Man Grooming Q&A: Stylish Advice

Melanie writes: “Lance, is there any way to sensitively explain to someone that their shoe choice is dead wrong? Maybe it’s one of those things you can’t really tell a person. Just wondering. You seem to have a lot of solutions and know of tactful ways to put things so I thought it would be worth asking you.
Dear Melanie,
Becoming an officer of the Fashion Police is always a hard decision, or at least it should be. For example, it’s easy for me to think that some dude walking down the street wearing mutton chops on his puss, a shiny Bedazzler’d shirt with billowing sleeves and Daisy Dukes is practically screaming out for someone to shake him out of his insanity and bring him back to our world where we know better. But I don’t think it would be unusual to hear, if we could listen in on his thoughts, that my appearance in his general vicinity wearing a Thomas Pink french cuff pink, baby blue and white-striped shirt, raw denim Yanuk “sideways stretch” jeans and a pair of red, gold and black Miu Miu trainers (as I am today) causes him a like amount of consternation.

He’d be in the wrong, of course, but it’s always helpful in life to keep an open mind — particularly when you’re in my fetching Italian shoes and tend to keep company with men, and not because one is in the construction business.
Fashion should always be about being comfortable as well as stylish. The first is easy to define, the second… not so much. And all this rather pedantic and possibly unnecessary preamble is simply for the benefit of those people out there who aren’t as obviously intelligent about one’s clothing options as I am and you are, since you’ve stated how much you agree with me so we know we’re both right.
So, when does one conclude, at last, that something simply must be done and take aside the object of one’s affection, eyebrow raised, to tell them ever so gently, “Uh, no.”
Melanie, it’s always the right time to correct the little fashion faux pas. But keep in mind a few rules so you don’t drive yourself crazy when your sage advice is ignored:

  1. Logic has nothing to do with it. If it did, there’d be no such thing as wearing painter’s pants when one has no intention of painting.
  2. Taste is subjective, even if you consider some people’s taste objectionable.
  3. If you want them to follow your advice, be willing to listen to theirs.

That last one is a killer, I know that from personal experience. Why, just the other day my Ex was commenting on my new pair of Jil Sander Pumas (all-black leather with rubber soles inspired by football cleats) saying, snidely, “My, those are practically conservative for you.” After I’d deservedly back-handed him, I considered his words before duly discarding them like last season’s Pradas.
Regardless of his intent, his delivery was flawless. When the time comes to tell someone that you feel their clothing choices are not quite up to snuff, I find that framing it as an offhand remark rather than building up to anything will yield better results. Underplay your actual distaste as well, but with an undercurrent of sarcasm so they know you mean it. “Those shoes are certainly interesting,” could mean almost anything. If they respond, “Thank you,” you’ll know to quit now and avoid possibly embarrassing them. For some reason, they took it as a compliment and that means they actually like those monstrosities.
If they respond, “You really think so?” you have an opening. Clearly, this wasn’t an open and shut case for them and they’re seeking someone’s support in their decision. “Well,” you continue, “they’re not something I would ever think of wearing…” And make sure they hear that DOT DOT DOT loud and clear. “Why not?” they ask, forlornly, and you have them.

September 7, 2005

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