Sartorially speaking, a little effort please, gents

The following is a crashing generalization, but here goes: When it comes to how we dress, there are serious gender inequities — in standards of comfort and in body exposure. Valentine’s Day underscores a third that rankles just as much: inequality of effort.

Go to any romantic restaurant on Valentine’s Day, and observe. The girls are dressed for festivity, and the boys are dressed for walking the dog.

The ladies have obviously worked 10 times harder on their appearance than their dates. They’ve got makeup. They have sparkle. Their clothes say “evening.”

Their male escorts, meanwhile, are in jeans, not always the dressy kind, and shoes you could run a marathon in. If they really want to go the extra mile, they might tuck their shirts in. Calling Tim Gunn: L’il Abner needs a fashion mentor.

The February issue of a local magazine has a Valentine’s Day-themed cover story about some eligible singles in the community. The men and women all appear to be of good character and steady employment. But the pictures show the women carefully turned out in party clothes, while the men, with one exception, are barely out of their pajamas. The exception wasn’t wearing a tie, heaven forfend, but he did sport a tweed jacket. He was the premier catch.

I know some of you gentlemen will not take kindly to this critique. You will shoot off emails calling me all kinds of vile things. Go ahead. I expect nothing less from you.

Of course, the other inequities are in full view on Valentine’s Day. Many of the ladies painfully totter on spiked heels, a personal sacrifice made more stark by her gentleman’s running shoes. She is also likely to be far less covered than the man — sleeveless or even shoulderless. And her legs may be exposed as high as the law allows.

Now I do accept that for evening romance, women tend to dress more provocatively than men. And that may require the exposing of some skin. How much can be a matter of taste, figure and climate. But many women should know they’d look a lot sexier if they covered more.

This little fashion tip has not reached the club scene, where the nakedness is such that the only mystery is how little mystery there is. Among the inspirations must be that little black outfit Beyonce wore as she rolled on the floor during the Super Bowl halftime.

One other important point about Valentine’s Day is this: Feb. 14 is dead winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It is cold in most of the United States and, in some parts, downright frigid. One can go comfortably bare in formal dress in heated ballrooms. But the average bistro does not guarantee adequate temperature for bare arms, and you do risk frostbite on the way in and out. Note that when it’s especially cold, the boys throw on a sweater.

Also, high heels are a challenge even in optimal conditions. Snowdrifts are not optimal.

You don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to find this gender inequality. It’s on full display every Saturday night at the shopping center multiplex. The female half of the couple recognizes that Saturday night at the movie theater is not the same as Saturday morning cleaning out the garage. The men often don’t. Sense of occasion is not their strong suit.

Again, the above is a crashing generalization. To the man who makes an effort to show respect for the companion dolled up in his honor, this column is dedicated to you. You deserve the best. The rest of you, bah.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is

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