Tim Gunn, the fashion mentor on "Project Runway", has a mantra for all of us: own your own look. I've been owning my own look and everybody else's for years.
I went to a progressive high school in Winnetka, Illinois, where everyone was encouraged to be themselves. All the boys wore khakis and madras shirts. We bottomed it all off with fuzzy pigskin shoes, or white bucks. We did have a suit for important occasions. Mine was tweed, but luckily important occasions rarely happened in summer.
When I went to college, I switched to button-down shirts and nondescript pants. Corduroys were okay, in a drab color.
Once I graduated, I became a wardrobe schizophrenic. Looking in my closet you would've thought I was seven different people. For work, the idea was to look like the guy in the office next door; don't call attention to yourself. Grey jackets, ties with little amoeba designs, blue button-downs, and your pants from college. For weekends, you'd think those seven guys went up north and someone mixed and matched their clothes. I usually looked suburban on top, urban on the bottom, and western in the middle.
If I went to an Alfred Hitchcock retrospective, I'd comb my hair and wear a striped tie like Cary Grant the next day. If I read a story about a safari or saw "Lawrence of Arabia", I'd find a safari shirt and look like I just crawled out of King Solomon's mines. After I saw "My Fair Lady", I dressed like Henry Higgins for a year. Now I've settled down to sport coats and nice pants and a cotton dress shirt.
I'm telling you this because I respect Mr. Gunn and am tired of being the exception that proves his rule. This lack of cultural intelligence seems to be present in a lot of my gender, and is undoubtedly the reason many men resent shopping so much. If there's a woman nearby who knows style and would like to donate a Saturday to a worthy cause, I'm it. These days, I can use a guide through the land of men's outerwear.
The last time I went to Banana Republic, I asked the men's department manager a question. He said, "I have the perfect person to answer that." He left for four minutes and returned with an older woman. "This is Betty," he said. "She's an old-timer. She can help you." And she did. You'd think that after all these years we'd know how to dress ourselves.
Again, anyone want to be a personal shopper?