Who do you dress for?

I bet it’s not something you ponder on a daily basis, even though, at some level, it informs every clothing-related decision you make; it influences your style, which in turns determines what clothes you buy and how you wear them.

Generally speaking, I am of the view that “your style is your business”. Unlike other areas of human endeavour, style is supremely subjective. Style bloggers who willingly wear high-waisted jeans prove that. But an article I read last week made me break from my stance long enough to write this post. In it, the writer proudly asserted her choice to “dress for men” – a choice I support as an exercise of free will, though I disagree with its merits. [I pause to add that this, to me, is the epitome of “feminist sisterhood”. I will come back to this later.] All fine and good so far. The writer then proceeded to list a number of increasingly stupid propositions – from “men don’t like red lipstick” to “men don’t like cardigans” to the final, glorious conclusion that “men don’t like feminists”. Excuse me while I execute a face palm.

And I’m back.

Before I tackle the “f” word, let’s deal with that whole “dressing for men” business. It’s fine. Just like watching what passes for programming on TLC, or reading Fifty Shades of Grey – it’s fine. It might not be the best use of your time and resources, but it’s fine. You want to lend a hand in the objectification of your body, you go right ahead. But, please, don’t be smug about something that takes so little effort. Also, this just in: men don’t care about what you wear. Not in the sense that it significantly affects their assessment of your hotness (which is, presumably, what girls who “dress for men” are concerned about). At best, it factors into their assessment of your likely receptivity to their advances (and most girls who “dress for men” are only undiscriminating in regards to whom they want to attract, not whom they are willing to accept). The discourse around the unintended and misapprehended messages of women’s attire is too swampy a morass to wade into here, but the point I want to make is simple: I’m pretty sure no guy would find Miranda Kerr any less desirable for wearing a potato sack, whilst no amount of push-up bras and guy-approved lipstick would make Susan Boyle the next Victoria’s Secret angel. So what’s the point of “dressing for men” again?

[On a related note, “dressing for your man” is also likely to be a waste of time because, if your man is anything like mine, his favourite outfit will be the one that involves little or no clothing at all. Just sayin’.]

Another reason is that men are not a monolith; as individuals are wont to do, they tend to defy broad categorizations. Some men hate red lipstick. Some men hate nude lipstick. Some men hate lipstick. Some men hate red lipstick on blondes, but love it on brunettes. Some men can’t tell when someone is wearing lipstick. Some men wear lipstick. The world is a great and wondrous place, filled with endless variety. For every masculine prototype you can muster, there are hundreds of others who resemble it not at all. So who are you really dressing for when you “dress for men”?

Who do I dress for? That’s easy: me. I don’t see why getting dressed is any different from any of the myriad other personal tasks I might undertake in a day. I don’t choose what I eat or read because of the appeal my choices might have for some hypothetical audience. What I wear, eat, or read can certainly influence how I am perceived by others, but I don’t see that as sufficient reason to edit my decisions. I have no interest in “playing pretend” my entire life; after a while, it’s simply exhausting. Oh, and for the record, I’m OK with being judged for wearing cardigans. I like cardigans. I don’t mind looking like a librarian. I loved being a librarian.

When it comes to style, I’m like the honey badger. Honey badger knows what honey badger likes, and honey badger don’t give a f*** what anyone else thinks about that. Honey badger will enjoy his honey, never mind the stinging bees, thankyouverymuch. And I will continue to enjoy my kitten heels, and my boyfriend chinos, and my cardigans, and my occasional red lipstick … and for no other reason than because I like them.

And, finally, because I said I would, let’s talk about the “f” word: feminism. Feminism is a sort of philosophical Hydra. Everywhere you look, another “version” of feminism pops up. Some are uglier than others to behold. So before anyone can venture sweeping generalizations about feminists, we really ought to make sure that everyone is on the same page about what “being a feminist” means. If the “dressing for men” writer thinks that feminists are people who “hate” men then, yes, I’m willing to concede that men probably dislike feminists. I don’t know about you, but I’m generally not overly-fond of people who purposefully antagonize me. I am also prepared to assume that there are, indeed, people who self-identify as feminists and who also self-identify as being “anti-men”. So what? There are a bunch of white people out there who are proud to call themselves racists. Would anyone be prepared to go so far as to say that all white people are racists? So, let’s try this again: what is being a feminist all about?

I consider myself a feminist, and to me, feminism is about respect. Respect for the autonomy and dignity of the individual – female or male. This is not a notion that is entirely alien to our society, just one that tends to be applied more consistently to one gender than the other. To respect someone’s autonomy means recognizing their basic human right to make free and informed decisions with regards to their person, their legal rights, and their possessions, and upholding the exercise of that right even when the result offends your religious, ethical or aesthetic sensibilities. To respect someone’s dignity means recognizing their inherent worth as a human being, separate and apart from any differentiating qualities and abilities. And differences exist. Not just between men and women, but between people in general. Not all differences are gender-based. Some personal qualities and abilities have higher social value than others; in some cases, that value is dependent on the context (cultural, temporal or other), and in some not. It’s idiotic to pretend those different don’t exist, or that they don’t have real-life implications. But the basic, inalienable worth of a human being is not contextual, and it’s not gender-based either. Recognizing it in (all) others is the minimum prerequisite for being part of (and benefitting from) a lawful, stable society.

If feminism means something else to you – hey, it’s a free country; might as well make the most of our right and freedom to agree to disagree. But to those who would condemn it, I say “have at it” … but know that you are doing nothing more than shadow-boxing with your own prejudices.

So, dear readers: who do you dress for?

10 Comments on Dressing for men: a rebuttal

  1. Love the article. So funny!

    I dress for me! And as the mother of a young daughter, I have started to think about dressing for her too – i.e. trying to lead by stylish example

  2. I love your analogy about their being a subset of feminists who hate men, and a subset of white people who are racist, but in neither case is it fair to universally say “feminists hate men” or “white people are racist.” That’s a fantastic way to put it!

  3. I thought about this today at lunch and then realized who I dress for. I dress for the weather. Don’t laugh – I’m completely serious! I make sure that my dress is appropriate for the occasion: going to work, hanging out on the weekend, walking the dog, going out for a nice dinner; but my overriding concern is always the weather. Do I need a heavy coat to walk the dog or just a light sweater? Which cardigan do I wear to work knowing that it will be cold in the morning, 27 degrees in my office, and warm on the LRT going home?

    I guess I do dress for myself given that I picked out all of my clothes myself. And, sure, sometimes I’ll wear a certain thing because I know the hubby likes that colour, or that neckline or that hemline. However, I always keep in mind the weather so that I’m not too cold or too hot.

    • Dressing for the weather is very pragmatic. But, still, I’d say that you dress for you – weather demands, even here, still leave a lot of room for personal choices … although, I suppose, cardigans become a necessity 😉

  4. I dress for myself, always have. Okay except that my ex did like pink and I only had those few pink items for him. Sorry, hate pink!!! I find if you are confident in yourself, it translates into how you carry yourself and that is a very attractive trait.

    • Totally agree! Although I don’t think dressing for your man is wrong, per se. As long as it’s something he appreciates (as in, he has opinions on women’s fashion and is interested in it), then it’s definitely a valid goal. I certainly appreciate it when my husband wears things he knows I like. It’s only a waste of time if, like a lot of men, your partner doesn’t really have feelings about it one way or another. Then you might as well dress for yourself, since presumably, that’s one person you can impress for sure 😉