The survey revealed that women buy 775 of these in a lifetime. Have a think about that statistic. As of 2011 the life expectancy at birth for an Irish female is 82. Presuming that most women won’t be independently buying things until they’re at least 16 years old, this means they’ll buy one of these things just about every month of their lives.
Is it a hairbrush? Is it a framed photo of Brad Pitt? No, it’s none of those things; it’s a dress. That’s right, a frock or a gown or, as we say here in this country, a gúna. That’s a lot of dresses. The research also found that each dress will, on average, be worn just eight times. The statistic highlights a fundamental gender divide: formal fashion wear. The fact that women are socially compelled to wear something different at every big occasion is in stark contrast to the undeniable truth that a man could wear the same suit, to every christening, wedding and funeral, for his entire adult life, and nobody would notice the lack of difference. In fact, nobody would pay the blindest bit of attention. ‘I love your suit Joe, the cut really suits your frame,’ said no man to me ever.
Women are at the centre of attention during formal occasions. Do I feel aggrieved by this? Yes and no. Certainly a compliment now and again wouldn’t go unappreciated.
I have a suit, or to put it another way, I have one suit. I bought it ten years ago. At least, I think it was ten years ago. Back then, whenever it was, I found myself going to a lot of formal functions. The very occasional awards ceremony (they needed seat-fillers for when the winners went up on stage), weddings, christenings, more weddings, job interviews, and more weddings. I realised that a black suit was the most versatile clothing invention since Batman’s Batsuit. Not only could it be brightened up for jolly nuptial celebrations by a bright tie and shirt, but it also got rid of the need for expensive tux hire. On those infrequent occasions when I found myself at a black-tie affair, I threw on the black suit and invested in a black tie. In fact, I still have the same black tie that I purchased around the same time as the suit.
Does anyone notice? If they do, they have displayed the courtesy not to mention it. Even if they did, I’d have responded triumphantly rather than ashamedly. ‘This old thing? Why yes, it is an old thing. Manchester United were actually winning matches back when this thing was on sale.’
However, a woman has to use her internal fashion processor chip to gather data on her ten most recent formal wear occasions. The information enables her to rifle through her wardrobe, mentally working out a Venn diagram of the maximum number of people in common who may have been at the most recent wedding at which she wore her dress of choice. To militate against recognition, she’ll accessorise to such a degree that it will look like she’s won the national lottery. (Despite the fact that, according to this recent study, she’s supposed to be accumulating hundreds of dresses.) As a man, I find the gender equivalent of this scenario utterly frightening.
It has become a recurring nightmare for me. I’m thrashing around my wardrobe, flinging suits left, right and centre, cursing loudly. ‘When did I last wear the navy one? Maybe I’ll wear this navy one instead! Hang on, that’s like the other navy one. How about this dark navy one?’ I end up fetching out a lively lime green silk tie in order to draw the eye away from all the navy, and head off to the wedding/christening/funeral.
Women are much more strategic, even militaristic, in this regard. They’ve developed the skills. Some say they’re born naturally adept at it. But does that warrant buying almost a dozen dresses a year? It’s a subtle but unnecessary fashion show. I’ve heard it said that when it comes to fashion only other women pay close attention to what women wear. The layers of unnoticed secret scrutiny are many; judgements are passed and conclusions drawn. A man will simply hope that he correctly bets on the length of the best man’s speech.
Let’s go back to the statistics though, because by my reckoning there should be at least 350 dresses hanging in my wife’s wardrobe. While that domain is an area I fear to enter, I have one simple rule to live by. Whatever dress she wears say something like: ‘You look wonderful darling!’
And on the very rare but welcome occasion, she replies: ‘You do too, I love that black suit!’