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On ‘going out’ clothes and sexual attractiveness

primary colours african wax print dress

This is the outfit I posted the other day, but there was more I wanted to say about it, but couldn’t fit in with all the waxing lyrical about my globular bum. I’ve been thinking a lot about slutwalks recently. So much fantastic stuff as been written about that topic (as well as some pretty offensive stuff) so I don’t really want to talk about the walks themselves that much or the discussions about rape that inspired them, but instead my perceptions more generally about connections between what you wear and your willingness to get off with people, or otherwise.

But the funny thing is that as far as I have always understood the word slut, or its British equivalent slapper, as a derogatory term, is about people (well, women, I suppose) who sleep with a lot of people, or do so quickly anyway, or sleep with people they’re not meant to, like their friend’s boyfriends. It applied, as far as I knew, as much to people in trackie bottoms and tshirts as in a boobtube and miniskirt.

By the same token, I really don’t associate revealing clothing with promiscuity or being ‘easy’ or what ever you want to call it. I wore the outfit in the photo for girly cocktails at Harvey Nicks and the bars on George Street, where people generally dress up a lot a la Footballers’ Wives. And there were some classic examples and I will freely admit that I wasn’t entirely judgement free. Seeing girls in dresses that barely cover their bums, bare fake tan orange legs and platform skyscraper heels they can’t really walk in does sometimes make me snigger and feel a little embarrassed for them. But it’s because that kind of get up is just so unflattering on some (most) people, not because I in any way think that these girls are out looking for sex or anything like that.

These kinds of ‘going out clothes’ people wear on a girly night out are just a particular way of dressing. They’re a sign that you’ve made an effort, that the night is in some way special. It’s a bonding thing between girls more than anything. I recognise the ‘going out clothes’ culture myself, and the outfit at the top is my attempt at/version of it. The skirt is shorter than usual, there are heels, and bare arms. Hair straighteners were deployed and nails were painted. Yeah, I’m wearing tights and the heels are really not very heely at all, so compared to the Footballer’s Wives girls, I was looking very covered up. But the skimpiness gap between this and what I usually wear is probably the same as the gap between what those girls usually wear and what they wear on a night out. It’s the same impulse to dress up that led me to choose my outfit and it wasn’t about attracting male attention.

I don’t think it has anything very much to do with boys and I don’t think boys make the short skirt = ‘easy’ association as much as people assume.* If some guy is out looking to pull and gets chatting to a group of girls, I don’t think he’d neccessarily go for the girl that wears the skimpiest clothes, he’d go for the girl that was flirting with him the most. Body language and actual language override clothes, surely.

What do you think? Are going out clothes about looking attractive to the other (or same) gender? If not, what do you think drives the culture that determines what people wear for a night out? What drives your own clothing choices on such occassions?

* I have asked Dave about this and he says not, but then I suppose he has been conditioned by a decade of living with me and is hardly the most representative example of a guy looking to pick someone up in a bar for a one night stand. So this is pretty much pure conjecture on my part, but sensible conjecture I hope you’ll agree.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Veshoevius 3 July 2011, 7:55 am

    I think you raise some great points – like slut being used for women of a certain behaviour regardless of what they are wearing.  On Friday or Saturday nights I see just about every young woman from their mid twenties and under wearing the same uniform to go out – a dress or skirt just long enough to cover their bum, no tights and high high heels.  The old adage of show cleavage or show legs but not both to avoid looking tarty is blatantly ignored.  Maybe its just the fashion? I stopped bothering buying stuff at Topshop because they just didn't do seem to make garments with hemlines longer than thigh high in anything anymore. But I find it hard to believe that dressing in this way is done without some intention of making themselves sexually attractive.  And if you observe how men look at girls dressed like this it is obvious that it gets the attention of a good fraction of them.  Part of me says to myself why not, enjoy being young.  The other worries about their personal safety after they've got roaring drunk and forget how little they are actually wearing.

  • oranges_and_apples 3 July 2011, 8:34 am

    I see what you're saying, but its the drunkenness that makes people unsafe,
    not the clothes, surely. There is of course that thing about how society
    allows men taking advantage to use the clothes as an excuse, but I guess I'm
    thinking more of situations where everyone is basically decent.

    I do dislike the way all the skirts in topshop are so short too though! But
    for reasons of aesthetics and choice for people (like me) who don't want to
    go short.

  • Sadie 3 July 2011, 11:40 am

    I agree with you about 'going-out clothes' being far more about female bonding than about attracting men – think of all the conferring about who's wearing what that goes on beforehand. It's about making the night feel special, and building a group identity, and in my (admittedly years out of date) experience pulling on that kind of a night out as usually seen as not quite the done thing. I think the link with sex is more to do with the way our society sees fashion and sex as linked than it is to do with the women's intentions.

    Also, I think it's rather disturbing that something which women see as about friendship/bonding is viewed by society as being about attracting men – which, of course, brings us back to the rationale behind the slutwalks, which as I understand it is about trying to get men to see that the way women dress is not necessarily about them.

  • madam0wl a.k.a Sandra 3 July 2011, 1:10 pm

    I love that you wore that outfit out to bars!  I've not been "out to the bars" in forever.  The last time I went out with a bunch of girlfriends, it happened to be a bar, was a year ago and I wore a mid-calf length vintage sleeveless dress with a pair of converse and a cropped sweater, which I put on last minute to cover my upper arms, which I wasn't feeling particularly happy about at the time.  I wanted to look cute, but pretty much covered, as I was at my heaviest weight in recent years and just wasn't feeling all that "hot."  In contrast, if I were to do a GNO this summer, I'd be baring way more flesh.  Not to attract men, but to show off the results of a year of working out.  

    I've been wanting to write something about "slutty" dress vs "modest" dress (mostly my intention/motivation behind dressing either way) but haven't formulated it yet.  This post of yours is a good place to get me thinking…   

    I agree with your definition of slut, that it applies more to actions than looks.  However I've also grown up with a lighterweight definition of slut, as a joking term to call a friend, particularly one who has made an effort to dress up, in a somewhat sexy way.  Or used as a way to describe revealing clothing, i.e. "these are my slutty clothes."  In this case, it is applied more to looks than actions, as I had "slutty clothes" in high school, but was a virgin until early college (when I was actually dressing more modestly [grunge-y] again, due to weight gain / body confidence).     

  • Cynthia 3 July 2011, 1:18 pm

    I'm typically a fairly covered up person and always have been.  I don't necessarily judge girls wearing the highest heels with the tightest dresses or shortest skirts as "sluts" because I don't know their specific intentions, but that whole getup screams "desperate for attention" to me.  We were watching Hoarders last night, and one of the Hoarders was a woman who built mountains of unworn clothes in her house.  She was a professional and old enough to have a teen daughter, so probably in her late 40s/early 50s.   She was kitted out in superwhite bleached "blonde" hair, heavy eyeliner and lipstick, and tight, short, pink and/or animal print clothing throughout the show.  The girls in their club clothes strike me as the younger versions of that — willing to put on clothes that don't always look good on them, heels that they can barely stagger in, and loads of makeup because they want attention/approval so badly, whether from their girlfriends or from men.  For some of them it may be true to themselves and they may be comfortable, but there are other girls in the same bunch who you'll see looking self-conscious as they tug on their straps or pull their dresses down or surreptitiously take off their shoes.

    I like your going out outfit.  It's fun but true to your own character and style.

  • Power Femme 3 July 2011, 3:46 pm

    Nice post. I like your point about the process of donning 'going out clothes' is one of bonding for women, but I do still feel that it is fundamentally about looking good. Sadly, the mainstream ideal of "looking good" is really sexualized. Attractiveness, particularly for women, is socially constructed to communicate sexiness; so if you want to "look good" in the conventional sense, you have to conform to those standards. But regardless, I am still baffled that people read the "sexiness" of clothing as an invitation for sexual activity. What happened to consent, people? I am so tired of the "she asked for it" argument; it doesn't matter if I am wearing a potato sack or a miniskirt or doing cartwheels down the street naked- you can't touch the cash and prizes unless I give you the verbal go ahead.

  • No Guilt Fashion 3 July 2011, 3:47 pm

    As someone who never had time to really dress up in "going out clothes" I never fully understood what thought process girls used getting ready for girl's night. I put in the same amount of effort, and usually wear the same type of things, when going out with my husband as I do when going out with the girls as little as that happens.

  • Helgavontrollop 3 July 2011, 10:21 pm

    Me,I dress for myself on all occasions because it gives me pleasure!
    I suppose there are some who are out hoping to meet Mr Right,and dress specifically to attract the attention of the opposite sex,and good luck to them.Society does seem to attach major importance to having a man,being married etc,and there are those who subscribe to this belief.Lots probably are similar to me,they wear what makes them feel good and just want to have a good time without fuss.
    All in all,I understand why there are these "slutwalks";I get the point,it's a very good one.
    x

  • Claire 3 July 2011, 10:30 pm

    This is enormously interesting! Body-revealment as ritual rather than mating call.

    Feeling accepted with your crew, the bodily power of enjoyment and good times and camaraderie.. maybe the shorter skirts and lower necklines are a full-bodied alternative for muscle-flexing?

  • Fashionforgiants 4 July 2011, 3:27 am

    It's like you're reading my mind (which is super impressive 'cause you're doing it from all the way across the pond).  I am going out with friends in a couple of weeks for dinner and a drag show and I'm torn on what to wear.  I want to wear vintage which is pretty covered up, but I know at least one of my friends will be wearing something impossibly short coupled with impossibly high heels.  But, that's not me.

    The weird thing is that it's not my body that keeps me from wearing my body-con leopard print dress, it's my mind.  And it's not that I'm uncomfortable mentally (or physically) in a dress like that, it's just that it seem so lacking imagination.  And it seems like overkill to me.  The leopard dress is good for Vegas, but for Oregon, I don't understand why girls dress like video vixens.  If it's to attract men, I'm single, should I be dressing in an overtly sexual manner?

    And, if going out is about bonding with the girls, and not about attracting men, does that mean I should try to fit in and show more skin because that's what the other girls are doing?  And if it's about bonding, why does it feel like a competition?  I know they say women don't dress for men, that they dress for other women, but I think women dress to intimidate other women, to be "the pretty one."

    Or, I'm a hyper-competitive American and that's why I feel pressure to participate in the one-upping that going out with girl friends represents to me.

    Anyway, loved this post.  Very thought-provoking.

  • Penny Dreadful 4 July 2011, 4:16 pm

    I think what you wear has more to do with your girlfriends than what you think will attract men. Particularly since so many girls who wear short skirts have boyfriends or aren't interested in 'picking up'! I sometimes wear short skirts because I have good legs, it would rile me up no end if it was seen as being some sort of 'signal'.

  • Francesca Olivo 4 July 2011, 5:38 pm

    Great post. I agree that girls night out clothes are mostly about the girl bonding thing. Another thing I believe is that girls wearing sexy clothes often do so to "feel" sexy rather than (or as well as) to "look" sexy. It's about looking in the mirror and feeling good about oneself, feeling attractive. With or without the intention of actually attract male attention. Another thing: aside from the risks (like you said, let's assume we're talking about a situation where everyone is decent) I still don't understand why a girl looking for easy sex is still viewed in a more negative way as her male equivalent…

  • Castle Fashion 4 July 2011, 8:11 pm

    " Seeing girls in dresses that barely cover their bums, bare fake tan orange legs and platform skyscraper heels they can't really walk in does sometimes make me snigger and feel a little embarrassed for them. But it's because that kind of get up is just so unflattering on some (most) people, not because I in any way think that these girls are out looking for sex or anything like that." I second this…

    I was having a conversation with my suite mates about it a few months ago and how girls some times are "asking for it." My friend Natalie was saying arguing that a girl wouldn't dress that way if she didn't want sex…But I don't really see it that way. I think a lot of the girls that dress like that want attention not sex. They want to feel pretty and get looks and whatnot. I don't know…it's a tough topic to discuss. Thank you for posting this though. 

    Yasmeen
    Castle Fashion

  • The Waves 5 July 2011, 1:24 am

    I agree with you wholeheartedly on this – girls dressing up to go out is all about bonding, although I do think Fashionforgiants raised some interesting questions about women dressing for other females as a form of competition; I might have to think about that more before I have an answer. I also find the connections between the word "slut" and how a person dresses (as apposed to the way they might act) confusing. Sure, the entire term is derogatory, but as far as I can tell, it is all about action and not appearance.

  • oranges_and_apples 6 July 2011, 7:47 am

    I think that's a really good point that come out in some of the other
    comments too, although it's not at all about sex, the way women dress on a
    night out still sexualised because of the way it's talked about in the
    media.

  • oranges_and_apples 6 July 2011, 7:50 am

    Interesting! For me, slut is a very strong word and i would never ever use
    it myslef. Tarty maybe. For a while I was trying to resurrect the word tart
    as a value and gender neutral term for somebody that sleeps around a lot.
    But noone got it, so I stopped.

  • oranges_and_apples 6 July 2011, 8:28 am

    I'm not sure I agree with the desperate for attention thing. If everyone is
    dressed like that, any one person isn't going to get any attention for
    dressing like that. You would get attention for dressing differently though,
    it just might not be the attention you'd want. I really think it's much more
    about fitting in. It's just a culture in which that is how you should dress
    and people will fit in with that culture if they want to be part of it.
    Those footballers' wives girls aren't getting approval from you and I, but
    they are getting approval from their peers. It's important to remember that
    everyone has different ideas of what looks good, and that's perfectly
    normal, but noone should think their definition is better than anyone else.
    All I'm really saying is that we might not like what they wear, but we
    should avoid seeing dressing in what we consider to be unflattering things
    as a sign of moral failure or a predictor of any kind of behaviour.

  • oranges_and_apples 6 July 2011, 8:35 am

    Yes, you are absolutely right, this kind of style, and style in general is
    very sexualised, even if it isn't about sex. Though I wonder if the praise
    heaped onto Kate Middleton's middle aged style is a sign that people crave a
    less sexy definition of looking good.

  • oranges_and_apples 6 July 2011, 8:39 am

    I didn't mean for this to be about going out with the girls vs going out
    with your parter, but rather 'special occassion' vs. everyday stuff. I would
    get equally dressed up for a big night with Dave as I would on that
    particular occassion. Equally, I'll go to the pub with the same people I
    went for cocktails with and be dressed in a much more low key way. I just
    think the skimpiness thing is more a sign of the special occassion-ness than
    anything else.

  • emilyknightley 8 July 2011, 9:01 am

    Such a thoughtful post – as always Franca. I love how you have approached this subject. I have, in years gone by, been one of those girls in a skirt barely covering my bum and heels so high that I could barely stay upright! But we all grow up (or most of us!) and realise what suits us better (maybe just an ever inch of fabric!) and heels that I can walk in (a good few inches shorter!!). I think it is all a part of the learning process of what suits and what doesn't. I certainly don't think that these women are sluts (for want of a better word) or are dressing "for sex" in anyway. As you say, it is an acknowledgement of the special-ness of the night. I, personally, dress up for dinners with my girlfriends. Not because I want male attention but because I want my girlfriends to know that the time I spend with them is special.

    Love your outfit – those bangles are fabulous! :)

  • fabM 11 July 2011, 6:05 pm

    I agree sometimes it’s more about the
    attitude rather than the clothes but they do play a big role in the situation
    because they color the perceptions of the viewer male or female.

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