Fashion sense and insensibility

I'm upstairs, standing in front of the mirror, staring at my feet when my husband comes into the room. On my right foot is a black strappy high-heeled sandal; on my left, a high-heeled black mule. I can't decide which will look better with the dress I'm wearing. He has come upstairs to find out what's taking me so long.

"Which shoe?" I ask.

"Whatever's on your left foot," he says. "Let's go."

I take the mule off my left foot and replace it with the sandal, completely ignoring his advice. He won't be hurt because, for the 18 years we've been married, I've always done this. He picks one thing, and I end up wearing what he doesn't pick.

After all, what does he know? When I met him, he had not one, but two polyester four-piece suits. One was powder blue; the other was tan, and both had a reversible vest with matching pants.

Unfortunately, compared with my four boys, he's the best I've got.

Take, for instance, what happened on the first day of school. My 6-year-old niece, Christina, wore a smocked pink dress from France with ruffled white bobby socks and shiny black Mary Janes. All of her clothes had been laid out the night before, and she'd wanted to get up early enough to make sure her mom had enough time to curl her hair.

In contrast, my 6-year-old, Robby, came down for breakfast that very same day wearing a very dirty white shirt. We're not talking a stain here and there, but rather a "Oh, my goodness! Did you clean the garage floor with that shirt before you put it on?" dirty.

When I told him to change, he looked at me with the pained expression all four boys seem to have inherited from my husband, who uses it when I deem him fashionably incorrect.

"Mom. No one's gonna care about his shirt," 13-year-old Bret offered. "I mean, you always make a big deal about dirty stuff, and it's just gonna be dirty by the end of the day, anyway."

I know that fashion- conscious boys are out there, because I hear my friends complain about them - boys who spend too much time in front of the mirror, are overly picky about what they wear, and insist on using more products in their hair than their moms do.

Me? I'm still waiting for my boys to realize that putting a baseball hat on does not grant you an automatic "Get Out of Combing Your Hair Today" pass, and that taking a shower every day is a good idea.

I have other friends whose kids criticize the way they dress. I can't feel their pain. I'd be happy if my boys would pay some attention to what I'm wearing. It might save me the embarrassment of showing up at my third appointment of the day, only to have the woman I'm there to interview pull a dryer sheet off my back. And yes, this would be the same blazer I was wearing when I was hugged and kissed by all four boys and my husband before I'd left that morning.

How do you miss a very white dryer sheet on a very black jacket?

I suppose it's the same thing that comes over them when my skirt hem is hanging undone or I'm wearing a blue jacket with black suit pants, thinking they're both black. It's the reason none of them saw the wad of grape bubblegum stuck to the back of my shoe.

Thankfully, that glob was spotted by a very kind stranger who grabbed my arm and broke the news minutes before I climbed the stage to give a talk.

When I asked my family later if anyone had noticed the purple gum wad they all said, "Yeah."

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked.

"I thought it was a girl thing," one son offered, "and that it was supposed to be there."

My friend Jean has given up waiting for her two boys to turn the fashion- forward corner. She's now bringing all of her "Which one?" questions into work r, holding up different shoe choices, necklaces, socks, or whatever she couldn't figure out for herself that morning. The only disadvantage she's found is that now her colleagues offer their opinions even when she's not asking.

Sounds divine.

My husband's solution to my shoe-choice dilemma? Don't own so many shoes. For him, one pair of black wingtips for work is fine, as is one pair of brown loafers to wear with everything else. A pair of tennis shoes rounds out his shoe wardrobe. Lately, he's talked about eliminating the loafers altogether.

Give me strength. Yet it is hard to argue with such streamlined thinking. And I admit, I often use him and the boys as an excuse for my own fashion gaffes.

Sometimes I get the feeling God blessed me with boys because I've never been good at accessorizing, I am dizzied by the choices in T.J. Maxx, and not once have I complained about not enough cute boy clothes at the Gap.

Perhaps it's better for me to live my life frustrated by my sons' fashion ineptitude than to derail a little girl's potential to match her shoes with her purse someday.

My boys don't give two hoots about what's in style. They care about who's quarterbacking for the Browns this Sunday and what's for dinner. Life's so much simpler for them.

When one of my sons says he doesn't need to replace the three buttons missing from his dress shirt because "it'll just be covered by my tie," it helps me understand how they can overlook misplaced dryer sheets and wads of gum.

When he adds, "And besides, I'm working on my inner beauty," all is totally forgiven.

Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any easier for me to get dressed in the morning. I'm still on my own.

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