I attended church with my wife the other day and overheard one of the women there complimenting her on her shoes. She confessed that she was so taken by these shoes that she was admiring them instead of keeping her eyes closed during the prayers.
Admittedly the shoes in question were really quite spectacular. Nonetheless, not for the first time it struck me that men are far less relaxed about complimenting each other than are their female colleagues. Why is that?
For most of the last two decades or so I have either worked or been engaged in higher education, not an industry well known for its dress sense. However, once per year we get all dressed up for degree ceremonies, complete with ceremonial robes for ‘poncing about,’ which is, I believe, a technical term.
Most of us gents make a particular effort to get dressed up on those occasions, even if we don’t the rest of the year. And I have noticed that on those days men often lose their reserve and readily compliment one another. Most of the time it is a commentary on the ceremonial gear: ‘Which university is that from?’ ‘That is real velvet, isn’t it?’ ‘Wow, I’ve not seen one of these with ermine before…’ ‘Not many people can manage to look fabulous in scarlet, but you have.’
However, we often go further than the robes and go on to comment on what a lovely tie/shirt/pair of cufflinks/suit someone else is wearing. However, come the following day we are back to our more typical male reserve.
I have tended to dress pretty formally within an HE work context and have always received a certain amount of good-natured teasing about it from male colleagues. I have no particular problem with that, and am happy to give as good as I receive. Nonetheless, it does raise the question what is it about us guys that makes us instinctively less likely than our female counterparts to compliment each other’s dress sense?
I’m a man and I don’t really understand why that is. Nonetheless, here are my top 5 theories (otherwise know as guesses):
5. It’s not our area of expertise
Ask a man about gadgets or something else that he knows something about and he’ll give you far more information/advice than you wish for. However, sartorial advice is often not something we feel we know a great deal about so we don’t really talk about it.
4. It’s not acceptable man behaviour to admire another man’s clothing
Don’t ask me why. It just is. It’s OK to admire another man’s car, his iPad, phone/games console/ gadgets-in-general, his girlfriend (just about), or his job, all acceptable man behaviour; just not his clothes.
3. It’s somehow too girly
Women talk about each other; men talk about issues. Women share what they are feeling; men solve problems. Women talk about stuff ’cause they wish to; men talk about stuff if there is a purpose to it. And therein lies the problem. To what end, and for what purpose would a man say to a colleague, ‘I really like your shirt; its fabulous’? If one were chatting him up, then there would be some purpose. But if that is not the intention then we cant see the point. (If there are any women reading this do ignore the blatant stereotyping. But this is a blog for men after all….)
2. It’s slightly uncomfortable
Reason 2 logically follows from reason 3. Because we think it’s all a bit girly and touchy feely we are not entirely comfortable with it. Most of us guys, whether gay or straight, want to be men. Anything perceived to be too girly is a no-no.
1. It’s escaped our notice
However, probably the number one reason that we men tend not compliment each other is, I suspect, because we just haven’t noticed. We are probably more likely to notice the exotic Asian woman across the street than to notice that the colleague sitting across from us is wearing a particularly sharp suit and tie combination. And if sartorial elegance is not near the top of a man’s agenda this likelihood only increases.
Whatever the reasons behind male reluctance/inability to compliment other men, (feel free to suggest your own theories) I reckon the practice should be challenged. I am not persuaded that it is simply a product of British reserve. I suspect that this is true in other cultures, even if less acute. If there are any Italian readers out there I’d love to know whether you are more relaxed than we are about this.
My own view is that it’s hard enough for a man to put together a great ensemble. So if you see something on someone else you think looks great, feel free, first to decide to copy it, but also, second, to pass on a compliment.
Just be prepared for the look of embarrassment and surprise that this will almost inevitably elicit. In fact that might be all the reason you need for being complimentary to male colleagues, just for the sheer shock value of looking someone deep in the eyes and saying with as much sincerity as you can muster: ‘I really love your shoes. Where can I get a pair?’
Try it. See what happens.