looks dumb" is not physical. "Inefficient" is not physical.

When I came into this thread I thought I might be reading about someone disabled or of a completely unique body type who physically can't wear normal clothes.

Your husband is either just being a baby or has a mental illness. And I'm not trying to be harsh but, come on, "Can't focus on anything else?" It's either an emotional "won't" because he just doesn't want to, or it's a mental illness where he has some sort of mind disorder that makes clothes touching him an unbearable situation, in which case he should, as the first commenter said, get therapy.
posted by arniec at 10:22 AM on October 8, 2009 [19 favorites]

I remember feeling this way about most/all dress clothing until the age of 15 or so. Shirts with collars irritated my neck, sweaters felt scratchy/suffocating, long-sleeved shirts made me sweat, etc. It genuinely was difficult for me to wear dress clothing because I would feel icky all the time, I would be distracted and basically just willing the time to pass so I could change into something different. This seemed to lessen over time.

My first job required me to wear a dressy uniform--dress shirt, slacks, tie, the works, and be on my feet all day. After about six months of this 4-6 days a week, I had become pretty well desensitized except in very hot weather.

Maybe you could apply for him to work at, I dunno, the Geek Squad for a year or two? Seriously though, it sounds like you want him to dress differently than he wants/genuinely needs to dress. I'm not sure if that's necessarily a path you want to take. He can say he "wants to dress better" all day but given that list, "better" is probably not going to meet your definition while satisfying his restrictions.
posted by Phyltre at 10:24 AM on October 8, 2009

Wow. Short of a Minkie bathrobe, I can't really suggest any alternative outfits, let alone a dressy option. I also hate scratchy wool, but he really truly finds jeans scratchy? He thinks buttons are inefficient?

I know it sounds flippant, but I'm being totally serious when I suggest consulting a physician or a therapist; is it possible he has an undiagnosed sensory disorder?

That being said. How about flannel-lined denim? That could make for a soften sensation close to the skin. Also, I don't know if budget is a factor but for a bit of cash, you can purchase a VERY soft black cashmere sport-coat at Brooks Brothers (seriously, I could sleep in my husband's) & have it custom tailored so that it fits correctly (not too tight or too loose).

One last tip -- you'll look like a New Yorker, or a ninja, but buy black, black, black. Depending on the fabric, black clothing tends to look a bit dressier (even cotton), is easy to coordinate, and gives one a little room to "cheat" towards the comfort factor. I'm a photographer, and as much as I love to wear colors outside the office, having a black wardrobe on the job allows me to look dressy while being able to select more comfortable clothing that can move with me.
posted by muirne81 at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dfriedman has it. This is ridiculous. Calling corduroy "scratchy" is like calling Death Valley "cold".

Is he asperger spectrum?
posted by notsnot at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pretty much nothing about fashion is "efficient" so if he wants to dress more fashionable, he's going to have to throw all those out the window.

My DH doesn't like ties or sweaters because they also make him feel like he's suffocating. You can get around the tie thing by not working in a field that requires them, but v-neck sweaters are reported to feel less "strangling".
posted by fiercekitten at 10:26 AM on October 8, 2009

Well, there are certainly people who have sensory issues that are real and that can have a definite affect on their day-to-day lives. What's done for children with sensory issues ranges from occupational therapy to behavioral therapy to talk therapy. My son, for example, had two years of OT which included obstacle courses, being wrapped tightly in fabric, and the Wilbarger protocol.

My husband really, really hates wearing long-sleeved anything - shirts, sweaters, jackets, etc. I suspect he also has some sensory issues. But, he sucks it up and does it because he's a grown up and he knows he has to, and also because I think his sensory issues aren't severe.

It sounds like your husband is describing tactile defensiveness. I honestly have no idea what you'd do to help him, but I suspect that he needs to help himself. If this is an area of his life that he wants to change, maybe he ought to speak to his doctor. Or, you know, get over it. Whatever works for him.
posted by cooker girl at 10:28 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some of the stuff on that list does, in fact, suck. I have a similarly spartan aesthetic and here are the things I would strike as worthless:

pink, yellow, purple, and pastels (not everyone actually looks good in them)
wool or wool blends (worthless unless for business casual or more formal clothes)
ties (if he isn't at work, back off)
v-necks (if you're not in good physical shape, they look like shit)
watches, hats, other accessories (why bother? some people like jewelry, some don't)
vests (really?)

Here are things that someone with simple tastes could probably handle:

boots (get a nicer pair from LL Bean, very comfortable and great in rain/snow. plus wearing them makes you look like something other than a total couch potato)
shirts tucked in (depends on shirt and pants, but slimmer-fitting shirts should be fine)
denim (i.e. all jeans) and corduroy(get a broken-in pair. done)
undershirts (wait til its hotter inside than out, he'll appreciate this)
blazers and jackets (nobody takes you seriously if you're the only person not wearing a blazer or suit jacket, depending on setting)
shoes with laces (does he ever leave the house?)
slim-fitting shirts (great if you're on the lean side)
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:30 AM on October 8, 2009

One time I was rushing out the door to move the car before the street sweepers came. I raced to lace up some Converse and of course, got there a minute too late. I completely empathize with the inefficiency of laces.

Since then I searched far and wide, and this is a great shoe. Casual but also dressy depending on what kind of pants you wear.

As a bonus, you will also get less parking tickets (YMMV).
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 10:30 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

On the other hand there are great men's dress shoes that slip on the foot, but I suspect that these would be considered eater fashion forward and therefore perhaps inefficient by your husband. In fact, these are the only kinds of dress shoes I wear because I, too, hate laces. I get mine at DSW...
posted by dfriedman at 10:33 AM on October 8, 2009

As a first step, maybe try to start buying higher quality versions of the stuff that he currently wears. It might pique his interest in fashion a bit, but if not, he will look better in what he does like.
posted by milarepa at 10:34 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

I agree with the above, it sounds like excuses to me with the exception of a few things. For example, he might just be too hot in sweaters. My boyfriend doesn't wear them either, because usually they are just too warm for him.

And lots of guys don't like to wear ties but this falls into that weird "societal norms" thing that some people just have to rebel against. I hate to wear heels but I know I have to occasionally do so, for a wedding or something. I think of jackets and ties for men as being in that category. Sometimes you just have to do it.

But it's weird that denim is "scratchy." What, is he having flashbacks to wearing toughskins as a kid or something? There are lighter weight denims available, even for guys. And corduroy is much softer today than it used to be, also.

For shoes, you could appeal to his practical nature by explaining that having two pairs of work shoes means they dry out properly between wearings, and will last longer and smell less than if he wears the same pair every day. Loafer type shoes are totally fine for work and dressy occasions. There's no reason he has to deal with shoelaces if he really doesn't want to.

You could try buying him a new shirt, then fawning over him every time he wears it.
posted by cabingirl at 10:37 AM on October 8, 2009

Men's slip-on dress shoes @ DSW:
posted by dfriedman at 10:40 AM on October 8, 2009

Im a lot like him, but I find comfy polo shirts and comfy long sleeve shirts are about as comfortable as any t-shirt. The right pants are just as comfortable as jeans. I avoid sweaters as I feel like Im in a straight jacket. If its cold out I'll just wear an undershirt and a long sleeve collared shirt. No need for vests, sweaters, or sweatshirt. I do have one or two soft and thin sweaters I like. I collect fat in the abdomen so the parts of me that get cold are really my arms and legs. My middle stays warm on its own.

I agree with the silly colors and accessories. Men dont want to be controlled by Madison avenue the way women are. So we can dismiss pastels and whatnot and just stick to black, browns, and tans.

>slip-on shoes

A have a couple nice pair of loafers for DSW that are just as nice if not nicer than shoelaced shoes that cost twice as much. There's nothing wrong with this. Unless he's wearing roos or some other velcro shoes.

>blazers and jackets
shirts tucked in

Is he chubby? I disliked these things when I was larger, but dont bother me when Im thinner. I think a belt and a tucked in shirt are the difference between looking sharp and looking sloppy. Its a simple thing he can try.

>n the long term, can he be desensitized to blazers, belts, shoelaces and sweaters? How should he go about it, and how can I help?

Id drop the blazer from that list. A blazer that isnt part of a suit is a tacky look I associate with frat boys and douchbag salesmen. Dunno, sounds like he's overly picky. Growing up means a loss of control of how you can dress. Its a compromise. Perhaps he needs to accept that.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:44 AM on October 8, 2009

As a fellow wife of a somewhat schlubby-dressing 30ish-year-old man, I really question the sincerity of the excuses he's giving you. It sounds like to me he isn't really interested in changing what he wears. I gave up years ago on trying to convince my husband that it's not unreasonable to own more than 1 pair of casual pants.

It may be easier for you to let this go than try to brainstorm ways to transition him into more professional clothing. Are you the one initiating the conversations about his warerobe, or is this originating with him?
posted by something something at 10:44 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Erm, my ADHD husband can be very sensitive to certain types of materials. Tags especially can drive him crazy. This is not an uncommon part of ADHD. So that part at least is not "all in his head" or him being a baby. Obviously, I am not recommending ADHD medication just for this. I'm just asking you to have some compassion, because he is not making that up.
posted by desjardins at 10:45 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

My husband has told me repeatedly that he wants to look more stylish and more professional (he's 30).

I would say, he really doesn't want to look more stylish and professional given his list of things he will not do. Your question reminds me of this one, in which the poster's wife had said that wearing grass-stained (yet efficient) tennis shoes was not ok for the workplace. Despite many people commenting that he needed to just suck it up and dress correctly, and even pointing to specific shoes that would look better but be just as efficient, the poster came back several times only to provide counter-arguments. He's not marked any answers as "best answer," so there's no way to know what ultimately happened, but I would guess that even today he went to work with grass-stained tennis shoes.

Your husband's list (and it's a partial list?!) knocks out most clothes and he knows it. Until he's ready to suck it up and embrace things like "buttons," there's not much room for improving. (Chinos have a button, right? How is he handling that?)
posted by Houstonian at 10:46 AM on October 8, 2009

Lemme start out by saying that I identify with this dude, but on other grounds.

I refuse to wear (or buy) anything where value is made up and prices don't justify the cost of inputs. Clothes are my point of rage. I would personally like to punch Calvin Klein right square in his balls. Fashion is fake and shopping is a sickness, and I believe that fully.

I believe it so much that sometimes when I buy clothes at goodwill/yardsales I get designer crap just so I can paint in it or mess it up JUST so people will say "but those were Ralph Lauren's!" and I can say "yea, I paid a buck for 'em, what of it?"

That's different and immature in its own right, but we're still similar in our choices of what we wear, minus that I'm a shoe whore---but that's because I'm pigeon toed and rocking scoliosis, I needs me some good shoes. I don't wear corduroy either, or long sleeves, or tuck anything in when I don't absolutely have to. I can't stand rings or banglies on my wrists either, although I do like the *look* of a nice watch. Don't like wool or most synthetics that aren't athletic apparel I still manage to look more than presentable for my professional workplace every day, and I loathe most places that have a dress code for "going out."

Honestly, I'd encourage him to go to goodwill/thrift store and pick up some of the things he doesn't like nice and cheap, and let him experiment and try out and pick and choose. The benefit of "used" pants is that they're usually already broken in, which helps the "comfort factor" a whole whole lot.

Do a weekly or biweekly date and pick out his outfit for him, or at least pick out one major piece of it for him. Or, hell, go buy him one piece and ask him to wear it.

For bonus points, offer to let him buy you one article of clothing or underclothing of his choice for every one you buy him.

It's just clothes. Fashion doesn't make the man, and runway models look more homeless than the people taking items from the garbage cans at goodwill. Make it more about fun and you, and less about the societal need for him to do it, and he'll probably get on board.
posted by TomMelee at 10:49 AM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me that he says those things to make you think he wants to change, but actually enjoys the way he dresses and is making up excuses to tell you. "I want to, but I CAN'T" Bull, he just doesn't like being pushed by you to change his image.

That's what I would do if my SO tried to make me dress nicer on a regular basis. Sure, going out for a nice dinner I enjoy wearing button down shirts and dress pants, but all day every other day it's jeans and a t-shirt.

Then again, like notsnot said, his reasons make it sound like he could have Asperger's. If he doesn't show any other signs, then I swear he's just making up excuses.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:49 AM on October 8, 2009

I didn't used to dress as well as I do now, and felt that less casual clothing was physically uncomfortable. In reality, it was mental discomfort at changing myself and my image.
posted by grouse at 10:53 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Attractive, grown-up, non-slipper shoes for men without laces. I've been told by more than one shoemaker that if you wear a pair of leather shoes all day, you need to dry the interiors when you remove them (with tissue or talc) and ideally, wear a different pair the next day, to save wear on the leather.

He might consider a pair of chinos made from cotton twill with a bit of stretch, which will look more crisp, less slouchy than lightweight cotton chinos (e.g. from the Gap). Crewneck shirts in nicer fabrics (silk jersey blends) or also look less rumpled, slouchy, disrespectful than most cotton jersey t-shirt or untucked buttondown. Silk merino wool blends are nice and not itchy, but he probably won't agree. I don't find icebreaker wool, which looks more like "regular fabric" than woven wool, itchy, but again YMMV. This is, essentially, milarepa's advice. Buy higher quality chinos and higher quality crewnecks, and he'll look less like a fractious teenager and more pulled-together.

Since you asked "is he just being ridiculous", I'll give my opinion that "yes, he's being a big petulant baby."
posted by crush-onastick at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2009

It's not about the clothes. He's nervous about making a conspicuous personal change. Nervous about how people will react and whether they'll judge him for it (they won't). He's imagining that the way he dresses is a key part of his identity in the eyes of people around him, and that changing it would be a big deal. Until he realizes that nobody really cares, and that attempting to improve yourself and the way you present yourself to the world isn't an admission of weakness or failure, you're stuck with baggy t-shirt guy.
posted by shadow vector at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2009 [7 favorites]

And even though I've just said it's not all that relevant, for the benefit of humanity I want to point out that owning only one pair of shoes is less efficient than owning and alternating multiple pairs, because the latter is easier on the shoes and extends their lifespan. Go buy shoes!
posted by shadow vector at 11:01 AM on October 8, 2009

Id drop the blazer from that list. A blazer that isnt part of a suit is a tacky look I associate with frat boys and douchbag salesmen. Dunno, sounds like he's overly picky. Growing up means a loss of control of how you can dress. Its a compromise. Perhaps he needs to accept that.

This is nonsense, unless you mean wearing a jacket with jeans which is indeed ridiculous looking.
posted by atrazine at 11:19 AM on October 8, 2009

"Husband, if you want to look stylish, you're going to have to give on some of these requirements. Go to a good store like Nordstrom or Macys, plan to spend > $700, and have the clerks pick out a good pair of shoes, pants, shirt, etc. They will listen to you and they will make suggestions that both attempt to meet your needs but also bring you in directions you might not have figured, but will look great."

"Oh, and Nordstrom has a no questions asked return policy."

Now, some specifics. I am not entirely unlike your husband. I wear ties only for weddings and funerals. I go for comfort over style any day, and have chosen a path in life that allows me to do this.

Tags on cheap shirts drive me crazy like they're made of sandpaper remnants. Good clothes (Nordstrom, Macy's, and up on the department store scale) and athletic clothes (REI) either have softer tags or no tags at all.

Also, have a clerk measure his neck and make sure that any dress shirts he gets have a large enough collar, and maybe go one half-size up for extra comfort (if he's a 16, try a 16 1/2). Again, find a store with a great return policy (Nordstrom is the one I know of, surely there are others) so you can try shirts for a week or two and see which ones work.

Shoes: $120 - $150 shoes can feel much, much more comfortable than less expensive ones. $$$ really does by comfort (as long as you're going with a brand known for comfort and quality). For a lace-less stylish shoe I'd look for a monkstrap shoe. It's a slip-on, but looks more formal.

If shoes are really a comfort issue, try a pair or two of $150 shoes from Nordstrom. Buy them, try them for a week (be nice and stay on carpet, but Nordstrom will probably take them back even if you use them for skateboarding). Ecco makes some nice dressy walking shoes. If your husband doesn't like them, they'll take them back no questions asked. He can cycle through a few pairs until he finds something comfortable.

Ties? Most of the time, who needs 'em? Bolo ties are much more comfortable and less constraining than traditional ties. Have him try 'em out.
posted by zippy at 11:19 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Another vote for compassion here. I'm physically sensitive to some aspects of clothing, and I've read of other people being that way as well. For what it's worth, I also notice lights, sounds, and smells more than others do. This is a sensitivity that I've had all my life, I don't need medication or therapy for it, and it's not some bizarre excuse to avoid growing up.

On to the practical stuff:

I'm a woman but wear both men's and women's clothing. For me, a lot of the clothing problem is solved by banning the two big irritants: socks with raised seams (Smartwool instead) and tags of all kinds. For jeans, it helps to buy them used and soft, which, if carefully done, can look cool. For other pants, I have been known to sew a strip of flannel over the inner seams (the ones that scratch me).

To deal with the tucking-in issue, I cut the bottoms off my layering t-shirts so they don't hang from beneath the bottom of the overshirt. Then I wear an overshirt that's designed to be worn untucked (possibly easier because I'm a woman).

I think it's easiest for a man to look stylish in solids. I just spent a couple of days staring numbly at hundreds of strangers in airports, and the guys that seemed most stylish to me wore dark, solid-color clothing in non-shiny fabrics, leather shoes with a polish to them (I was more likely to admire slip-ons), simple but trendy glasses, and quite short hair.

Blazers bug me only if they're tight or have itchy cuffs, so your husband might give them another chance at a larger size or in a more friendly fabric, such as linen or one of the travel fabrics. Maybe a travel blazer would work. The cut might not be super-trendy, but the fabric would be softer and more malleable. You might check the Magellans or TravelSmith sites.

Like your husband, I'm also a big fan of minimalism, and I frankly don't see that as a problem that needs to be fixed. He's probably saving a lot of money by not buying redundant things. Maybe you could spend that money on a nice trip together.
posted by PatoPata at 11:20 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

1.) Nothing. His boundaries are too restrictive. I assumed he just wore a smoking jacket like Hugh Heffner all the time.

2.) Yes. He will overcome these things when he grows up and / or gets psychological help as needed for possible sensory issues.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:33 AM on October 8, 2009

However, he has a bizarrely long list of tactile sensitivities that make it "impossible" for him to wear certain things because they're so uncomfortable that he "can't concentrate on anything else".

This really, really sounds like a sensory processing issue. My nephew has autism and the list of things we cannot dress him in because it scratches/hurts/makes his head hurt/makes him sad/etc. is very, very long.

If it's a legit sensory issue,then he really can't get over it without occupational therapy, if at all.
posted by crankylex at 11:38 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your husband is either just being a baby or has a mental illness.

As others have noted, I think it's far more likely that your husband doesn't actually want to dress "better", and sees no real reason to do so, and that the only reason he's said that he does want to is because you nag him about it or otherwise make it plain that you're embarrassed by him.

While his list is rather dramatically longer than my own, I also sympathize with the guy. If it's not cold out, why would I want to wear a jacket? Unless it's winter and the hat keeps my ears warm, then why would I want to spend money on a hat when I can buy a couple of books or a movie with that money instead, or just not spend it? And for damn sure you will not see a tie on me, like ever, unless someone has died or is being wed, you are interviewing me for a job, or I am otherwise a supplicant to you.

I'm going to suggest a few things.

First, draw a bright, hard line between occasions where social conventions in modern American or Wherever-ian society really do demand a particular form of dress, and other occasions. If your husband is wearing chinos and t-shirts to weddings and funerals, or going to job interviews in them, he needs to suck it up and not do that. If his work explicitly or implicitly requires a particular form or level of dress, then dressing another way is verboten and his feelings don't enter into it.

For other occasions (or nonoccasions), I'd suggest recognizing that your husband probably doesn't give a crap about his dress, within the limits you've described. Which honestly are not so bad as these limits go; it sounds like he's not insisting on wearing ripped jeans shorts, an ancient Iron Maiden t-shirt, and flip-flops every day.

I'd suggest looking at it like this: you are interested in something and would like it if he were also interested in it and enjoyed it, but he isn't and doesn't. In your case, that's fashion. By the same token, though, you're probably uninterested in his golf game (or whatever), and maybe even vaguely annoyed at him for liking it. Again, I'm not saying he doesn't need to have the "uniforms" that really are socially or work required or that he doesn't need to wear them when needed. But outside of those times, there is a real extent to which your interest in fashion and dress is a hobby. And probably a rather expensive one. To be sure, it's a hobby that was probably socially pressed on you very firmly, and one that you would have been made to feel very weird for not enjoying as you were growing up, and one whose norms you've internalized.

So what can you do to get him to play along? First, I'd suggest giving up on him suddenly finding fashion and dress interesting and enjoyable. Insisting on this just ends up painful all around -- my ex used to really want me to watch her shop for shoes, even though I don't give a crap about shoes, and she'd get visibly hurt that I wasn't enjoying myself watching her buy shoes. Don't be that. "I want you to want.." or "I want you to enjoy..." ends in madness.

Second, you do get to insist that he plays along sometimes, and to insist that he be a good sport about it. But you should acknowledge that this is something he's being a good sport about it, and that he's earning relationship points that can be redeemed for something else (like, when he has enough points, "I get to go with Fred and Bob to $PLACE to golf for a weekend" or "Joe and I get to go fishing at the coast"). And sometimes is sometimes, sometimes isn't "every day forever except for Sunday afternoons or when you're mowing the lawn."

Third, again apart from any occasions where he really is violating nearly universal social norms in his dress, you should try to stop being embarrassed by him. He's dressing as he chooses, and it really doesn't pick your pocket or break your leg. Why do you want him to dress better? Except for things like violating work norms, it really doesn't make sense to think that you want him to change his attire for his benefit. Why do you want him to dress "better"? Is it to be seen with him or show him off in some way? Then you're thinking that it's more important that he look like someone other people might want than that he be comfortable, and that's not a good thing to think.

Fourth, if you really like to dress up for occasions and he doesn't, find other people to play dress-up with. I assure you that you know some other wives who wish that their husbands were more interested in fashion and dress. So get together for a night on the town with them instead.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:42 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

My wardrobe issues sound not dissimilar to your husband's. I've kind of given up attempting to justify why the vast majority of synthetics and synthetic blends make my skin crawl - they just do, and I feel icky wearing them. Pretty much the only wool I can wear next to my skin is cashmere. Certain styles of shirts, jackets, pants, etc. feel confining and unpleasant. I loathe pastels, and have minimal confidence in my ability to choose and wear prints. And at the end of the day, if I don't really like something I'm trying on, I'm not going to wear it, so what's the point in buying it? I don't think I have sensitivity issues requiring intervention of some kind - these issues make shopping a pain in the ass, but that's really about it.

But I have stepped up from the days where everything in my wardrobe was one of three solid colors and largely cotton knits. Part of it is going to better sources - I've learned that it's largely pointless for me to try to buy clothes at Target, for instance. More upscale and/or independent retailers tend to carry fabrics with textures that work for me. Their clothes also tend to have better cut and construction. On the other side of the scale, vintage or thrift stores are a good bet, too, because their clothes are already worn in and the fabrics are softer.

And part of it is just resigning myself to the fact that no, I can't afford silk-lined three-season wool suits, but since I have need to wear a suit about three times a year, I can suck it up with the polyester in the interests of looking presentable. Sure, I'm unhappy in the morning when I put it on, yes, I practically run home to get it off, but I can deal.

One thing that helped in deciding to upgrade was seeing myself full-length in photographs and realizing that a lot of my clothes just weren't appealing. Something thing that helped with venturing into different colors, cuts and patterns was going shopping with friends and getting their opinions on what worked on me, and why. On my own, I tended to fixate on what I consider my problem spots, and it was helpful to hear my friends say, "Yes, you're right, that doesn't work," or "No, I don't see what you're seeing" to figure out whether it the issue was largely in my head or not.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:51 AM on October 8, 2009

Start with polo shirts, as mentioned upthread. Try a rugby if that goes well; it's not any more formal than a polo, but it does offer a different look, and is more appropriate for cold weather.
Unless he's a huge man--in which case, good luck finding anything big enough--try buying him a simple, solid color, crew neck, (and most importantly) cashmere sweater that is a size too big. Cashmere stuff usually runs small anyway, so he probably won't be swimming in it, but may well not have the suffocation factor. Alpaca would probably work, too. The idea is to start appreciating wooliness without the accompanying itchiness.
You might as well forget about ties for now.
posted by willpie at 11:52 AM on October 8, 2009

Seconding a quality raise. Take him to a tailor, to someone whose job it is to make someone of any body type look great. If a psychiatric disorder isn't what's at stake here, then it is %100 body image. He just doesn't think he looks good in all those things. Someone who is professionally trained in finding the right garments for any particular person can more than likely help your husband out.

For reference, I, for workaday purposes, wear marked-down dress pants from Burlington Coat Factory (for comfort), lace-less men's dress/comfort shoes (BORN shoes are fantastically comfortable, and smart-looking if you take care of them), and a t-shirt of my choice (often the choice is Cannibal Corpse or Goatwhore). I am aware that this 'I do not in any way care what people think of how I dress' attitude is not my spouse's favorite, however I like to think I balance it out by dressing well when the occasion demands. I like to get dressed up for fancy dinners or what have you--I like to wear a suit (even a tux), I like picking shirts and ties. And I'm fairly good at it (I think, at least). I'm just not going to spend time on choosing an outfit for work (I work in a 100% casual environment) or going to the grocery store or what have you.

I pick my battles, suffice it to say.

(Also, I fear bolo ties may be the very last thing this guy needs. For what it's worth.)
posted by Darth Fedor at 11:56 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

How about some simple but custom-tailored shirts and jackets to allow full freedom of movement? That's part of what bothering him about those items, and it cam be overcome by a competent tailor using the right cuts.

That, and explaining to him that fashion is a language, and that what he broadcasts in that language has a real impact on those around him and how they open (or avoid) initial interaction with him.

His utilization of that language affects you, too, when you accompany him.
posted by NortonDC at 12:00 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have similar issues... my skin allergies hate fabrics in general, especially anything remotely artificial, scratchy and/or unbreathable. And yet, I've managed to develop a passable respectable wardrobe for business life, by finding the few things that work and just picking up a lot of them in different colors. My friends refer to me as having a "look" because I'm always in the same basic getup, making only minor adjustments to meet levels of formality as needed. It ends up looking kinda like a Aussie-Outback / Indiana Jones mashup.

The short/magic solution? Linen!

Your husband needs linen and (carefully chosen) linen/cotton blend shirts and pants. I have a closet full of the stuff. You have to buy it when you can find it, because it isn't always in season... and right now it's not. Some of the blends can be scratchy, so be careful. No t-shirt of any material is as comfortable and non-constrictive as my collection of linen short-sleeve dress shirts, particularly once worn in with washings.

Oilskin makes the best outerwear, I've found. I hate coats and hats, but I can tolerate a hat and duster made up of that stuff, and it looks good.

Shoes, look for a "hybrid" style shoe. Something that looks good from overhead, but is really a breathable slip-on loafer/athletic shoe. Nike's Free Hybrids are the best I've tried.

You want a plain, segmented belt... something made of links and not a long single piece of leather, and worn loosely (i.e., just for looks). It makes all the difference in the world -- I can barely feel it on me compared to normal belts. And it works with the look.

I'll spare you ridiculously detailed notes, but message me if you need/want them, 'k? I had to hear my entire life about it being "all in my head" and was forced to wear things that made me miserable... but getting to adulthood and finding the "right" stuff was life-changing. This is absolutely fixable.
posted by Pufferish at 12:04 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

If he's experiencing actual physical irritation (rash, chafing, blistering) and/or pain when wearing something, it's the wrong garment. If he simply finds more formal or stylish clothes uncomfortable because they are more restrictive than casual clothes, then he needs to try to become accustomed to wearing them. He may never enjoy wearing a tie, but unless he is mentally ill or is allergic to certain fabrics/detergents, he can get used to tucking in his shirt.

If he wants to look more stylish and professional, he needs to get over the efficiency thing. Stylish, professional clothes are not efficient. I think that's the biggest challenge here: he needs to stop using "efficiency" as an excuse for not dressing like a grownup. It won't be too much of a departure from his preferred style to wear a dress shirt, slacks, belt, and loafers. The only real challenge there would be the belt (dressing up but not wearing a belt just looks odd). Take him to a department store and have him try on every belt they sell until he finds one he can stand.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:07 PM on October 8, 2009

If I were badgered about clothes to the extent required to compile this list, I'd be making up excuses like this too.

My pick is that in fact he does not want to dress better, but only said that to keep you quiet. There many possible solutions to that kind of marital discord, but "finding clothes he likes which I like too" is probably not really your problem here.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:08 PM on October 8, 2009

Go through a men's magazine like GQ with him and let him pick examples of what he'd like to look like. Work on approximating those looks together.
posted by hermitosis at 12:16 PM on October 8, 2009

My guy is allergic to wool, hates ties, hates new clothes (and has 4 x as many clothes as me), hates synthetics, hates anything rough, etc.

- microfibre jacket, lambskin outer jacket
- polo shirts in 100% cotton
- permapress all cotton pants
- leather boat shoes/loafers
- jeans prewashed for comfort

Sylish, no; presentable, yes. He tried on a designer linen jacket the other day (he loves to shop), adored it, and couldn't lift his arms in it even though it fit perfectly everywhere. So, European cut which allows more movement whenever possible.
posted by x46 at 12:19 PM on October 8, 2009

Metafilter is almost never the best place to ask after men's fashion. There are a lot of comfers cozers on this site (like your husband), and while they feel comfortable they don't always look the best. I know, I know, we can't really see each other but some of these suggestions are painting a picture over here and it's not good.

Looking nice can definitely feel nice, good shoes (shoes really make the outfit), high quality materials and fit are everything. I'm going to say this again because it's important: FIT IS EVERYTHING. Baggy, loose clothes look dumpy, and make it look like you're trying to hide something. I'm not saying get some skinny jeans and super-tight shirts, but getting some clothes that fit your body correctly is going to go miles towards making even basics look nice. Look at some larger well-dressed actors: John Hamm from Mad Men is a big guy, so is Alec Baldwin, but they never really look all that big because of how well their clothes are fitting.

J.Crew currently has this cute stop-motion animation here. What's nice about it is it's a whole year's worth of looks in about a minute, and it's almost all basics, nothing that screams "J.CREW!" Check out their Jack know best section as well, it's useful.

Also, bolo ties? No, not even if you're a cowboy. And a sportcoat and jeans can look fine.
posted by splatta at 12:22 PM on October 8, 2009 [8 favorites]

What's with all the tie hate? It's the aughts people, your tie does not have to be cinched tight like it's holding your head on. It's perfectly acceptable to let that top button breathe and keep your tie a little loose, especially when wearing a tie with a more casual outfit. There is no reason a piece of cloth lightly wrapped around your neck should cause you discomfort. You do not need to be strangling your wattle like its Easter morning circa 1987.
posted by nomad at 12:25 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

How do his peers dress? If he works with, or mostly has friends who dress poorly, that could be his measuring stick for what's OK. I am 29 and have one friend who still dresses like he's in college. Most like a homeless college student actually. But he's the lone holdout. He's a nurse, so the work uniform is scrubs and in his personal life, he just doesn't care. Everyone else though started dressing better (myself included) when they moved in to the work place and started interacting with other adults and realized that the T-shirt, chinos and sneakers look doesn't cut it if you want to be taken seriously.

I had a lot of luck finding clothes I liked at REI and other sporting goods stores. Also, spending a little bit of money and getting 2 nice shirts that fit and feel well is better than having 4 shirts that scratch and never fit right. Seersucker for summer. Oxford shirts for winter. I've had great luck at Zappos finding funky slip ons that will really make even the most basic style look better.
posted by Phoenix42 at 12:42 PM on October 8, 2009

My brother has Asperger's and has a similar list of won't-do clothing. He has this insane mental block against ever dressing up and we've had some epic battles over wearing nice clothes for three hours for graduation/weddings/etc. It drives me absolutely batty because at this point I think it's more of a mental block more than it is a sensory one anymore. I don't think he'll ever get over it, either, but them's the breaks.

Though never as bad as my brother or your husband, I used to be similarly picky over clothes. I'll echo what some other people have said and suggest looking for a few pieces of high-quality clothing to start him off, and also find a good tailor who will alter the garments he does like. I had a hard time breaking my habits because I didn't want to spend a lot of money on clothes because I hated them, but then it turns out I hated them because of the cheap material and poor fit and spending more helps with that. If your husband can start stretching his limits with super high quality pieces it may make it easier to later drop back down to more reasonably priced pieces because now he's more comfortable with them.
posted by lilac girl at 12:43 PM on October 8, 2009

I'm echoing the calls for a little damned compassion. If someone doesn't want to wear things that look dumb (and almost everything on that list does, in fact, look dumb on anyone who's not a model), then he (or she) shouldn't be pressured to do so.

And the sensitivity thing. He doesn't have to have a diagnosed disorder for it to be OK for him to not like tags or denim or courderoy. I can't think of anything MORE scratchy to wear than what the inside of that crap feels like.

Suggestions: let him (or make him) shop for himself. If he is going to be picky, its only fair. Suggest that he rethink his rules, and eliminate most of them. Instead, judge each piece of clothing on its own. When he sees a pair of jeans that he might like, he should feel them, inside and out, and see if they feel OK. There are hundreds of kinds of materials out there, and it can vary between individual items in a stack. I've been known to dig through a stack of pants to find the ones that felt nicest. With a little practice, he will learn what fabrics work for him. (Hint- the most comfortable fabrics are usually blends.)

Another issue is what happens to a piece of clothing on its first trip through the washer. Maybe a sweater is machine washable, but that doesn't mean it comes out feeling nice. On the converse, sometimes a pair of pants or shirt doesn't really start to feel right until it has been washed 4 or 5 times.

Does he wear undershirts? He should start. A good undershirt makes a world of difference. Same thing with underpants- try different types to see if they help any.

(Hell, try changing soaps- scratchy, dry skin is more sensitive.)

Another thing is that sometimes nice "dress" pants are lined. That might be something to look for and try.

(As you might imagine, I have some of the same hangups. One thing that made life so much less noisy to my senses was switching to a good, brand name, liquid fabric softener. It makes a world of difference. And shopping for myself. Nothing makes a shirt feel even more uncomfortable than being forced to wear it to make someone else happy.)

(Metafilter: "I would personally like to punch Calvin Klein right square in his balls.")
posted by gjc at 12:45 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

Watches look dumb? I remember when I was a kid I thought they were one of the symbols of manhood. I would feel SO cool wearing a watch.
posted by toekneebullard at 12:49 PM on October 8, 2009

This might sound a bit bizarre, but have a listen to episode 28 of Jordan, Jesse, Go!. The bulk of it is taken up by Jordan getting advice (from Jesse/YoungAmerican) on how to dress like an adult, with scratchy/restrictive/uncomfortable objections and all, and I think his answers are awesome, although obviously quite specific. You might find it cathartic listening, at the very least.
posted by carbide at 12:59 PM on October 8, 2009

I had almost the same list of objections about apparel until I was about 17. It really did feel like unbearable physical irritation at the time, but it turns out it was not very difficult to get over. All of the following has been said but I'm going to add my vote, based on my experience:
- Higher quality clothing, with finer fabrics, are more comfortable.
- I wore everything too large because I thought clothes that fit were uncomfortable. Actually, though, I didn't know how to select clothing that really fit. Take him to a real menswear store, where the salespeople know a lot about men's clothing and will walk him through an outfit or two. They will measure him and he will discover what clothes that fit actually look and feel like.
- Tell him to suck it up. That's pretty much all it takes. Suck it up, wear clothes that fit differently than you are used to for a while and the discomfort will go away.
posted by dreadpiratesully at 1:01 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your husband is either just being a baby or has a mental illness.

Because we're scientists now, we need to describe others' preferences as a disease if they don't match our own. I could suggest therapy to deal with your embarrassment over his clothes. Is your husband compassionate about your embarrassment? Can he accept some discomfort in the interests of you feeling better? Maybe the discomfort has to be shared a bit here instead of it all being his problem.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:03 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

And another thing: high quality clothes aren't necessarily the only solution. They *can* be, but not always. Plenty of brands that purport to be high quality, and may well be, still use fabrics that aren't comfortable.

One thing too is that the more "fashionable" the brand, the less likely it is to fit comfortably. Cast in point: I love my cheap Wrangler jeans. They are comfy as heck, cost $15 at Target, and last about half as long as the more socially acceptable brands. But they don't look any different. But if I wander over to the $100 jeans section, not one damned pair fits right, and the material is so stiff because it has to hold its fancy shape.

Also, if he really is open to trying new things, get a piece of clothing that's on the edge, and have him run some sandpaper all over the inside of it. That'll usually soften it up, at the expense (maybe) of some long term wear.
posted by gjc at 1:05 PM on October 8, 2009

Camper slip-on shoes with elastic laces. Also: owning just one pair of shoes is actually inefficient, because of more wear and tear when the same shoes are used every day.
posted by iviken at 3:10 PM on October 8, 2009

First, make sure that the Gap chinos are relatively new, properly hemmed, properly pressed, or at least folded so that the front crease is preserved, smoothed free of wrinkles and hung up. Tshirts should be newish, not faded, no slogans. Polo shirts ae a setup and really feel the same to me, maybe he can tolerate a polo. No stains, frayed edges or tears. Newer, crisper clothing will look better, and will help him desensitize a bit. Loafers are slip-on and look good. They should be shined.

Compliment him when he looks good.

My son wore the horrid overly baggy pants until the construction site manager told him floppy clothes were unsafe on the job, and to get jeans that fit right. Then he learned that girls liked his fit shape when they could discern it. A friend had genuine OCD, and sometimes just could not bring himself to wear certain clothes. When he learned to manage the OCD, his clothes issues got better.

Again, Compliment him when he looks good. Genuine praise can be quite effective.
posted by theora55 at 3:33 PM on October 8, 2009

I work in a business casual environment and earlier this year I made the transition from wearing khakis and untucked dress shirts to dress pants, tucked in dress shirts, and at least once a week either a tie or sports coat.*

I needed to get a nice suit for a funeral and I just took it as an excuse to buy new clothes and update my style. The primary upshot of all this was I was suddenly taken way more seriously at work (for not doing anything different than I was before) and complimented a lot more often.

This led to a self-perpetuating cycle of me feeling better about the way I looked, and therefore wanting to look better.

A year ago I hated sports coats and the way they made me look and feel, now I actually enjoy them and have opinions on the kinds of fabrics and patterns that I look best in, same with ties. A big part of it was just making the leap and getting the clothes to wear. Here I was exceptionally fortunate in that I was able to get a couple of nice coats from JC Pennies during one of their monster clearances, I think I paid about $25 each for a couple of $200 jackets.

That I could look nice at a minimum budget cost meant that I was able to sustain the momentum long enough to make it a habit.

For me, it was just getting over that initial hump of; I don't want to spend the money, and I don't want to be uncomfortable. Once I realized those weren't really issues, it became much easier.

*: They can't have my boots though. I'll wear my boots to the grave!
posted by quin at 3:40 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a list longer than this of stuff that I can't bear (wool next to my skin, tags, polyester of any kind, turtlenecks, anything around my wrists, etc., etc.) so I have sympathy with your husband on the "makes me itchy/suffocated/claustrophobic" front.

For the people for whom that's real, it's really really real and it's as uncomfortable as wearing overly tight shoes and an overly tight headband for 8+ hours, so all of you "He should just suck it up" people need to walk a mile in the overly tight shoes and headband before you dismiss those issues so glibly.

The end result of these limitations is that he typically wears Gap chinos, a t-shirt, and slip-on shoes every single day. On dressier occasions he'll swap the t-shirt for a solid-colored oxford-type shirt, but only if it's half a size too big, loose at the collar, and untucked.

So your husband dresses like pretty much every man in the computer industry. And like Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla used to dress on "The Man Show," for that matter. Not ideal, but why are you "embarrassed" by this? Yes, he should find a tie and a blazer and preferably a suit that he finds comfortable so that he can be appropriately dressed for more formal occasions, but why not work with him to find more stylish chinos, t-shirts, and slip-on shoes?
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:20 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

It really did feel like unbearable physical irritation at the time, but it turns out it was not very difficult to get over.

(One of many such comments.)

I am delighted for all of you folks who found it easy to get over your tactile sensitivities and skin allergies. It's not that easy for everyone.

This does not make it impossible to dress stylishly or fashionably--it just makes it a bit more of a challenge for those of us whose tactile sensitivities have stuck with us into adulthood.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:22 PM on October 8, 2009

Believe me, having shirts that fit perfectly makes a world of difference. Start off by finding a decently priced tailor. Go with your husband to let him choose his own fabrics in his preferred colors to custom order a couple of button down shirts. When my husband and I tried this, I was amazed at how stylish a simple custom made shirt looked on him, and he was amazed that he could actually spend a day in one and not be distracted to tears from discomfort.
posted by misozaki at 6:11 PM on October 8, 2009

Shoes -- if you're willing to drop some cash, try R.M. Williams boots. An Australian classic. They're comfortable -- and slip on!! -- ankle high boots that are nice enough to wear with a suit. I have seen it done by several men. Admittedly, they were all Australian and dressed like your husband most of the time, but still.

I wore a pair all the time, for years. But I had to admit they looked better on men.
posted by kestrel251 at 8:28 PM on October 8, 2009

Better R.M. Williams link
posted by kestrel251 at 8:29 PM on October 8, 2009

I am all about efficiency. In fact, if it weren't for my job, or the 'no shirt no shoes no dice' rule, I would probably walk around with a pair of shorts on and nothing else. Unfortunately, I have had to bend my ways to keep my boss, my wife, and the bartender happy.

Start with a black and brown pair of Neil M loafers. Man those things are comfy.

As far as pants and shirts are concerned, you get what you pay for, and that also means comfort for the wearer. A $100 pair of dress slacks with the 'expando-waist' thingies are probably those most comfortable pair of pants you can own, unless you wore silk pantaloons.

Moving from a t-shirt to a nice collared short sleeve shirt like this will make him look a heck of a lot better. If you can some how get him to tuck it in, and put on a belt, he will be a new man.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:07 AM on October 9, 2009

Regarding just wool and other sweater-y fibres (since others have already stated much of what I'd say): unless he has an allergy, it's impossible that he would find a 100% merino or cashmere sweater scratchy. They are absolutely the softest, most lovely fibres one could drap themselves in. You pay for it, though, but it's good value.
posted by Kurichina at 10:24 AM on October 9, 2009

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