You and improved

Why are some of us so interested in making over our spouses?

Rainelle White of Roxbury sometimes suggests that her husband, Cedric, dress in clothes that complement hers. ‘‘I really want to do it right,’’ he says. Rainelle White of Roxbury sometimes suggests that her husband, Cedric, dress in clothes that complement hers. ‘‘I really want to do it right,’’ he says. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Beth Teitell
Globe Staff / April 5, 2011

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Tom Brady says he can’t cut his hair unless Gisele gives the OK. Mitt Romney is pre-campaigning for president wearing Gap skinny jeans reportedly bought by his wife, Ann. Observers credit Linda Pizzuti Henry with jazzing up Red Sox owner John Henry’s look.

And Jim Roarty says he’s learned to — no, make that been told to — trust the fashion judgment of his wife, Christine. Jim Roarty — who’s he? Just a regular guy from Hyde Park. But he’s got something in common with those bold-faced Bostonians: His wife is his stylist.

“I am just an accessory, like Tom Brady,’’ Roarty, 51, said cheerfully as he rode the T wearing a sharp-looking Patriots jacket bought for him by . . . take a guess.

Now that intensive male grooming has gone mainstream, it’s hard to find a guy whose wife hasn’t tweaked his look — whether he likes it or not. But what’s a wife to do when her husband insists on wearing outdated glasses, gut-hugging shirts, or white sneakers with nice(ish) pants?

Consider the plight of Joan Quinn Eastman, an independent producer from Hopkinton. “He insists on wearing pants with the crotch that hangs down to the middle of his thighs,’’ she says of her husband, Dan Eastman, an investment banker. “I say, ‘You’re not an old man, you’re not a teenager, why are you doing that?’ ’’

After more than 30 years of marriage, Joan plays hardball: Unacceptable clothing is sometimes “disappeared.’’

Who could blame Dan Eastman, then, for sometimes wearing the offending clothes when his wife’s not around, particularly his beloved red-and-blue-striped shirt? “It was never explained to me what was wrong with it,’’ he said.

Rainelle White, a manager for Harvard Medical School’s Family Van, which provides curbside health services, describes her husband as a stylish person, but even so, she sometimes calls the shots, particularly when the Roxbury couple is going out together and she wants their clothes to coordinate. Cedric White, a labor relations specialist with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, doesn’t mind matching, although he cannot always pull it off.

“Sometimes she tells me a day or two ahead what she’s wearing, and I’ve got more than enough time to get it together,’’ Cedric said. “But some days I’m not ready. The suit’s either in the dry cleaner or needs to go to the dry cleaner.’’ He paused for a moment. “I really want to do it right.’’

Image specialists say some men are more likely to take fashion advice from a stylist who isn’t their significant other. Could Senator Scott Brown be in that category? Last year, Arianna Brown, the daughter who bought him his campaign signature barn jacket, told the Globe that her sister and mother shy away from buying her father clothes. “He never really wears them,’’ she said.

Maria Vasilevsky, co-owner of Stilista, a Boston style agency, hears from wives who need to bring in a third party to help improve their husband’s style. “It causes too much friction if they do it themselves,’’ she said. “They’re too inside the situation.’’

Of course, some men want help, said Mary Lou Andre, a Needham-based wardrobe and image consultant. She estimates that 80 percent of the husbands sent her way are glad. “Usually when the wife [suggests the husband get wardrobe assistance] there’s a good relationship in place,’’ she said.

When Steve Halling’s wife, Janet Jordan Halling, the owner of Keynote Communications, made an appointment for him with Andre (who is Mrs. Halling’s stylist), he was glad of one thing: She came to their home, in Arlington. “I didn’t have to worry about running into my football buddies at the mall with a personal shopper,’’ said Halling, the president of an audiovisual staging company.

People noticed his spiffier look. “But curiously, it was only women who commented on it,’’ he said. “I didn’t tell any friends. I’m not ready to admit I got fashion help. I figured I’d never hear the end of it.’’

Brady could probably relate to the razzing, only he doesn’t seem to care. Ponytails, a head band — he’s worn them stoically, even as the fans, the press, the world, point fingers at Gisele Bundchen. In September, when a radio host asked the quarterback if there was anything he could do to get him to cut his long hair, Brady replied: “Ah, you’ll have to speak to my wife about that.’’

As for Henry, his wife acknowledges she does provide “a lot of unsolicited feedback’’ on her husband’s look. But, as Linda Pizzuti Henry wrote in an e-mail: “John has had his own consistent style for the past few years that I love.’’

But wives lacking supermodel or socialite credentials — and whose husbands are not star athletes or confident businessmen — sometimes take a subtler approach. Nicholas Penna Jr., owner of SalonCapri in Newton and Dedham, reports that he has had women quietly ask if he can “do something’’ about a husband’s comb-over. The story is similar at the Hair Club of New England, where wives sometimes call anonymously seeking information. “We’ve had women who have come in for an initial consultation without their husbands,’’ said CEO Steven Barth.

While the stereotype is of wives giving their husbands style advice, sometimes it’s the husband who weighs in on the wife’s look. “My husband wants me to go longer,’’ female clients tell Penna. Or: “My husband says I should go blonder.’’ And in same-sex couples, the same rules apply.

Michael Kelley, 40, the founder of Tallypop, an online social networking company, says his husband, real estate guru and stylist Ricardo Rodriguez, sometimes lays out clothing for him on the bed. “Everyone says, ‘Aww, that’s so nice,’ ’’ Kelley said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Ricardo, but it’s his way of making sure I don’t wear something he objects to. There’s a tiny bit of selfishness in his generosity.’’

Is offering advice a good thing? It depends on the couple’s relationship, said Anthony Centore, director of Thrive Boston Counseling and Psychotherapy. “A lot of husbands know their wives might have better fashion sense than they do and they can definitely benefit from the input. On the flip side, I’m sure there are some husbands who like their own style, even if it’s not the most fashionable approach to life.’’

A person needs to pull back, Centore said, if their spouse feels uncomfortable. “If you are pushing your spouse to dress in a way that doesn’t express who they are, or they want to be, it might be a sign you are taking it too far.’’

But Dan Eastman isn’t interested in any deeper meanings. “She’s the one who has to look at me,’’ he said. “As long as she doesn’t make me grow my hair like Tom Brady’s, I’m OK.’’

Beth Teitell can be reached at


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