In living rooms, restaurants and backyards across America today, fathers are opening boxes and looking in bags to see the articles of clothing the other people in their family wish they would wear.
Tomorrow, many of those fathers will see those same family members who will ask him, “Why aren’t you wearing your new (whatever)?” And the fathers will act like they forgot they have something nice and new, make up an excuse about how all the other Dads at work agreed to wear old clothes that day or pretend like they are walking in their sleep and should not be disturbed.
This is not true of all fathers, of course; some of them wear nice, tasteful, matching clothes. Some even have outfits that would qualify as ensembles.
Author Malcolm Gladwell would call these Dads “outliers.” Other terms for them include “fictional characters” and “mannequins.”
We Dads have a lot on our plates these days, what with social media, economic uncertainty and coal emission standards, so looking all spiffy is pretty far down on the list. Many of us have thus chosen a minimalist approach to our wardrobes, which gives us more time to figure out how to work the word thus into conversation.
So your Dad isn’t going to wear the thing you spent $85 on. Live and learn and keep some of these tips in mind the next time you decide to buy him something to wear.
SocksDo they stay up?
I asked for white tube socks last year and no one wanted to get them for me; everyone was afraid I would hike them up to my knees and wear them with gym shorts like it was 1976. I just wanted something that was high enough to not fall back into my boots in the winter. That’s pretty standard for socks. Sure you want them to match – each other at least and maybe your shoes in a perfect world – but function is king. “How do my socks look?” is not a question Dads ask.
ShoesThe older – and the fewer – the better.
“I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a man’s shoes?” Red, “The Shawshank Redemption.”
Red was right. Besides, in my experience, no Dad has ever told anyone how many pairs of shoes he has and no Dad has ever said he was going shoe shopping. I’m sure the expression “as comfortable as an old shoe” was invented by a Dad, as was loafer. Don’t buy your Dad new black shoes when the black shoes he has are fine. But if his shoes have holes in them or now incorporate duct tape, pull the trigger.
UnderwearNah. These are fine.
Not that you ever want to buy underwear for anyone, but your Dad really doesn’t need you to buy him any. Partly that’s because, as Jerry Seinfeld famously noted, men will wear underwear until it has long passed the point of being clothing. “Men hang on to underwear until each individual underwear molecule is so strained it can barely retain the properties of a solid,” he said. The other reason not to buy it is because anyone can buy underwear in less than 5 minutes. Your Dad wants to buy his own underwear or have someone else pick him up a six-pack on the normal errand run, when the time comes … if the time comes.
BeltsThe gift to give when you have given up.
A simple, one-question test will determine if your Dad needs a belt: Have you heard your Dad say “I need a belt”? If the answer is no, don’t buy him a belt.
ShirtsOwning a shirt that needs to be ironed is the same as not owning that shirt.
Don’t get me wrong: 100 percent cotton looks great, even on your Dad. But it looks great only after someone – probably not him – runs an iron over it. Dads want to stand in the closet, see the pants and shirt they need and put them on. Don’t create more work for your Dad.
PantsOne pair for every obvious color.
People have made the mistake of buying their Dad pants that are the same color of another pair of pants he has. “Khaki? But I already have khaki. You should have gotten me black. I’m all out of black.” See what color your Dad is missing and then buy him that.
TiesGuess which store that went out of business this one is from?
I have no idea where any of my ties came from, because I don’t remember buying any of them and no one ever tells me they bought me the one I’m wearing. For all I know, someone started slipping them into my closet 30 years ago and they’re all still there. The tie is the only article of men’s clothing that serves no functional purpose and yet Dads have dozens, most of which they will never wear. Skip the tie. Please.
SweatersWhy are you so embarrassing?
My son and I were at a hockey game when he was about 10 years old. At some point during the game, we saw ourselves on the Jumbotron. He jumped up and started waving like he was signaling a rescue plane as I smiled and waved with him. He sat down and his smile became a scowl as he looked at my Argyle sweater and said, “Why are you wearing that? It’s embarrassing.” He’s right of course, but who cares? I wear sweaters because I’m cold, as all right-thinking Americans should. I also own maybe three, including one that I have worn proudly since 1989. If your Dad has more than five sweaters, he’s fine. If fewer, get him one. Tell the sales associate you’re looking for something embarrassing.
JacketsBlue goes with everything. Almost everything.
Does your Dad wear a navy blue sportcoat every time he needs to dress up? Don’t assume he needs a different color; the blue blazer is a staple. If you buy your Dad a different color, don’t be surprised if he returns it for a navy blue one.
HatsIndiana Jones looks good in a fedora. Everyone else is trying to look like Indiana Jones and failing.
Dads look at pictures of other Dads from previous generations and wish they could wear a hat like those guys did. Then they try one on and everyone laughs at them because they look foolish. If you want to buy your Dad a hat, make it a baseball cap or something he can wear in the winter to keep his ears warm. He’ll still look foolish, but at least he’ll fit in with all the other Dads.