After 30 years, my parents are finally going through with that divorce they’ve been talking about since I was eight-years-old. For the first time in decades, my father is now figuring out what it means to be his own person without relying upon drugs, alcohol and an overly-forgiving wife to decide for him. In aesthetic terms, this has translated to wearing jewelry suited for a warlock, growing a beard and acquiring the hippest pair of glasses his Massachusetts welfare vision insurance allowed. He, like many other men, is in the midst of a post-separation personal style renaissance.
“I think it’s probably very common to want to stand out and wear more elaborate clothing after a divorce,” says Dave Schilling, a TV writer who divorced in 2018 after three years of marriage. “Lots of men, myself included, tend to shrink a bit in the midst of a monogamous, committed relationship. My ex-wife was even occasionally critical of my sartorial choices, so divorce was freeing.”
Still, according to Schilling, it took some time to figure out exactly how that freedom should manifest. “When you’re in your 30s, divorced and a father, it’s harder to convince someone to be a part of your life and take on your substantial burdens,” he says. “I spent thousands of dollars on labels, trying to show outward signs of success and opulence, presumably to make myself seem like a worthwhile mate.”
Eventually, that kind of spending became unsustainable, but more importantly, it didn’t make him happy. “I was buying things based solely on the brand identity rather than it fitting my particular aesthetic, stuff that might not even drape well on my body. I was just consuming for the sake of consuming. Once I finally got my life together and could start dressing again, I gravitated toward clothes that gratified me and felt natural to wear. Now, I love bright colors, neo-preppy styles and well-made tailoring. Suits make me feel mature, and I think project a certain consideration for appearance that most men my age have given up on.”
Like my father, Schilling has also begun wearing jewelry, though in the far more subdued form of a simple silver ring. “I always thought jewelry was garish and obnoxious, but something about passing through such an emotionally and financially painful period of life makes you want to be a little garish and a tad sleazy.”
Perhaps for that reason, jewelry seems to be a common stylistic choice among divorced guys. “I started adorning myself with skull iconography jewelry that I haven’t looked at since middle school,” says Thomas, 33, who just split from his wife in February after seven years. “I also started wearing band T-shirts and shorts. I’m a hardcore kid again.”
On Twitter, divorced men (and some of their kids) offered me their anecdotes about their fashion transformations. For a lot of them, their post-divorce style is largely dictated by the types of clothing they might not have been “allowed” to wear while married — long hair, shaved heads, tracksuits, T-shirts they’ve had since they were 20 and button-up shirts with a few extra buttons left undone were popular choices. For some, divorce presented the opportunity to try out the fun aesthetics they’d never worn before, like turquoise jewelry, or for bodily transformations in the form of weight loss or muscle-building.
As Arthur, 33, tells me, divorce allowed him to experiment more with less stereotypically masculine clothing. “Post-divorce, I realized how much of my personality, vis a vis more varied gender expression especially, I was subduing. I figured with the clean slate of being unexpectedly single in my early 30s I might as well go for it, so like, wearing more short shorts, crop tops, kerchiefs and brighter colors as opposed to my more common married uniform of button-downs.”
In the case of my father, who is nearly 60, his post-divorce fashion choices are really a way of working out his identity. Someone asked me how I feel about his unusual adornments, saying they might feel weird about it themselves. While I think his serpent jewelry is pretty cool, I’m just proud of him, above all else. After years of abusing his body and not caring about his appearance, it’s nice to see him care about himself at all. I asked him why exactly he chose the wizard-y necklace and ring he now wears, and he avoided my question. Instead, he told me he got it at some funky store in Boston. “I got you something, too!” he replied.
I’m hoping it’s a matching serpent ring.