Does it matter what a woman wears?

Next Thursday is International Women’s Day.

To get into the spirit of things, and to show my solidarity, I have bought tickets for a couple of events that day as part of the Bath Literature Festival. One of them is titled ‘Does it matter what a woman wears?’

Other, less feminist minded family members rolled their eyes and smiled indulgently when I announced my plans for the day. I want to use the word ‘scoffed’, but perhaps that’s a little harsh. I’m sure I heard stifled laughter from Bee though, as she looked up at my outfit for the day, which involved various clashing shades of pink and purple.

It’s an important questions though.

Does it matter what a woman wears?

I want to say ‘No! Of course not! It’s what’s on the inside that counts!’ and other such clichéd exclamations, but unfortunately I’m not so sure.

The fact is that regardless of gender, we make snap judgments about people based on how they look, how tall or fat or short or thin they are, the colour of their hair… so of course how they are dressed is going to play a part of this first impression. I’m interested though as to whether dress is more important for women than for men, and how people judge women differently according to what they wear, particularly in the workplace.

Does the fact that I happen to be wearing flats rather than heels when I first meet someone dictate the course of my future relationship with them? If I reveal a bit of cleavage, does that change the way a stranger thinks about me? Or perhaps you think the question is nonsense, and that first impressions are an inevitable and useful way to filter our interactions?

I shall report back on my findings after International Women’s Day, but in the meantime, what do you think? Does it really matter what a woman wears?



  1. 2 March, 2012 / 7:01 pm

    Good question; and your roving reporter here in Moscow would like to say that according to the locals, yes it does. A great deal. (Perhaps I should write you a post on this…)

    • 6 March, 2012 / 9:55 am

      You really should. A friend of mine went to Moscow recently on business and she said it was really shocking, the way women present themselves and the way they are treated by men. Please do write something!

  2. Elizabeth
    2 March, 2012 / 7:27 pm

    A recent study has shown that men think women in red are more approachable. That hairy fellow Chris de Burgh has a lot to answer for!

    • 6 March, 2012 / 9:53 am

      Really?? That’s interesting, as I always thought red was quite an intimidating colour, and that men would find it a bit threatening?

  3. honeybee35
    2 March, 2012 / 8:52 pm

    Most definitely! As you mention, everybody will make a judgement about another person upon meeting them for the first time based on lots of different things…but I feel that women bear the brunt of this burden. A guy can have a scruffy day – not sure how many women can without fearing the wrath of other (mostly women’s) odd looks and comments.

    Dress up and make an effort and you’re viewed as a bit of a bimbette !

    What is a woman to do to create the ‘right’ overall impression? Answers on postcard please!

    • 6 March, 2012 / 9:52 am

      It’s such a difficult balance isn’t it? It must be why so many of us do that think of spending ages trying to look like we’ve made no effort at all!

  4. 3 March, 2012 / 2:58 pm

    My daughter is off on a school trip to Italy soon. The school is single sex and the 13 – 18 year old girls going on the trip have been told that if they wear short skirts or shorts they will not be allowed to leave the hotel because of the attention it will attract from men.
    Yes, it does matter what any of us wear. The secret is for us to be aware of the effect of our clothes on others.

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