As requested by Victoria, and several other non-male readers, here is the companion article to Top 10 Men’s Fashion Rules. If you are, like most readers here, male, forward this article on to a female and ask her opinion.
You must first decide for whom you are dressing. If it is for other women, I have few rules to offer and no advice to give. I will not pretend to understand the infinite gradations of behavior and microscopically subtle signaling women use to communicate with each other.
I’ll give one example of such signaling. A female asked me to read over an email that she was going to send to another female. The subject was of political importance. I began to read the email aloud. “Sally…,” I said, for this was the opening, but I was stopped immediately by the writer who said, “Is that too strong?” I didn’t understand: wasn’t Sally the intended recipient? She was. But the writer said to me, “Whenever I am happy with somebody I always start with something like ‘Hi Sally’, but if I am very angry I leave off the ‘Hi’.”
Ah. Can we imagine Sally’s pain when she opens her email and doesn’t see her ‘Hi’? The funny thing is, this might be true: Sally, being female, probably will notice, probably will feel pain. But no man ever would. Even if the man was told that the absence of the ‘Hi’ was meant to be significant, he could never bring himself to emotionally assimilate the information.
Therefore, my advice is only to women who want to dress for men in daily life. Special circumstances are not covered.
- Makeup: to invert the cliché, more is less, both in quantity and vividness: more makeup, less beauty. When you are very young or very old, do not wear any. And when you are in the middle, wear little. Or at least make it appear that you are wearing little.
There are some hard rules. Unless you are trying out for the circus, bright red lipstick is forbidden. Once you approach or exceed 40, do not darken your eyes. Not only does this make you look like a raccoon, but it makes you look angry and emotional. Nothing terrifies a man more than an emotional female.
Learn to blend. By which I mean, do not let show a clear line around you face where the makeup ends and your real skin begins. This gives the effect of wearing a mask, which I suppose you are; but don’t forget that everybody knows masks come off.
- Jewelry, nails, and other accoutrement. Men never see these. One day, I was standing amidst a bevy of females who were discussing a nail shop, which could been seen out the window, across second avenue. This establishment was better than another, it was worse, the specials, etc. I heard the cost and was shocked. I said, “I don’t know why you guys spend so much money on your nails. Men never notice nails.” I was quickly and loudly assured that Yes, they did!
“Maybe in exceptional circumstances. But I have never been with a group of men and had one say, ‘Did you see the nails on that one? Oh boy.’” I have not once in my long career of a male ever heard another male mentions a lady’s nails. Likewise jewelry (except to note marriage status), belts, pins, straps, and on and on. As important these things are as signals to other women, they are of utter indifference to men.
The only time men will attend to these things is when you have loaded so many trinkets on your chest and arms that you are in danger of falling over from the weight, or that the color of your nail polish is so vivid that your nails cannot be looked at directly without suffering eye damage. Any piercing besides in the ear looks terrible. The rule is, as ever, avoid excess.
A word about sunglasses: those thick-rimmed frames currently fashionable, produced by some named “designer” (as if others weren’t), make you look old and pissed off.
- Shoes are the one exception. Men will notice footwear; some nuts even fetishize it. The rules here are not much different than for men. Avoid tennis shoes unless actually playing tennis, no shocking colors or prints, etc. High heels are a plus, it’s true. But not too high, and not pencil thin: shoes with dagger-like heels are scary. Some women think they offer a slimming effect, but avoid severely pointy toes. They, too, look like weapons. No man will notice your weight when you have these on; instead, he be scheming to maintain a safe distance from you.
As long as it conforms to the rules, you can wear the same shoe with a man almost indefinitely. Men are not watching for you to change them daily. Besides, you want the man to notice you, not the shoes.
- Your body. The closer you approach the female ideal, the looser you need adhere to any rules. If you are stunning and, as Kurt Vonnegut once said, are a walking advertisement for making babies, then it doesn’t matter what you wear. No man will ever notice what you have on. But it will not be true, despite what you might have heard, that the man will be imaging what you look like without what you are wearing. Instead, his brain will be short-circuiting—the younger the man, incidentally, the more incoherent he will become; he will not be thinking at all.
Do not dress trying to make it appear that you have an ideal body. Dress for the body you have. Believe me, there will be more than enough men who are intrigued with what you offer. If your ideas of what men like come from other women, television, and fashion magazines, you have been wildly misled about male desire. Just think: this industry is run largely by other women and non-heterosexual men.
Do not show us too much. Once again, more is less. How much is something worth that is given free? Everything your grandmother told you about how men think about certain girls is true, absolutely.
- Surgery. Don’t. Unless you have been disfigured, either genetically or through mishap, eschew all surgery. It never looks good. Despite what other women will tell you, it always shows. The most common surgery for women of a certain age is to remove the wrinkles around her eyes. This always looks freakish. If you enlarge your lips via injection, you will look ridiculous. Inject botox to kill your facial nerves, and you risk looking like Nancy Pelosi.
When a woman looks at her wrinkles, it must be with the perspective of an electron microscope, where every deviation from smoothness appears to her like a yawning crevasse. But the view to men is always from on high. Unless you’ve been in a knife fight, men won’t see your wrinkles unless you call attention to them.
No fake tits, ladies. Admittedly, these will attract some men. But the wrong men.
- Jeans. Unless you are between roughly 18 to 24, don’t wear them. And even if you are in this range, if you are too fat or too skinny, do not wear them. Unless your body is right in the middle, weight and shape-wise, jeans make you look terrible. There is saying that goes, “There is a pair of jeans that can fit anybody.” This is a myth, with vicious consequences. This rules extends to pants of any kind, really.
As with men, dress for the work at hand. If you are painting, moving boxes, chopping wood, and so on, then jeans are just the thing, your looks be damned. But on any other occasion, jeans look cheap, do not flatter, and remove from your allure. Wear pants sparingly.
- Skirts. These are of tremendous variety, and can easily and cheaply be custom made to fit. So there is no excuse for not having them. Since most other women will be wearing pants, an artfully chosen skirt can make you stand out, make you appear more sophisticated, beautiful, wiser, more authoritative. Or sexier. Or indeed anything better. Except in the circumstances noted above, skirts and dresses always trump pants.
Even better, skirts can be found that flatter both fat and skinny women. Too often, women think that by wearing a skirt or dress, they are not being modern or businesslike. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The indisputable rule is: the better you dress, the more respect you will garner.
- Prints. Never—as in never—wear animal prints. These are the linen equivalent of Beatles music. Awful, painful, excruciating to see. Follow all the same rules as for men: match colors and texture, etc.. No excess! However, most women need little advice here.
- Hair. For the young and middle-aged, if it is clean, not freakishly colored, or unusually cut, it is largely unnoticed. But you can make it noticeable but letting it grow longer, which gives you the option of more styles. Do not let it grow past the middle of your back. Very long hair makes you look like a character out of the Brother’s Grimm. Do not shear it off once you reach 50. Short hair is easier to take care of, but it does not look good. It doesn’t necessarily look bad, but it looks better long.
The expense of having your hair dyed with highlights and so forth is not worth it. Natural color is almost always better; even gray. Besides, too often women lapse into excess and put in so many “highlights” that the base colored cannot be discerned.
- Age. Act it, dress it. There are more than enough juveniles in the world: we don’t need more people pretending to be. The American cult of youth is ridiculous. Aim for a young look, and you can only be disappointed.
I have tried to find a still of Reiko Kusamura from the Japanese version of Shall We Dance. She is the elderly dance instructor, elegant yet not attempting to disguise her age. If you see this movie, you will understand.