On Male Dress and Appearance
- Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Traveling and speaking teaches many deep lessons. One of those isn’t this observation: Christian women care more about their appearance than Christian men. My sociology friends would point out that I have done no survey, collected no data, and yet the evidence before my eyes has been overwhelming.
Try it yourself: When eating out, take a look at the difference between the married men (jeans and t-shirts, often soiled) and the married women (matching outfit, neatly coiffed).
Why is this?
Historically there are some bad pressures that have been placed on women. They have been reduced to their looks and made objects. Vanity about appearance was often one of the few “acceptable” ways of achieving social status. Men also, traditionally, had to “dress for success” in business and romance. Each generation had their “Beau Brummell” types who set the fashion bar. If a stout waistline with a gold chain draped across it used to be a sign of success, now six-pack abs prove the man has enough leisure to drink a six pack and still have great stomach muscles.
Nobody should primp and pose and by middle age most of us (certainly me!) would look absurd if we tried. Outward appearance is unimportant compared to inner beauty.
Still Christians are not Gnostics and we believe the body matters. Outer appearance can be a window to the soul. Just as foppishness demonstrates pride, so does going on a date with the beloved dressed like a swine. My grandfathers were both laborers, but each dressed neatly for church and owned several suits. They wore hats and ties when they went out to eat.
They did not dress less nicely than my grandmothers. They also were both married happily for more than fifty years. Causation? No. Mere correlation? Maybe, but dressing for the beloved seems appropriate for any romantic.
Too many men are taking romance for granted.
I found a bad habit in myself of coming home dressed for white-collar work and quickly changing into slovenly clothing. Instead of dressing for dinner, Americans have taken to dressing down for dinner. My wife would return from work dressed nicely and remain lovely, but I ended up looking like a refugee from a late-night basement Dungeon’s and Dragons game.
My rule has been to dress as well as my beloved and to work on my appearance as much as if I were courting her still . . . because in one sense I am. Shouldn’t she be glad she is married to me? Dressing foppishly would draw attention to self, no act of a lover, but dressing well will compliment her beauty. When I am slovenly, then once again I draw attention to self.
Part of the problem is the disappearance of grownup clothing. When everyone dresses as if preparing to workout, with figures that demonstrate the rareness of the actual workout, then the advantage is all to youth. Good clothes can be comfortable, but comfort in dress clothes entails dealing with reality. Most men keep clothes around that would only fit if we lost twenty pounds.
Nor does dressing nicely (not following trends!) have to cost much money. Many of my best jackets have come from Savers for less than ten dollars. A few of my nicer work jackets cost a good bit a decade ago, but will still be serviceable when I die. (God bless tweed!) What looks good on you? Don’t ask the Internet.
Ask your beloved.
If a man dresses for his beloved (and not some ideal woman), then the appropriate outfits will change with each couple. Women are not a “group” but individuals and my goal is to be attractive to the person to whom I am married not to “women.”
Writing about this will, of course, bring on justified criticism if I am not careful to say:
I am not suggesting I personally have any sense of style. I am dressing for my beloved and not for others. If Hope is happy, then I am happy.
I am not saying that a couple cannot have a grunge day.
I am not saying that one dress in a way inappropriate to the occasion. Work requires work clothing. Some days call for grungy outfits to do grungy jobs.
I am also not saying I can ever be as lovely as Hope. Thank God I am married to a person who has learned to love me even when I look unattractive. Someday, in the natural order of things, she probably will have to care for a man who is dying and nobody looks good dying. The dead look better in our culture than the dying.
But that does not excuse taking her love for granted. Each day must include gentle words and gentle deeds to demonstrate my love to her, but it also includes looking as good as I reasonably can to please her. Within the bounds of what is proper, Hope is the standard and making her eyes light up when I come into the room a goal.
So I get a hair cut, try to dress as she would have me, and keep my weight in check (usually!). Why? Not because she would not love me without the effort, God knows she would, but because I wish to please her. How could a man care less about what his beloved thinks of his appearance than his boss?
Marriage is not just about romance, but romance helps. Romance is fueled by beauty and too many of us have given up. I dress for Hope and that is hopeful for romance to come. Nobody else should dress for Hope, but many men should dress more hopefully if they still wish for romance.
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.
Publication date: April 12, 2011
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