Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Ethel community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? Subscribe here

The Challenge of Updating My 80-Something Husband’s Wardrobe

How I tried — and failed miserably.

Comment Icon
illustration of husband wearing tropical clothes among people wearing black clothes
Lucy Kirk
Comment Icon

I married a man who hates to buy anything new and hates to throw anything out. For me, shopping is a meditative, healing experience. For my husband, stepping into a clothing store is stepping into the Ninth Circle of Hell. He breaks into a sweat, suffers palpitations, buys the first pair of pants that fit and races out the door before I can say, “Look! They’re having a sale on dress shirts!” 

Hubby couldn’t care less about clothing. Maybe it’s a guy thing. He chooses his daily wardrobe by proximity: the first pair of pants hanging in the closet, the top shirt in the drawer, the shoes closest to the bed. His loosey-goosey attitude has led to many awkward moments: The funeral he attended in white pants in a Hawaiian shirt featuring dancing hula girls, and the black-tie event where he showed up in a green cotton suit and bowling shoes.

It’s not that I want my guy to be a fashionista. As a matter of fact, I don’t really trust men who are too stylish. I agree with what I was once told by a New England Old Money friend: “Being fashionable shows lack of character.” 

So, when I meet someone dressed head to toe in Prada-Yada-Yada, I think to myself, “Aha, what character is underneath all of that?”

But character, shmaracter, sometimes you just have to dress for the occasion. Hubby’s laissez-faireness is reflected in his closet, which is a chaotic jumble of clothes, books, luggage and office supplies. 

Mine, on the other hand, has same colors hanging together, one area for dressy clothes, one for casual. And I wouldn’t dream of having summer and winter items anywhere near each other. Again, maybe it’s a gender issue. But, when Tidy marries Sloppy, who suffers more? I say it’s Tidy. Sloppy isn’t bothered by my alphabetized spice rack, but I have trouble breathing when I’m surrounded by his litter — particularly when he puts a public face on his eccentricity by combining stained white shorts and scuffed black suede winter clogs with red socks at a fancy Caribbean resort. 

Now I am fully aware that there are more important things to worry about, like our divided country and global warming. I feel powerless about those issues, whereas I figured I might actually be able to remedy the husband’s Unacceptable Attire situation. So, I decided it was time for drastic measures. I would enter the dreaded closet, remove the garbage, organize the few remaining wearable items, and create a nice, orderly environment. Best of all, I could then go out and buy Sloppy Spouse a whole new wardrobe. Now when he grabs the closest shirt, it will be a fresh and new crisp one.

Though there was a moral dilemma: I knew that if I just snuck out and gave all the ratty old rags to the thrift store, he would never even notice because, unlike me, he does not have an intimate personal acquaintance with every item in his closet. On the other hand, it seemed mean and un-wifely not to at least consult him. I put the mountain of tattered rejects on the bed and gave him the option of approving my choices. Bad idea. He claimed to be very much attached to three-quarters of the worn-out, out-of-style junk, and dumped them unceremoniously back into the newly organized closet.  

Okay, it was time for an intervention. First, a direct confrontation. Me: “You have to buy yourself some new clothes.” Him: “Why? I already have clothes.” Me: “You need things that were made in this century.” 

My husband promised to give it some thought. Meanwhile, while he was out of the house, I surveyed his closet and pruned out some of the ancient garb. Then, without consultation, I donated some bags to the thrift store. As I had expected, he never noticed a thing.

A few weeks later, he came home, looking very pleased with himself.

“OK, I did it. I went shopping for clothes and found a whole lot of stuff that’s just perfect for me.” 

It turns out that his idea of going shopping was to drop by the thrift store and he proudly, in all innocence, displayed some scuffed black suede winter clogs and a vivid Hawaiian shirt featuring dancing hula girls. I couldn’t tell him that his purchases were things that I had surreptitiously junked. So, I gave up. I hung his “new” clothes back in his closet, next to his stained joggers and stretched-out sweatshirts. Since we are in our 80s and he never throws anything away, that closet is choked to the brim but never mind — maybe I can help solve global warming.

The rest of the day was a typical one: He washed the car, he helped me edit an essay and made dinner because I no longer cook, if I can help it. He’s a good guy, and I’m lucky to have him — even in his soiled bucket hat.

Editor's Picks
This always brings her back to me.
, May 16, 2024
How I have tapped into its power and you can, too.
, May 16, 2024
What one mother says about what your kids need to know.
, May 16, 2024