There is no sight more ridiculous — aside from a guy clipping his nose hairs while trying to steer a car —than a man in a lingerie shop pretending he knows what he’s doing. Just last week I witnessed such a scene, and I can tell you that the poor schnook was shaking like a leaf trying to decide between a lace teddie and a silk nightgown.

I was standing next to him when he turned to me, and in a meek and rather quivering voice, held them both up and asked:

“Excuse me, but if these were for you, which one ... er. I mean, do you think? … uh ... what I want to know is ...”

Go with the teddie,” I interrupted. “She’ll love it.”

This fellow was so overcome with gratitude that he tossed a few more questions at me.

“What size would you wear in a garment of this sort? I mean, if you even wear such a thing, which you probably wouldn’t. What do you wear to bed?” he asked.

“That’s not a question ever to ask a lady,” I said.

“Maybe I’ll just forget the whole thing and get her a pair of slippers instead.”

“Coward,” I told him. He went for the teddie.

What I’ve discovered is that men operate on two levels: they consider the woman they’re buying for, and then they buy for the woman they want her to be.

Just recently, my friend, Amy, sent her husband on a mission to pick up some underwear because she didn’t have time to get it herself. He returned home, perspiring and looking beaten. That’s because a man who shops for lingerie behaves as if he’s trespassing on foreign soil without a visa, and needs an interpreter to get him through the ordeal. Observing such a man is an astonishing sight. He truly has no idea of lingerie protocol. I once watched a guy trying to purchase push-up bra.

M”y wife is looking for … you know …” he whispered to the sales girl, and looking right and then left, he pointed to his chest.

“You mean a bra?” she asked.

“Shhh, not so, loud.”

“What size?”

“Somewhere between pomegranates and melons.”

“What kinds of melons?”

“Ripe ones.’

“I mean,” she said, “honeydews or watermelons?”

“Definitely not watermelons, more like small casabas.”

“I’ll call the manager,” she said. “Maybe she can assist you.”

“No!” he screamed, “no need for managers. Just give me one the size of grapefruits, in a B.”

“B what?” she asked.

“B flat,” he guffawed.

He chose a bra that could have supported an elephant with a severe glandular problem.

Years back, I went shopping for my teenage daughter. “She likes Days-of-the-Week underpants,” I told the saleswoman. “She’s run out of Monday and Tuesday, and asked me to pick them up.”

“Sorry,” she said, “but we don’t break up our Days-of-the-Week panty packs.”

“What should I tell her? She’ll be disappointed.”

“Tell her it’s going to be a short week,” she said.

Then she tried pushing astrological panties on me.

“What’s your sign?” she asked.

“Aries.”

“Perfect. We have a lovely pair of pink string bikinis with a ram on the rear.”

“That wasn’t exactly the look I had in mind.”

“Elvis panties are making a comeback.”

“How about Perry Como?”

“Sorry, but we might have a few Robert Goulets lying around.”

I ended up with movie stars from the 1940s, and walked around for a while with William Powell and Claudette Colbert bikinis.

Many years ago, I told my husband, Mort, I wanted something alluring for my birthday. He slithered through the intimate apparel department pretending he knew what he was doing.

“May I be of service?” the salesperson asked.

“Yes, I’m here to find a little something for the woman in my life: tasteful, but not overdone. Appealing yet practical. Something that won’t wear out quickly and will stand the test of time.”

“Try housewares,” she said.

He took her advice and bought me a leaf blower.

It was a little hard getting it over my thighs, but at least I knew it wouldn’t shrink when I threw it in the dryer.

Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer. She can be reached at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com