The announcement this week that COS, edgy sister brand to Swedish label H&M, will be opening stores in Toronto and Montreal was greeted from coast to coast with the sound of style-conscious women cheering as their male companions softly whimpered.
I get that reaction, accompanied by a woeful little wince (like when a dog is fitted with pair of droopy Christmas antlers), from my husband every time I put on one of the many voluminous, drapey and/or tunic cut, Japanese avant garde-inspired fashions from that monument to man-repelling, COS.
Lazy women with reasonable taste – a demographic to which I proudly aspire – love COS because it sells "arty" (read: not overtly sexy), aesthetically innovative clothes that in no way require a gal to stand bolt upright at all times with her stomach sucked in and a menacing look on her face like Claire from House of Cards. Finally, a fashion label that's all about dressing for yourself, not others – without actually giving up hope.
"Why can't you just wear a pencil skirt and high heels?" my husband has implored since the day I started wearing a pair of boyfriend jeans, an army jacket and a chunky knit snood (a look I stuck with before, during and after pregnancy). And the fact is, I have nothing against the clothes he likes – those classic body-contoured styles that show off your waist – I just can't get excited about them any more.
I am no longer in my 20s and dressing to impress. I'm dressing to survive – and COS is my best hope to be able to do so without ending up in some kind of purple velveteen Juicy Couture hellscape. Gone are the days when clothes served as some kind of aspirational costume – a way of projecting a kind of sexual confidence I didn't actually possess. I spent years dressing as the person I wished I was but wasn't – or, more to the point, dressing as the person I thought my partner would like me to be.
Today, my confidence is higher and my expectations of clothes are lower: I'm dressing as the best version of myself rather than as a fictional one. I want to look interesting and attractive, but I am not willing forgo a single inch of hamstring flexibility or lung capacity to do it.
Now, Canadian women are about to be graced with the joys of COS – think elegant A-lines, wide-leg trousers, maxi skirts and fluttery sundresses that look great with a short, stylish haircut. So I would like to offer my advice on how to embrace all the excellent clothes that most men abhor – without actually making your guy feel as if you don't give a hoot what he thinks of your wardrobe (even if that's actually true).
1. Tell him you are going for the "bohemian artist" look. All heterosexual men, in my experience, have a thing for Greta Scacchi's character in The Player. Remember her? The frosty, emotionally distant painter who drove Tim Robbins wild in her white paint-splattered men's shirts and slippery silk tent dresses. Here was a woman who didn't need to show her butt cleavage in order to attract an alpha male. She simply gazed off into the distance, drinking a glass of scotch and wearing a pair of men's pajamas, and left the men of the planet to wonder, "What the hell is she thinking? Does she want me? What is going on under there?"
2. Point out that you are being androgynous and that there's something inherently kinky in that. Androgyny, in this case, is just an excuse to wear flat shoes, button-up shirts and trousers that don't give you a muffin top
if you eat a bowl of pasta, but your husband doesn't need to know this. To drive home the point, put on some red lipstick and a bowler hat and smoke a cigar while the two of you watch Victor Victoria.
3. Restrict your social life to dinner parties with tasteful, older gay men, and spend your holidays in Antwerp and at Japanese design fairs.
4. Rewire Netflix so it only shows dark, Scandinavian dramas starring emotionally troubled, work-obsessed women in pilling alpine sweaters (The Killing) and tidy black smock dresses (Borgen). Point out how sexy they are while serving him herring and beer.
5. If he continues to complain, go to the other extreme: Show up at his office for a "surprise lunch" dressed like Britney Spears during the KFed years, complete with hot pink mini-dress, hair extensions and press-on body jewellery.
6. When in doubt, put a belt on it – to be removed the moment you are safely out of eye shot, of course. COS women don't believe in belts. Not ones that pinch us in the middle, anyway.