Top 10 Women’s Fashion Rules

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.Lauren Bacall

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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. Joan Holloway

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.
  9. 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.

  10. 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.

44 Comments

  1. Bravo, Briggs. A very useful list.

    On surgery, nose jobs specifically.

    I was once engaged to a gal who had, what I thought was a cute nose – among other things. Eventually she confided that the “cute” nose was the product of some medical work.

    At first, I didn’t give the subject much thought, but then the possibility that our offspring might resemble Pinocchio began to gnaw on me until the idea completely overwhelmed the relationship.

    I bailed.

  2. Stacey,

    “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done. Such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above a temperature of thirty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. That’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.” — James Bond

  3. Good work. A great guide for women born before 1940 from the point of view of a man born before 1920. As a middle-aged heterosexual and rather conservative male, I disagree with nearly all of it.

    Or maybe it’s all supposed to be humorous? I can’t tell.

  4. Ceri,

    I was born in late 1964, speaking for women of all ages. However, I accept both “middle-aged” and “conservative”; and, come to think of it, “male”, too. You not guilty of any of these?

  5. Ceri,
    Why don’t you take one of his topics and pick it apart in detail so we can see what you have in mind? I can’t begin to imagine it.

    11. Intelligence trumps all of the above, although it is most frequently “got up” in accordance with Briggs’ recommendations.

  6. Regarding nails, hair, accessories and to an extent makeup: There are serious diminishing returns. Poorly groomed nails or hair stand out and are Bad Things, but to most men there is little or no difference between “passable” and “gorgeous” nails. (The majority men who do comment on your nails are trying to signal that they’re sensitive and pay attention to you, not that they actually find the appearance of your nails important.)

    That’s not to say that going the extra mile isn’t necessarily worth it. You know the difference between good and great and there’s nothing wrong with dressing to please yourself. If you need to rationalize it, remember that a woman who _feels_ sexy and confident will _look_ sexy regardless of what she’s wearing.

  7. If you look around in public areas, it is evident that there is an over reliance on jeans amongst both sexes, as a stroll down any city block or suburban mall will indicate. Jeans are often referred to as “a wardrobe staple” by those who have opinions on such matters. People like to say that jeans are comfortable, but if you are squashed into an airline seat for hours on end, they aren’t. And if they get wet whilst on your person, either from precipitation or perspiration, they are binding and intolerable. Jeans always had a slight odor of rebellion (which no doubt contributed to their popularity) and now have the stench of conformity.

    (Disclaimer: I am not entirely anti-jeans–I am anti-“all jeans, all the time”. I have a pair that rarely make a public appearance, but when they do, it is never with tennis shoes and never-ever with tee-shirts.)

  8. “No fake tits, ladies. Admittedly, these will attract some men. But the wrong men. “

    There is nothing wrong with a little silicone, or the men caught admiring these works of art.

    Also, if would move out of barrio of NYC to, say, Texas, Florida, or Georgia, you could learn to appreciate the finer features of the feminine form properly displayed in jeans. Sometimes, you don’t even notice the silicone enhancements, even among women above the age of 40!

    Wake up and smell the coffee, or something.

  9. “If your ideas of what men like come from other women, television, and fashion magazines,……

    reminds me of how grateful we men need to be that as brilliant and intelligent as women might be – and their brains do work wonderfully more efficiently than ours – for some serendipitous reason there befalls on them a temporary blockage of feminine intellect when the season approaches for then to choose a mate. Thankfully, at least for me, it has been ever thus.

    Over the yeas my personal favorite retort when asked of the “becoming-ness” of various hairdos, nail decors, outlandish outfits etc., is to respond to the effect in a certain light “it” tends to make one’s butt look fat. Nowadays, for some reason, I am seldom queried anymore.

  10. Once upon a time in a galaxy not so far here (NJ, I think), it was ‘fashionable’ for some women to have nails that would have made Freddy Krueger proud. Noticing them was a survival skill. Thankfully, that fashion has largely passed.

  11. I see a lot of nail jobs at toll booths. Some of them are quite creative, little faces. I always complement their owner and get a really big smile. So let ’em do it. I suppose there might be a Grand Guy Grand opportunity in toll booth nail art. I’ll need to think about the possibilities.

    Briggs, has it occurred to you that you might be a tad stuffy for your tender age? I suppose the Beatles may make no more sense to you than Mairzy Doats, should make to me, but I like both. It’s hard for me to understand how anyone could not like some of the Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road songs.

  12. Katie, Briggs wisely didn’t mention tee-shirts. Most heterosexual males enjoy them, and see nothing wrong with them, so proscriptions against them would probably be hooted down.

  13. Oval shaped nails not too long painted pink (not red, green, blue, etc). The very long or square cut nails scare me worse then a butch haircut (for almost the same reason).
    If you need silicone because they sag then it certainly looks better with then without.
    If you have the shape for jeans it looks greaaat.
    Men look at what looks good. Could be legs, breasts, face, butt, whatever. So show your best assets.
    Middle age and older women who over dress and overuse makeup seem unapproachable, like they are cougars looking for a stud.
    Generally thin beats fat (sorry for being crude) but if you are overweight with a nice rack then I won’t notice your waist size. If you have a beautiful face I won’t really see your faults. If you have a nice (“nice”, not perfect) personality I may not notice or care about other things as much.

  14. You didn’t mention the importance of color. Make sure whatever color you wear near your face enhances your skin tones. Color sets a mood and can make you more approachable. Always wear your sun screen. There are many that are not greasy and if they have a little zinc in them will help even skin tones.

  15. Number 5 is problematic, because you’re making a claim of fact rather than just opinion: ‘Surgery … never looks good … it always shows’. Is this an example of the ‘toupee effect’? All cosmetic surgery is judged only by the cosmetic surgery that shows. The surgery that doesn’t show passes unnoticed, and therefore unaccounted for.

  16. SD: While technically correct – all surgery doesn’t actually show, the patient never can be sure until everything is nipped, tucked and healed which ones will and which won’t. Enough surgery “shows” to make odds on unfavorable results fairly daunting unless one is very desperate, I think. So Briggs premise is accurate but untruthful. Does that sound familiar?

  17. 49er: Oh, I think Briggs is almost certainly accurate. He is, after all, Briggs.

    But I suspect that, like pulling a reliable trendline out of climate data, the ease of knowing this particular datum is overstated.

    Still, a simple survey would suffice to deal with the issue. Nothing so crude, of course, as parading a large number of cosmetically altered people past a panel tasked with guessing in which way they have been ‘improved’. The best method would be to empanel a group of cosmetic surgeons and have them give their views, properly tabulated, weighted, averaged and reduced to a simple meaningless number.

  18. Briggs,

    You are serially dismisive of the Beatles. Personally I think you are too harsh on them. I like some of the songs they created and I dislike other ones. As a band they really didn’t have enough grit for my taste. At times Lennon could be a pompous twit, and sometimes Ringo Starr gave an impression of a village idiot that would do the Monty Python crew proud, but really most of the time they were OK. George Harrison was a caring guy and Paul McCartney tries hard. McCartney almost pulls it off and is easier to like than Prince Charles. Individually they each made a limited amount of OK music after the split up.

    I think your problem is you prefer an intellectual challange from your music. My view is that its OK to relax and enjoy some simple rock/pop without feeling guilty about it. Personally I prefer to salt in a little Bob Dylan or Van Morrison or Mark Knopfler where there is a sense of intellect and complexity. Other times I might like to listen some music thats just nice, like almost anything by Eva Cassidy.

    Most of us don’t take the Beatles particularly seriously these days. After all they split about 40 years ago. Briggs, you need to let it go man.

  19. Matt,

    I’ll say it: Sure, I’ll dispute James. After all, he did give us the shaken martini, which is in more than a few ways inferior to the stirred martini depending on how you view the botanicals in the gin.

    Also, you say you don’t notice nails? Look at those women with three foot long nails. I know you notice those.

    Also, women whose nails aren’t manicured. Men notice hands, at the very least. Or at least they should.

  20. I’m not sure into which category this fits, but personally I find tattoos on women to be a real turn-off. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but to me the vast majority of tattoos look silly on the vast majority of women. The tattoo is either so small that it looks like a blemish, or so large to be garish and distracting. Tattoos made of meaningless Chinese characters are the worst.

    Like too much makeup, accoutrement or surgical enhancements, it’s best to leave tattoos for others (sailors and bikers perhaps).

  21. Briggs

    Bond clearly has a taste for the classics, in many forms, particularly ones with nice curves. I certainly wouldn’t pick a fight with him, particularly in his present incarnation. Bond stands as the last line between freedom and all thats toxic in international affairs. This means he has some tolerance for freedom of choice, otherwise why would he protect democracy. He might not like the Beatles but surely he would grudgingly accept that other views are possible.

  22. I think some of you are missing the point by a few parsecs. I believe Mr. Briggs is saying that the more outlandish modes attract the WRONG KIND of attention. Or do you think all women and men mostly want is shallow sex with no LTR’s?? They want to be sluts??

    Yeah guys, we notice hot bodies barely in a small bikini, but, do we want OUR girl hanging it all out for the riff raff? It is definitely hypocritical, but, what we love to look at we do not respect, we just want to use.

  23. Stephen Dawson,

    empaneling Plastic Surgeons to judge their own wares?? You apparently do not mind when politicians pick their cousin for that billion dollar contract either!! Plastic surgeons may slam the poorer versions of their craft. They will also give much higher ratings to the better versions.

    My view is that natural is almost always better. (even with plastic surgeons there are artists with great skills I cannot deny)

    Unfortunately there is always the personality within the look. A person who will actually go under the knife to improve their looks is a person whose values and outlook I will generally not agree with.

  24. This business with jug augmentation needs a bit more consideration and since I’m into deep procrastination aimed at prolonging the avoidance of an assigned task I really don’t want to do, here goes.

    Born in 42, my possibly incorrect analysis based on careful observation is that girls have bigger jugs today, certainly bigger than the ones with which I was “familiar” in the 60s. They can’t all be products of the surgeon’s art, can they?

    Along similar lines, dad commented after taking my date and me to the prom and having a look into the gym that a much higher percentage of high school girls were lookers than when he was in high school.

    So out came the yearbooks from our respective junior years and I accepted his conclusion based on the photographs.

    I think it was the Brown sisters, one of whom came to a sudden unpleasant end, possibly through her association with OJ, who were given their choice of a boob job or college on coming of age. I understand they both went with better jugs.

    I suppose the suspicion of surgery is no different than suspicion of wigs on guys who seem too old to have all that hair. Diets have changed.

  25. j ferguson,

    I’m ’49 vintage. Yeah I’ve noticed the change. I think much of it goes with the weight gain over the years, though. My memory suggests that there has been a lot more, umm, curves added over that time, but maybe that’s because I live in the Mid-west not NY or LA.

  26. Whodathunk James Bond would be Matt’s argument from authority? 😉

    I suppose this is where I put on my Analyst-therapist hat and ask what that tells us about the authority figures in young Matt’s formative years.

    Bond’s inability to see outside the box is what has doomed him to be a fossil relic, fawned over by anachronistic old fogeys who aren’t even 50 yet! Shaken my eye, keep the gin in the freezer James. No need to dilute it with ice in the shaker.

    OK, enough fossil and fogey bashing. Some of your admonitions remind me of a phrase passed on to me by my MS thesis adviser: “She looks like mutton dressed as lamb.”

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