Menswear

It’s a funny thing. You want to be a responsible consumer, but doing so means that you think about shopping (that is, the enemy of responsible consumption) a lot.

My latest foray has been into men’s business clothes. SO’s wardrobe really shows that he’s been working in the same “we don’t care what you wear” job for a long time. What started out nice enough has slowly become only nice enough for an office where everyone already knows you. If he’s really serious about finding a new job, it wasn’t going to fly anymore.

That means my last two weeks have been fueled by the perfect storm that is the pre-fall sales plus new, dressier, employment prospects. While the process itself was a little horrifying, what with it’s constant reinforcement of class and gender roles, I learned some interesting things.

Namely: men think about clothing entirely differently. (Duh, you say, but hear me out.) Women fall into a trap of buying “outfits.” They buy this handbag to go with those shoes to go with that skirt. They buy things, only to have them go on sale next week for half price, so instead they wait until sales and buy whatever’s on the rack in their budget. That green blouse is cute! And it’s a good deal! Who cares if it matches exactly one pair of pants, which in turn require that you wear the really high heeled shoes because you didn’t have them hemmed.

Men’s clothes just aren’t like that. I mentioned the annual Nordstrom sale to the clerk, and he made a comment like, “Yeah, this isn’t the ladies’ department. We have two sales a year. People plan all year for this.” Which we, in fact, had done.

Or, on shoes, which I find very interesting as a barometer: Doing my due diligence of research about men’s dress shoes, over and over again I read things like “Oh, don’t buy those. They can’t be resoled and the leather cracks within a year.” I honestly couldn’t tell you when I have ever heard a woman say, “those shoes will wear out too fast.” At the same time, you can’t find shoe polish or shoe trees (the cedar inserts that help shoes keep their shape) in the ladies’ shoe department of any store that I went into.

I’m not silly enough to suggest that this is entirely our fault. The fact is, a man’s entire wardrobe could be two suits, four or five shirts, one or two pair of shoes, and five ties. Not only would nobody care, but if he picked those things wisely he’d still be considered one of the best-dressed people in his office. Even in business casual, which is less uniform-y, he could easily look quite acceptable with three or four pairs of pants and five shirts. Women can’t quite get away with that. Convention (a code word in this case for internalized partriarchal demands) dictates that we have an array of “pretty clothes.” There is a larger disparity between our work clothes and our evening clothes. Women’s fashions change more rapidly. Not to mention, that same convention means that durable, well-made, practical, aesthetically pleasing clothes for women are extremely hard to find at any price point.

The thing that I’m interested by, though, is the two completely opposite directions that conspicuous consumption takes for men and for women. For us, the constant emphasis is on quantity. For men, it is, by and large, onĀ quality. There are, of course, individual exceptions on both sides. The sales clerk in the men’s shoe department, though, doesn’t suggest that you get both pairs. Instead, he says, “Or, I have this nicer shoe . . . ”

Less but better hasn’t left the mall. It’s just not on our side of the aisle.