The other week I wore a dress. It wasn’t a very complicated dress; and it was in no danger of making a fashion statement. It would not catch the eye of a street style photographer. A pink floral print wrap midi dress from Gap, I bought it because I liked the color and thought it would work well on a hot day. Then I put it on the next weekend when the sun came out and pretty much forgot about it.
My husband, though… Every so often throughout the day, he would stop what he was doing and look at me. “You look great!” he said, at regular intervals, with perfect sincerity, and with no prompting at all. And later on? Let’s just say that he liked this dress very much.
So all this effort I have put in over the years to curate a wardrobe – was I wasting my time? If the only reason I get dressed is to please the man in my life, then clearly the answer is yes. All I needed to do was stock up on viscose floral dresses from Gap at 40 percent off. Women don’t just dress for men, though. I can’t be the only one who spends much more time worrying about what to wear when meeting a group of women. There’s the fear of being judged, of course. Am I trying too hard? Not hard enough? Too frumpy? Too showy? More optimistically, though, there’s always the opportunity to bond over your fashion choices. I have friends in my life that I was drawn too simply because I saw them around and liked their coat, or their shoes. Compliment someone on their handbag and you may even spark a friendship into life.
A survey by Simple skincare, which interviewed 2,000 women in 2011, found that 60 percent of women dress to impress their friends – not the opposite sex – when getting ready for an evening out. More recent research also found that when it comes to designer fashion, women often dress more to impress other women than they do to attract men. In 2014, a study called “The Rival Wears Prada” argued that women are in competition with each other, and flaunt their designer wardrobes to intimidate their rivals.
What, then, is the difference between dressing for you and dressing for him? Dressing for you is often all about the quirky, edgy reaches of fashion, the stuff that men just don’t find sexy. Culottes, for example. ‘Ugly’ footwear – hiker sandals, flatforms or Uggs. Oversized sweats. Those modest midi dresses with high necklines, pussybow ties and sleeves that everyone is mad about right now. I’ve had dates with men who never called me afterward because they didn’t like my shoes. I loved my shoes! The media company Man Repeller defined it perfectly when founder Leandra Medine hit on the name in 2010. Man Repeller, which began life as a blog about clothes that women love and men hate, clearly struck a chord: within three days of launching it was featured in Refinery29, and has now matured into a fully-fledged business.
The poster girl for dressing-for-you-not-for-him remains, perhaps, Carrie Bradshaw as portrayed by Sarah Jessica Parker in the Sex and the City TV show and movies. Women loved her – in large part, for her kooky wardrobe packed with quirky tutus and Manolo Blahnik heels. Men? Not so much. According to the Daily Mail, they’d much rather be looking at pictures of Christina Hendricks. It was such a phenomenon that when journalist Hadley Freeman coined the term “the SJP divide” in 2008, it resonated around the internet.
More recently, Phoebe Philo’s collections for Céline, beloved by female fashion insiders, have pretty much defined dressing-for-yourself over the past ten years: understated but seriously cool, its appeal often just passes men by. As Vanessa Friedman put it in the New York Times, “I can’t tell you how many shows I left with male colleagues who were shaking their heads and saying, “I just don’t get it,” while all the women in the audience were making fantasy shopping lists”. When Philo recently left the label, her female fans were distraught.
As for dressing for him, can it really be as simple as a bodycon dress, high heels, and slash of red lipstick? The obvious place to look is the online dating world, and last year, dating app Hinge crunched the numbers to come up with some top tips for your dating profile picture. The results? You’ll get more likes if you ditch the sunglasses (and anything else that obscures your face). Wear your hair up; look away; put on a smile that shows your teeth; and make sure you’re snapped solo, not with other people. Beach photos are 47 percent less likely to receive a like, but playing sports ups your chances by a whopping 166 percent. But apart from banishing your bikini snap in favor of your yoga pants and a netball action shot, there was very little in the research to prove that all men like to see you in a mini dress.
Tinder, meanwhile, analyzed 12,000 profile photos in 2016 and the key takeaway from their study, according to Mashable, was to wear brighter colors. This one is actually backed up by science: studies have found that men really are more attracted to women when they wear something red. Pink will also do at a push – it’s just a slightly softer version of red, after all. Which may explain why my pink dress from Gap had such an effect.
So: back to the dress. I’m pleased he liked it. Maybe I’ll make room for a few more dresses in my wardrobe. But the denim overalls and edgy shoes still have a place there too.