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Illustration by Chelsea O'Byrne

After three decades of marriage, these six words continue to bring tension into our dynamic: “You’re not wearing that are you?”

It’s the sentence of doom. The Earth cracks, I’m positioned on one side, my husband on the other. Even after all these years, on occasion, I still find myself uttering those words, like a time warp. I hate expressing them as much as he hates hearing them. But I can’t help myself sometimes. He is intuitively aware of my concern and attempts to bypass it by laying out a few items of attire to appease me while desiring nothing more than to be comfortable in what he’s wearing.

What is it with some men, particularly when they have to dress to go out? Some just don’t care. As long as it’s clean, it works. The idea of dressing within the season means nothing. A bulky, tired winter sweater over light summer pants makes total sense, as does a linen shirt with wool pants. In their fashion book, it’s divine. What’s there to complain about, when you’re covered?

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Recently my husband donated half of his wardrobe. He rid himself of suits and any formal wear. Moving forward in his life, he will now be in either golf or sportswear. If someone dies or gets married, he’ll attend the funeral dressed for a fresh round of golf. Perhaps he’ll don some dark golf pants and a lovely cerulean blue shirt because nothing says ceremony like dressing for TSN. His argument would be that many marriages are held at golf courses, so it stands to reason you’d dress for it. Golf attire for a Valentine’s dinner too because what else says “I love you baby,” more than a bright coral button-down golf shirt with navy pants and a white belt.

Fortunately, like many women, I’ve purchased most of his clothing so he can fake it, but how about the others who can’t? I’ve seen friends’ husbands wear shorts in the dead of winter with a heavy down coat, and many wonder: Why bother with socks if it’s not a business meeting? Often, complimenting their look are haircuts rooted in habit, void of style, and dress shirts that barely close over beer bellies. And no, baseball caps are not a man’s equivalent of the little black dress, they do not go with everything for every situation.

One friend strategically readjusts a series of hangers in the closet when she knows that she and her husband are going out. She’s well aware he’s going to reach for whatever shirt he sees first. Another leaves an outfit ready at the end of her husband’s clothing rack. All the pieces ready to go as though, like a rabbit out of a hat, they just appeared and happen to work together. One woman I know describes her husband’s style as “dizzying” – he recently sported a rainbow-striped shirt underneath a military styled jacket peppered in pockets, epaulets and brass buttons. And I remember the husband who once wore a tuxedo, with his favourite slippers brilliantly undermining the magic that naturally goes with the outfit.

Pandemic dressing has dropped the bar completely. These men are loving, smart, generous, compassionate and funny. There’s no one else we’d rather be isolated with but often, when left to their own devices, they package that dynamic persona into something far too comfortable. Sweat pants are the new Italian suit and outfits are now designed to accommodate the ease of passing wind. I have been spared the socks-with-sandals look but it’s an easy sell for some of the men I know.

These guys are our husbands and our friends. But sometimes, our prizes dress like we picked curtain No. 3 in Let’s Make a Deal.

Often, deciding on what to wear on a night out is akin to asking for directions. They won’t do it. They resist their partner’s guidance despite knowing we can be their personal stylists. My husband often has a great sense of style; but on occasion it eludes him and when it does, it eludes him big time. And when that happens, the ride to wherever we’re going can be long and silent.

In the end, it’s not about having a lot of clothes, but making sure each piece is highly versatile and everything goes together: Pieces that can work for a meeting, sports and leisure, and of course – a dinner party. It’s really about not being embarrassed at a dinner party.

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Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that the phrase, “You’re not wearing that are you?” is a kind way of saying “You’re kidding right?!”

But you pick your battles with your spouse. Clothing is a low priority unless the outfit is so outrageous for the occasion that I need to intervene. The older I get, the less energy I have to complain. Instead, I love him for who he is and know well our sisterhood is dealing with the same dilemma.

So as you’re sitting at a dinner party looking at the love of your life in his oversized chinos, wrinkled linen shirt and tired shoes that he’s strangely attached to, give him a smile as he lovingly winks back at you.

Djanka Gajdel lives in Toronto.

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

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