Miss Manners: My husband wears jeans on special occasions

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Dear Miss Manners: My husband never dresses appropriately for events. When our kids graduated from high school, he was wearing jeans. Going out for a good dinner with friends: jeans. Birthday dates – yes, you guessed it: jeans.

They’re not even nice dressier jeans, but distressed, dirty, and obviously old. What is strange is that he buys a lot of nice clothes, but he never wears them.

I feel so uncomfortable every time I have to take a picture with him on these occasions, because everyone is handsome and he wears jeans. I even suggested he wear khakis when the dress code is casual, but he sticks to jeans.

I understand that they are comfortable, but I feel embarrassed to be seen with him because he refuses to respect the dress code.

Like many people, your husband thinks dressing up is something he does only for himself. There are the “I only dress for comfort” people, of which he seems to be one, and the “I dress to express myself” people.

That’s all well and good, as far as that goes. But clothes also serve as a symbolic system that people use subliminally. Everyone, even him, reads meaning in the way others dress. Think: why do even the most extravagant celebrities dress conservatively when judged? Because their dear lawyers explain that the judge will interpret serious dress as defiance of the law, and jurors would think that someone who defies dress codes might also be able to defy the law.

You could explain that dressing informally on a formal occasion is interpreted as disrespectful. By the way, the reverse is also true: it would be offensive if you showed up to a picnic in costume, for example.

Miss Manners wishes you luck in making her understand. Most people do not admit that they interpret clothing symbolically. “How horrible to judge something so superficial! they will say. Yet they do it all the same.

Dear Miss Manners: I was watching a Cary Grant movie called “Talk of the Town” the other day, and one of the characters is a law professor who is recovering and writing a book. A woman takes care of him, I think at home.

One day, the teacher eats soup. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tablespoon like the one he used: it was oval, not round, and very large – like a serving spoon or slightly larger.

In the movie, he’s a good guy, and the woman who takes care of him does things right too. Can you tell me what kind of spoon it was?

A table spoon. They were very tall. And Miss Manners prefers that to the idea that Mr. Grant – or was it Mr. Ronald Colman? — picked up the serving spoon by mistake.

New Miss Manners columns are published Monday to Saturday at washingtonpost.com/board. You can send questions to Miss Manners on her website, MissManners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

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