DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend told me he doesn’t own a suit or dress shoes because he has never needed them. I suppose this makes sense in theory, but I just can’t understand why a grown man wouldn’t own any formal clothing. Even my 15-year-old brother owns a suit. Is this a red flag? -- Buy a Suit
DEAR BUY A SUIT: Rather than thinking of this as a red flag, recognize it as a lack of exposure. This says to me that, up until now, your boyfriend has not gone anywhere that has required formal attire. For many people, formal dress is introduced early when attending religious services. These days, though, many spiritual homes allow people to dress informally, so even if he did go to a spiritual service, a suit may not have been a requirement.
What you can do is learn about your boyfriend’s upbringing and his world. What has been important to him and his family? What has he been exposed to? What is he interested in? Also talk to him about your life and what you find important.
As you get to know each other better, talk to him about where you want to go and what you want to do, along with your understanding of how you should present yourself in these different circumstances. In that context, let him know where a suit, tie and dress shoes are required or preferred. The range of opportunities is broad, by the way -- from a formal restaurant to a professional office to a civic organization’s annual gala to a social organization’s annual meeting, and plenty in between. If you open your boyfriend’s eyes to these opportunities without judging him, you will discover whether he is interested in participating and dressing the part.