Privilege Blog

How To Dress When You’re “Man Down”

A reader has asked, how to dress when you’re attending an event with trophy wives? Something I’ve touched on personally here, and here, but never deconstructed on a broader scale.

Oh wait, perhaps some of you are trophy wives. Know what? I salute you. Time spent pointing fingers is time wasted. Let’s elevate, talk about class, symbols, and anxiety. Better to discuss than complain.

In that light, what do we think about Trophy Wives, their symbolic import, and what to wear in their presence?  For me, in my 40s in particular, TWs represented Those People Who Had The Money My Family Lost. Or at least failed to keep. Trophy wives – defined here as those women chosen by rich men in substantial part for their decorative capabilities – also represented Women Who Were Not Sturdy. They were recreational, glossy, Tinkerbelles. Probably unfair judgment, but I was working at a brutal job, and undergoing emotional shifts I wasn’t quite admitting, even to myself.

A decade later, emerging from turbulence, done with that job, and able – we hope –  to think more clearly, I’ve abstracted these sartorial principles.

How To Dress When You’re “Man Down”

These principles apply to any occasion when you dress for an event with a) loose to zero overt rules b) significant emotional weight c) other attendees who scare you.

In these situations, take a page from the High WASP book. Don’t disclose your effort. Otherwise known as, “Don’t let on you’re trying.”


Untitled #172

1. Proportion, Proportion, Proportion

We’ve all got a personal geometry. In “man down” situations, veer not from the tried and true silhouette. If you live in skinny jeans, wear their dressier cousin, cigarette pants. If you’re a dress person, stay in dressland. Now is not the time to be tugging at your clothing, up, down, or sideways.

2. Vintage With A High DQ (Design Quotient)

Trophy wives have access to everything cool from this season. So pick a classic  from a completely different decade, instead. Above you see a YSL dress – that coin belt one of his signature Other Culture embellishments. For vintage pieces, I recommend choosing something you can wear many times in many ways. Imagine this same dress with a patterned fabric belt.

3. Classic, But Current, Shoes

Again, this is not the time to experiment. Weird shoes have their place, highly charged social situations with people who make you nervous aren’t it. Of course, if you are the sort made nervous by no one, I salute you. I salute you and start a parade in your honor. My shoe strategy is either a discreet, well-repaired pair of classic luxury shoes – Manolo ballet flats that I’ve owned for 10 years – or a cool pair of shoes in a brand on its way up. In this category we find Loeffler Randall, Pour La Victoire, and Ancient Greek Sandals. Yes, that’s really their name.

4. The Unbearable Lightness Of A Good Haircut (And Healthy Hair)

Hair requires a little pre-planning. If you are torturing yourself with too much coloring and blow drying you might consider a haircation. Short, long, all good. Just not crispy.

5. A Signature Accessory

You can add an accessory in whatever color makes you feel indomitable. Turquoise for me. Or rely on a piece with sentimental or symbolic value. I think Alexander McQueen’s skull accessories might have been invented originally to wear to meet the Queen.

I could add a lot of caveats, to do with inner peace, materialism, anxiety, and so on. But I will leave that to the wise. I can only advise on what I’ve learned, and I’ve not yet reached Social Anxiety Zen Mastery.

So take care of your shoes and hair, keep your good clothes until they become your own private vintage stash, and build on a certainly about your personal geometry and coloring. Finally, nothing wrong pausing with before you enter the room to remind yourself, silently so as not to mutter in public mind you, of all your accomplishments and the people who love you.

57 Responses

  1. No trophy wives here – thank goodness. I don’t know if I could stand the pressure.

    One of the nice things about being a short, full-figured Sturdy Gal of a certain age is that I have, finally, found my style and very little of it is current. Which is perfectly fine, because it suits me (I do agree with you about the hair). If I were ever to find myself in a situation where I must socialize with trophy wives…I can’t finish that thought. Too much hilarity ensues.

  2. I recently found myself in this position and full of anxiety. Thanks for your post – next time I’ll be better prepared!

  3. I love these practical suggestions for how to dress, but have never heard the term “man down” before. Am confused: what does it mean? Are trophy wives always involved with it?

    1. It’s a sports term, i.e. a team is “man down” when one of them is benched. You play, “man down” and are at a disadvantage…

  4. I think understated and not like you’re trying too hard is probably best for all occasions, except maybe your own wedding :)

  5. I pretty much dress in items that make me comfortable and confident. Not much I can do with the wrinkles on my 53 yr old face compared to younger trophy wives. I just try to accept my flaws and move on.

  6. I’m not friends with people like this. Or Maybe I am a trophy wife, if you can be that if you are 12 years older than your husband and have had a great career and are now living the life of a trophy wife (IE I work out, buy clothes, change for dinner, make nice dinners go to daytime movies with gay friends etc.

  7. Good points! It takes quite a lot to intimidate me, but I can picture situations where I’d use this advice.

    Something I really miss in moving from New Zealand to England is being thought to be well spoken. Suddenly I’m pigeon holed as foreign as soon as I open my mouth and people don’t know even which country, let alone which social class. Accents are such a thing in England.

  8. What has happened with me in recent years, is that “trophy wife” has been completely been redefined for me as “trophy women” and you, Countess LPC, are one. These are women who have had careers, have managed to raise children, who’ve managed to show up reasonably well dressed, who take time to attend the functions, join/chair the committees, demonstrate leadership at work/in the community. It’s you trophy women who “scare” me because I stand in AWE of your performances. Someone must stand at the outer fringe and applaud the accomplishments of trophy women, so that’s me at the fringe, I do SO admire you women who do all these things that I’ve never done.

  9. Brumm… Brumm… rumma-tum-tum, tum-tum. I’m marching in the parade. No one (at least on this planet) has ever made me nervous. Excellent suggestions notwithstanding.

  10. Lisa; I totally understand the ‘man down’ situation and received a good chuckle from hearing the term. My own mother used to say this when I was a young girl in the 60’s and 70’s. I came to the world of women in a ‘man down’ position as I’m short and curvy with brown uber-curly hair which I refuse to straighten. I find your advice above to be very helpful; especially #1. Sticking with a proven silhouette that I know flatters my individual figure rather than following trends becomes increasingly important in all situations. Also #5, having a signature accessory, for me it’s a small piece of jewelry with a Tree of Life motif is a confidence booster. The image of the tree stays in my consciousness and reminds me to stay grounded in who I am; always important during a stressful social event.

  11. ps, trying to stop the hyper-ventilating, it’s taking me a few minutes.

    Ohhhh, that YSL dress = full body armor + hazmat suit for guaranteed triumph at anything anytime anywhere anyseason anyguestlist. Perfection. The Countess scores again.

  12. How to dress when attending an event with trophy wives?
    Boy, am I glad not having to worry about that one, as such events seldom happen over here.
    At this certain age, seriously, I believe I should know what to wear when and where.
    If I do get it all wrong, the sky won´t fall ; ).
    P.S. The YSL dress is perfect.

  13. Although I don’t think I’ll ever encounter trophy wive, social events make me nervous, always have and alway will. it’s gotten a bit better with age but not much. So this is great advice and a workable perspective to keep in mind. Thanks.

  14. I’m afraid I am the sort of person who isn’t easily intimidated by youth or beauty–or money, for that matter–new or old. But it doesn’t matter: I don’t know any trophy wives (or trophy husbands). I guess I don’t move in that kind of circle. All of our friends are ordinary, middle-class folks (teachers, mostly, though I’m a retired RN) and we’re all still married to the same people. I agree that sticking with a version of your usual style is best for most occasions, although I enjoy mixing it up a bit when I get the chance.

  15. Very interesting. And yes, I travel in circles where there are trophy wives. My husband is in a law firm (large) where I am usually the OLDEST woman (age 61 now) at any event. This dawned on me slowly.

    In January, we attended a destination wedding along with one of my husband’s young women associates. She and I have become friends. She asked me if I was intimidated by D’s wife (one of my husband’s partners) because she is always so perfectly dressed and so “perfect” in every way. I had to catch myself before, very calmly, saying “No, I much preferred his first wife. She was a delight.”

    So NO–trophy wives do not phased me–but your suggestions are just plain helpful–for any occasion.

    To tell you the truth, once I am at an event/party/dinner, I usually totally forget what I am wearing or how I might look and I’m just in the moment.

    1. Ha! Love your remark.

      In the moment is where I find myself these days, far more often than before.

  16. Well repaired Manolos seems a little disingenuous to me. I believe it is time to mourn the lost fortune and move on. Well dressed is well dressed everywhere, anytime. Then just relax.

  17. No experience with Trophy Wives here, plenty with intimidating social situations. The thing about your excellent suggestions is that you can’t go out and enact them in an instant. You need to keep the elements, with appropriate updates and seasonal adjustments at the ready.

    The only thing I’d add, for the tongue-tied, is a hint from Sally Quinn – slip a list of conversation topics in your pocket. If you have a moment of fright you’ve got something to say that goes beyond the weather.

  18. You need big, real vintage jewelry: a necklace dripping with emerald cabochons, for example; borrowed or bought. It is the one detail nearly all of them lack. They have big, vulgar diamonds.

    Current shoes, great hair and absolutely no glaring at the arm candy/TW.

  19. I work in show biz, albeit in a narrow specialty. I try to dress like a matron at the most expensive prison in the world. Severe, tailored, perfectly fitted, and then add one outrageously unexpected accessory. No one can ignore it, and yet, I don’t look like I’m trying to compete with stars, wives of stars, agents, girlfriends and/or producers.

    1. This is possibly the most brilliant and hilarious sartorial strategy I’ve ever come across. Kudos to you, kateC!

  20. Great points for man down or any time you want to look and feel your best. Trophy wives usually give me a good chuckle!

  21. Wow – tips on dressing for an occasion where trophy wives will be present?

    Why? How about the good old rule of dressing for the occasion and the location? There is something so wrong about jlabelling other women based upon their different or questionable style and fashion choices.

    Perhaps a ” trophy wife” is a woman who tries just as hard to look good as many of us do, just that her energy is put into a sexualized aesthetic, rather than comfort, or perhaps subtle indicators of social status.

    I, by the way, am one of your “sturdy types”. I am lucky to leave the house with clear nail polish on. However, for the appropriiate occasion, i will likely be wearing my Ferragamo’s, just to make myself feel pulled together, to those in the know. It’s . certainly inot the shoe brand of a trophy wife, but they do make me feel like I know what I’m doing, style-wise, at least.

    Iin a perfect party world, we would all just show up at an occasion, and meet some new friends who don’t look just like us, tacky or tasteful wardrobes, and all!

    1. I do understand your point about labeling other women. However, I see “trophy wife” as a metaphor for the type of person who is (mostly) unconsciously intimidating to others(me) by her mere presence. While dressing for events shouldn’t be a competition, it intimidates me to plan clothing choices for events where I very much want to “fit in” but know I really am not even on the same playing field as some of the other women.

      For Lisa, it is the younger, richer, perfectly turned out wives – the so called “trophy wife”. My own experience was planning to attend my 30th high school reunion. I hadn’t seen anyone since we graduated. I spent way too much time planning my outfit. While I certainly had academic success in high school (and beyond), I wasn’t socially popular at all. I chose an outfit that, except for color, was almost identical to what the former cheerleading captain was wearing. The “mean girls” were nice to me. Success!

    2. DocP – Perfect example, and far more universal than me and my trophy wife phobia. Kathleen, you are right, of course.

  22. Is there such a thing as “Trophy wife?” – this is another reason why I adore your blog. I learn such charming terms here. Brilliant tips as always;)

  23. I would like to comment, but can’t, so I will just say that I don’t care for these situations and prefer to avoid them. When I can’t, I follow my grandmother’s advice, which is “just be yourself.” It is so much easier now that I know something about style, because I can be myself and at the same time know that what I am wearing is appropriate.

    I love Kathy’s comment.

  24. Susan Partlan, I think the truth is that we can’t always avoid these situations. At least I can’t. I often find myself having to attend an event with the so called Trophy Wives and there is not a thing I can do about it. I have a feeling that Lisa has been in the same boat. She is wise to have a strategy.

  25. What a lovely, well thought out post (as all of yours are really). I liked how you tackled this subject on it’s broader and more ‘real’ issue. I often worry about what tone to strike with my wardrobe choices in unfamiliar events – work mingling socials in particular- and this is very sound advice. I’ve learned by doing, that dressing in something that’s not my own style just winds up making me feel uncomfortable, emotionally and physically.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom

  26. Recently in a situation like this and knew that I could not dress on par financially with what others would be wearing. I went for the extremely tailored classic and wore a wide leg black crepe pant, silk man-tailored blouse left out and tied with a magenta satin sash, and those very gold-heeled sandals you have in your montage (though mine have orange ankle straps and a calfhair toe strap).

    I felt completely like myself since I usually dress in a more casual version of this for work, so I was very confident, which I believe is really just the key to it all in these awkward out-of-your element social situations.

  27. Thank you. Lisa. Such excellent ideas all around. I need to work on my “man down” strategy, as I am all too aware that I’m often older and have less resources than the women I must encounter. I should perhaps try to remember that my professional accomplishments count for something. It would be fun to try on gorgeous for a day!

  28. I will be attending my 25th college reunion next year. Although I was not yet anxious about what to wear, I new I was going to be:) After reading your post I realize I have everything I need in my closet now! I have several dresses that fit my body type, the perfect pair of shoes that make me feel like Cinderella, and an ample collection of signature accessories. Now I’m a little sad that I don’t have an excuse to go shopping. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll need another hermes bracelet for the occasion.

  29. I remember getting ready for my wedding, worrying that my two female guests (my future in-laws) would be more fancily outfitted than I was. They were, but I was wearing a longish fitted black tuxedo jacket as a dress. Personal style trumps all that wealth can buy.

  30. I need to weigh in as a potential ‘trophy wife’. My husband is 30 years older than me. We are from different socio-economic backgrounds. I never thought I would fall in love with such a man. But I did, and it has been tough on both of our families.
    I have 2 Masters degrees in obscure branches of theology (earned before I met him) and am an officer in the Navy (an area where spouses are seldom helpful and most often a nuisance). I consider myself an accomplished women both with him, and without him.
    People meet us and inevitably judge us. I have endured unimaginable rudeness over the course of our 7 year marriage. Often, my husband’s friend’s wives are intimidated by me simply because I am not like them. I am what they were 30 years ago and somehow that makes me threatening.
    Here is (finally) my point: as women we need to support each other. Lisa is very gentle in this post, and I appreciate the gentleness. In the end, I would love to see us support all the strange and wonderful choices we make as women. Everything is so political as women – marriage, careers, babies. Accept me as a woman, support me in my actually rather conventional life. Rather than turn away at the cocktail party, ask me out for a coffee. I do not judge you for being 50 something or 80 something, why judge me for being 30 something? You are unique, as am I. And we are both strong. Let’s stand together.

  31. Mairi Anderson,
    Amen. Love your point of view. Women should stand together, or at least cut each other some slack.

  32. Thank you for helping us dress with confidence in situations like this. It’s hard to know what to wear and you’ve solved the problem beautifully, as you always do.

    Not all Trophy Wives are as bad as they are made out to be in the media. Actually a very dear friend of ours was what would be considered a Trophy Wife. We knew her with her first husband, who was very wealthy, much older than she, and they both were dear friends of ours. After he passed away, she married an even wealthier gentleman, a philanthropist, who has since passed away. She is a delightful gal, full of spark and personality, and a lot of fun to be around. She just happens to prefer the company of men older than she.

    I spent a couple of days shopping with her once, complete with the big black limo and driver everywhere, including a discount store. Imagine the stares she endures from the other customers at Target when the limo driver carries her bags out after she pulls out her credit card from her not fake Chanel bag to pay for her purchases.

    I thought you used extremely good taste when you wrote this post Lisa, keeping everyone’s feelings in mind.

  33. Just had to chime in here on this one. Yes, I have had a few of these to attend over the years and as I have watched myself morph over time, I find I am threatened less and less as I have become more genuine. I just dont care if they like my outfit or not. I will wear what makes me feel good, even if it means cowboy boots at a Christmas dinner. I am a real person, and the lack of intimidation is the most powerful vibe out there. Believe me, they smell it and respect you for it. They may even be a little scared……….

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