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What Men Really Want (and How to Give It to Them)

As I write this, we are about one month out of the annual gift-giving season (I refuse to call it the "holiday season" because, for knitters, it is no holiday), and I think I finished making the last of the presents about four days ago. Three cheers for me!

The final weeks of 2005 saw almost all of our major religious holidays converge within the space of a few days. This meant, if you were walking through my neighborhood at anytime during this festive period, you would hear the characteristic sobbing and screaming that results from presenting The Man You Love with The Gift He Does Not Appreciate Or Even Like So Much. My neighborhood was especially noisy this year, with an abundance of stomping feet and slamming doors, roaring car engines and squealing tires.

I am obligated to mention that women are no easier to shop for than men, but the key word here is "shop". While it is not uncommon for women to knit, crochet and sew (and hammer and screw and weld) thoughtful gifts for the men in their lives, it is the rare man who makes something for the women in his life other than dirty dishes. I am a man. I can say this. It is the truth.

All of this local turmoil led, as you might expect, to some sleepless nights -- which in turn led to my pondering the question: "What do men really want?" Since the first words that came to mind were "a Hummer," "an NFL franchise," and "Angelina Jolie," I decided to narrow it down to things that were a little more garment-friendly. And so, in no particular order:

Men want what they already have.

Him: "You know my brown vest?"

This would be the brown, cream and grey Fair Isle vest he got from Sears six years ago that he only wears to your mother's place -- the one that is now a mass of strands and holes in the back of the closet.

"How about you make me something exactly like that."

Men want what everyone else has and they don't.

Him: "I like those hats."

Those would be chullos, the ear-flap hats with pigtails that suddenly everyone is wearing. You could make something unique, something that no one else is wearing, but no.

"I like those hats."

Men want what they wore when they were teenagers, and are convinced that they can still wear.

Him: "How about a nice knitted tie?" You flash on a memory of knitted ties from high school -- and shudder all over.

Men want what other teenagers are wearing today, and are convinced that they can wear them too.

Him: "Those skateboard beanies are pretty cool. You know, I'd like to try that skateboard thing sometime, if it wasn't for my hip."

Men want what leading sports and entertainment personalities wear.

Him: "Oh, honey -- I love the sweater, I do, but -- why did you knit it with those colors?" Well, you like blue and white and red -- don't you? "Yeah, but not all together -- those are the Habs' colors (i.e. Montreal Canadiens). I can't wear those anywhere!"

Men want what their best friends wear.

Him: "Jerry's wife made him a Maple Leafs scarf. Do you think you could make me one too?"

Men want whatever's cheapest.

"Him: "You spent how much on yarn? What's it made out of, gold?"

Men want whatever's most expensive.

Him: "What about that cashmere stuff? Is that good to knit with?"

Men want whatever's closest to the department store entrance, or to the sales desk.

Him: "Why don't you just buy me some boxers? Those ones you got me last year have a hole in the ass the size of Texas. Oh look, and there's something for you too," he says, holding up a travel lint brush. "You use these, right?"

This is the power of writing -- that in just a few hundred words I can bring a nation of knitters to tears. (I'm wiping at the corners of my eyes myself.) So, as a knitting guy, and as one who has knitted for his fair share of guys, how do I propose we resolve this dilemma?

Do not knit for men. Ever. Just don't. Unless they're knitters themselves, they will rarely cherish your efforts in proportion to the time and energy you've invested, and you will hold it against them.

All right, all right, this may not exactly be a workable solution for all of us. If you must knit for men:

Don't knit them sweaters -- at least not for, say, the first five years. The legendary Sweater Curse suggests that if you knit a sweater for your beloved, the two of you will break up by the time it's finished, or shortly thereafter. What they don't tell you is why. Knitters are known for their determination and stamina, but few hearts are hard enough to withstand the sight of a man taking a freshly washed and perfectly blocked Inishmore sweater from its delicate tissue wrapping, then turning it back and forth in puzzled disappointment as he wonders why it doesn't say "Raptors" on it.

Stick to smaller, popular projects, like scarves, socks, mittens and hats, so that any unexpected reactions will not lead instantly to divorce...or worse. That chullo that everyone's wearing? Go ahead, knit the chullo -- but make the details unique so that it's truly one of a kind.

Also, in case you haven't noticed, every man is still a boy inside. So take that as permission to go a bit retro, with colors, patterns and motifs that bring back memories of his childhood. (Argyle is back. I'm not sure if that's a good thing.) Or look to pop culture -- film, music, television and graphic arts -- for images and icons that you can incorporate into your creations. Aliens (for a conspiracy theorist's protective headgear?), monsters (some werewolf slippers perhaps?), superheroes (a Batman messenger bag?) or even band logos, movie and TV characters, videogames and classic cartoons can all inspire great gifts.

If you must make him a sweater -- and even if you don't -- find out what his favorite team's colors are and see if you can work with them. The Vancouver Canucks, for example, are maroon and blue and grey and white -- a good combination for a simple striped raglan, or for a Fair Isle toque and a matching fringed scarf...or even for a laptop bag and an iPod case. If he doesn't have a favorite team, check out his favorite shirt, his favorite chair, or even the inside of his car. Something he loves (other than you) will give you a clue about those colors he gravitates to, and those he avoids.

If you're still not sure what he really wants -- ask him. Because my final advice to you is this: No surprises. If you live with the man you're knitting for, this is probably a foregone conclusion anyway. But either way, reduce the stress for both of you by telling him and showing him everything: the pattern, the colors, the fibers, the fit. No surprises mean fewer disappointments, and more negotiation and collaboration mean greater enjoyment for you both. And that's something every guy can get behind.

But, um -- ixnay on the itted tie-knay. If he presses the subject, tell him there's no better way to learn than for him to knit it himself.

Photography: David Glen
Supermodel: Terry Warne
Author Photo: Asif Kamal


David Demchuk lives in Toronto. At his present rate, the only way he'll ever have an Inishmore in this lifetime is if one mysteriously grows on him in his sleep.

David's obligatory knitblog can be found here.