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Published May 15 2011

Swift: The good, the plaid and the ugly

I blame the brown socks.

My husband Irwin grew up with four brothers and a sister. One way that his mom kept organized, and kept her sanity, was to color-code the boys. Irwin became Mr. Brown. Brown socks, brown shirts, brown belts.

He grew up to hate brown and to rebel against wearing clothes someone else picked out for him.

These traits, coupled with the Scandinavian belief that a man’s wardrobe should last longer than his home mortgage, have made it tough to buy him clothes.

For as long as I’ve known him, he has worn pretty much the same thing: a style of Levi’s so old that they are labeled “501 B.C.” and some variation of a plaid, button-down shirt. When summer hits, he makes a dramatic wardrobe change, switching to Levi’s shorts and a short-sleeved, plaid, button-down shirt.

I know he’s not alone. When he gets together with his mostly engineer brothers, it looks like a lumberjack convention. It’s like they all shop at a mall filled with stores called No Vanity, Forever Bob Villa and Plaid to the Bone.

Any attempts I have made to nudge him into new clothing styles have failed miserably. For years, I tried to sell him on the idea that a vertically striped shirt is simply a plaid shirt in training. “See? It’s just one stripe short of being plaid,” I will argue.

But Irwin will eye the offending newcomer as if I’m trying to get him to wear a sequined, mesh crop top. “I don’t tell you what to wear,” he’ll harrumph. “Besides, I just bought a new shirt that’s dramatically different from all my other ones.”

With that, he will gesture to a plaid shirt that has six white buttons instead of five.

And so you can imagine the turmoil when Levi’s decided to no longer make a style of jeans first popularized by Emilio Estevez in “St. Elmo’s Fire.” He came home with several pairs of new blue jeans that, to the naked eye, looked almost identical to his old ones.

He was traumatized. “These fit weird,” he said. “By the time you find a pair that fit in the waist, they’re all baggy in the legs. I feel like Lady Gaga.”

Apparently, this loyalty to certain articles of clothing isn’t unique to Irwin. When I mentioned it at work, several female colleagues rolled their eyes in sympathy.

Call it Sisterhood of the Husbandly Pants.

One co-worker told of a Speedo wifebeater her husband has worn since the 1970s, and of underwear so threadbare it looked like a “Dancing with the Stars” costume. She talked of finally successfully throwing away his 1990-vintage Zubaz, only to learn a month later that a new Zubaz renaissance had fueled the opening of a kiosk for the deliriously patterned jockwear at the mall. Her husband hasn’t let her forget about it since.

Another friend talked of her husband’s allegiance to a black, button-down shirt, even though the seams under the armpits had completely blown out. She said he justified his peek-a-boo shirt by claiming he had a “lifetime contract” with his clothes.

She retorted that his clothes also had a lifetime, which was meant to be significantly shorter than his.

And so I guess I’m not alone.

And I have learned a valuable lesson.

If you can’t wifebeater ’em, join ’em.

Don’t get mad. Get plaid.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525