My SO Doesn’t Approve Of My Clothing Choices, How Do I Respond?

My SO Doesn’t Approve Of My Clothing Choices, How Do I Respond? May 16, 2018

Sometimes I get messages I struggle with and this is one such note. In fact, I’ve had several messages with very similar questions that I’ve found difficult to answer without advising the reader to end their relationship. I’ve tried to pump out a nuanced answer to this one for the better part of a week. It would appear GM has advice constipation because I can’t seem to get anything other than “Dump the loser” out. How do you deal with someone you love who is convinced that by wanting to be openly who you are, you are essentially “pushing” your ideas on people? The message I received was (edited for anonymity):

I bought an atheist beanie online last winter and when my husband saw, he tore a strip off me. He, also an atheist, says wearing atheist clothing is pushing my ideas on other people and it makes me the godless equivalent of evangelical religious people. How do I respond to this?

First, I have to say, there are wonderful men out there. There are so many wonderful men out there. I’ve met so many of them. I have some of them as friends and I’m lucky enough to have wonderful men as a partner, a father, a brother. I can tell you that this behaviour, this authoritarian approach to what you wear, is not a behaviour we find in wonderful men, save for when said apparel might get you hurt in some significant way (Think, “Your shoelaces are undone, honey!”).

When you are in a relationship with someone you feel you have to clear your self-expression choices with, you’re not really in a relationship. You’re more of a pet. They are more of an owner.

You see, your husband might be surprised to find out that indeed, he has no unsolicited say in how any grown woman dresses. Ever. At all. Likewise, no woman has any unsolicited say in how a grown man dresses. Ever. At all.

Now, fellow heatheness, what I am about to say might be upsetting, but hun, if my husband ever attempted to tell me not to wear something (outside of a life and death situation), my swift and final response would be:

There would be no chat, no discussion, no explanation. I’d leave because that shit never gets better and it often gets worse.

But, understanding that you have a marriage you want to protect, I get it. You’d rather have him understand where you’re coming from and support you. I just… call me jaded… I don’t think that’s something that happens all that often, whether a fella is the offender or a lady is.

However, if you were to try, the best way to go about it is to just be honest. I would start by explaining to him the difference between expressing who you are and pushing it on people. Here are some examples to bring to his attention:

Knocking on strangers’ doors to “spread the good word”: pushing your beliefs on other people.

Saying “I am a Jehovah’s Witness” when someone asks: not pushing your beliefs on other people.

Wearing a shirt that says John 3:16 on it: not pushing your beliefs on other people.

Buying a shirt with John 3:16 on it for someone else: pushing your beliefs on other people.

Saying “I am an atheist”: not pushing your beliefs on other people.

Saying “You must be an atheist, too”: pushing your beliefs on other people.

It’s really very simple. If you’re describing yourself, either through speech, what you wear, a blog, a YouTube video or anything else, you are not pushing anything on anyone. Rather, you’re being honest about who you are. If you decide to wear my House Targaryen hoodie, you are not forcing other people to watch Game of Thrones or even root for the Mother of Dragons. If my husband proudly sports his Slayer shirt, he’s not forcing anyone to like Slayer. What you are saying when you wear something like this is,

“This is part of who I am and I’m proud of it.”

It’s got nothing, at all, to do with other people. It’s certainly got nothing to do with your husband. It seems to be your husband’s position that your clothing choices are about everyone but you. This is a very good indication that someone has forgotten you are your own sentient being. They’ve dismissed your agency, your personhood, your basic freedom of choice.

It’s okay for your significant other to dislike an item of clothing you choose to wear, but to suggest you should not wear it because they don’t like it? That’s just not cool.

You are expressing who you are and your husband is telling you that you shouldn’t do that. He is telling you to hide that part of yourself for his benefit. This begs the question, who is really pushing their beliefs on other people here? Because from my vantage point, it sure as heck looks like he is.

Now go get yourself an atheist t-shirt and sport it with pride: Atheist shirts.

How would you deal with this problem? Let me know in the comments!

This is part of my Ask Mommy series where readers ask for my advice on issues affecting them and I try my best to answer them helpfully. Click here to read other posts in the series.

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  • Martin Penwald

    I wonder how the guy would respond if she required him to remove a piece of clothe just because she doesn’t like it.
    With little details, it looks like there is trouble in their relationship, and they probably should at least seek marital counselling.

  • lady_black

    Like we don’t know that?

  • So…i wonder if her SO wears sports team clothing……

  • lady_black

    I think I would simply say “I bought the beanie because I liked it. I intend to wear it whether or not you approve. Your approval is neither being sought, nor is it required. And, I’m perfectly OK with you not wearing the beanie. All I ask is that you afford me the same respect.”

  • lady_black

    I have to be honest here, and admit that my husband would probably react negatively to a Dallas Cowboys hoodie. He wouldn’t, however, forbid me to wear it. Not that I ever would, but just sayin…

  • MystiqueLady

    In a case like this — where my SO went overboard condemning what I did or wore — yeah, I’d tell him that if he didn’t like who I am, then he needs to pack-up and get out. Ok, full disclosure, I was married to someone who abused me emotionally, and things like this are indicative of that type of treatment. You let him get away with controlling your wardrobe in this way (intimidation), then before you know it, you’re asking permission as to what you should wear, IF you can buy new clothes, can you spend money on yourself for something fun (within budget), can you buy your favorite brand of soda …

  • There aren’t many things I miss about being married, but being told what to wear and what not to wear in various situations is one of them. I’ve never had much interest in fashion or much sense for how to dress for various occasions. Getting some input in that area was often helpful.

  • Chakat Firepaw

    Wearing a hat that says “I am an atheist” is less pushing your lack of god belief on people than a guy giving his boyfriend a kiss is pushing his sexual orientation on people.

  • Nomad

    That got me thinking. I was going to be against the idea of the hat, it felt like it opposed some of my sensibilities. I don’t know that I’d make a big deal out of it, but I might have agreed with the boyfriend.

    So what of pride flag rainbow patterns on clothing? I love seeing it. Every time I see the pattern on the bumper sticker I feel a little happier, I feel a little less uneasy being out in public with my gay boyfriend although perhaps not being obviously gay. I’m still a bit anxious, I’m not eager to advertise what we are to the world at large.

    So I guess I have no real argument opposed to atheist clothing. This comparison has reminded me of some of the reasons for wearing it beyond the framing of “pushing it on others”.

  • Nomad

    if my husband ever attempted to tell me not to wear something (outside of a life and death situation)…

    This goes a bit beyond where I’m at, anyway. Maybe I’m missing out on some nuance here. I mean it’s probably true that I’ve never been told, outright, NO, or when I am told no it’s in response to a question I asked. But clothing input is something I accept. A while ago my boyfriend went with me to a store and we picked out a few pieces that really helped me look better than I usually do. He found them and basically handed them to me. It might have felt insulting, he was basically saying that I don’t dress well and because we were going to a social thing, he wanted me to dress better. To be clear, I’m a man, this doesn’t have the dynamics that it may have sounded like, I really do mostly dress pretty lazily. He dresses pretty badly too, I take issue with one habit he has in particular that I won’t get into here, I’ve tried to get him to change and he largely refuses. But somehow he picked out some decent stuff for me, almost all of it on sale too. When I got all dressed up in it and looked in the mirror I was kind of shocked, it was a “who is this person” moment. In a good way. I’ve gone back to my usual lack of style, I just can’t find any more clothes like that, but it was an interesting experience and now that I know I can try to get back to it.

    I’ve got one item of clothing I won’t accept negative input on. I like Hawaiian shirts and I sometimes wear them in party environments. I don’t care what other people think, I like how I feel in them, they please me. I’ve never asked him and he’s never commented, at least he doesn’t feel strongly enough about it to disagree when he knows how much I like them. But otherwise if we were going out to a social event and he said no to something I was wearing, I trust there’d be a reason for it. I reserve the right for a veto if I disagree strongly enough, but mostly I’d trust that he sees something that I’m not aware of. After I’ve seen what he can do if he really tries I trust his judgement.

    So I’m not entirely sure I agree. If it’s a matter of tone, if this is about the line “he tore a strip off me”, a phrase I’m not familiar with but I assume it’s something like “he tore into me”, in other words it implies aggression, then fair enough. If this is a gender thing dealing with men trying to control women through their clothing choices then perhaps I couldn’t understand. But when it comes down to:

    You see, your husband might be surprised to find out that indeed, he has no unsolicited say in how any grown woman dresses. Ever. At all. Likewise, no woman has any unsolicited say in how a grown man dresses. Ever. At all.

    the only reason I’m not sure I’m saying I disagree is because in my situation and experience, it’s been a man offering unsolicited advice on how another man dresses, and while I think that’s implied to be included in your prohibition, it’s not explicitly stated. I’m not sure my ex-girlfriend ever did it so I can’t comment from that experience and I largely stayed out of her clothing choices because she at least did a better job than I did.

  • Aloha

    My hubby often offers his opinion (which really annoys me). yet me also asks me for my opinion on his outfits. i say, “honey i dont care.”

    Somehow he just thinks clothing is something we should naturally discuss.

  • Bravo Sierra

    My wife has saved me from some embarrassing wardrobe choices by saying something like, “You’re not leaving the house looking like that.”

  • Nomad

    *shrug* I guess you have different boundaries than me. For me he offers a valuable external point of view. Let me put it this way. I’m used to feeling like I look terrible. Call it what you will, self esteem, self image, all I know is that when I look in a mirror I think “ugh”. If I’m trying to spruce myself up a bit I have difficulty judging it. I might not see things that look better, and I might like things that don’t. His input has proven to be helpful.

    My stylist had to save me from a ratty pony tail I’d been wearing for ages. A co-worker had to save me from a super inappropriate hairtie I’d been using to keep the pony tail under control. I don’t always know, so I don’t always think to ask for input. But sometimes people have felt it necessary enough to intervene, and from where I sit now it seems that they’ve at least sometimes been right and I’d rather have made the changes they suggested than stay as I was.

  • PDF

    There appear to be quite a few on here that are completely missing the point. If you are saying “I don’t mind being told what looks good on me”, or something similar, THAT IS NOT THE POINT. If it doesn’t bother you or you welcome it, then huzzah for you. It, however, is apparent this IS a problem for the person who wrote the letter, and this isn’t “oh this looks good on you, this doesn’t”, it is saying that by wearing a hat with a symbol on it that they are pushing their beliefs (or lack thereof) on someone else. I don’t care if someone wears a cross necklace or has a shirt with their church name on it, and don’t feel they are pushing their beliefs with these pieces of clothing. If they approached me and started proselytizing, that is a different matter.

  • I agree.

  • Perfect. If he didn’t listen, would you leave him?

  • Exactly. It often gets worse and sometimes can even escalate to physical abuse. I mean, it’s a clear indication the SO doesn’t see you as your own person. it’s likely he never will.

  • Haha, you’d get along well with my husband. He asks for my input on what to wear often. Though I think there is a huge difference between demanding the other person dress in a certain way to please you and offering helpful suggestions.

  • I have atheist clothing, mostly because I designed them and I am proud of my work. I also find, though, that it can start a conversation that is difficult to just bring up.

  • I see your point and agree there are times when unsolicited advice on how to dress is a good thing. I guess it comes down to tone. Forbidding certqain dress is the problem in the example in my post, I think.

  • haha, I suppose that’s a good thing!

  • It’s the agression I have a problem with. Demanding someone where what you want them to isn’t really a respectful way to treat someone. Helpful suggestions are entirely different.

  • Yes, exactly.

  • lady_black

    I don’t know what you mean by “listen.”

  • wolfypuppy

    Thank you for your advice, you’re brilliant! As someone struggling to extricate myself from emotional abuse, this is the type of perspective that is still somewhat new to me. It may be new to the letter-writer, too. Who knows. So thank you for telling her straight up.

  • wolfypuppy

    Stop repeating his criticism and directives. I would want my husband to say “you’re right, I was out of line. I love you for who you are.”

  • wolfypuppy

    I think it’s the “why” he said it that is a problem. He is accusing her off imposing her beliefs on others. That is different from saying “your striped underwear shows through those white pants.”

  • wolfypuppy

    RIght! If my husband said that to me, I’d be on him in less than a second calling him a hypocrite and demanding he explain how his statement was different from that of religious conservatives. 😀

  • wolfypuppy

    My mother does this to my father ALL THE TIME. She cringes and refuses to be seen in public with him unless he changes. Even as a child I felt like, mom, he’s a man who pulls his sweat socks up so that his sweat pants poof out and then wears that outfit with sandals. Can you love him like that? lol Sure, he looks like a dork. But, I would hope, a lovable dork. My father, for his part, knows how much it pisses her off and so he tends to do it on purpose for the fun of it. There were times she picked me up from the station when I visited from college and refused to let me in the car in case someone she knew saw me…. smh I’ve just cut myself off from them for the second time. I am still can’t eat anything after seeing them last weekend. 😀

  • wolfypuppy

    The women in my family trained me that it was the wife’s responsibility to dress her husband. So when I threw away my 1st husband’s underwear that was full of holes without telling him first, he got pissed. I thought that that was what I as a “wife” was supposed to do. Unfortunately for him, he pulled the boxers out of the trash and put them on–before we headed out to a party an hour and a half’s drive away. In the car, the hole split farther, letting his balls get stuck. I imagine it felt like a toe getting stuck in a hole in your sock, but much more uncomfortable. We lived in Japan at that time, which meant sitting on the floor at the party. LOL So he’s stuck sitting on the floor with his balls handing through his boxers, trying to not let anyone see up his shorts leg. 😀 😀

  • Scenario

    “You see, your husband might be surprised to find out that indeed, he has no unsolicited say in how any grown woman dresses. Ever. At all. Likewise, no woman has any unsolicited say in how a grown man dresses. Ever. At all.”

    I’ve had times with my ex-wife where we dressed in a hurry and ended up putting on clothing backwards or inside out or had socks that didn’t match or had a big stain on it in a place the person wearing it couldn’t see or something. Sometimes when I mentioned it to her she was grateful and sometimes she got really mad at me for trying to control her.

    I don’t see much wrong with mentioning something like “Do you know that your pants have a big stain on them?” I don’t see anything wrong with warning them about a potential problem. If they say they know then your responsibility ends there.

  • Scenario

    I’m in the process of getting a divorce and am intending to date again once everything is finalized. But my sense of style is terrible. But the person who I always asked for advice on how to dress is my ex-wife. Asking an ex-wife on how to dress for a date would be kind of weird. I’d also kind of like to ask my adult daughter because her sense of style is by far the best in the family but that would feel weird too.

    And I agree that no one in a relationship should try to control the others dressing habit. An adult should not treat their partner as if they are a child.

  • lady_black

    And my husband would. If he didn’t, I would simply continue to ignore him. And wear the hat. Because I’m funny that way.
    The surest way to make sure I do something is to tell me I can’t.

  • John Gills

    Is this an anomaly, or – to be blunt – is he a controlling sexist atheist?

  • dala

    People who are controlling and sexist are everywhere, it’s just that the religious ones have a vocal and organized lobbying division/support group

  • I’ve been there. I totally understand how hard it can be to see it in another way.

  • Exactly.

  • Yes, I don’t think that’s really having a say in what you wear, though. That’s just letting you know something you might not.

  • Exactly. Sorry to hear about your divorce. Good luck on your dating adventures!

  • Dunno, but these things rarely occur just once.

  • Scenario

    Someone telling their partner, no I forbid you to wear that is only right in the most extreme situations. A situation that’s life threatening, for example, wearing the wrong gang colors. Or insulting, wearing orange on Saint Patrick’s day to a Saint Patrick’s parade.

    In this instance, if they were going to his family get together and his family were all rabid fundamentalists, I can see where he might not want to stir the pot. Go in, kiss grandma, say hello to everyone and leave. He’s sick of family arguments.

    Women control what men wear all the time. A large percentage of men’s clothes is bought or chosen by their wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, etc. If the woman is picking the clothing and not allowing them to buy clothing they don’t approve of, isn’t that similar?

  • Annerdr

    I wouldn’t wear the beanie but I wouldn’t tell anyone else, including my son and my husband, that they couldn’t wear it.

  • valleycat1

    “How would you deal with this problem? Let me know in the comments!” After, most likely, counting to ten and taking a few deep breaths while I considered whether this particular instance was worth ending the marriage: I would hope we would be able to discuss his concerns and the larger issue he brings up. Not just whether he can tell her what she can and cannot wear, but the whole ‘what is proselytizing’ issue, and how overt he is comfortable being about the fact they are atheists.

    The assumption seems to be that his tone was condescending or controlling, but I could see that he might have been just honestly stating his opinion in this one instance. (Of course, if my SO were to routinely issue edicts about what I could or could not wear in public, he would be my ex-SO.) Different people have different tolerance levels for how one announces who they are/what they believe in or support. Perhaps they are both atheists but live in a community that does not exactly greet atheists with open arms. Maybe he really is affronted by people wearing religious or other themed clothing, and therefore he could honestly be concerned that she might be confronted unpleasantly by someone offended by the hat. . Maybe the two simply have to agree to disagree, and let each, as an adult, choose what they feel is appropriate to wear or do. Maybe she decides that when the two of them are out together, she will not wear that one hat, because her marriage is more important to her than a single clothing choice. Maybe she decides she will wear it whenever she wants and he has to deal with it.

  • Otto

    I don’t believe for a second his issue is pushing beliefs on others. A person does not blow his top over something like that. If that is his real issue than he has some serious personal issues, what he is saying is anyone who wears anything is pushing their beliefs, and if that is the case he is essentially telling his wife she can’t express her opinions, but like I said I don’t believe that is the problem. My suggestion would be to get to the heart of what bothers him. He may not even completely understand it. Regardless she needs to find out why this is a hot button issue. There might be something valid underneath to uncover. My wife and I are atheists in a very Christian part of the country, I run my own business and I do business with a lot of Christian people and business owners. Unfortunately the ‘atheist’ label has a lot of baggage and it is best if I keep my opinions on the down low at times. I can see asking my wife to consider that when she wears her godless belief on her sleeve, but I would not demand it. I would just ask that she consider the company she is going to be in. This husband might have a legitimate concern and she should try to get to what really is bothering him, but I agree he should not dictate what she wears, that is crossing a huge line and is a red flag for other problems down the road.

  • Yes, there is a more diplomatic way to approach constructive criticism of clothing choices. I think this guy was just barking orders.

  • All great points. There does seem to be some deeper issue here, doesn’t there?

  • The only time my husband fusses over my clothing choices are when he sees me wearing my big floppy gardening shoes when company is coming. My feet, my comfort. Beyond that, he’s cool.
    I used to have a BF who would actually BUY me clothes to wear (always a size too small, hint hint) that were so not me, but definitely him. He insisted I was too fat (not a chance) and needed to get those boobs down to a decent size (34B is NOT exactly maraca size, here). Which is why I dumped him. It’s a control thing. The minute they start saying, “honey, are you REALLY going out looking like that?” it’s time to rethink the whole thing.

  • not really. Men, unless they are businessmen, generally have fixed ideas of comfort over style. We went to a funeral some time back, and my husband decided to wear his blue jeans, a ‘clean” sweatshirt and hiking boots. We discussed this. I finally got him into chinos and a decent shirt and NO bill cap. It was a compromise, because everyone else was in black suits with serious ties. =)

  • Scenario

    In this instance, you suggested to your husband what he should wear rather than saying I forbid for you to wear that. Any good spouse will listen to a strong suggestion. I have a problem when a spouse takes it to the next level and regularly orders their spouse to wear certain clothes. It is a fine line but strongly worded suggestions are different than treating a spouse like they were a two year old.

  • Agreed!

  • Scenario

    But then there is the opposite problem when any suggestion is met with rage. An example with me and my ex-wife. She dressed in a hurry and wore a dress with a big stain on it. I suggested that she shouldn’t wear that dress because it had a stains. She got really angry because she felt I was trying to control her. She went on a rant and I dropped the issue. She found out about the stain at the party and was humiliated. Afterwards she screamed at me, “Why didn’t you tell me about the stain.” I told her that I did tell her about the stain and that we had had a big argument about it just before we left. She had no memory of the argument and insisted that I was lying. (I really believe that she didn’t remember the argument. She has a habit of flying into rages and having no memory of them later on.)

    No one should be in complete control about what a partner should wear. But on the other hand no one should just blow off a partner when the partner makes suggestions. And even worse, no one should blame a partner for their own choices.

  • Nokota

    I agree with your analysis based on the premise presented, but I strongly believe that the person asking the question provided far too little information to create a useful response.

    In many cases like this, especially if they live in a location like the Bible Belt, broadcasting one’s lack of religious belief can actually get a target put on you for discrimination. It’s highly likely that the significant other objects more to this than to the article of clothing itself and is simply worried for their safety.

    I also question whether the significant other objected to the wearing of the object in general or the wearing of the object in specific locations.

    A good example would be my Dungeons & Dragons group. The dungeon master, an agnostic leaning Christian, has a strict policy of no politics or religion at game group.

    One of the players attempted to go on a rant supporting Donald Trump one day and was shut down by the other players. In retaliation at the game the following week, he wore clothing with Donald Trump’s face plastered all over it. All of us were too polite to say anything, but it felt as though he deliberately wore the outfit as if to DARE us to say anything to start a fight. This kind of situation is a good example of one where it is not okay to wear something like that.

    I highly doubt the situation is as simple as you make it sound. More information is needed.