Crosspost: My Partner, My Wardrobe, and I

This month’s Feminist Fashion Bloggers post theme is “Dating, Relationships, and Motherhood.” Since I’m not a mother, I’ve got little to add to the motherhood portion of the theme, but I do have a partner (A.), so I thought I’d write about that.

A. is more or less entirely uninterested in fashion, style, or really much of anything to do with clothes. Obviously he gets dressed every morning and isn’t waltzing around town in his birthday suit, but it’s purely functional for him. Having a partner who’s totally uninterested in something that you (ostensibly) blog about provides some perspective. I don’t think I would’ve ever become someone who lives and breathes fashion, but it’s hard to get too wrapped up in it when you’re around someone who’s utterly unconcerned about it.

I’ve noticed a few things about the dynamic, though, and I’m curious if anyone else has noticed similar things with their partner.

  • I tend to dress down a bit when he’s around. Not that I’m Glamourpuss McGee most of the time (okay, ever) but I feel obvious when I dress more nattily than usual. When he’s not around, I’m more likely to stick with it for the day and get comfortable feeling obvious (however unobvious I may actually be – it’s not like I’m wearing an evening gown to the mailbox or anything). But when he’s around and dressed casually (as he usually is), I’m conscious of the dichotomy in dress between us, and I often gravitate to less fancy outfits.
  • On a related note, I’m more conscious of my clothes when he’s around. Maybe it’s a just a familiarity thing, and if I saw one of my friends as consistently as I see/saw A., I’d feel similarly, but I find myself being very aware of my outfit (or more accurately, my level of fance) when he’s around. I think it’s because I value his perception of me, and I worry (almost certainly without cause) that my conscious dressing negatively impacts his opinion of me.
  • Conversely, there’s no pressure to dress a certain way. I could be wearing a potato sack and A.’d still think I looked great. He’s never made comments about wanting me to dress (or not dress) a certain way, and I’d be gobsmacked if he started now. This contradicts the last sentence of the previous point, but that’s gut emotion, and this is evidence-based observation; the two don’t always line up.
  • My sartorial decisions are mine alone. I am a bit baffled by people (mostly women, in my experience) who say something along the lines of “I’m wearing this because my [male] partner likes it,” because it seems like an odd power dynamic. It’s often not a two-way dynamic (typically women wear things for their partners rather than the other way around), and it’s a bit too close to reinforcing the “women as ornament” role for my liking. I realize this is a simplistic reading, and perhaps I’ll elaborate on this another time, after it has percolated a bit more.
  • Because I’m restrained in my interest, my interest is focused and thoughtful rather than broad and based on consuming as much as possible. I think carefully about what clothes I buy and why I’m buying them, because I’m conscious that I already have more than I need. A.’s wardrobe is a fraction the size of mine, and mine is, by Western standards, modest. He gets by fine with what he’s got, so I pause before I purchase. If I can’t articulate clearly and quickly why I want something, it stays on the shelf. I’d likely do this anyway, but since I have a clear idea of the size of his wardrobe, it helps crystallize the difference between what I want and what I need.

So, does any of that sound like you? I’m guessing some of you have partners (not necessarily male) who are uninterested in sartoria – what’s your experience with it?

Editor’s note: It’s Friday night, so that means this post originally appeared on the remarkable and witty Interrobangs Anonymous blog, home of our friends Millie, Katie and Chelsie. Go visit!

By Millie

Millie is a perpetual grad student, an internationally recognized curmudgeon, and an occasional hugger of trees. She also makes a mean batch of couscous.

10 replies on “Crosspost: My Partner, My Wardrobe, and I”

It’s really valuable to have interests that differ from your partner’s, even if they seem sort of minor. It’s one of the many reasons why being into films and books is valuable: at the very least, reading one new book a week gives you something new to talk about. Same with fashion, which (naysayers be damned!) is a VITAL part of culture. Entire eras are defined by what people wore.

I’ll comment on this though:
I am a bit baffled by people (mostly women, in my experience) who say something along the lines of “I’m wearing this because my [male] partner likes it,” because it seems like an odd power dynamic. It’s often not a two-way dynamic (typically women wear things for their partners rather than the other way around), and it’s a bit too close to reinforcing the “women as ornament” role for my liking.

I dress for guys to some extent, but I don’t think it’s always a bad thing. If a guy says I look nice in something that I also enjoy wearing, I’ll wear similar garments around him. It doesn’t have to be about control. I wouldn’t give in to requests to wear something that I didn’t already own or didn’t like.

I think there’s a wide range of dynamics that could be implied with that statement, not merely an imbalance of power. In my relationship, I have said that I’m wearing something to please him or because he likes it, but my partner has never asked me to wear anything specifically; he doesn’t care, tbh, but I have made a mental note when he’s noticed what I’m wearing and said he liked it – to compliment me – and, if we are doing something together and I don’t have any personal preferences for the day, I take out that mental note and wear something I know he likes. To me, it’s a sign not of power dynamics, but rather of just two equal partners in a relationship who do things to please one another. We use whatever tools we have in our toolbelt in order to do that, and in our home, our clothing (within predefined parameters of personal style) is one of those tools.

He actually DOES dress to please me, too – within his own established style, he will often choose a shirt I’ve said I like, or that I bought for him.

That came up in the comments on the original post too, and I didn’t flesh out the whole context of what I was thinking there. I’m talking more about the extreme end of the spectrum of dressing for others — like in the context of women who consistently and predominantly base their clothing around their menfolk’s preferences, especially when it involves wearing something that they personally aren’t keen on.

How common are dynamics like that outside of conservative religions and non-Western cultures? I’d be interested in reading more about it because I think most women do what Ruby and I do: when you can’t make a decision in the morning, you put on something that guys think you look hot in. I do that with perfumes too. My guy LOVES my J.Lo perfume (and no shame – I love it too) and pheromones being what they are, I’m not going to deliberately wear a different scent when it’s just as easy and enjoyable to wear my J.Lo. (Deseo, btw. It smells like a fantasy beach!)

I’m also curious how common it is. I know women who have behaved that way, and it’s always seemed so baffling to me.

I remember my best friend in high school completely changed her clothes, hair, and makeup because a boyfriend wanted her to. It seems less common as I get older. I don’t know if maybe it does happen lots, but it’s just less noticable in more mature fashions than a dramatic change from prep to punk as a teen.

(Side note. I just saw Deseo on sale for half priceat Shoppers, and was intrigued but they didn’t have a sampler. I might just go for it based on this.)

I’m not keen on sweet scents (I tend to like more green, woody, or citrus scents) but I totally wouldn’t associate pathchoulli with fantasty beach (on paper, anyway), or expect it to get rave reviews from guys. I’m intrigued!

Yeah, I know there are women who do it because I’ve known a few (though like you said, predominantly when I was younger), so I know that there are women who do it. But trying to find some research to quantify how common it is is proving fruitless, but maybe I’m not looking in the right places. If anyone knows of a journal that would possibly cover this, please let me know! I’m a physical scientist, so I’m not up on where to find good sociological research, unfortunately.

I’d be willing to bet (though again, no research to back this up) that it is more prevalent with women who’re either uncertain of themselves or are in situations that they need to negotiate very carefully — and younger women (who’ve had less time to get comfortable in their skin) may be more likely than older women to fall into the first category. Women who’re reliant on a man to, say, keep a roof over their head, may feel the need to suppress their self-assertion to avoid finding themselves in (more) dire straits. Again, though, I’ve not had any luck finding research to quantify any of this. :(

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