My husband relies on me entirely for the purchase and care of all his clothes. This isn't a responsibility I particularly relish, but I do my best. Recently, he retired, so now he rarely wears the suits, blazers and trousers that have accumulated. At the same time, he doesn't seem to have enough 'smart casual' things to wear. Can you suggest some basic items that could form the core of a wardrobe to match his new lifestyle?"
See, women perpetuate male sartorial incompetence by encouraging it. If you tell your husband or boyfriend for his whole life that he needn't worry about his clothes, that he couldn't possibly understand them, that they are a woman's affair, then you can hardly complain that he doesn't have any style sense. You all make this bed.
Men also resist this control of their appearance in passive ways. Your husband's refusal to dress in a way that pleases you is fundamentally adolescent. It's defiance of what he sees as the feminine world, the end result of a lifetime of deferring to mom's authority. It's the adult equivalent of keeping a messy bedroom.
I suspect that his problem now is not so much that he doesn't have any smart casual clothes – you say that he has blazers and trousers. I bet he has plenty of non-denim dress shirts that would look good with jeans. It's just that he won't wear them.
How to counter this hostility to the esthetic? At this late stage, you probably can't. Even in early adulthood, men can't be told what to wear; they can only be subtly moved by example, encouragement and a generally sophisticated atmosphere. By now he's fully convinced that nice clothes were for work and he doesn't need them any more.
You can, of course, try to buy him some new clothes. Start with shoes: This is the first area in which older men have a tendency to go without a clue, and it is the most important element of any outfit. Men over 60 often think that if they wear athletic shoes – soft-soled referee shoes or hiking shoes or actual running shoes – then they will look more youthful. The contrary is true. So get him some cool canvas tennis shoes and some lace-up suede shoes. Then get him some soft, unconstructed sports jackets (maybe even of canvas or cotton) and some new jeans with a lower waist and narrower leg.
More effectively, though, just get rid of the stuff that drives you crazy. If he insists on denim shirts and jeans and puffy grey running shoes, throw away the denim shirts along with the shoes. Throw away the golf shirts with corporate logos, the windbreakers from conferences, the pleated khaki canvas pants. It's like keeping the matches away from the pyro: He can't hurt himself if he doesn't have access to the tools.
Novelist Russell Smith's memoir, Blindsided, is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a men's style question? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.