Behind every man in a tuxedo is a woman who forced him to wear one. Case in point: my husband Mark, whose favorite attire is a pair of faded jeans and his old college sweatshirt with the word "NELL" emblazoned on the front. It used to read "CORNELL," but it has gone through so much wear-and-tear -- so many spins through the washer -- that the "COR" was obliterated.

"Who's Nell?" people stop him and ask.

"An old girlfriend," he likes to say. I am not amused.

Last week, he finally took off this atrocity in preparation for an affair called the Black & White Ball, and tried squeezing his body into his old tuxedo. This tux was purchased during the Carter administration when Mark was a slightly svelter version of his now, still handsome, though somewhat altered physique. Putting it on was a major challenge.

They say that most men look great in tuxedos -- a tux commands respect and makes a guy look dapper and debonair. That's true only if that man is either:

1) a maitre d'

2) Fred Astaire

3) A penguin

My husband does not fall into any of these categories. Frankly speaking, he looks like major dork in a tux. That's because he never quite gets the dynamics of what goes where. Something is always askew.

My earliest memory of a man in a tuxedo was my Uncle Max, the podiatrist. Under normal circumstances, Uncle Max was major nerd material. In a tux, he looked like a hit man for the mob. The roll under his collar was so big you could hide a .45 inside it, which, if you knew Uncle Max, could very well be a reality.

Aunt Phyllis, Uncle Max's wife, made a point of forcing Max into his wedding tux for every important family function. For years I watched him emerge on the social scene as the King of the Fashion Faux Pas. While we chatted away, my eyes were diverted to his pants, which had slipped slightly during the evening, causing triple ripples that came to rest across his shoes. When Phyllis joined Max on the dance floor, one shoulder of his tux went up while the other shoulder went south. The pants were so short it seemed as if Uncle Max had been caught in a flash flood. Certainly, he did not exemplify a vision of male pulchritude.

To make matters worse, his well-endowed abdomen was held in place by a cummerbund in fire-engine red, equally matched by a gaudy red handkerchief and red bow-tie. A 3-carat diamond pinky ring completed the ensemble. By day, Uncle Max took care of people's feet, but at formal affairs this man was a study of a serious wardrobe malfunction. He slithered when he walked as all his weight was encased behind the cummerbund which, if removed, would cause Max to implode. Max put on a cummerbund the same way I put on a bra: he hooked it up in front, but invariably forgot to turn it around. Thus, he appeared at places looking like he was wearing the attachment to a screen door. After that, I never felt good about men in tuxedos.

Unlike Uncle Max, Mark owns a very expensive tuxedo. He paid big bucks for it because he felt that like his car, it would be a lifetime investment, never realizing that his body image had shifted over the years. I view this as analogous to a used car: the back end doesn't always match the front, and looks as if it met with some minor altercation. It's so old now, and become so shiny, I can apply makeup in its reflection.

As for Max, at 83, he is still going strong. At the last black-tie affair, he and Phyllis had so much to drink that Phyllis left the party with the bartender, claiming later that in a tux, all men look the same. Rumor has it they spent a wild night together. As for Max, he ran off with a waitress. They stayed up all night while Max massaged her feet, and removed her corns with his pointy tuxedo lapels.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every Wednesday in the Westport News. She can be reached via e-mail at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.