Every month or so, I go to lunch with a friend. He shows up at noon in whatever he wore to work—a rumpled black t-shirt, jeans—and I trot out of my little carriage house wearing cute red heels and a sundress and a touch of sparkle on my lips.
“You look so nice,” he often says, “and I look like such a scrub.”
I never know what to say to this compliment. In a way, it makes me feel like I am trying too hard or that I’ve misjudged the circumstances of our meeting. Hey, lady, dial it down with the fancy stuff. We’re just having pizza at Scalini’s.
But I have also come to understand this funny imbalance as a defining characteristic of the way people dress in Dallas: she looks so nice, and he looks like such a scrub.
The first person to point this out to me was Virginia Postrel, the keenly observant fashion writer who lived in Dallas from 2000 to 2007 (during which time she wrote a column for D Magazine as well as the book The Substance of Style). I asked her once what struck her about Dallas women, and she described the “hilarious mismatch” between couples. “The woman will be dressed to the nines,” she said, “and the guy will be wearing khakis and a button-down shirt.”
Once she said it, I saw it everywhere. There it was at the Bastille Day celebration in Oak Cliff: the woman in 4-inch stilettos and the guy in flip-flops. There it was at the Addison pub: the woman in her floral dress and blowout, the guy in a sports shirt and a baseball cap.
Watching couples arrive at Bob’s Steak & Chop House in the Shops at Legacy was like an exercise in “Which one of these things is not like the other?” One woman seemed to think she was going to the Oscars; her date seemed to think they were going to eat buffalo wings.
Perhaps you are wondering, But doesn’t this happen in other cities? And is it really that noticeable in Dallas? The answers are yes and, seriously, yes.
“I have never had something hit me in the face with such contrast the way it did in Dallas,” says Postrel, who now lives in Los Angeles but has also logged time in New York and D.C.
There are two stories going on simultaneously here. The first is obvious: the city that birthed Neiman Marcus and the Cowboys Cheerleaders has long held its ladies to a high beauty standard. “Dallas women are like floats in a parade,” I heard someone say recently, and I was charmed by the colorful precision. Postrel says the distinguishing characteristic of Dallas women is our “polish,” not necessarily the clothes but the hair and the accessories. The ornamentation.
The men of Dallas, meanwhile, are living in opposite town. It’s not that they’re slobs, but they seem to be in a competition for who can care less about what he wears. Button-down shirt, khaki pants, big clunky watch. Looking out over a roomful of these men is like admiring a color wheel made entirely of beige.
“It’s the business casual uniform,” Postrel says. The dandy flourishes in other urban centers—whether it’s a hipster’s highly conscious skinny jeans or the artsy sophisticate’s pocket square—are not entirely absent here, but they are certainly more unusual. Postrel says, “The stereotypical job is in tech, in engineering, in supply chain management,” jobs that require smarts but not necessarily grand displays of personality. “To draw very broad stereotypes, you could say that guys in Dallas dress for other guys at work, and the women are dressing for their sorority sisters.”
I don’t have sorority sisters, but I work from home, and even lunch at Scalini’s can be enough reason to ditch my yoga pants and sprinkle a little Sephora-grade pixie dust. Sometimes I worry this is so retro of me, so Proper Dallas Lady, a throwback to the idea that women are nothing more than trophies and arm candy. But mostly I feel like I get it both ways. I get to dress to the nines, and I get to say, “Screw it.” I’ve been to Scalini’s in a tank top and jeans. Everything worked out fine.
The other day, I was talking to my friend Mary. I was telling her about the column but also complaining that after weeks of racking my brain, I had yet to coin a term for this phenomenon. I wanted to brand the behavior so that when people saw it, they could call it by a name. I knew Mary would have an idea, and she did not disappoint.
“You know how they talk about peacocking?” Mary said. “Well, this is she-cocking.”
The limitations of that term quickly became clear, and we collapsed into laughter. So much for proper Dallas ladies.
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