those pants hurt my eyes dude
September 12, 2012 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Is it ever appropriate to tell someone that something they wear is unflattering?

I have a close male friend who is totally clueless when it comes to clothing / style etc. And you know, that's fine. I respect that he doesn't really care about clothes. But he has this one pair of jeans that I find truly repulsive. They are ugly (subjective I know) and ill-fitting (baggy but too short. but not too short intentionally). He is a tall thin man and the too short jeans make him look so goofy.

I know he sort of looks up to me and cares what I think. I really long to tell him to get rid of the jeans. He wears them often. And he looks so goofy.

But I'm aware that I am kind of just being harsh in my opinion here and that my sense of aesthetics are my own and why should I impose them on others? Is it just controlling and mean of me?

I know this is kind of an unimportant thing and I don't know why it's driving me so crazy. But I'm wondering if anyone has ever told someone they're close to who is clueless about clothing that something they wear is unflattering and makes them look goofy and did you find a nice way of doing it?
posted by beccyjoe to Human Relations (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you're trying to be mean, but I do think this falls into the category of things you shouldn't mention to people unless they ask you for your opinion. Personally, I would not say anything about the jeans unless he specifically asked me for my opinion on them (or asked me for help with his style in general).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:45 PM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Hey, those pants are looking worn. How about we go down to the Gap and get you a new pair, my treat!"

And, no, unless you are his mother or wife, there's no way to give an unsolicited opinion about how a dude dresses poorly and have it go over well.
posted by griphus at 4:45 PM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'd say that if he asks you for your opinion then it's fine to give it to him. What's appropriate is fairly subjective, though. If he really looks up to you as you say in your post, then leading by example will be your best bet.
posted by marimeko at 4:46 PM on September 12, 2012

Unless he's specifically asked you for advice on his wardrobe, or bemoan why he can't get any dates/interviews/other things that may spotlight his clothing choices AND ask you what he can do to improve his chances, I wouldn't.

I wear lots of things that most fashionistas probably thinks look terrible. I like them because they're comfy/cheap/insert reason. Might not be good reasons to anyone else, but they are to me.
posted by Hakaisha at 4:46 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is it ever appropriate to tell someone that something they wear is unflattering?

When they ask ... and you reply with "do you want my honest assessment?" and they say "yes, tell me the truth, I really want to know and I trust your judgment" ... then you can tell them sandwiched between compliments that that one particular pair of jeans isn't the most flattering but that those khakis look fabulous.
posted by headnsouth at 4:47 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

When they ask you for advice on their wardrobe. Otherwise, praise the other, better clothes he owns and pointedly omit comment on the offending pants and perhaps he will get the picture.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:48 PM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

If he doesn't really care about it, then unsolicited advice like yours really has no guarantee of having much effect. Just give him a new pair of jeans that you find flattering and hope he likes them better than his old ones.
posted by krakus at 4:51 PM on September 12, 2012

Praise the good, ignore the bad.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:54 PM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

I don't think you can tell him these look bad, but there's nothing wrong with casually telling him - once - that you think he'd look good in some other thing. Not as a comparison, just, "Oh I saw a guy who looked a lot like you - thin, and your height, and he was wearing this particular type of jeans. I thought they'd look really good on you. You know, just in case you're ever shopping for new jeans." You can do this even easier if there's something he wants to do like date more (if he's single) or impress his girlfriend (if he has one) or hang out in some trendy kind of place. Then you can say, "I was thinking jeans like that would be a great look for you when you do [thing]." I mean, you could say that even if he already dressed well. It's always flattering (or at least neutral) to tell someone they'd look good in something.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:56 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Praise other pants he wears (if it's not awkward for you), highlighting what makes them different from the evil pants ("Those pants fit you so well! I hate when guys wear pants that are too short, those are the perfect length!").
posted by sallybrown at 4:58 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are some people who can deliver uncomfortable news very, very well, and in such a way that it does not transfer shame or embarrassment. It's hard for some people to imagine this, as they have not seen it in action, and most of us do not have this gift. If you see it in action, it's really pretty amazing.

Many people do not have that gift. If you don't know if you have the gift, then you likely do not. And for something non-essential, I would suggest, then, that it's not worth saying something. Wait for the things that matter.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:59 PM on September 12, 2012 [11 favorites]

"I saw a guy today wearing [style of jeans that would be better]. I think you'd look great in them." Offer to go shopping with him.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:01 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

@SpacemanStix oh I know what you mean. I wish I had that gift. I think it's about being really upbeat and really charming and not dwelling on it - just saying it like it's matter-of-fact and then moving on. I was hoping someone could impart it to me here...

yes I have many times complimented his other jeans which are very nice. he knows that I like them. I am not going to buy him new jeans because it would be weird. he has a wife. (I wish she would tell him the too-short ones are gross.)
posted by beccyjoe at 5:06 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it depends what the tone of your relationship is. I have a male best friend who usually does OK, but is sometimes surprisingly clueless about things like fit, when it's time to replace things, what flatters him, etc.

We have a "cheerful ribbing" sort of relationship and have always been very frank with each other. I also know that he honestly doesn't care much about this stuff, and that telling him "dude, those sneakers smell so bad they might run away under their own stink-power" isn't going to hurt his feelings.

If your relationship is like that, just be frank. Not mean, and probably with a dose of humor, but just come out and say "this doesn't fit" or "you need a new coat" or "that is beyond mending" or whatever.

If you think he would be more sensitive about it, or you're not really that close, I would just not say anything.

If you decide to be frank with him, I would also make sure to compliment him in a genuine way when he looks nice or gets something cool.

Also, some things are beyond the pale, IMO. I would say "you need new jeans." I would not say "you are too fat for those jeans." Keep it about the item and its suitability/functionality, not about his body or his taste.
posted by Sara C. at 5:10 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a grown adult and you have no way of knowing why he dresses himself the way he does. Maybe he likes the way he looks. Maybe goofy is the look he's going for. Maybe he has a limited budget, or hasn't done laundry, or a dear departed friend bought him those (awful) slacks, or thinking about how to dress himself makes him horribly self-conscious and he's happier not thinking about it.

What he wears is no reflection on you, and it costs you nothing to be kind and keep this information to yourself.

Unless it's spinach-in-the-teeth fixable, or if I'm directly questioned if something is awful, I save my critiques (and probably some relationships) for what celebrities are wearing.

Let's all hope the mullet hem has a short reign.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:15 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Maybe it's just me, but I don't quite get the "Oh my god, never ever ever criticize a man's taste in clothes!" attitude here.

But if this were directed at me, what would make it less cutting:
1) It's not about him, it's about the pants.
All that stuff you're thinking about how he's "totally clueless" or whatever, don't say that. Only address the pants, not his taste.

2) It's your opinion, not the world's opinion.
You can only speak for yourself. If you ever suggest that lots of people know those pants are ugly, then you're coming close to breaking rule 1 by implying there's something wrong with him for not knowing already.

3) Don't defend your opinion or the importance of your opinion.
You should mention that you think it's too short and fits poorly, sure; it only works as advice if he can learn a new rule-of-thumb from it. But if he dismisses it as unimportant, fight the temptation to defend it; if you bring up dates, interviews, whatever to justify why it's important to dress better, that would break rule 2. And if he's invested enough to argue that the pants are fine, then insisting they aren't implies his opinion is wrong, and breaks rule 1, so you have to immediately drop back to "agree to disagree" mode.

Going by your name, and you referred to him as a male friend, I'll presume you're a woman. I think it's generally easier for a (hetero-normative) man to take fashion advice from a woman than from another man. It allows him the face-saving out that, "of course you know more about this stuff, you're a girl." It's a systemic generalization about what domains are masculine or feminine, but in this one case, it makes your problem easier, so don't worry so much.
posted by RobotHero at 5:43 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are some guy friends who I could say this to, but it really depends on the guy and the friendship. (For me, having this kind of conversation with girl friends is a different dynamic, so I am just going to leave that out of it.)

If I were going to get away with something like this, I would probably say, "honey, I love you and I'm telling you this as a friend, but I think it's time to retire that pair of jeans." My tone would be teasing and warm. I'd say it once and then never again. Don't say it at the end of a night out or around other people, when he can dwell on it and feel self-conscious. Catch him at home, say it, smile, and then have a back-up subject to bring up.

Since there's no way to guarantee that he won't, if he does get defensive or hurt, apologize sincerely for over-stepping your bounds and tell him you won't do it again. Then don't.
posted by juliplease at 5:47 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm just going to say leave it alone because he has a wife. This is her job, and it's pretty much between them.

If he didn't have a wife I would think differently.
posted by bleep at 5:52 PM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

he has a wife. (I wish she would tell him the too-short ones are gross.)

I'll say 80% chance that if you tell him, he replies with something like, "My wife says the same thing! But I like 'em!" because there is a difference between telling someone his pants are ugly and actually making him stop wearing them.
posted by RobotHero at 5:56 PM on September 12, 2012 [18 favorites]

Another vote for just leaving your friend alone. As you say yourself, this is an unimportant thing. Besides "he might stop wearing a pair of pants that you think look goofy," what actual benefit would your friend get from you sharing your opinion of his jeans?

It's his butt. Let him adorn it as he sees fit.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:01 PM on September 12, 2012

The only time it's okay is when you're both specifically asked and actually in a dressing room with the asker. Even then, you need to tread carefully. So, no.
posted by mchorn at 6:07 PM on September 12, 2012

After the update I agree with bleep and RobotHero. His having a wife makes it different. I assumed you were his closest female friend, and by default the only one who could comfortably suggest fashion choices to him. Unless there's another dimension, like you work together and you know clients think he looks like a goofball, I don't think it's really for you to say anything.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please, this isn't about mollifying the male ego. It's about respecting the choices of fully grown adults. In matters of taste, I assume my friends of any and all genders can manage their own affairs, and are capable of asking for my opinion if they want it. This guy hasn't asked for the OP's advice, so maybe respect that he's got his reasons and let it go?
posted by Space Kitty at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

I (male) would have no trouble taking fashion advice/critique from a male/female friend, so long as it was delivered without being, you know, mean. I also would say that I'm a particularly unsensitive guy - so if you were my friend, and you told me my jeans didn't flatter me, I'd probably appreciate the advice. (If not in the moment, in a few moments).

One thing I thought of just before hitting post: the thing was would make me the least defensive is if you delivered the critique when I wasn't actually wearing the jeans. It's easier to hear I looked terrible yesterday than right now.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 6:22 PM on September 12, 2012

Yeah, what the hell? He's got a partner, the partner doesn't seem to care, why is it your business at all? He's not going to wear them to a job interview, presumably.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:22 PM on September 12, 2012

This is so funny to me because one of my husband's female friends just told him she hates his jeans and took him shopping for a better-fitting alternative. My husband does not give a damn about clothes, and even though I've cringed at the baggy loose-cut jeans and velcro-fastened polyester shirt* for years, he's had both since before he knew me and it never occurred to me to say anything. But he was totally open to his friend's suggestion, which led to a conversation between spouse and me about what he wears and also what he thinks about what I wear (~~not sexay enuf~~). We've now made plans to take each other shopping.

So: Your mileage may vary, but sometimes it's good when a friend tells another friend to fix some dorky clothes, despite culturally imposed rules about married people and opposite-sex-non-romantic friendships.

* And more than a few other things.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:45 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I dunno, maybe I'm a rude friend, but I don't think it's completely out of line to say something like "I really like the longer style of jeans you're wearing today! You should get more like these because they're very flattering on you."
posted by oneirodynia at 6:52 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your question about your friend and his clothing had a lot "I" in it. Meaning you talk a lot about yourself and your reaction to this. Maybe rethink this as your problem, instead of him having a problem?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:23 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I consider it explicitly my duty to NOT police my partner's clothes. He's said he doesn't care about his baggy jeans being unattractive, so I don't feel a need to tell him over and over again how ugly they are. Plus if something needs replacing then one or both of us is going to have to go shopping and we hate shopping.

But I think he and I have both absorbed the idea that no one out in the world cares how we look. And it can be really really valuable to have an impartial party - someone who isn't obsessed with fashion, someone who isn't specifically trying to improve my look, just a friend who I interact with - point out the things they do notice (well... that stain isn't so subtle after all). So I think waiting for him to ask you for pointers is actually not helpful.

But you have to have a pretty relaxed attitude/relationship to be able to critique him that way and not leave him feeling stressed/judged. The trick is making sure that he understands that you're OK with him wearing those pants, and if he wants to wear them he's capable of making his own decisions - but you think they look kind of short and like they might have shrunk in the wash. That might even be the best way to put it - not "Those pants look really bad on you" but just, "Hey, I noticed it looks like those pants shrunk in the wash at some point and wanted to give you a heads up".
posted by Lady Li at 7:52 PM on September 12, 2012

Policing other people's clothes is none of your business. Forget about it unless he specifically asks you.
posted by odinsdream at 7:59 PM on September 12, 2012

I have no idea why his having a wife makes this different. Suggesting that this particular pair of pants isn't so flattering isn't overstepping bounds that would significantly impact his marital relationship, it's not as if you're insisting he change his entire mode of dress and replace his entire wardrobe.

Spouses/partners need to pick their "oh honey I'm putting my foot down and saying N-O to that pair of pants" battles pretty carefully. It's awesome when gentle nudging/good influences come from someone else with a less intimate relationship.
posted by desuetude at 9:20 PM on September 12, 2012

If you're friends with him, you should be able to say "dude, your pants are ridiculous, you need new ones." If he doesn't care that he's wearing dumb pants, he probably won't care if you call him out on it. It doesn't sound like he's making a conscious style choice, so you are most likely not going to offend him. Just be casual about it. Everyone makes fun of their friends sometimes.
posted by katypickle at 10:29 PM on September 12, 2012

"You know, those jeans look really good on you. You definitely look better in that kind of jeans than you do in those shorter, baggier ones." Then let it go, and he'll either take the hint or he won't.
posted by davejay at 11:00 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you ask him if he has had a growth spurt? Those jeans look a couple of inches short...
posted by Cranberry at 11:34 PM on September 12, 2012

No. Just, no. Someone else's clothes are none of your business unless they specifically ask for your opinion. His jeans are the least interesting thing about him, they're not why you're friends or not friends, just leave them alone. That goes for the good ones too given you're clearly judging him for his wardrobe in general, because I guarantee your judgement is coming through.

There is nothing worse than anticipating what comments you're going to get about your clothes when you're getting dressed in the morning. Don't lead him down that path unnecessarily. Instead, forget his clothes and focus on the things about him that are important.
posted by shelleycat at 12:51 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're friends with the wife? Ask her and team up.
posted by rhizome at 1:03 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am the arbiter of good taste in clothing at our house. Poor Husbunny, nothing from his single days survived once we got together. The fact that he's color blind is our sad fiction, the truth is, the man is clueless.

I'd mention it to his wife first. "What's with Otis and his high-water pants? They make him look like Urkel."

Or I might say something to that effect straight to boyfriend's face. "Yo Urkel, what's with the floods?"

But that's why I'm Ruthless.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:06 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

There were three notable incidents in my adult life where people gave me unsolicited advice on my appearance and I'm grateful they did. My parents suggested I get braces in college, a male friend suggested I try a new hairstyle, and another male friend suggested I wear more figure-flattering clothes.

I've done all three and I look better and feel better. Sometimes your loved ones can see things about you that you can't see and I'm really glad they told me what they saw.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:48 AM on September 13, 2012

Why don't you ask him why he loves his ugly jeans so much?
posted by glasseyes at 11:41 AM on September 13, 2012

If you're close friends with him, I think it's totally appropriate to say something. Were I in a similar boat, I'd hope my close friend would say something. I'd say it's analogous to letting someone know they have a piece of food stuck in their teeth.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:13 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Dude, can we get you some new designer jeans? I just realized the ones you're wearing now are looking a little rough. You need pants that fit a tall man! I want to go shopping. Let's surprise your wife."

I wouldn't dwell on the fact that these jeans have been bothering you for weeks (or more). This is where the casual delivery matters. It's not a big deal that his jeans are fugly, it's just something you noticed. "Oh crap, I can see your socks. We need to get you new jeans. Wanna hit up Nordstrom with me? I want to check out some sunglasses anyway."

If he gets defensive, drop it. But if he's anything like so many of the wonderfully fashion-clueless, yet open-minded and interested guys I know, he'll be happy to have someone take him shopping for new jeans.

The other tactic would be getting him to go shopping with you for your stuff, and then casually browsing through the men's section. "Oh, while we're here, we should check out men's stuff. Damn, these jeans are fine.... You need longer pants like these! What's your size?"
posted by ariela at 7:58 AM on September 14, 2012

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