Awesome Comment Award: Tsara on “Girl Clothes”

Reader tsara left the following comment on a post about the modesty doctrine and rape culture:

…seriously, guys actually think that women dress for them? What sort of thought processes do they imagine go into picking out clothing? For me it’s mostly

‘is this clean?’

‘does it more or less match’

‘will my mother say it makes me look like an old woman with too many cats’

‘would I get looked at funny for walking around the mall like this’

‘is it comfortable enough to wear all day’

‘is it situation-appropriate’

‘is it weather-appropriate’

‘does it reveal the fact that I haven’t shaved my armpits/legs in way too long’

‘is my hair going to get caught in the zipper/buttons’

‘is my bra visible through my shirt’

‘do my pants stay up without a belt’

‘do I flash people when I bend over’

‘where did that nice shirt go — why can I never find anything’

‘these pantyhose have a run in them — can’t wear a skirt’

‘this shirt is getting see-through — why are girl-clothes so flimsy’


Girl-clothes are complicated. I, personally, am not a particularly ‘on top of things’ sort of person and just getting dressed in appropriate clothes requires way too much thought to add the variable of ‘what will dudes think of me in this’. Mind you, I’m also asexual and things like that just don’t (usually) occur to me. I will think of ‘will this make people stare at me’, but sexual attraction-related thoughts tend to come somewhere after clothing-related doomsday scenarios.

Also, I will sometimes say ‘I give up’ and go with, I don’t know, sweatpants and a corset because I like sweatpants and I like corsets and I sometimes just don’t have the energy to think of everything. (Seventeen years of school uniforms, plus ADD and sporadic depression, in case you’re wondering.)

I think tsara makes an excellent point, and it’s one I plan to follow up on in some future posts. There seems to be a subset of men that assumes that women dress always and solely for the benefit of the men around them, and this seems to feed into both the idea that women are fair game for public consumption (think street harassment) and the idea that women should be dressing for men, but so as to avoid men’s attention and not vice versa (think the modesty doctrine).

So I have to ask. What goes through your head when you get dressed? What considerations do you weigh? Do you dress only for yourself, and when do you dress for others? And guys, how about you? A comparison might be interesting.

Steve Is a Man: On Minecraft and Gender
The Modesty Rules---Not So Simple, Really
Nine-Year-Old Sluts and Masturbating Dinner Guests
Why Does Lily Work Two Jobs while Carl is Unemployed?
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Sheila Crosby

    I don’t ever remember dressing for men in general. Back in the Jurassic when I was dating, I’d wear something I expected my date to like, and I still like to look good for my husband sometimes. But mostly I dress for myself and occasionally other women.

    I remember my brother-in-law talking about a girl he’d seen wearing a short skirt in her car. By the sound of it, he’d had a good leer at her, and she gave him a dirty look. And he was saying, “Since she dressed like that, she wants me to look at her.” No matter what the women there said, he simply wouldn’t believe that women might dress for themselves. With hindsight, I wish I’d been cruel enough to be honest. “She certainly didn’t want to attract you mate. Someone thirty years younger, maybe, but not you.”

  • Veronica

    I’m not even interested in guys, if I dress for anyone it’s other women. Usually I just dress for comfort., or at least as comfortable as I can be at work. :)

  • Alexis

    I always thought as dress and makeup as a sport, a competition between women. Men didn’t enter into it at all. In our family the biggest sport was finding an item that we wanted in the store, and waiting for weeks as it was reduced in price, to see how cheaply we could get it or if we would wait too long and miss it altogether. Or finding an item for what we wanted to pay, and peeling back the old labels to see how much we saved off the original price. We knew how to make last years fashions look stylish. So when did you ever hear a guy say “Are you going to wear that? It’s so last year. Can’t you put on something more up-to-date?”

  • The_L

    I buy things based on how cool I think they look at the time. “Cool” is totally subjective and has little to do with what society is into at a given time, or what looks attractive on me (I find that out later, during the long, arduous process of Weeding Out that occurs in the dressing room), or even what any sane person would consider pulling off the racks. If I’d known that Hot Topic existed in middle school, my mother would have had a heart attack. I would probably have worn one of those shirts with flared “angel” sleeves under a neon-pink mesh tank top and a black pleather corset. With a miniskirt and fishnets. And combat boots.

    Instead, all my clothes came from Goody’s (remember Goody’s?) and JC Penney. I was crushed when Goody’s went out of business in 2008 and I had to re-learn which brands of pants almost-fit my curves.

    I am 27 and am still learning which fabrics look good with which other fabrics. Color matching I’ve pretty much got down.

  • Miranda

    It’s mostly about comfort for me, but I find that the main thing I dress for is to cover up my insecurities. Does this make my hips look big? Does this emphasise how small my waist is, so I feel like I’m not gargantuan? No matter how much weight I lose, or how thin everyone asserts I am, I find that I’m still somewhat enslaved to the distorted mirror image mocking me. I don’t dress for men. I dress to cover up! I’m sure not all women are anywhere near as insecure, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of us feel the pressure of societal “norms” declaring that we can’t have any tummy pooches (damn, abs need to get with the program), must have perfectly long legs with no cellulite, and so on and so forth. Even if some aren’t as beholden to the demands as others, the annoying little “you better look like this” is always there.
    As I get older, of course, I’ve become much more concerned with longevity in clothing. I seriously can’t afford to be terribly “up to date,” so I just get things that I know will last and will match lots of other pieces I have lying around.

  • Azura

    I definitely dress for me. I want to feel strong, powerful, and sexy. I do not care what other people think of what I wear, or else I wouldn’t wear a cloak all winter. I do like to dress in a way that will impress my boyfriend, but that’s about it. I put a lot of effort into my clothes because to me my wardrobe is an art form. I express myself through my clothes, and clearly the concept of “myself” is not contingent on which males happen to be observing me at any given time. I enjoy aesthetics, but I only give a crap about the appreciation of what I create from people I care about or admire. I don’t care what Joe Random on the street thinks about it, but I’m proud of it and my boyfriend and other partners definitely stick my art on the fridge so to speak :P

  • BlissfulHeretic

    I mainly dress for me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care what other people think. But it’s less about impressing men than wanting to look nice in general–if anything, I’m more likely to care about what my female friends think than some random dude on the street. But I also don’t usually put a whole lot of effort into my appearance. I wear makeup about half the time–75% of the time when I’m leaving the house (currently unemployed college grad). My typical outfit when going out is jeans, a comfortable top layered over a close-fitting cami, my black coat, a colored scarf, and my comfy and well-worn brown boots. The only situation where I’m actively trying to impress somebody is a job interview.

  • Ember

    Living in New England – I dress for the weather! No matter the situation, that’s my number one thought when I’m putting an outfit together. How many layers do I need if it gets as cold as is predicted? How heavy should the heaviest layer be? If it gets warm instead, what can I strip down to? Is the warm, strip-down layer too bulky under the middle layer? Or if I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to think about it: tank top, long-sleeved shirt, t-shirt, hoodie, and throw a jacket in the car.

    When I’m shopping, I’m looking at fit and function. I’m active, and it’s important that what I buy not fall apart. Unfortunately this often means shopping in men’s departments.

    I do like to look good, but for myself, not the general public. For a few years, I really let myself go. All I wore was torn up, stained work clothes. I reached a point where I often didn’t even bother to get dressed on my days off and went out in pajamas. Looking back I was working off the idea that clothing is materialistic and appearance shouldn’t matter. Only after a while, I started to feel like a slob. It wasn’t a lack of self-esteem, but a feeling that I wasn’t taking care of myself anymore.

    Interestingly, my boyfriend played into my beyond-casual attire. I already had the belief that appearance doesn’t matter, and then here comes this guy that also doesn’t care what I’m wearing, and loves seeing me in his basketball shorts and XL t-shirts. He thinks my work jeans are sexy for some reason I still can’t fathom. I wasn’t dressing for him so much as working with an attitude of “why bother if neither of us cares?” Only as it turned out, I DO care.

    The turning point was a general comment a friend of mine made. “How can women dress like lumberjacks and expect to feel sexy?” I hadn’t really thought about it, but suddenly I realized that I dress like a lumberjack, and I most certainly do not feel sexy. I can see and enjoy that my boyfriend thinks I am, but -I- do not feel sexy – not in the way that I want to be. So I started dressing up sometimes, just because I feel like it.

    Sometimes I still dress like a slob, grabbing whatever I reach first and not even bothering to look in the mirror on the way out the door. I really enjoy having the ability to just not care. But sometimes I dress up just to go get coffee and gas. I do my hair, put on something cute and don’t even leave the house. It makes me feel good, and I enjoy that too.

  • Mayonnaise Jane

    Mostly I think “Have I worn this outfit in the past 3 days? No? Good.”

  • Michele Cox

    “Is this ok for work? Does it match? Does it have holes/stains/etc.? Oh, good – victory is mine!” ((Or, on the third time through, “does it have holes/stains/etc.? Dammit. Will they show? Much…?”))