But Would You Say That to a Woman?

But Would You Say That to a Woman?

“Was Anne not awake when you left for work this morning?”

This is how my husband was greeted by a female coworker in his workplace one morning last week (complete with a head-to-toe scan of his appearance).

Clearly, she meant, “You look like crap today.”  He laughed it off, saying, “I left home at 5:00 a.m.–she definitely wasn’t awake then!”

But when he came home that afternoon, he asked me, “Do I look alright?  Is there anything wrong with what I’m wearing?”

This was an odd question for that time of day, but I gave him the head-to-toe scan (because I’m his wife, and I can do that!) and he looked fine.  Button-down shirt, dark denim, brown shoes–I told him he looked great. And then he told me about the odd comment.

I was puzzled, because he truly looked fine.  So why the snarky comment?  It’s a mystery.

But it got me thinking:  Are women the fashion police in our culture?  Do we really think men are clueless when it comes to fashion?  Do my husband’s coworkers really think that I give my stamp of approval every morning before he leaves the house?  (Because I don’t.  I don’t need to.  And I’m rarely awake at 5:00 am anyway!)  Are women really so much more stylish than men?

And how would your reaction to this little story change if the gender roles were reversed?  What if it was the man that said to the woman, “Was your husband not awake when you left home this morning?”

My husband and I have helped each other with our fashion choices over the years.  After a few rough years at the beginning, we have come to a very happy place in our relationship where fashion is concerned.  In the next post I’ll tell you my tips–really, our tips, that we’ve figured out over the years in our own relationship–for encouraging your man by helping him manage his wardrobe.

In the meantime, I’d love to know:  Do you ever criticize other people’s fashion choices?  Does gender play a role?  And if you’ve received criticism for the way you dress, how have you chosen to respond?

photo credit: Randomitus via Joel on Pinterest

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27 comments | Comment


  1. What a strange (and rude!) comment! I admit that sometimes I joke about men being clueless fashion-wise (and to be honest, my dad and my husband often are clueless, not always, but they have put together some odd outfits in their day). My brother, on the other hand, pays much more attention to fashion and looks pretty sharp most of the time. But my joking would never translate into a rude comment!

  2. Oh, and I’m pretty clueless about fashion myself, so while I do think that women generally tend to understand fashion better than men (mainly because they pay more attention to it), I know that I’m proof that’s not always the case. Oddly though, even if I can’t pick out the best clothes for myself, I can pick out some nice clothes for my husband much easier – maybe because men’s choices are smaller and less overwhelming?

    • Anne says:

      Yes! There is a Linda Dano book I think on this very topic–it is so much easier for men to nail the proper dress than it is for women. We have so many more options, which means we have so many more ways to screw it up!

  3. Isn’t that the whole point of “fashion” – what one person likes, another person wouldn’t be caught dead in? Today I’m wearing the tackiest Halloween sweater EVER (that I’ve had since I was…um, 14?!) because I’m wearing it to work for laughs. Consider it a costume and move on. I don’t go in for most of the trends, but I’m quite comfortable with being me.

    The oddest comment I ever got was when we were living in Lesotho (Africa). Background: we worked in an airplane hangar where the doors were open most of the day and it hovered around 35-degrees with no heat. I spent my days wearing as many layers of clothes, coats, and hats, as I could possibly get away with. One morning I got up and threw my hair into two braids before stuffing a hat down over my head and ears. When I got to work, an American co-worker (a middle-aged widower who should have known better) came up to me, stopped, and said, “What possessed you to do your hair that way?” EXCUSE ME?! I actually stared at him in stunned silence and then he REPEATED the question!!! Only he added that I looked like Dorothy. If looks could kill, he would be dead. My husband was working in the same hangar and I promptly headed over to tell him the story and he was ready to take the guy on…but we laughed about it instead.

    On a secondary note, the hubby and I have always been totally honest when it comes to clothes and what we look like. Women are often appalled that Peter has told me, “You don’t look good in that – in fact, you look like a [insert whatever bad thing I might look like].” Here’s the deal, I would SO MUCH RATHER my HUSBAND (whom I love and trust and who also happens to have similar fashion taste) tell me my butt looks huge in a skirt than have no one say it, but everyone is thinking it. After a pretty big fight (including tears) shortly after we were married and I came home with a (I’ll admit it) HORRIBLE outfit (which was returned and exchanged for something I STILL wear), I learned that he really wasn’t out to pick on me, he was out to help me look my best. I appreciate that about him.

    Enough with the book of a comment. The woman was wrong to say that to your husband. End of story. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Love your story about honesty in fashion. Yes, I would much rather my husband break the bad news to me about my clothing than anyone else on this planet. More to come later this week!

      And I’m trying to imagine: how did you do your hair that he thought you looked like Dorothy?

  4. Amber says:

    Maybe your husband was dressed differently and her comment was a knee jerk, stereotypical comment? It was still rude (especially the looking him up and down part), but maybe it was just her attempt at being (not) funny and commenting that his style was a bit different?

    I typically try not to comment on how other people are dressed because I think it is rude, you never know who may over hear you and who knows what challenges they are facing. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever think negative thoughts about how people are dressed 😉

    I have to admit that my husband has chosen some really bad options for clothes ( mis-match). But we are both pretty honest about our thoughts and it is always done in a respectful, playful manner. So I do think gender plays a role a bit. For the most part (and for many reasons), most women I know tend to care more about fashion then men do.

    I haven’t really had comments on my clothes, but one time I was standing in line at the bank. It was really hot outside and I had on a dress. Some random guy behind me actually said “wow, you need to get some sun”. I am Irish/German, and although I can tan a little, I am pretty fair skinned. But it isn’t like I am so pale I glow in the dark. Plus, fair skinned people should NOT get a lot of sun (geez, skin cancer!). I just couldn’t believe someone would make a comment like that.

  5. Christine says:

    It’s too bad that more people don’t adhere to the rule of, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I do think that in most cases, that is the best way to go. The times that you need to say something (someone your very close with/or an opinion is specifically requested), we should be very careful of how we say things.

  6. Linda says:

    I offer advice to both women and men if they ask it. I ask my boyfriend about outfits when I’m trying things at home and I ask the girlfriends when I’m out with them in stores. Some of my guy friends have a better eye than some of my girl friends!

    • Anne says:

      Great point, Linda–“if they ask it” then definitely give the advice! And I do the same thing–I honestly want my husband’s (honest) opinion on clothes I’ve brought home from the stores, but if I’m shopping with a friend, you better believe I want her opinion in the dressing room–even if it might be a little brutal!

  7. Laura says:

    Hmmmm… Was she somehow trying to insinuate that you are a bad wife? Like..”How could Anne have let you leave looking like that?”
    Sounds beyond snarky AND rude to me. I don’t like calling other women the “B-word” but she was being a BIG one that day.


  8. Lucky says:

    There’s a woman at my DH’s bank that will make comments if she doesn’t think his shirt is ironed well enough or his lunch is good enough. They’re definately along the line of “what a bad wife you have.”

    I believe they’re still going on, but DH has learned not to tell me about them any more 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Ha! I remember when my husband worked at a bank, too, with shirts that needed careful ironing that neither of us was any good at. I definitely don’t miss those days! (If there was a snarky coworker, he never told me about it!)

  9. Rachel says:

    I will be honest with someone who asks my opinion (and my darling sister even when she doesn’t). I would think that the relationship is more important than the sex of the person. If my husband makes a comment about my fashion sense (which is non-existent), I feel it is his prerogative to do so. If someone at the grocery makes the same comment, I immediately let the baby spit up on them.
    Sounds like the woman was attempting to be funny and failed miserably.

    • Anne says:

      Let the baby spit up on them? Harsh!

      It’s much easier for me to have grace for someone if I think their intentions were good. Attempting to be funny is (usually) a pretty forgivable faux pas. Usually.

  10. There are two types of people in the world. Those who leave a social gathering thinking “I shouldn’t have said that!” and those who leave saying “I should have said that!” She sounds like the former. It WAS rude and thoughtless.

    • Anne says:

      Sadly, I’ve been both of those types of people! I hope I’m becoming a little more wise and a little less obnoxious…. I hope!

  11. I try to stick with compliments or just say nothing at all. The comment is odd & it sounds like she just stuck her foot in her mouth that day.

    I don’t think men have no sense of fashion, but I do think in general that they care less. (Although there are plenty of women, like me, who don’t have fashion as a high priority either). My husband and I rarely discuss clothes, and if I buy clothes for him, I try to pick things I think he would pick for himself.

  12. Rebecca says:

    What a great example your husband is! My guess is he probably could have reduced her to tears in 20 words or less, and yet he chose to make it a non-issue even though she arrogantly insulted you both.

  13. Katie A. says:

    I think it just depends on the woman. I have worked with women who felt comfortable telling me that what I was wearing wasn’t flattering (not that I was thrilled to hear it), and I’ve worked with a lot more people who would never comment on my outfit, even if I looked ridiculous. I think it’s considered more acceptable coming from a woman, because we are in some way supposed to be the gatekeepers, but that doesn’t actually make it any nicer… or more pleasant to hear.

    (Since it’s Halloween I’ll relate that a few years ago I whipped up a 20-minute skirt to go with my ridiculous costume… and my co-worker told me it made me look fat! I didn’t say anything, but to this day I’m still appalled. It was a costume! But this was coming from one of those women who always have sexy Halloween costumes. So dress like a dog if you must, but for heaven’s sake dress like a sexy dog.)

  14. 'Becca says:

    Wow, how rude!

    I think the only time I’ve ever made a comment anything like that was when I had a co-worker who was completely red-green color-blind, and he came to work on St. Patrick’s Day wearing a pink shirt. I said, “Um, did your girlfriend tell you that shirt was green?” He said, “No, I just grabbed something at random after I asked her, ‘Are we wearing green today?’ and she said [scathing, condescending tone], ‘We’re not children!’ so I thought I’d better not bother her! What color IS this shirt?” When I told him, he speculated that maybe that was why a man had tried to come on to him on the bus, which had never happened to him before–maybe the guy thought pink shirt=gay!

    Last year, my son went to kindergarten in a strange-looking, brightly-colored outfit with too-short pants. He had been choosing his own outfits for some time and normally is quite good at coordinating, but this time he had some reason for wanting to wear that combination. He told me his teacher had said, “Did Daddy dress you today?” He was disgusted; this was just one more episode showing that teacher’s attitude that fathers are incompetent. (He brought home really nice Mother’s Day gifts, plural, that they made in class. Father’s Day was only 3 days after school ended, and they did a lot of crafts in the last week, but they didn’t make even one thing for fathers.)

    It seems to me that males are more likely to get negative comments on their outfits because the range of clothing that is “normal” for males in any given situation is narrower than for females. But why anyone thinks a grown man of normal intelligence is “dressed by” the woman in his life is baffling to me. I guess women who interfere a lot in their men’s fashion decisions assume all other women do that too.

  15. Stacy says:

    That was very rude of her to say that!

    I have one boss that occassionally makes comments on my outfits/hair, with pop culture references if he thinks I’m dressed oddly. I let it wash over me, as I don’t think he’s dressed particularly fashionable most of the time (though I don’t say anything, of course). I don’t think he’s being mean…he just thinks he’s funny.

    I’ve had people mention what I’ve worn in the past as being odd, as I sometimes like to push the boundaries. I don’t care, usually. It’s a creative outlet. If they were being particularly mean, I would respond in kind. People need to learn that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. :/

  16. 'Becca says:

    My family encountered a different version of this yesterday: My six-year-old son and his father were at the park with his friend and her grandfather. They found a spring where the kids wanted to play in the water. His friend’s grandfather said to his father, “Will his mom mind if he gets muddy?” I can’t imagine being in that situation myself and having the other adult ask me if his DAD would mind his getting muddy!

  17. Sharon says:

    I had an Executive at my former workplace make a comment about my outfit one day. It was a Friday, so a casual dress day and I had on a hot pink sweater (that I thought was super cute) and jeans and tennis shoes. He walked by with another Executive and said something like, “What are you, 15?” I said, “No, actually I am 12.” Then I fought back the tears. I was horrified that he made any comment on my outfit and also that he did it in front of another one of my superiors. Usually I wouldn’t respond to anyone that way, especially to one of my bosses, but I was totally shocked at his remark. All in all, he was a bit of a jerk and when I left the company, I was shocked when he gave me a hug and said he was gonna miss me. In my head, I was thinking, “What??? I thought you hated me!” Apparently everyone in his path gets equal opportunity jerk treatment from him regardless of what he actually thinks of them.

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