Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who Do You Dress For?

When I first came to Smith three years ago, I thought that one of the benefits of going to a women's college would be that most of the time, I wouldn't need to consider what boys would think of my outfit when I got dressed in the morning. I could wear pajamas to class without second guessing what my crush might think of me, I'd never have to be self-conscious about not wearing makeup. It wasn't long before I realized that the benefits of looking put-together extended well past getting guys to like me.

Even if I spend most of my day in the company of women, I still make sure that I leave the house every morning (or at least most mornings) feeling good about what I'm wearing and how I look. When I'm happy with how I'm presenting myself to the world, I feel more confident and self-assured in all my actions throughout the day. Even though my daily wardrobe is pretty basic (usually consisting of a sweater, jeans, flats and a dressy coat), I feel 100 times better on days when I put a little effort into my look than when I spend the day in sweats. And I really believe that other people (mainly my classmates and professors) treat me differently when my appearance is more put-together and mature.

I think that part of growing up is recognizing that it's far more fulfilling to dress for yourself than to dress to impress other people, particularly men. I got to thinking about this topic when I read this recent Fashionista post which discussed how many Middle Eastern women incorporate fashion into their lives, even if it's hidden under a robe or only shown to other women on special occasions. The article referenced in the post mentions how many teenage girls own Western clothing that they only wear in the privacy of their bedrooms. There's no question that fashion is transformative and empowering, but it's interesting that the effect is still so strong even if no one else sees what you're wearing. I'm not a big lingerie person, but I have a number of friends who love wearing beautiful lingerie on a daily basis, and I think it follows the same idea.


When people say that women dress only for other women and not for men, I tend to think they're neglecting a third category- those who dress for themselves. I really think that if you polled that third group, they would have the highest levels of confidence and satisfaction.

What do you think?

16 comments:

Arlene said...

How totally right.

It never seems to occur (even to retailers) that women do, in fact, often dress to make themselves feel more confident or powerful.

This is where so much fashion today fails us completely. It's easy to find sweatsuits, 50 kinds of jeans (even if none of them fit), and athletic shoes. It's HARD to find reasonably priced, attractive suits. That's no accident.

When I'm in a nice cozy rut, I slide, fashion-wise, into comfort wear. When I know I have to confront, convince, or produce, I want confidence-building clothes.

Harry Monroe said...

My mother taught at a women's college for years. She noticed that some of her students would dress to the 9's on test days. To quote a character in American Beauty, "In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times."

laura said...

Whether you calling it "having a signature style" or just "dressing for yourself" I can definitely relate-- there are just certain things I know make me look how I *want* to look. They present an image of myself that I like. And I don't care if they are on trend or not, I like 'em.
I think the reason I tend to have a LOT of clothes is because I have things for when I dress for family (mine and husband's) things for when I dress for work, things for when I dress for my husband, and things for when I dress for myself. I get pretty caught up in being appropriate to the audience and the event. This could stem from minoring in theatre and taking 5 cotume classes...

WendyB said...

I dress for gay men, of course! ;-)

Anonymous said...

As a fellow women's college attendee, I can definitely relate. I dressed down in a hoodie, sneakers, and sweats the other day, but I felt awkward and uncomfortable the whole time. I changed right when I got back to my dorm, even though all I had to do for the rest of the day was write a paper and eat dinner. If I look sloppy I feel sloppy (or maybe vice versa), but when I'm well-dressed I never fail to feel fiiine.

Cristina said...

I'm a student but I dress moderately well everyday (dress pants and sweater with blazer) because as an architecture student, I do a lot of presentations... even on non presentation days, I always want my professors to see me as professional and serious about my work. I may be cute and sexy with my friends and boyfriend, but out in the world, I am dressing to be perceived as a serious, intelligent person. If I am feeling poorly, I just put on my velvet wide leg pants and a soft cardie. Just as comfy as sweats, but I look well put together.

Meghan said...

I think that this issue of clothing also ties in well with a woman's weight; it is difficult for me to not be self-conscious about my weight and appearance when visiting family members who will notice (and might comment) whether I have gained or lost weight since our last visit.
Since family members have placed a huge emphasis on the importance of my appearance, it has become difficult for me to discern whether I am dressing for myself, or in order to please them.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you brought this up! I'm a college professor, and one thing that irritates me to no end is students who dress for class as if they are going clubbing! I guess this is a little different than just schlubbing around in sweats, but it certainly sends a message that they are not serious about their studies and want the men in their classes to see their bodies first and foremost. Perhaps it is slightly different at a women's college? Regardless, wearing very suggestive or tight clothing really will make it harder for professors to take students seriously.

lisa said...

It's an interesting question, and I can never tell; I dress for different people in different situations. My workplace has no dress code but I still like to wear a skirt or dress to work sometimes. When I go out clubbing or I'm around a guy I like, I dress a bit sexier. Mostly I dress for myself so that I feel confident and comfortable in any scenario, though.

Meg the Florida Bargain Queen said...

I love dressing up, so I do it regularly, even if I'm just going to class or to the grocery store.

I'm married to a guy who loved me just as much when I was wearing baggy t-shirts and borrowing his jeans, so I'm not really dressing up for him -- though he definitely likes showing me off when I do.

And most of my friends are very casual dressers who could care less what I wore.

Mostly, I just like the feeling of looking in the mirror and seeing myself in an outfit that's flattering and interesting.

kate said...

I agree. I'm a student as well, and to most my classes I'd wear cardigans , nicer shirts, and sometimes skirts. I think it makes you look like you don't care when you look as if you rolled out of bed and into class.

20something said...

Great Blog!

As a recent college grad myself, I agree completely. I know that when i wore the typtical college logo sweatshirt, i never felt quite right. Unlike my classmates, I ALWAYS showered and dressed (usually jeans, sweater/blazer and low boots) even if it was for an 8 am class. I never have considered myself a very well dressed person... but I have since heard that many people considered me to be... I am guessing thats because I never wore my PJs throughout the day like my classmates.

RachelH said...

I think that in college I started off with a very casual style, but when I started taking more classes in the business school things changed. It was a real eye opener. There were frequently VPs and other corporate management from local companies who came to do guest lectures, and there were seminars and such, and everyone was always very conscious of how they dressed (for that reason, among others). After that I started to pay more attention, and now (almost 4 years into the workforce) I can't imagine going out without at least putting myself together - even if I'm wearing jeans and a sweater. My idea of "running around" casual has developed too - now I feel comfortable wearing a dress and boots out around, where a couple of years ago I would have felt really overdressed.

Anonymous said...

i dress for myself. i find that my clothes matching my mood is more important to how i feel in my clothes than anything else. if i want to feel cozy on a cold day, i dress cozy. if i want to look more put-together, i dress more put-together. i understand that people are treated better depending on how they dress. but i've come to care less and less about that. my work speaks for itself among my co-workers, and i don't deal with the public. (woohoo!) actually, just yesterday i persuaded my boss to let the guys i manage off the hook of having to wear ties. i figure if they want to wear 'em, fine. but they don't deal with the public either, and i'd like to give 'em their time back from ironing dress shirts by giving them a choice.

Anonymous said...

I dress primarily for myself. I am an artist and my body is my canvas. Dress up if fun. I spent most of my younger years painfully shy, plain and unnoticed. I was also quite overweight for a few years. Now at 40 I have evolved into a fashion plate and I love the compliments I receive from men and women alike. It makes me feel powerful and confident to dress well, it relieves some of the self-consciousness I still feel to a large degree. When I look good that's one less thing for me to worry about.

Kasmira said...

I also see my outfits in an artistic sense. I'm a canvas. I'm likely to wear something that isn't necessarily flattering if I think it's artistically interesting.

I dress for myself first, and for other women second. Men only seem to care about what I wear if they are (1) gay or (2) able to see some flesh.

After posting daily outfits on my blog for over a year now, I also consider my readers when I dress. I like to catch their attention - good or bad!

Kasmira
whatiwore2day.blogspot.com