Wasn't it Emerson who said "Whoso would be a non-conformist must have a sense of personal style?" Okay, maybe not. But as Glenn O'Brien could tell you, the latest fashion is about what everyone else is wearing, whereas style is about what you're wearing in a way that no one else is. As he has said, "Fashion can be repressive but style is sort of the opposite."
O'Brien — who writes the dryly funny column "The Style Guy" for GQ — has a new book out, released last week. Called How to Be a Man: A Guide To Style and Behavior For The Modern Gentleman, it dispenses advice on grooming, decorating, throwing a good party, and aging gracefully — along with, yes, insights on how to dress. O'Brien's column started a long time ago when an editor friend told him he should write a style advice column called something like "Your Gay Friend." (Never mind that he was straight.) This was light years before Queer Eye for Straight Guy was a twinkle in anyone's cornea, but O'Brien, a nice Midwestern boy, had learned plenty about the power of style while coming of age as a staffer with Andy Warhol's magazine Interview. A columnist was born — O'Brien began writing "The Style Guy" for Details in 1992. It moved to GQ in 1999 and has lived there since.
O'Brien now has a devoted following that includes plenty of straight guys, plenty of gay guys, and at least one straight chick. So, I asked O'Brien — who describes his book as "a philosophy book disguised as a humor book disguised as an advice book" — for a few tips on how we ladies can deal with boyfriends who don't have a clue about how to dress. His advice:
1. You should care if a guy dresses like the slacker in a Judd Apatow movie.
If your man is a boring or even a bad dresser, it doesn't necessarily mean he's boring or a bad person. But it could point to deeper issues. Often men resist looking good because of fear. Dressing like a schlub is a kind of cowardice. They wear a uniform of anonymity so that they blend into the crowd for protection, thinking they're less likely to get in trouble if they're invisible. Their drabness is a pledge of allegiance to the majority rules.
2. Small compliments go a long way.
Flattery will get you everywhere with lots of guys. If you find there's little to flatter in your boyfriend or husband's style, tell him how good other men look when you see someone who is cutting a particularly dashing figure. Jealousy is a great motivator. He may begin to notice his shortcomings.
3. Get him laughing all the way to a better wardrobe.
When you're going somewhere and he shows up in his car to pick you up and he's underdressed, get in the back seat and treat him like the driver.
4. Don't go shopping with him.
You could try shopping with him, but you really don't want to turn into mommy. If he's clueless, maybe he has a friend who isn't whom he could ask to shop with him. Lack of independence is part of the problem.
5. Presents are smart.
Good gifts can help. If you can see a side of him that he can't see, buy that side a shirt or tie and maybe it will open his eyes to that invisible potential lurking within.