A wife's strong suit is fashion

August 09, 1999|By Leonard Pitts

I started dressing myself when I was 4 or 5 years old. I stopped when I was 24. That, of course, was the year I got married.

I thought I was getting a wife. Little did I know I was also getting a live-in fashion consultant with veto authority over my beloved print shirts and ratty old sweaters. Or that I would become accustomed to finding new clothes in my closet that I didn't buy.

I mean, I remember promising to love, honor and cherish. I don't remember promising to let her pick out my shirts. What's annoying is that she's so good at it. Marilyn has a painter's eye for matching colors. And so I've adapted. No, that's not right -- truth is, I've surrendered.

The other day, a saleswoman in the men's department held up a shirt and asked if I liked it. I turned to my wife and said, "Do I?" Marilyn assured me that I did.

As a man, I naturally find this abdication of personal prerogative pretty darn mortifying. But the one thing that allowed me to walk around with my head held high was the assurance that it was our little secret.

Fashion sense

I thought that when I went out dressed to the nines and looking sharp, nobody realized it was her handiwork they saw. I thought they said to themselves, That guy's got a great fashion sense. This was my pleasant little delusion. Until recently.

See, I had some book-signings to do, so I decided (by which I mean, Marilyn did) that I ought to dress it up a bit. Left to my druthers, I'm the type of guy who'd wear a T-shirt to a funeral, so when they saw me in a flattering new suit and tie, folks who knew me were as shocked as if they'd seen O.J. Simpson with a black woman.

So I'm going about my business and friends are giving me grief about the snazzy duds, but my agent, Janell, keeps her own counsel. Speaks not a word.

Then, a few days later, she sends me this e-mail. Wants me to tell Marilyn that I looked very dapper in my suit.

Worse, when I relay the comment to Marilyn, my wife has no trouble accepting the praise. "Tell Janell thank you," she says.

Well what about me? I holler. Don't I get any credit? My wife, by way of response, laughs out loud. Sigh. Apparently, I've been fooling no one but myself. Apparently every member of the estrogen sisterhood has known what was going on all along.

I find myself struck by how very unpolitically correct this all is. In a day when men do the 4 a.m. feeding and women the 3,000-mile oil change, it seems quaint, a throwback, an anachronism, to be talking about a wife picking out clothes for her husband.

In the brave, new and grimly equal world we've made for ourselves, it seems an echo of gender roles long gone. I make no lament for the loss of those roles.

Indeed, I celebrate the freedom we've found in their passing. But at the same time, there seems something sweet, reassuring and timeless in my wife picking out shirts for me as my mother once did for my dad.

It seems a lifeline upon a sea of change, a reminder that at the end of whatever comes next, it is still given to wives to take care of husbands. And husbands to take care of wives.

Suddenly, the aphorism makes sense: Behind every successful man, there is a good woman. And she's picking out his clothes.

Leonard Pitts is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 8/09/99

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