Dressed for the Occasion

Sometimes it’s okay to be a man. Just think, no fashion worries of any kind, no makeup or jewelry, no thought to warts or wrinkles, untrimmed beards or nail polish. And no hard decisions about shoes: we wear the same pair everywhere. Combinations and seasonal colors are no problem. Whatever comes up next in the clothes closet is fine. And if a brown sock is missing, a blue one will do nicely. Scuffy or stuffy, rude or crude, our choices are easy.

My old stomping ground, the academic world, is tailored for men. There, shabbiness is always stylish. Professors insinuate by example that an untidy appearance is a sign of an original mind. The students eat it up, which sometimes makes it hard to tell a university class from a huddle of homeless people. But the world being the unfair place that it is, women professors do not fare as well. Students think shabbiness is cool in male professors, but in women, well, not so cool, in fact just plain shabby.

In the real world, men never notice or care what other men wear, and if women are shocked by how a man dresses, they usually make comments only to other women. If the man is married, instead of criticizing him—innocent creature that he is—they blame the wife for letting her largest domestic pet roam around town dressed like a street person.

And things only get better as a man gets older. No matter how outlandishly an old man dresses, folks either assume his clothes are fashions from his prehistoric past or think that in his diminished mental state he is no longer responsible for his trespasses against good taste. In either case, people are okay with it. Old men get away with a lot.

But there are also thorns in this bed of roses. Life for men is one big imbalance. By the time most reach emotional and intellectual maturity—if ever—they are already in physical decline. So no sooner do they figure out what’s going on than they are too decrepit to do much about it.

In most families, concerned, intelligent women look after men and try to see that they are dressed for the occasion. Men listen but do not hear them. It is my professional opinion that men suffer from a deadly deafness to the female voice. Science needs to investigate.

This odd male deafness may cause cosmic ripples. At her beloved’s funeral the wife orders him laid out in a proper suit and tie—as usual, he’s not listening. He religiously avoided such attire all his life, like the front pew at church, but now may have to wear it forever. Poetic justice perhaps?

Harold Raley