Are You Henpecked?
RICHARD REGEN SAYS YES — AND THANKS, SORT OF
On my way out the door, dragging along a sullen, sleep-deprived teenager, my darling wife glanced up from her laptop, gave me a long look and asked a question that had all the subtlety of a brick going through a plate glass window. “I was just wondering,” she asked with dripping sarcasm, “when are you going to start dressing like an adult?” Clearly, this was a rhetorical question, but still, I pondered an answer.
To be fair, she had a point. I hadn’t shaved in a week and was attired in scuffed black boots, jeans, hooded sweatshirt and a black leather peacoat dating to the Iran-Contra hearings era. I’ve always considered wearing whatever you please one of the perks of a writer’s life. There are no coworkers or boss to impress. I admit my idea of a shopping spree was some new boxer shorts and a three-pack of tube socks.
My wife, on the other hand, is an accomplished professional stylist, and she takes great pride in her appearance. Apparently, she felt that it reflects badly on her to have a husband who is, to put it bluntly, a slob. Her actual words were, “I want to go out with someone dressed like my husband, not one of my sons.” Well into my forties, I still dressed as if I were in my twenties. Maturity was never my strong suit. In fact, suits had never been one of my strong suits. I owned but two: one black, one navy. A few sport jackets of indeterminate vintage and a dozen or so dress shirts rounded out my wardrobe. The only times I added a tie was when someone close got married or died. But now my wife had unilaterally decided that an intervention was in order. “We’re going shopping this weekend,” she pronounced. Like any sensible married man, I submitted humbly and scurried off, imagining a tail between my legs.
Come Saturday, she was as giddy as a schoolgirl—all smiles. Taking me shopping had somehow morphed into a full-fledged date, and she primped and preened in the bathroom for a good hour. Like a coach before the big game, she’d scripted an entire series of plays for my sartorial overhaul: four sweaters, a tweed sport jacket, a new suit, ties, dress socks, dress shirts, a new belt (“one that fits”) and two pairs of pants. Not wanting to seem entirely submissive, I blurted out something about not needing pants, as I owned almost a dozen pairs of jeans. With the calm, modulated tone one might use with a small child, or a person of diminished capacity, she replied, “Honey, jeans are not pants.”
After a cab dropped us, she put her arm in mine and whispered, “I’ll do the talking once we’re inside the store. Don’t embarrass me.”
Our first stop was the sort of place that conjures up a genteel private club in nineteenth-century London: dark wood-paneled walls hung with portraits of long-gone sailing yachts and various nautical regalia scattered about. While my wife went off seeking a salesperson up to her standards, I fiddled with a brass sextant, fancying myself something out of Master and Commander, imagining orders to my nonexistent crew. When my wife appeared with a salesman, she fixed me with the marital death stare until I sheepishly put the sextant down, to be led into the deeper recesses of the store.
“Harris Tweed,” intoned my spouse, a big fan of Downton Abbey. I counted myself lucky we weren’t shopping just after Pride and Prejudice came out, picturing myself in a frock coat. The veteran salesman gave me a long look, measuring me critically (“44 long, I think”), and disappeared. He returned with a rack of tweed sport jackets. My dearest examined them, held up three that she liked, and told me to pick. I chose a green plaid that suggested Scottish game warden and was then led to a rack of summer suits by the salesman, who by now knew I’d been sent by the sales gods. My partner-in-life then chose four sweaters before I could blink, let alone object, three dress shirts, four pairs of socks, three ties, and my makeover was done. At least for that day. I had to admit that I would be looking much better, and I felt great, although signing the bill I had to mentally note that what I’d spent would have kept me in hoodies and tube socks for life.
Back at home, there was a sudden, palpable absence of tension. I was really back in her good graces. There was even a hint of romance in the air. That was easy: All I had to do was indulge myself in some fine gentlemanly clothes. I knew I had helped my marriage — perhaps even my career. But in the interest of self-preservation, I decided to keep it to myself that I’d managed to avoid buying any pants. But then again, I thought, who really wears them? BG