'I've got nothing to wear," my wife has said with a groan numerous times while standing in front of a closet jammed with clothes. I've learned over the years that she isn't, in these moments, looking for fashion advice.
Rifling through my own side of the closet the other day, I accidentally invented an elegant wardrobe monitoring, judging, and discarding system that perfectly suits my mature male wardrobe needs.
Men and women have, it would seem, completely different histories, philosophies, and personalities when it comes to wardrobe maintenance. Thus, I share my system with the hope it may help other males. My new system is, I suspect, a variation of one that most mature people already employ. It just took me longer to stumble onto it.
First, some deep background:
When I was growing up in the last century, my brothers and I were each allowed a few new pieces of stylish – or what we considered stylish – clothing when school started each year: maybe the latest style of bluejeans, a shirt or two, and socks of the appropriate contemporary color.
Our folks weren't rich, so the new school year didn't spark a new wardrobe bonanza. Still, they sprang for enough new stuff that – at least on that first day of school – we, each in our new threads, could feel cool, clean, spiffy. Sometimes, for a moment or two, even hip.
Buying new clothes for school was not necessarily a conscious strategy on our parents' part to help us feel good about the new year. We were growing boys, rough on our clothes. We wore things out. We had grown. Last year's shoes pinched. Our shirts stretched too tight, the pant legs were too short.
Sure, our folks wanted us to make a good first impression on our new teachers, but these few new clothes each autumn fit more into the category of basic survival.
Nowadays, my clothes come, but they don't go. For me, and many males I know, new clothes mostly arrive on birthdays or at Christmas – from the kids, the mother-in-law, or my spouse. I do appreciate it. Like most old guys (young guys seem to have escaped this limitation), I'm not much of a clothes shopper.
But I'm not growing anymore, at least upward. I don't wrestle much on the lawn, play football, or climb trees – all those things that wear out one's stuff.
Instead, I read and sometimes watch TV. At work I sit behind a desk. For exercise I walk and bird-watch. My clothes last – sometimes literally – for decades. Alas, my closet now bulges.
So now to the system I've just invented, or stumbled upon, that should have been obvious all along. I took a pad of small sticky notes and began to judge – on a 1- to 10-point scale – my pants, my shirts, my ties simply by how good, how cool, how happy, how hip I feel when wearing them. If a shirt rates a 10, that means I could wear it to accept an Oscar. A shirt that rates a 1, I probably wouldn't wear to my own execution.
Granted, my 1- to 10-point scale is totally subjective, based almost completely on an inward identity and sense of fashion and color that were formed in the previous century, not this one. Still, a 5, 6, or 7 measures how I feel today when I put on a particular shirt or pair of pants.
So I recently have rearranged my closet. Items ranked on the lowest end of the scale are on the end toward the wall, ready to be donated. The 8s and 9s are up where I see them every day. (Alas, I have no 10s, yet.)
The gift I've determined to give myself is not to wear anything less than a 6, and to upgrade, over the next two or three years, until I'm wearing all 8s, 9s, and 10s.
It's a bold move, I know. But maturity has given me courage.
Before my new system, if a shirt or pair of pants was moderately clean and not outrageously nerdy, I'd put it on, with little thought as to how cool or hip or mod it made me feel throughout the day.
Truth be told, as the comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say, adjusting his tie, "You can tell I'm no slave to fashion."
With my new system, I'm no slave to fashion, but every day I dress cool (6s to 9s) and am getting cooler.
Granted, what was an 8 yesterday may feel like a 5 today. I chalk it up to feeling grumpy and know it has nothing to do with not having anything to wear.
My wife, on the other hand, really doesn't have anything to wear and deserves a fellow who encourages her to shop more often at upscale stores or bring home what's new from Paris, London, or Madrid. She is, I should mention, a 10. I'm taking her to the Oscars with me.