Don’t agree? Read on, as we investigate what really goes through our minds
when we open our wardrobes…
The other day, my friend turned up at my house sporting a camel cape. “Two of
the season’s key trends in one garment – nice work,” I said.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’m glad someone appreciates it. My boyfriend asked me
why I was dressed as Sherlock Holmes.”
Well, he would, wouldn’t he? Because the fact is that straight men never get
fashion. They think asymmetric dresses are “lopsided”, tiny clutches are
“impractical” and Burberry-style macs too “Inspector Gadget”. And don’t get
them started on Carrie Bradshaw. To women, an icon. To men, “weird”. They’re
utterly bemused by her wardrobe – they don’t think she’s cutting edge, but
that she looks like she got dressed in the dark.
I was at school when I first realised that an outfit is either loved by men or
women, never both. To fit in at the weekends when our uniforms were cast
aside, us girls knew we had to dress right to avoid social suicide. And
where I come from, circa 1993, that meant German jackets from the
army-surplus store, lumberjack shirts and so-not-sexy Dr Martens boots.
But while with the girls, the aim was to conform and blend in, when it came to
boys, just like everyone else, I wanted to be noticed. I wasn’t blonde, but
aged 17 I was lucky enough to be blessed with naturally slim legs, a flat
stomach and an early introduction to the Gossard Wonderbra. Hello boys!
The keys to the holy grails of teenage life – popularity and sex appeal – lay
behind the doors of our wardrobes. Fast-forward 15 years and I’m still
choosing outfits that will get the reaction I want, and I’m not the only
Take my friend Lisa. We all know a Lisa. She’s the girl you’ve never seen
without a full face of make-up and balancing on ridiculous heels. Her
wardrobe is tight and short, and she’s invariably got a team of men drooling
behind her – and more than the occasional look of disdain from passing
OK, no one (including Lisa) really wants to admit they dress for male
approval, because let’s face it, it sounds a bit pathetic doesn’t it? As if
you’re spitting on the word feminism.
But haven’t we fought for equality all these years for the right to dress how
we want? Isn’t flaunting our feminine assets to impress men, or get one over
on them, our prerogative?
Seeking approval is still your driving motivation, even if you dress to
impress other girls. My friend Rachel wears purple tights, military caps and
jumpsuits that flummox guys, but leave us girls open-mouthed in admiration.
To behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings, none of this is a surprise. “We use
clothes both to give out messages about ourselves and to get a reaction from
those around us.
“It’s natural for women to want to dress up, we have an in-built peacock and
like showing off how we look. Originally it was to find a mate, which is why
some women dress for men,” says Jo. “However, as we’ve become more
independent and successful, for some, clothes are now more about social
status in the eyes of other females.”
For the Lisas of this world, having a man check them out is a little ego
boost. While the Rachels are showing that they’ve got their finger on the
I’d always thought I dressed for myself but I’ve realised that’s not true. I
see clothes as my costume, and I dress for my audience even if that audience
When I was working in a man-packed office, I made a conscious decision to
dress “as a grown-up”. But for a girls’ night out recently, I channelled a
bit of Balenciaga – slouchy boyfriend blazer with big shoulders, distressed
T-shirt, silk cargo trousers and heels. The ladies loved it, but the male
friend I bumped into told me I looked like an American footballer in
pyjamas. You can’t please all the people all of the time – and with fashion
we’re always trying to please someone else.
You know you dress for men when…
- You put on stilettos even though you’ve got a 20-minute walk to the pub.
- You match your bra to your top in case it peeks out.
- You don’t own a pair of tights thicker than 10 denier.
- Body-con is not a trend. It’s a way of life.
You know you dress for women when…
- You own a pair of brogues.
- You buy palazzo pants even though they do nothing for your bum.
- Your boyfriend blazer never belonged to your boyfriend.
- You own a jumpsuit despite your man saying that you look like a plumber.
If clothes could talk
Behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings tells us what the stars’ style really
says about them…
Dressing for women:
Victoria Beckham This is a woman who blatantly dresses for other women.
The singer-turned-fashion designer, 36, knows that they will look at her and
say: “Wow! I want to look like that.” Victoria’s style is demure but on
trend, which are classic hallmarks of those who want approval of their peers
Lily Allen Sometimes you find that there are women who dress for women
because it’s just the safer option and Lily, 25, is a prime example of this.
The singer actually has a great figure but doesn’t seem confident about
showing it off. Instead she covers up but does so in seriously high-end
labels that other women will covet and admire.
Alexa Chung The TV presenter, 27, knows she doesn’t have an overtly
sexy figure or look, so doesn’t choose things that will cling or show too
much flesh. Her love of quirky, cutting-edge fashion suggests she’s playing
to a female audience.
Dressing for men:
Cheryl Cole The singer, 27, is a tease, always having a bit of cleavage
or leg (or both!) on display. She also loves showing off her back – a very
Katie Price A lady who may as well wear a sign saying: “Come and get
me, boys!” The former model, 32, always flaunts the assets she’s built a
Kelly Brook While other areas of her career, like acting and
presenting, haven’t always gone to plan, Kelly, 31, knows she has a body men
adore, so she does all she can to show it off through how she dresses.
The rule breaker:
There is one exception to the rule: Lady Gaga. The singer, 24, only
dresses for her career. Looking outrageous has become her USP. All she cares
about is being noticed. And we’d bet our meat hats she doesn’t care what you
think of that.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CATWALKING.COM, REX, BARCROFT MEDIA, DAVID FISHER, FEATURE FLASH