The lady from “Suits” can’t have her tuxedo.
Prince Harry reportedly gave a “thumbs down” to a Stella McCartney tuxedo suit his wife, Meghan Markle, picked out for an event in Australia, according to the Daily Mail. “Meghan is being told she needs to stop dressing like a Hollywood star and start dressing like a Royal,” a source told the outlet. “Meghan wanted to wear a tuxedo-style suit, but Harry said it wasn’t traditional enough.” (To be fair, Harry’s late mom, Princess Diana, had a penchant for tuxes. And royal commentator Victoria Arbiter threw cold water on the report, telling BAZAAR.comthat the royal couple has “a very equal, loving relationship.”)
And across the pond, Kim Kardashian revealed earlier this year that her husband, Kanye West, had emailed her a fashion advisory: “(Kanye) sent me a whole email like, ‘You cannot wear big glasses anymore. It’s all about tiny little glasses,’” she said on an episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” In 2012, she recalled “crying” after West nixed several of her beloved shoes.
So how much oversight is a romantic partner — or even the partner’s family — allowed over someone’s sartorial choices? And how do you handle criticism when it comes? “It so depends on the two people involved and their personalities … it doesn’t even matter what their gender is,” said author and etiquette expert Lizzie Post. Here’s what Post and other experts told Moneyish:
When weighing in on each other’s outfits, give “good, empathic, constructive feedback,” said Bela Gandhi, the president of Smart Dating Academy. “Hold the mirror up to yourself first” and ask whether you would personally want to hear the kind of feedback you’re about to dole out, as well as how you’d want to be told, she said. There can be a time and place for such style tips, added therapist and relationship expert Rachel Sussman, “because sometimes we count on our partner to help us understand social cues.” (Maybe Markle’s tux really would have been the Queen Mother of fashion faux pas.)
“Some people are completely happy to please their partner with their clothing choices,” said relationship and etiquette expert April Masini. “And if their partners asked them to shelve the Stella McCartney tuxedo-style pantsuit, it could be a non-issue — and even a gift, because it’s an insight into what makes a partner happy.”
If you receive unwanted criticism on an outfit you really like, Post said, try a simple response like, “Really? I’m happy with it.” “You’re just presenting the stark contrast of their negative opinion with your positive, confident one,” she said. “Most people will back off at that point.” And if your mother-in-law starts fussing that you’re not wearing the shirt she bought you, “do your best to be graceful” and try not to get defensive, Gandhi said: “Oh, I just felt more like wearing this one today — but I do love the one you got me.”
Chronic criticism is a red flag. “If a partner is intent upon controlling your clothing, they probably want to control where you go, who your friends are, what you do, how you live your life,” said relationship expert Susan Winter. “Oftentimes … that controlling behavior extends into, ‘I don’t want you to wear that,’ ‘That makes you look slutty,’ ‘Other people are going to look at you.’ Or, ‘You look like a nun,’” Gandhi said, adding that these jabs are meant to “erode your power” and “undermine your self-esteem.”
“There are a lot of signs that you’re in a toxic relationship, and this is usually one of many,” Gandhi said. “If your in-laws feel the need to speak up (on) your wardrobe, chances are that’s not the only aspect of your relationship they feel the need to butt in on.”
If you agree to a wardrobe request, make sure you feel OK with it. Winter recalls indulging certain outfit requests with two previous partners when she was younger, but maintains these style changes made “everybody happy, including myself.” “I did amend myself to please my mates,” she said, “but never to a degree that I felt uncomfortable, or that I sold myself out.”
Respect religious, traditional and cultural guidelines. If there’s a certain dress code required at a place of worship, a funeral, a country club, or another one-off event, Winter said, it’s best to abide by it. “It’s a protocol of respect,” she said. “If everybody is doing it and that’s the dress code for that event, then I think it should be observed.” “My husband is Caucasian,” Gandhi said by way of example. “If we’re all going to an Indian wedding, he might say, ‘OK, should I wear a Western suit or do you think it would be better if I wore my Nehru suit?’”
If you rely on your partner or their family for money, Gandhi said, they don’t get a say in your wardrobe. “Why should they?” she said. “If you choose to finance my wardrobe, that’s great; thanks for the money. I’ll go buy it. Hope you like it.” With that said, other experts warned there may be implicit strings attached in accepting financial help — so it’s best to nail down boundaries and expectations before going down that path.
“Can you fully assert your independence if you’re not fully independent?” Sussman said. “If your partner’s parents are helping support your lifestyle, and your boyfriend or girlfriend says, ‘I don’t think my parents are going to be happy if you show up that way,’ maybe you need to rethink that.”