Decoding the Sexes: Getting Men to Dress Up

This morning while stretching out I saw a story on the Today Show about how the editors of ELLE and Esquire magazines have collaborated on another approach to “decoding the sexes.” This dialog all started years ago, of course, with Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray but we don’t seem to have made much progress since then. Maybe each side read what they wanted to see in that book or more Venusians read the book than Martians did.

The Today Show, David Granger, Roberta Myers, ELLE Magazine, Esquire Magazine, decoding the sexes

Photo: The Today Show

Now Roberta Myers, editor in chief of ELLE, and David Granger, editor in chief of Esquire, have come together to try and solve the age-old puzzle of why it’s so difficult for men and women to understand what the other is saying.

The first and most important point Mr. Granger mentioned about “manspeak” is that men want women to “take us at our word” because men mean what they say and they say it directly. Here’ are some examples in ELLE magazine’s explanation of what men say and what they really mean. So when a man says to a woman that she is pretty, that’s what he means. There’s no subtext, no hidden message, no innuendo.  Fair enough.

One of the things this editorial dialog revealed about women, on the other hand, is that we care about what men look like. We like a man “who has game,” one who has it together and looks the part. As Ms. Myers says, “We notice how you dress. We notice how the shirt fits.” She go on to recommend that men put in a little effort, wear things that fit—not what fit 10 years ago—and upgrade essential items like glasses.

I would go a bit further.

The Tropical Paradox

When on vacation in warm climates, my husband and I frequently note the divergent appearances of the young couples around us, many of them on their honeymoon. During the day, the woman are dressed appropriately for their planned activity, whether it’s hitting the beach, hiking, going scuba diving, or playing tennis. The men wear wrinkled cargo shorts, a tee shirt and sports sandals pretty much everywhere.

It’s at night, however, that we see the big difference as these couples head out to restaurants for dinner. These are not the models you see in resort brochures; they are real people.

How the Women Look: The young women wear bright colorful dresses, dressy sandals and sparkly earrings. They look like adults who are prepared for a pleasant evening in a nice place. They have clearly thought about how they want to appear and put together an outfit that presents them in an adult way.

How the Men Look: The men wear wrinkled cargo shorts, a collarless tee shirt and sports sandals. They look no different from the way they looked in the morning—as if they’ve gotten advice on their evening attire from Outside magazine. In this context, they look like little boys who have never learned that grownups one thing things to the beach and something totally different to a nice restaurant.

honeymoon, tee shirt

Evening wear

Now, given what @ELLEmagazine said about the language of men, here’s how it plays out. The men appreciate that the woman has made an extra effort “because we know that people will look at you, and then look at us and think we’re a lucky guy. And we like feeling like a lucky guy.” That’s nice and I’m sure the young women enjoy that admiration from their husbands.

But what do the women get? Do their husbands have game? Not that we have noticed in our ongoing exploration of this divide. Do the women get to feel proud of their men because the husbands made an extra effort to look adult and accomplished? Do they get to feel like lucky women for being with that guy? Not so much.

Don’t Be That Way

I sometimes wonder what would happen if the young wives spoke to their husbands in the same direct way that men speak—and claim to understand.

  • “Honey, that doesn’t fit. It’s too small.”
  • “Please put on a golf shirt with a collar.”
  • “I think you’d look better in khaki Bermuda shorts and a tropical shirt.”
  • “How about replacing those Tevas with boat shoes?”

Would the men thank them for speaking directly and saying what they mean? Would they get the message because their wives said what they meant? Or would they respond with:

  • “I look just fine. Leave me alone.”
  • “What’s the matter with this shirt?”
  • “Don’t be that way.”
  • “Why are you bugging me about clothes?”
  • “Are you getting your period or something?”
  • “Why are you being so bitchy?”

Maybe yes, maybe no. I’m just saying that it wouldn’t hurt for men to make that extra effort sometimes. It would be good for a man to think about how he reflects on his wife’s good judgment in marrying him. It would be excellent for him to grasp that his appearance creates a perception about his level of maturity–and his status.  Would it be so difficult for him to pay attention to his appearance and spruce up a little?

If one of five answers above leaps to mind for my male readers, it might explain why women don’t speak directly and rely on innuendo instead to get the message across.

Am I wrong?