Today would be the 100th birthday of John Cheever, who died in 1982. Two news reports you might want to check out are this one by the New York Daily News, and for an English perspective, this one from the Telegraph.
I asked Bruce Boyer if he might have any particular insight on one of the few great American authors to take upper-middle-class East Coasters as his subject matter, and sure enough Bruce came up with an insightful quote from Cheever’s daughter, which Bruce used in his book “Eminently Suitable.” Here’s the passage:
One possible answer [about why men allow women to buy their clothes for them] comes, I think from a biographical memoir of John Cheever by his daughter. In Home Before Dark, Susan Cheever is particularly acute on the value her famous father put on appearances:
Clothes were important to him, and by the end of his life he had developed an aristocratic casual style that reflected his personal horror of vanity in men. This collided with his sharp sense of the importance of appearance. He didn’t like to be caught looking in the mirror, and he felt that men shouldn’t think too much about their hair or clothes. They should, nevertheless, always look terrific. It was an eccentric double standard that reflected his rigid and confused ideas about correct masculine behavior.
If such an elegant and distinguished person as John Cheever, an artist at describing the intricacies of living, can be confused about how men should behave regarding their appearance, I suppose the rest of us can be forgiven easily enough if we relinquish the job of dressing ourselves. It is a solution to the double standard, isn’t it, if we say, “Well, yes, I suppose I am rather nicely turned out, but I really don’t care much about myself. My wife picks up a few things for me here and there.” gets us neatly off the hook.