Dear Prudence has received a letter from a man with a problem I'd have thought inconceivable: he's annoyed (see the first letter) that his wife refuses to shop for new clothes. I'd always thought that the role of men in heterosexual relationships was, among other things, that of cheapness-promoters. "Do you really need another pair of black boots?" Clichéd, yes, but I've found it's often altogether true. Men may spend elsewhere, but women notice subtle differences in clothing that causes many of us to buy what seems to many men to be a replica of that which we already own.
Anyway, the letter seems quite obviously to be about more than a mom feeling cozier in sweats. There's the question of why this woman wears rags to a wedding, and on the other hand of why her husband cares that she hasn't worn earrings in years. I mean, I have a tendency to lose earrings, and so tend not to wear any, but can't imagine my boyfriend or any other man noticing either way. I could imagine a man being upset if his wife stopped, say, showering, or gained 300 pounds. But who cares what their partner wears in public, unless it's at a meeting for your work or something like that? The guy seems way too concerned about non-problems (again, earrings?) while the woman seems truly uninterested in dressing up. What's her deal?
The husband hints at the possibility that it's about weight - his wife is not as thin as she once was, but not large, either. Could be. Or, as some commenters suggest, it could be depression.
Another possibility: Cheaporexia. Not as in anorexia, but as in orthorexia - the eating disorder less about self-starvation than about an attempt to eat healthfully taken too far. Women are stereotyped as shopaholics, wanting new clothes whenever possible. But we've been told that this is wrong.
Not only is buying new clothing frivolous and vain, confirming all the worst stereotypes about women, but it supports child labor (who if not an oppressed four-year-old made that new dress you're admiring in the shop window?) and contributes to landfills. Think of the environment! Moreover, money spent on personal appearance could just as easily be donated to Haiti relief or one's savings account, depending where one's guilt primarily lies. Sure, we all want to look appropriate at work, and no one's faulted for owning a suit for meetings when in theory sweatpants would do. But gratuitous clothes-shopping is, in our culture, sin, a particularly despised subset of gratuitous spending more generally.
The ideal woman would look amazing - stylish, put-together, well-groomed - but not shop. (A bit like the new idea that the perfect woman is one who's a cover model even without airbrushing - this, when the anti-airbrushing brigade is ostensibly all about making all women feel better about their own looks!) It could be that, on some level, the wife in the Prudie letter suspects that by not shopping, she's in fact more appealing - to her husband or more generally - than she would be if she did what her husband ostensibly wants. Because yes, he wants her in a nice dress, but does he want her coming home with shopping bags? Or, two dresses later, would there be a Lucy-and-the-hats situation?