Ask A Woman: Dress to impress…the ladies or the men?
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Maybe you’ve heard the expression that men dress for women, and women dress for…other women. While I don’t think that statement is true all or even most of the time (for men or for women), I understand why we might be prone to think that. There are a lot of things women wear that I’ve heard countless men say they dislike, and yet women wear them anyway. When women are indeed dressing for other women, the reasons tend to be complicated. First of all, women are socialized to compete with each other for attention and positive reinforcement in a way that men are not. (Yes, men are socialized to compete with each other in other ways that are detrimental, but that’s not really in the scope of this post.) Women are taught that it’s important to be pretty, to be good, to be virtuous, to be sexy (mixed message alert!), to be thin. We’re also taught that our biggest barrier to being perceived as any of these things is comparison to other women. If our friend is sexier, thinner, prettier, our prospects for attention and resources are lessened.
So at it’s worst, when women dress for other women, we may be trying to one-up each other. What up, Emily, Ima cinch my waist so tight with this belt and wear this fall’s hottest new boots so you know I’m hotter and have better taste than you–eat it. I mean, you know, in a manner of speaking. This sort of thinking is most prevalent around young women–teens, early twenties, maybe mid-twenties–but hopefully it peters out soon into adulthood because it’s nonsense, and a distracting barrier to fulfilling friendships. Often our motivations are less nefarious, we just really care about being perceived by other women as well-dressed and attractive. So we dress carefully when we know we’ll see a friend whose style we admire, in the hopes of garnering positive reinforcement from her.
There’s an actual blog called The Man Repeller, based on the clothing and styles women love to wear, and men love to hate. Interesting concept, no?
I do think that women dress for men, too. This is probably more true for women looking for a mate, or at the beginning of a relationship. It just makes sense to dress in ways that potential (or new) boyfriends will find appealing. Later on the ladies are more prone to wear the leopard print blouse you find tacky, or to lounge around the house in those holey sweatpants with the tight elastic bands at the bottom that you simply detest (not that I’m speaking from personal experience, I lounge only in the finest silks and cashmere in only the most flattering cuts). For those who’ve been coupled up for longer periods of time, special occasions like anniversaries and big nights out are likely to find your lady wearing a dress she knows you love her in, or wearing her hair down just for you even though she usually puts it up.
Besides the two options of women dressing for other women or women dressing for men, there’s a third option. Women dressing for themselves. Hey-ooooo! I have to say that at this point in my life, this third option is the reason I wear what I wear most of the time. I wear clothing that I think is flattering on my body shape. I wear clothing that complements the mood I’m in. I wear clothing that I find beautiful and fun and elegant, hoping that some of those qualities will rub off on me while I wear those pieces. Sometimes I get compliments from men and/or women on what I wear, and it’s great, very flattering, but I still find it more important to listen to my own internal style navigation. I’m certainly not alone in dressing for myself, and I think most people–men and women–eventually get to that point. I highly recommend it. Wearing four-inch heels to impress your friends or a scandalously short skirt to attract men gets old in a hurry.
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