Shimmer and shine season is upon us girls and just like the annoying smog so is this age-old question: Do women dress up for men? The traditional answer is a resounding dah! Isn’t it all about the law of attraction bruh? The mate baiting? The date dazzling? The crush charming?
So, of course yes women dress to impress – men that is! Look around right now and there’s tonnes of material everywhere on the lines of “outfits guys like the most” that list stuff like flirty scarlet pieces considered to be the ultimate sign that a woman wants to draw in the man romantically. Then there are sheer tops, lacy off-shoulders, mid-riff baring tees, figure-hugging classic LBDs, glam skinny denim, embellished minis, dazzling ethnic wear and bold silhouettes – all promising just that right amount of tantalising skin show which doesn’t cross the prudish limits of patriarchal propriety even if some of it may clash a wee bit with what is termed as “discursive identities theory.”
That’s not even a quarter of the whole list though. But you all get the general drift. The focus clearly is to catch the catch if you know what I mean. And it most definitely points to what is known as the “heteronormative narrative” that also lists harem pants, the so-called tent dress, garish goth and maxis as mood dampeners. Women are advised to “burn these” unflattering ensembles pronto if they want to ‘score.’ Interesting!
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress, dress impeccably and they remember the woman,” Coco Chanel is quoted to have famously said. True that but we are still wondering if that “dressing impeccably” by women is for men to “remember the woman.” Hmmm? And just when we feel we are near some sort of a breakthrough on that, there’s this new thing coming up that proclaims: A woman never dresses to impress men, she dresses up to irritate other women.
Was there no better way to resolve the issue than to give it a sadistic twist and start a catfight? Gimme a break.
Who do women dress up for, really?
Research done nearly a decade ago puts this same concept in a better light declaring that “women only get dressed to impress each other.” That I can make my peace with. Yeah, we do like to ‘play dress’ most when getting together with the girlie gang, think – dinner at the social, clubbing on maiden Wednesdays, ladies' nites with curated cosmos, book club meets in boutique cafes or coffee mornings’ catch-ups.
Comedian Tina Fay sums it up rather nicely – “I think women dress for other women to let them know what their deal is. Because if women were only dressing for men, there would be nothing but Victoria’s Secret. There would be no Dior.”
Delving into the psychology of “dressing up” one also realises that the reason why and how women dress up could simply be as staid as “the weather, our upbringing, self or political expression and a bid to identify with the tribe.”
The “you are what you wear” school of thought perpetrates that fashion choices also point to emotional aspects like boosting self-confidence, making a personal style statement, fostering a sense of belonging and the act of social cueing.
Explaining this concept further, a story I came across recently stated that the “clothes we wear not only reflect our personality and values but also shape the way we perceive ourselves.” This is the self-verification theory which suggests that “we tend to seek clothing that aligns with our self-concept, reinforcing our desired identity.”
As far as women are concerned fashion icon YSL, who brought in functional glam and forever changed the way women dressed, gets it bang on when he says “Over the years I have learnt that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.” Before we discuss who women dress for, we first need to “look for the woman in the dress, if there is no woman there is no dress.”
Now that woman once established, apparently has a whole new raison d'etre for dressing up it seems in this Gen Z era – “Men think women dress for them. Dude please, we dress according to our waxing schedules, periods, mood swings, location, season, matching shoes, matching bags, matching lipstick, and availability of suitable underwear. You are not even on that list so chill.”
Practically speaking, this resonates majorly with many of us, isn’t it? Makes up for pretty much 90% of the reasons for the why, the way and the who of our dressing style and choices—pure science.
Having said that I still went about my overthinking on the matter (it’s a Leo trait, I can’t help it) and then it struck me, one of the final ways to put an end to this debate is this:
Say you are stranded on a beautiful island – all alone – not a soul in sight. There’s no man to seduce or woman to grandstand. What would you do girl? Think hard. Take your time. Be true to yourself. Trigger some of that style mojo and then tell me: Would you or would you not dress up? Would it be for yourself then? As for me, I’ve already begun collecting blossoms for my floral bodycon ensemble a la Taylor Swift’s gown at the Grammy’s humming her bff’s Single Soon: “I am pickin out this dress…”
Views expressed by the author are their own
Suggested Reading: To Wear Sari Or Not: Only Women Have The Power To Decide