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This? I got it in the Women’s Store

David Colman goes where few men have gone before

It began in Aspen. I was in a ski shop with my sister, looking for a new parka. But everything felt huge and boring, as if I were going to be smuggling burly Canadians in it with every run. Wasn’t there anything that fit neatly and trimly, like ski jackets did in the 1980s? Maybe some little red, white and blue razzmatazz that might summon my onetime downhill-racer idols, the Olympically awesome twins Phil and Steve Mahre, who won my teenage devotion along with gold and silver medals at Sarajevo in ’84? Coats Illustration

Then I saw a graphic red-and-white coat with white stars on the sleeves and telltale Bogner zipper pulls, half the size of the others and, best of all, priced at 75 percent off. I could almost hear the Olympic Committee oohing as I tried it on. It fit perfectly. It looked good. The salesman liked it. My sister liked it. I liked it.

Then, I asked the cashier if maybe there might be one just one size larger somewhere in the back, just in case I wanted to wear an extra layer underneath. She did a search on the computer and came back with the fateful words: “No, there’s only the 14 left in that style.”

It took a moment to sink in. But, there it was: I, a tall, hale fellow of manly build, was buying a woman’s ski coat. Was this what they call a slippery slope?

Now, before you go picturing me in a size 15 pair of pumps and a wild mane of hair extensions, I’m not talking about drag. Drag doesn’t interest me. I don’t even like to watch it, much less wear it. Nothing against its devotees. Get the whole kit and caboodle—and text me a photo.

No, what I am talking about is clothes that are a cut above dull and dreary. Clothes that come in better colors, that are made out of more luxurious or more cutting-edge fabrics, that have slimmer or more adventurous cuts and that always seem, for some apparently arbitrary reason, to be sold on the bride’s side of the aisle and not the groom’s. There’s nothing inherently womanly about them, and in the several years of wearing that parka, I’ve only had compliments.

I had been tempted before. For years I had been dismayed by the disparity between the boxy, boring men’s selections and the nicer, more exciting stuff available for women. Take the classic crewneck cashmere sweater. At a certain boutique, the sweater is available for men in maroon, forest, camel and rust. For women, it comes in blueberry, tangerine, espresso, red currant, vanilla, bubblegum, egg yolk, cinnamon, caramel, blue curaçao, eggplant, cappuccino, persimmon, and probably parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Women have the entire grocery store to choose from; men are marooned in a forest
on a rusty camel.

I am not the first guy whose eye has strayed across Fifth Avenue from BG’s Men’s Store to the mother ship. You think Keith Richards got those striped stovepipe pants from the men’s department? Hardly. He was pirating clothes from Anita Pallenberg’s closet. Many rock gods have done the same: Simon Le Bon, David Lee Roth, Kurt Cobain. Where do you think skinny jeans came from? The fluorescent eighties? That summer scarf thing?

Judging from the men’s runways, you’d expect there to be plenty of edgy, imaginative clothes to be had. But the truth is most things are made for the show, not the stores. If you want to find something that daring, guess where do you go?

Women have shopped the men’s department since Dietrich in the 1930s, and no one raises an eyebrow. Many gals love the simplicity, even severity, of menswear, the crisp white dress shirts unadorned with needless fripperies, and who can blame them? The men’s stores can always be relied upon to deliver a restraint that is almost opulent, and women have for decades gravitated to designers that do men’s suiting beautifully.

Sadly, some of my later experiments in the peculiar subrealm of cross-dressing have not gone as well as the first. Any garment designed for a bust is out. I’ve tried some Scandinavian sweaters with amazing patterns that are more fanciful than the men’s versions are. But while I can pull off the patterns, the stylishly short sleeves are crying out for a bracelet or five, and I’m just not ready for that.

So, the sad truth is that it all boils down to a matter of size and shape. As the tag on my ski coat reminds me, being a size 14 is not going to fling open the door to a world of fashion delights. And even that number is iffy. During some cocktail-party conversation, I thought I’d be clever and drop a witty line about my dress size. A fellow eyed my 6’1″, 200-pound frame (all muscle) and said with a scoff, “Please, you wish you were a size 14!”

Such experiences have sent me skittering back to the men’s maroon forest. Though the women’s fashion world offers an amazing wealth of options for dressing up, it also holds a few too many ways to get a dressing down.  BG

David Colman recalls his favorites from the bride’s side of the aisle on 5th/58th