Girl Vs. Guy Hot: Whom Do You Dress For?

Girl Vs. Guy Hot: Whom Do You Dress For?
Editor
Self

 Do you want to know what I was going to get you?" my husband asked.

A week before our one-year wedding anniversary, we had decided to pool our money to buy a living room chair. (Romantic? Not so much. But having a place to sit is way sexier than a dozen roses—and lasts longer, too.) It was the most rhetorical question I had ever heard. Of course I wanted to know.

"Do you remember that dress at Club Monaco? The one with the black top and the white bottom?" he asked me. Why, yes. The dress with little cap sleeves and an empire waist that fl owed with a perfect fluid drape. How could I forget it? It was the type of clothing you "visit" in anticipation of owning. And I had. Several times.

Yet my husband's non-purchase came as no surprise to me. We've all been there before: Boy hands you gift. You untie the ribbon, brush away the tissue paper to reveal… mesh lingerie or a slinky, sexpot number. Yet this gift was different. This wasn't a dress that would turn male heads, let alone make a man backtrack to buy it.

It was, in short, a girl dress. The type that says, demurely, "I go to brunch with the gals—and never in heels." The fact that he considered investing in a dress that shrouded any hint of my sexuality seemed a testament to his love. Seriously. What. A. Guy. But that got me thinking. For whom exactly do I dress? I took a good look in my closet. Trapeze dresses, graphic patterns, and applique stared back. Nothing was overtly feminine. In fact, there seemed to be an overabundance of black and gray. And most everything I owned flunked the guy-friendly fashion test: It wasn't soft to the touch. You couldn't see through it. There wasn't a lick of stretch or any flimsy bows or ties, implying that a gentle tug would cause the item to fall loose, revealing my naked form. Conclusion: My wardrobe was the opposite of a bombshell's—and I certainly wasn't dressing to entice my poor husband.

And yet, I thought, I'm not dowdy or dumpy. I love to shop. I just prefer clothing that shows off my personal style, not my shape. Then I had a realization: Cut from Carrie's Sex and the City cloth, I didn't dress for men. I dressed to impress women; I was the walking, talking, sample-sale stalking definition of "girl-hot."  

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Girl-Hot vs. Guy-Hot

Surely you've heard the terms. You could probably point them out on a busy sidewalk. And for purely mass-categorical purposes (warning: stereotype approaching), I'll define the polarity by saying that women fall into one of two subsets: Jessica Simpson? Guy-hot. But Kirsten Dunst? Girl-hot. Done. Kirsten looks adorable all the time, while Jessica perpetually appears as if she's posing for Maxim—in my opinion. But what makes us one way or the other? And are women who dress to impress other women at a disadvantage?

While I was set in my girl-hot ways, I soon discovered other women toggled seamlessly between the two extremes. "If I were going out with my friends, I'd want them to say, 'You look cute!,' so I'd wear something short but not form-fitting," says Katie, a 24-year-old New Yorker. "But if I were meeting up with a guy, I'd wear something to show off my body. And heels. Flats just aren't sexy." Was she correct? "The hottest thing I ever saw a woman wear was a dressy shirt, short shorts, and heels," says 24-year-old Manuel. Katie wasn't far off. I, on the other hand, wouldn't think twice about wearing flats to meet up with a guy. In my opinion, a good pair of vintage Chanel flats elevates any outfit.

And maybe that's the dividing line: At its essence, girl-hot seems to revolve around clothes that exude personal style and ooze with noticeable (by girl standards) detail: "I love your skirt. That embroidery is so pretty!" While guy-hot involves simpler pieces meant to showcase what lies beneath: "You look awesome in that skirt. Can I take it off of you later?"

Survey Says…

Even designers fall into one camp or another. Take Marc Jacobs. Juxtapose his witty, school-girl charm with Donatella Versace's body-hugging, perma-stretch collection, and you've got the full spectrum of "sexy."

And ask one which style makes us more desirable, and the answer is a Zen koan. "Guys now are very into fashion, and they have a lot of differing opinions on what is sexy," argues designer Cynthia Rowley. "Who's to say a skintight, Jessica Rabbit–style Lycra dress is sexier than a short babydoll one?" Okay, maybe she has a point. If Sienna Miller is sporting the babydoll. (But actually, in that case, Jude chose the nanny). Decoding what seemed to be an unconscious preference—why we dress the way we do—was proving to be somewhat complicated.

Then again, I talked to a few more friends and came up with this theory: Maybe what we like to wear depends on where we fall on the dating/mating/procreating continuum. Safely married off, was I free to be girl-hot? Or had I always been? (Flashback: Me, high school, a brief overalls phase. Okay, answered that question.)

Clover, 25, says sex appeal is a motivating factor when she begins dating, but fades as the relationship gets more serious. "I try to look cuter at first," she says. "I think guys find women sexiest when they keep it simple, anything that shows off their shape." But, I discovered, this initial fluffing of relationship peacock feathers can take many forms. "When I first start dating someone, I expand the inventory in my wine rack, splurge on a really good haircut and color, and buy new underwear," says 33-year-old Bostonian Sarah.

So is it possible to bridge the transition in style? If opting for an evening in with the boyfriend, Sarah would "wear yoga or pajama pants with a soft top, though I'd try to find something flattering—read: tightfitting," she says. I could see that. After all, Big Nights Out and Big Nights In tend to fall into distinct dating stages—and call for different outfits. So it appeared LoveStages influenced our wardrobe choices, too.

Dressing for…Darwin?  

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Finally, I stumbled on concrete clues as to why we dress the way we do—at least for part of the month: The girl-hot versus guy-hot quandary seemed to come down to cold, hard science. Specifically, a recent UCLA/University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire study found that women dress more provocatively during ovulation. The study's authors noted that ovulating women wore skirts rather than pants, showed more skin, and, in general, dressed more fashionably.

And it turns out, this behavior isn't species-specific. Though human females have the least "telltale" fertile periods in all the animal kingdom, we still send signals to potential mates each time we shimmy into our "skinny" jeans, says evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa.

"In nature in general, female ovulation is widely advertised," he says. "When female primates ovulate, their genitalia enlarge and often acquire a bright color, so that anyone within a one mile radius can tell." (At least we were spared light-up butts.)

In fact, humans, Kanazawa explains, were once thought to be the exception to this rule, having what's known in scientific terms as "cryptic ovulation"—but it turns out, even if they can't see it, human males can sense it. Recent studies have found that in guy-hot bastions like strip joints, dancers who are ovulating routinely earn bigger tips.

Fascinating. But that led me to wonder: What about free will? Surely we've all stood in front of the closet until we find the perfect ensemble to suit our mood. Were my choices really linked to an unconscious urge to pass on my genes? Just when I'd started to fret that my affinity for puffed sleeves would lead to "total reproductive failure" (i.e., not having kids), Rowley restored my faith. "The old cliche is true: The sexiest part of your body is your brain. Being funny, smart, adventurous, curious, artistic, and inspired are what make you attractive, " the designer assured me.

Amazingly, on this point, science and fashion agree. The researchers noted that while participants in the study might have dressed more flamboyantly at certain points in their cycle, each maintained her personal style. When ovulating, they amped it up: She who wore a basic tank and jeans on day one reappeared in a tighter, lace-trimmed tank and jewelry on day 15.

Though neither designer nor PhD seemed to know why we gravitate toward a particular style pole to begin with, the study did quell my fears: Girl-hot or guy-hot, our fashion choices, it seemed, would lead each of us to a mate who appreciated our unique style. Mine did. I found a husband who buys me cute dresses—and gave me a far more precious gift: our newborn daughter. If she happens to be girl-hot, I have something besides my DNA to pass on: a wardrobe replete with box pleats.