Ask most guys what they like to see on a woman, and they’ll probably joke: “Nothing!” But men are known to be the ‘visual gender’ and not only do they notice what women are wearing but also draw conclusions about you from how you dress.
I think most men develop a life-long liking for a certain type of dressing in a woman after a seismically sartorial moment in their adolescence. It could be a boy who watched his mother apply scarlet lipstick and cat eyes in the 60s, or a teenager who caught a glimpse of a saree-clad siren.
While I may prefer women in no-frills undies because they reveal a confident woman who knows how to let her body speak for itself (think Jennifer Aniston , Gisele and Kate Moss), some of my more testosterone-driven amigos salivate over Victoria’s Secret lingerie replete with frou-frou paraphernalia, towering heels and mini-dresses. Every man is different, and so are his preferences.
Then what is it that men actually want to see women wearing? While women are inclined to cover up what they perceive as their less-than-perfect bodies, men don’t see women nearly as critically. Women may see a tummy and thighs they wish were firmer, but a man will see a woman that he’s crazy about!
Apart from speaking to some high profile male designers and fashion industry wallahs, The Express Tribune also polled about a dozen men aged between 22 and 55.
Unsurprisingly, all the men questioned had one thing in common — their fondness for clothing that accentuates the female shape, lines which complement the contours of a woman’s frame, revealing to the eye a truly feminine form.
What men like to see women wearing
- ‘Fitted’ was a word generously used — with pencil skirts, tight jeans and body hugging dresses all favourites. Men like to see that there is a body under there, even if it’s not perfect. It all goes back to playing up one’s assets.
- Belted dresses and jumpsuits were also popular choices, while churidaar pajamas and tunics nipped at the waist were deemed appealing for the workplace.
- All the men agreed that the classic black dress — albeit fitted — was a good choice.
- Casual wear favourites were again figure-hugging with skinny jeans being popular — but only if they were coupled with heels or knee-high boots.
- Simple vests were also a hit, while tops with necklines that reveal the décolletage were favoured — especially strapless, bandeau numbers V-necks.
- Short skirts were also, unsurprisingly, a crowd pleaser.
- Some men cited seductive underwear as a party-pleaser. Some of the married men felt that the comforts of a long-term relationship had lulled their partners into giving up their lacy push-up bras for the comfort and support of stodgy undies. So go out and buy some fun lingerie and get a little gussied up every now and then; no one has to see it but your partner in the privacy of your own home.
- I would add a smile to the equation. There’s nothing attractive about a scowling sourpuss, even if she is wearing a short skirt, a plunging neckline and high heels.
- The footwear of choice was the high-heeled court shoe. Heels create height and, more importantly, a flattering wiggle to a woman’s walk. Toe shapes were a sensitive subject with the panel. Many of the men questioned were not in favour of the dangerously pointy stiletto-type shoe nor did they share any fondness for the round-toe shape of seasons past. A compromise between the two — which, in the fashion world, is regarded as the ‘almond’ toe — was favoured.
- As far as jewellery goes, there were some clear favourites. Some men said they liked the wedding ring on their wives’ fingers, some of which matched their own. Artistic silver ankle bracelets or anklets were commonly considered sexy as were hoop earrings and delicate diametre necklaces of the type that sit very close to the top of the chest or bottom of the neck and are embellished with stones.
What men don’t want women to wear
- Those massive androgynous flip flops with toe wells and the oddly popular Gladiator sandals modeled after the ones worn by Biblical heroes.
- Clothing that got the big ‘no no’ from our panel included smocks and tunics, anything that smacks of a muumuu and, in general, any long, unconstructed tent-like garment that hides, camouflages, or shrouds, which many men thought made a woman look pregnant.
- Baggy, androgynous trousers and denim were considered too masculine in many cases.
- Capri-pants looked stupid in a mistakenly shrunk- in-the-wash way.
- Oversized Jackie O shades were considered “ridiculous.”
- Wearing too much makeup was cited as a huge mistake. We all know that woman who cakes it on —smoky eyes, red lips and bronzer all at the same time. And we all know what we think of her! A little bit of make-up goes a long way. Sure, even out the skin tone and use a little under-eye concealer, but really to cover your face in paint just seems unreasonable. No man I’ve ever met would prefer a woman with a tonne of make-up. In fact, many say women are at their most attractive when they’re a bit undone.
What’s on a man’s mind?
What a woman’s outfit really says to members of the visually-driven and not-so-fashion-savvy sex (men!)
- In my mind, logo overload screams: “Let’s go shopping!” Many women carry their LV totes, Hermès Birkins or Chanel chain-bags like part of their anatomy. But there is nothing less appealing than having an oversized designer name splayed across your chest or hooked pretentiously on your arm. Men interpret a woman’s need to announce the ‘fabulousness’ of her stuff as “insecurity or plain ugly shallowness”. “If labels are a woman’s priority, she’s completely lost me,” says Aamir, 22. “When I notice designer tags on a woman, I personally worry about my credit card balance should we actually get together. If the only gift I can afford from her favourite label is a key chain, her birthday isn’t going to be any fun for either of us.”
- Most men believe that sky-high heels suggest a woman is “high-maintenance”. Women tell me that stilettos make them feel powerful and emboldened. But when you teeter on your tiptoes with only a thin six-inch bar to balance on, it begs the question: How much fun can you be having standing in one place looking, yes, va-va-voom — but precariously balanced? Tariq, 29, agrees: “The entire time my wife is walking, I’m thinking: Is she going to twist her ankle, and am I going to have to spend all night with her in the emergency room?”
- Revealing clothes announce to me that a woman might wear sequin capris to my dadi’s funeral! Don’t get me wrong, I find sexy clothes appealing — but the milieu and context is all-important. If a prospective date dresses in a Pampers-sized mini for a GT with my work colleagues, I would wonder about her judgment and imagine myself needing to cover her up at a prospective Eid dinner with my family. Yes, that vamp in the Guess ads looks hot in her cropped cowboy shirt and super-tight jeans. But she also looks like she might run off with the photographer!
- Red lipstick signals a woman who is self-assured and empowered. Red lips are a sign of strength, prowess and assertion. Consider Jean Harlow’s red pout in the 1930s, Veronica Lake’s in the 1940s and Marilyn Monroe’s in the 1950s. None of these actresses was known for playing the girlish ingénue. They were women with overtly feminine power. They were knowing. Dressing your lips in red draws people’s attention to you, especially your mouth, and subsequently, the words that come out of it.
“A man likes a woman to look hot if she is his girlfriend; cute if she is his sister; graceful if she is his mother and sultry if she is his wife. Men know best how a woman needs to dress because men fantasise about women all the time!” said an anonymous 45-year-old educationist and retired Army Major.
“Clothes say a lot about a woman’s exposure, lifestyle and confidence. The way she wears her hair and make-up says a lot about her sense of style and sophistication. Her choice of fragrance and pair of heels say a lot about her personality and taste,” said Usman Dittu, womenswear designer. “These days, everyone has a ‘designer bag’, original or fake — so big deal!”
“I love to see women wearing blazer suits and a button-down shirt. I think there’s just something extremely hot about a woman who knows how to carry ‘power dressing’ in a feminine way,” said Munib Nawaz, menswear designer. “I also like to see a woman wearing a man’s dress shirt or T-shirt. The clothes that I like to see women wearing represent power, authority, and elegance, yet still maintain an air of femininity and seduction. These women are subtle in their moves and extremely smart. They know how to command any situation or milieu without being in your face.”
“I like to see women in high heels but a maximum of 4 inches; anything over that looks weird!” said Arsalan Iqbal of Arsalan & Yahseer, fashion designer. “Backless and sleeveless clothes are adventurous options, but I prefer an elegant silhouette with minimalist design. A perfect form-fitted gown is a big turn-on for me. I hate women in jumpsuits although they are on-trend these days! Minimal make-up with lighter shades of lipstick and a bit of contouring does it for me. Excessive foundation and overly experimental hairstyles on women are major turnoffs. Less is more!”
In conclusion, when I like a woman I like every inch of her. I also want her to like herself. So if she wears a cluster of fabric that obscures her shape, I worry that she may be ashamed of herself — her beautiful, natural, perfectly flawed self. Former Vogue Paris editor Carine Roitfeld has said that she hates perfection and, when casting for fashion editorials always looked for models with some flaw. Twenty-two year-old Aamir is with me on this one as well.
“The most beautiful thing about a woman is her body, its silhouette and lines,” he says. “Don’t put a sack over them!” Having said that, one woman can wear a slinky halter-dress and look self-conscious in it, and another can totally rock a voluminous trapeze dress like it’s her second skin.
At the end of the day, a woman is going to look her best in something she feels good in, which is the most important point of all: If you’re comfortable in your skin, in your body, you’re on a winning streak. Any messages I or any man might read into your clothes can be superseded by a smile, an inner glow, a canny coolness and poise that says, “I don’t really care what you think, Zurain, I love this outfit.” Chances are then, I probably will as well…
A fashion journalist and social commentator who has contributed to various international publications including The Washington Times (Style Section), Harper’s Bazaar and The Seattle Times.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, August 19th, 2012.