And if she doesn't like it?

"To heck with her," he said. "I'll drink it."

Alas, Irvin had figured men, after a few drinks, would be in a buying mood. After all, it had happened to him once.

"When Nordstrom first opened, they had a party," he remembers. "There were cocktails on every floor. And after a few, I found myself buying my wife Chinese hair sticks. Who the hell would buy Chinese hair sticks? But after a couple Tanqueray and tonics, I was buying Chinese hair sticks."

Among the vendors who had set up at Men's Night with high hopes were merchants selling jewelry, handbags, hats and spices — all of them had merchandise spread out on tables for the men to consider, or not. A salesman with Ravens sportswear seemed to be doing pretty well. Someone with gift certificates for spa services cosmetic enhancements, significantly less so.

Even barrel-aged bravery couldn't embolden guys to approach the spa stand.

"I was over there and saw 'breast enhancement' and walked away fast," said a still-unnerved Bill Varnell of Glen Rock, Pa. "No way."

Varnell did buy some spices — a packet of the "flat iron steak rub." "My wife loves my cooking," he said.

It was a quiet night for Laurie Imhoff, who came from Catonsville to try to sell quilted purses and bags. She suspected what with the drinks and all their buddies around, the men were having trouble focusing.

"I can't imagine my husband ever going to something like this," she said. "I think it's a neat concept because they don't like going to malls. But I didn't have much expectations."

As Waylett sipped a Captain and Coke, he thought about calling his wife to ask whether he could buy the fedora. He also thought about buying the fedora, hiding it in the barn and then bringing it out a few months later, pretending he'd had it for years. A trick, it would seem, straight from Ladies Night.

As for shopping with the guys, he said it felt good, it felt right, it felt … familiar.

"It's just like a golf outing," he said with a shrug. "Without the golf."

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