More than many other hobbies or interests, fashion has the tendency to take over who we are — and not only superficially. Any substantial attraction to the industry requires one to follow the never-ending circuit of runway shows, pre-season collections and collaborations. At times, it feels more like a part-time job than a hobby.
That high barrier to entry can be off-putting to many, but if you can make it over that proverbial hurdle, you are in deep. You've dedicated time, effort and money to developing an aesthetic, turned credit cards into conduits for online shopping and obsessed over the details no one else would notice. Those constant product releases turn into your go-to topics of conversation until the next drop comes along. Fashion doesn't eat up just eat up your time and money; it takes up residence in your psyche.
Even though menswear sales continue to gain on womenswear, women remain the prototypical fashion consumer. The "modern man" may be getting more in touch with his fashionable side, but outside of the still-niche community, caring about your appearance to the degree in which you're deeply invested in your wardrobe remains taboo. I know this because, as a cisgender man in a heterosexual relationship, I've experienced it firsthand.
Co-workers asking how many pairs of shoes I own, or telling acquaintances at a party from where I bought an item are one thing, but romantic relationships present an entirely different — and at times treacherous — situation to navigate.
I'm no relationship expert, but I've often read that dating someone with whom you share every interest could quickly become dull. For all I know, that may be true — but when there is a massive gulf between interests, things can be just as tricky.
When my fiancé and I started dating in 2014, I was knee-deep in the fashion world. At the time, I had just started a brand-new job covering fashion news and regularly attended fashion weeks and press events. I remember the first time she saw the rows of sneakers lining the floor of my apartment and the extensive collection of expensive coats that was stuffed inside my closet. She told me that she'd never dated a guy who cared so much about how he dressed. It wasn't a bad thing, but it was definitely new territory for her.
That's not to say she doesn't care about her wardrobe. In fact, the sheer amount of clothing that she owns easily tops mine. Although, she isn't about to look through every new collection shown in New York or Paris each season or keep up with the most recent designer collaborations. She enjoys fashion to the degree that she has developed a defined look and buys a fair amount of new clothing that fits her style, but she avoids becoming too invested in the industry and has set a personal monetary limit on how much she'll spend on a specific piece.
I, on the other hand, have worked to kick a mild shopping addiction and, since changing jobs in early 2016, have turned fashion from an obsession to a hobby. Over the last year and a half, I've dropped my purchase rate to a socially acceptable level, but my higher salary means I'm less afraid to spend more money on fewer items. I've moved closer to attaining supposed shopping enlightenment that fashion editors preach: "Buy less, buy better." My fiancé and I have found an agreeable middle ground, and over the course of three-plus years, we've developed a dynamic that works for us. However, no two relationships are the same.
Based on some recent conversations with guys like me who consider themselves the person in the relationship who is more into fashion than their significant other, those dynamics vary wildly, from spending habits to excitement about clothing in general.
Scott Mirtsopoulos, a merchandiser at Calvin Klein, explains that he — while newly single — tries to get the "green light" on new purchases when in a steady relationship. "I've always been a fan of running it by each other," he says. "I don't want to buy something and for her to hate it. But at the same time, it's important that I'm being true to myself; it's a mutual respect and understanding without judgment."
He admits that his favorite brands like Junya Watanabe, Comme des Garçons and Engineered Garments tend to make a dent in his bank account, but that budget hasn't become a contentious issue in his relationships. "It's never been an issue where I spend vacation money when we should be saving for a trip," he says. "But it creates a challenge internally to make sure you're on top of everything — it's more my own challenge." Just as he might wince about a significant other dropping lots of cash on something she likes, such as concert tickets, Mirtsopoulos realizes they each have their priorities.
Julien Decanali, a buyer at Barneys New York, echoes that sentiment. "If a purchase is a big expense, I try to break the ice ahead of time," he says. When a new piece does make it home, he explains, it's often a planned appearance. "I don't shop with anybody and only get things shipped to the office, because I can better determine the mood I'm coming home to. If I randomly come home with a Dries [Van Noten] coat on a bad day, it's war."
When it comes to his shopping habits, Decanali also notes the issue of inventory. "I have a personal policy of 'one in, one out,' just so that the volume of clothing never actually grows," he says. I've adopted a similar approach as I adjust my wardrobe toward fewer, higher quality garments. Each time I buy something new, I try to clear extra space by offloading at least one other piece. This not only saves space, but recoups some of the expense, as well. For someone used to copping clothes at will, this sounds like a compromise, but it also sets up healthier spending habits.
These efforts to strike a balance also come through in how they talk about fashion with their girlfriends. Decanali notes the clear gap in interest between him and his girlfriend, but views it as a positive. "I think it would be too much [if she were really into fashion]," he says. "There's a point where I realize I can't let it be more than clothing — so it's refreshing to have her not be overly consumed by it."
In past relationships, Mirtsopoulos says he's made fashion a key topic, but that his recent girlfriend's security in her own style helped him realize that it doesn't need to be. "Style is so inherently individual that it doesn't need to be a part of your relationship," he says. "It can be a mutual interest without be a hindrance."
That's a common dynamic. Early on in relationships, people try to evangelize their interests. But as time goes on, it becomes obvious that pushing someone else to be as obsessive as you are about a certain subject isn't the best protocol. During our first year of dating, I tried to convince my fiancé to wear more sneakers by buying her a few pairs. To this day, she's probably worn them a total of 10 times. Eventually, I realized that she's more of a flats type.
Which brings up another key element of the fashion experience: shopping. While both Mirtsopoulos and Decanali avoid ever shopping with their girlfriends, Matt Breen, owner of clothing label Deveaux, says he's learned to shop with his wife in a productive way — most of the time.
He's not afraid to send her links to items and/or impulsively buy them as gifts, which he confesses has led to a few fights. "She'll look at me like I have 10 heads and tell me to take it back. That's happened more than once." Still, he says: "When we go shopping together and she asks for my advice, she understands that I'm straightforward and honest."
That's not an easy feat. When it comes to helping out during a shopping excursion, it's tough not to let our so-called expertise take over. Reaching a point in your relationship where you can reasonably say what works and what doesn't takes dedication and effort.
I distinctly remember a point early on in our relationship when my fiancé asked me to help her go through her piles of clothes and decide what to keep and what to donate. I didn't hold back. I called out what was old and dingy and what wasn't practical anymore now that we were adults. She took it in stride and we laugh about it now, but she hasn't forgotten that I do have a brutally honest streak. At the same time, she also isn't afraid to call me out when my outfits look too "fashion." (Her words, not mine.)
I've improved my ways, though, and have been a loyal fitting room consultant to my fiancé, finding ways to be helpful without being rude or annoying. When a shirt doesn't quite fit right, it's about pointing out that fabric is pulling in a certain spot or that the cut makes it lay weird rather than simply saying, "It doesn't fit you." As Breen explains: "Of course, I never say anything that would put her down, but knowing that certain pieces are meant for certain people is key and representing your feelings without being overly critical because they may not care or like what you like."
"I usually just tell her to wear a T-shirt and jeans because I think that looks coolest — but that's where it gets tricky," says Decanali. "My honest opinion doesn't really matter since I know certain 'fashion' pieces just aren't for her."
It's tempting to — for lack of better term — "convert" others to this overly nerdy interest. Don't you want to know exactly from which farm Rick Owens gets his cashmere? Or how many stitches Jun Takahashi used on a leather jacket from three seasons ago? Wow, just rip my heart out.
Still, while all three guys to whom I spoke had wildly varying answers as to how their fashion interest manifests in their relationships, they all did have very similar advice — treat fashion how it should be: as a hobby. "At the end of the day, you can bond over style and clothing with your significant other, but neither of you should try to control the other's choices," says Mirtsopoulos.
"If you push your interest on someone else, it's not going to be authentic," says Mirtsopoulos. "It's not that serious a thing anyway — it's just clothes."
For those who have made fashion more than a hobby, it doesn't always feel like it's just clothes. Instead, it can feel much bigger. It's good to have a partner who can ground your interest in the outside world.
The next time my fiancé says she likes my denim jacket, I know it's just fine not to remind her it's from Helmut Lang's seminal Fall/Winter 1998 collection.
Homepage photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images