Every morning a small ritual takes place before I go to work.
"What are you wearing?" my exasperated wife asks.
"What do you mean?" I ask, almost always with a confused, defensive tone. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
"None of it matches."
"Sure it matches. See, blue shirt goes with black pants."
"Blue doesn't go with black. Ever. And you're wearing white socks."
"Yeah, but they're comfortable."
"Well, an iron would have helped."
"Iron? You want me to wear clothes that match my golf clubs?"
At this point, my wife rolls her eyes, grits her teeth, and points up the staircase, signaling that I need to take another assault at my clothes closet.
It is a sad but true fact that I have been habasherially challenged for my entire adult life. I am to clothes what the Big Mac is to gourmet dining; a sad case unlikely to find my way out of mediocrity. For years my nickname has been "The Wrinkle." I've never met a tie I liked. (I was almost 30 before I learned to tie one.) For me, clothes are the things you put on your body to keep you from being arrested for walking around nude. The actual act of trying to wear clothes with some sense of coordination or style is as foreign to me as the idea of spending my next vacation on one of the moons of Jupiter.
It's my own fault. I can't blame my parents. My dad was always a paragon of sartorial splendor. Remember that famous picture of Nixon walking on the beach wearing shoes? That was my dad. His idea of dressing down was unbuttoning the front of his jacket. And my mother is still a sharp dresser in her seventh decade. But for some reason as yet unexplainable by science, my brothers and my sister and I have always looked like we just came ashore after spending two weeks in an open boat.
During my bachelor years, this post-modern approach to fashion worked just fine. But the moment the opposite sex enters the picture, it becomes a problem. This is because most men and women have a completely different idea of what it means to be well-dressed.
For my wife, being well-dressed means everything matches and looks good. For me it means I don't have any stains on my sweatshirt (at least when the day starts), and that my underwear is clean, even if it has holes in it. My wife has several pairs of shoes. I have two. Well, one pair really the other is my pair of two-year-old running shoes, but I only wear them on less formal occasions, meaning work. My wife owns more than a few attractive dresses. I have one suit, eight years old, with a hole in the pants, which I can hide if I button my jacket the right way.
Some days I think I look quite dashing, if a little rumpled. My wife, however, is given to wondering out loud how a normally intelligent guy can have the clothing instincts of a Bedouin goatherder. While I find the fact that I have owned several pairs of underwear longer than I have known her charmingly amusing, she find it incredibly annoying and more than a little weird. I point out that I don't understand why she is so upset since I'm the one wearing the clothing. She says she's not worried what people think about me. She's worried what people will think about her for marrying a guy who looks like a bad Salvador Dali painting.
And so, in the interests of marital and fashion harmony, I have handed over all clothing decisions to my wife. Lately I have been known to have my shirt, pants, and socks actually "work together." My children no longer giggle and point when I come out of the bedroom in the morning. Last week, I brushed my hair, without being told. (My wife told me to slow down, I was moving too fast for her to take it all in.) I am no longer a refugee from fashion.
But if you want to know the truth, the moment I get home, I put on my Pedro Martinez sweatshirt, my New England Patriots championship ball cap, and the shorts I've had since college. And the world seems normal again.