5 Quick Tips for Dressing Like You Give a Damn

Clothing size, that is. Because it's good to remind your partner that you care about yourself, them, and that you’re good for making effort when not asked.

by Jeff Vrabel
Originally Published: 
Illustrated jeans with a brown leather belt on a yellow background

My shirt size was XL all through college, which was curious, because I was 5’11” and 170 lbs. sopping wet after indulging in Burrito Tuesdays and wearing a winter coat. In short, I was not remotely a size XL in college. I wasn’t within miles of a size XL. I was barely an L. I was a 100 percent stone-cold M, an inarguable fact that did not remotely stop me from purchasing XL shirts, mostly because I was desperately insecure about my muscle-free frame, but also because, at the time, I had scant concept of what sizes meant.

Now, as a married father of two with the sporadic ability to purchase something more than Aerosmith Get a Grip ’93 Tour t-shirts and slightly more clothes shopping experience under my belt (also significant belt-shopping experience), I can safely say that I still have scant concept of what sizes mean. If you are like me, you are L but sometimes XL and occasionally M if you don’t mind spending 12 hours striving to inhale your own stomach. My pant sizes span the breadth of many numbers in the 30s. I don’t remotely know where to start with sport coats, which are jerks.

Here are two things I know: It has become clear that the articles about How to Be a Militantly Well-Appointed Set of Italian Cheekbones shall never serve as consulting material. But I also know that leaving the house while being off by two sizes not only make me look like the original bassist from Alice in Chains, but makes it look like my wife is going out with the original bassist from Alice in Chains, and that’s a negative outcome for both of us. Dressing like you’re 23 and also homeless is unacceptable, but chances are fairly high that you’re not Benedict Cumberbatch. (If you are, hey man, thanks for reading, super excited for Infinity War.) But there are a few things you can do to find the line between — and to show your significant other that you’re making the effort.

1. First, throw out everything in your closet.

Well, not everything. But mostly everything. People who make stupid amounts of money on self-help Twitter accounts call this “decluttering your holistic chakra living space and emotional joy reservoir.” We just call it Throwing Out (Or Donating) a Bunch of Old S**t You Don’t Need. Through several thousands of years of genetic programming, we’re built to develop patterns: ordering the same coffee, playing the same playlists, wearing the same shirts. Mentally, it’s easier; practically, it’s boring. Since we’re straightening things up anyway, take an afternoon to scrape out your closet, identify anything that you haven’t worn within the past year and deposit it into a Hefty lawn bag for Goodwill or charity bin outside Lowe’s. By Kondo-ing the bejesus out of your stuff, you’re making room, sure. But more than that, you’re mentally preparing to change things.

2. Have someone smarter than you determine your sizes.

If you do not know how to do this, find a tailor, which you will be able to do by asking your grandfather what a tailor is and then googling one in your town. (If you’d care to do this while sipping an Orange Julius, you can also hit up an anchor store at a mall.) Get your numbers and stash them in your phone somewhere for easy retrieval. This way you start with a baseline of Actual Math Figures, instead of just “slim fit” or “husky.” And then!

3. Understand those actual math figures do not mean a damn thing.

The apparel industry is screwing with you for its own enjoyment, because size numbers mean nothing. Size L means nothing. Slim Fit means less than nothing. Skinny Fit means something, but it’s usually Put This Down, You Have a Family, For God’s Sake. Sizes vary pathetically randomly, from town-to-town, from store-to-store, and sometimes, conveniently, within the same store, moreso if you’re ordering online. If this sounds like it means you have to shop at various places over a span of time to figure out where you’re a Slim Fit and where you’re a 34 and where you’re a 42 L or 40 R, yes. Assume zero consistency between sizes and cuts across stores. Women have been dealing with this for 400 years, so don’t complain about it too much. Before you can do anything, you have to determine what fits. This might take a while.

4. Get six outfits, and then wear them for no reason at all.

With your closet freshened and Actual Size obtained — and in flagrant defiance of Jason Isbell — establish a handful of outfits from your appropriately fitting arsenal. And then, for no reason at all, wear one on a random Tuesday. And then on a Friday. And then some time that isn’t a date night, or a special occasion, or when your wife isn’t expecting you to. Just to do it, to show you’re paying attention. The first few times may elicit raised eyebrows — as in, is everything okay? Have you been fired? Is there something we need to talk about regarding health or subpoenas? But after a while the upgrade will become a part of that daily programming, and be appreciated as such. You’re doing this for her, but also…

5. You’re doing it for you.

Look, no one’s going to approximate Donald Glover’s wardrobe with four more years of Honda payments to make. But cleaning yourself up and throwing on clothes that actually fit when it’s not required or expected — this is a small gesture, but one that reminds the person who’s chosen to live with you that you care about yourself, you care about her, and you’re good for making effort when not asked. Sometimes, that effort is all that matters. As long as it doesn’t involve skinny jeans.

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