I’ve just moved in with my boyfriend, whom I met two years ago. When he gets home from work he just puts on his sweatpants and an old baggy sweatshirt. I miss him coming over to my house in his work suit, looking so sharp and handsome. I used to look forward to getting the suit off him; but these tracksuit bottoms — not so much. Is it selfish to wish he’d make more of an effort?
I understand you. Tracksuit bottoms and a comfy sweatshirt will never be able to compete with the sexual allure of a crisp white shirt, a smart suit and a generous spritz of Dior’s Eau Sauvage. But is it fair to expect this from your other half every day? After all, all women know that coming home, undoing your bra, kicking off your heels and letting it all hang out is one of life’s great pleasures. It is no different for a man who has been stuffed into a smart suit all day.
We all appreciate comfort, but men, in my experience, can take the idea of comfortable leisurewear to extremes. Many assume that their partner will be perfectly happy to snuggle up next to them while they watch TV in boxer shorts and a threadbare dressing gown.
What we wear matters because it has a profound effect on the way we perceive each other. Research has shown, for example, that smartly dressed teachers and pupils are believed to be more intelligent. No one is saying this is fair. Women who dress in a more masculine way for a job interview are more likely to get hired, whereas women who dress sexily in prestigious jobs are perceived as less competent.
It’s not just about how we come across, though. Research has shown how the clothes we wear can affect our behaviour too. A study by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky at Northwestern University in Illinois explored the concept of the clunkily named “enclothed cognition” — how wearing different clothes has an impact on how we behave or the way we feel. They knew that certain types of clothing could influence what people did, but they wanted to know if they could affect cognitive performance too, so they randomly assigned participants to two different clothing conditions and then asked them to do a spot-the-difference task. The results showed that participants who were asked to wear doctors’ white lab coats made half as many errors as those wearing regular clothes. Although none of the research around enclothed cognition has explored how clothing can work as a sexual trigger, our choices of clothing are, in certain situations, predicated on that assumption. If, as your experience has demonstrated, unsexy clothing makes you feel unsexy, sexy clothing surely does the opposite.
What this illustrates is that the real issue is not that your boyfriend wants to wear something more comfortable after a long day at the office, but that the clothes he chooses are old, shapeless and unsexy. Comfort and style are not mutually exclusive, so why not take him shopping and choose some clothes that make him feel and look good. Why not find some cashmere trousers or nicely fitting, smart joggers (thank you, athleisure trend, for making these possible). Teamed with a loose-fitting soft shirt or a lightweight sweater, your boyfriend will feel as though he is wearing his PJs. And you will feel like taking them off.
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