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February 09, 2011


Robin Goodfellow

I'm tempted to not answer... [our] motives are probably different. I'll get to the point, whereas [you]'ll just want to discuss in circles until you arrive at the point you already had (and supported) in your head before the conversation began.

I say this because I'm a guy.

And at the moment, a blunt one.

So I'll tell you why this happens (and it'll be the same answer you'll hear from most any other guy). We're very much cause-and-effect creatures. We expect there to be a direct reason for anything occurring, and respond/react to it similarly. That's why many of us are basically screwed when you ask us a dangerous question like "Do you think she's pretty?". (We haven't realized the "direct" reason was unspoken-what's really being asked is if [you're] still more attractive to us.)

In the case of the dress changing our behaviour, it's because we assume that's what you wanted in the first place. We know women wear clothing reflective of how they feel/want to express themselves, so we read "classy clothes" as (wanting to be treated as) a "classy lady".

And, since we (whether we admit it or not) are always viewing things in terms of mating, a "classy" lady, is more valuable, and so it matters to us when we do anything that could lessen our chances, such as swearing and offending you. Thus we're more apologetic/sensitive.

* * *

I don't see why women don't just dress differently if they want to get treated differently. It works, d***it. Until you get preachy, anyway. Then we'd rather the "non-judgemental" attire.

Melissa May



Thanks for spelling it out.

As a woman I'm not offended by or shocked at the idea that men tend to look at things in terms of mating, as you put it, and thus respond differently to women based on how they're dressed.

I think that's the point we've been trying to make here on the blog. We've never denied the sexual component in relations between men and women. It exists. It's a fact. It's not about making it go away, but figuring out how do we work with it and help men and women bring out the very best in themselves and each other.

This post by Alexandra was her observation about how this dynamic plays out in real life. I'm glad she shared it.


I have definitely noticed this as well, and I think part of the reason that men's attitudes are different depending on what a woman wears is because women's attitudes are different depending on what they wear. As people, our carriage is often based on our attire. Have you ever seen a little boy with a new suit? He stands up tall, shoulders back, and strides along like he can take on the world!

We as adults are the same. When a woman is "dressed like a lady," she carries herself and expects to be treated that way...and she is. The same woman, running to the store in her oldest outfit, doesn't command the same respect partly because she doesn't feel she deserves it (we've all had that "I just hope I don't see anyone I know" feeling at some point or the other). And if she were to wear something revealing and provocative...yet another attitude, and yet another type of reaction.

I agree with Robin -- women should choose clothes based on how they want to be treated, because their bearing in whatever outfit they choose will help make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.


As a man, I find it extremely denigrating that my actions of common courtesy would be dependent on how a woman is dressed. To me, this is outright objectification.


I admire Robert's sentiment and I think this is the ideal of the concept of chivalry--"every woman a lady." On the other hand, we are left to deal with and manage in a world in which, alas, all men are not like Robert.



I disagree with the idea that the display of common courtesy is chivalrous behaviour. The point of my post was to decry an attitude prevalent in society that says its ok to treat a woman based on what she is wearing. To paraphrase a line from a previous post, I believe that this attitude disposes men to think of women not as persons but mainly in terms of their costumes.


The problem is that "common courtesy" is not so common anymore. Whereas men who do believe that every woman is a lady and deserves to be treated as such, these men generally identify with chivalry more than with common courtesy. Or they are coming from a religious perspective where the focus is on 'guarding their eyes' and their own responsibility, so they would never dream of using female dress as an excuse for boorishness. Common courtesy, although it sounds great, does not usually get us very far in practice.


But sometimes attitude and demeanor are noticed faster than any clothing style we may be wearing on a particular day. If a long skirt and proper blouse are accompanied by loud vicious unmannerly mouth what is there to emulate or admire in the presence of a more revealing outfit person with more ladylike qualities? No one is a caricature in real life because we expand beyond one sided expressions of our beings. The ideal is to not let ourselves be carried away by appearances until enough proof is gathered on the subject, however first impressions do carry some weight and political correctness or "fairness" can't go against the nature of 10000 eyes sending signals to our brains, making connections about who why and how you are presenting yourself to the world based on that very first impression that may or may not be proved wrong later. It's biology, it's psychology and it does not seek approval from human "ideals" So although it sounds pretty to be treated like a lady when Im acting and dressing most like a drunken clown, the reality is quite natural to act according to what lingers in front of us...

A Man

A man who believes that every woman is a lady is as foolish as a woman who believes that every man is a gentleman.

“Men treat me differently when I wear vintage or something that looks vintage,”

No, men treat you differently when you look hot. For all the talk here about modestly and wanting to focus on the woman and not the way she looks I find this thread amusing to say the least.

And I agree with Robert that "common courtesy" is not chivalrous behaviour. We could use a lot more of the former and a lot less of the latter.


This is highly ironic. A large part of the popularity of retro styles stems from the rockabilly and even punk subculture, neither of which are known for being "lady like", and it went further mainstream with Mad Men, again, not a "ladylike" connection.


No actually, the idea that dressing traditionally feminine is reason for or a reward for courteous behavior is downright insulting to everyone.


There may be men that will treat women differently based on their dress and demeanor, but is it also possible that the man who will open the door or politely greet the conservatively or professionally dressed woman is not the same man who would stare at, or make suggestive comments to the woman exposing more skin, perhaps with a few tattoos or piercings? In a world with many men and many women of differing styles of dress and attitude, the "chivalrous" man may simply divert his gaze and avoid the immodestly dressed woman, so he doesn't risk offending, while the cad won't acknowledge the modest woman, turning his attention to someone he perceives as more accessible. The gentleman should treat you with respect all the time, but if you are not properly attired, you may not notice how this respect is displayed.


This post is beautiful, and made me smile. Absolutely! The way we dress does make a gentleman (or not) out of the men we meet. What a worthy challenge. Beautiful women who are classy and elegant, strong and intelligent inspire men to be worthy. Great post - thank you!

Katie Van Dyke

What do they always say in the corporate world? Isn't it "Dress for the job you want to have"? I think the same applies in everyday life. We should dress for the way we want to be perceived and treated. If you want to be perceived as a lady/gentleman and treated as such, then dress the part. If you want to be perceived and treated like something else, then dress that part. There is a great deal of empowerment in knowing that one has the ability to mold public perception of themselves simply by what they wear.

And I also feel that this isn't purely a man/woman concept either. Just the other day I was standing in line at the grocery store and the lady behind me commented on the fact that I was dressed up. She said it was so good to see a 20something dressed "like a lady" (her words). We had a lovely conversation, and she treated me with the respect of an equal even though I was not.

I have dressed modestly (and often in vintage) my whole life. I have learned a great many things from this decision, but one of the most rewarding is that modesty in dress and behavior gives an individual a great sense of personal dignity that radiates to those around them. It isn't the condescending dignity of lording over others, but more of a "You are worthy of my best, so that is how I have presented myself to you. I am worthy of my best, so I have presented that to me."

Just a thought anyway.

Darla Gaylor

Beautiful thoughts, Katie, and spot on. Individuals shouldn't be surprised they are treated differently if they insist on dressing like they are working at strip bars, lounging in their homes, or headed to the beach.

I just turned 40, and I look back in horror at what I would go out in in my 20s. A jog bra & running shorts, midriff bared, were my typical attire. I even wore that to Six Flags one day, & I recall my friends, several years older than I, were discussing Muslim women & headscarves, etc. I made the comment that Muslims would probably think I was a whore, dressed as I was. Looking back 20 years, well, I'd think I was a little loose too, going out in high exposure, even though I wasn't.

People who dress as they would like to be treated do themselves and society a greater service than those minions who dress to stick out, and only end up looking as silly as every other over exposed "non-conformist" out there.



I believe society would be better served if people would treat others as they would like to be treated-remember the golden rule? If a person is dressed "low class", this does not give me or anyone else an excuse to lower myself to their standards. On my end, mine, and everyone else's obligation is to treat each and every individual with respect- no matter how dressed (or undressed) they are. If their speech is filled with profanity, do you think its ok to fill your speech with profanity? Your behaviour (and speech) should be a reflection on you, not the other.

Darla Gaylor

I didn't say people SHOULD be treated poorly, only that if they are, perhaps individuals should consider it may be a reflection upon how they are presenting themselves.

You can preach peace and dignity for all, and I am very aware of the Golden Rule, as I strive to live it, however, human nature will not change, not matter how hard the social engineers try to PC it out of every last person on the earth.

It believe that all of the moral relativism in the world to day has done nothing more than give people unfettered license to dress and act in wholly undignified and socially inappropriate ways, thus giving the thought police equal license to run about tut tutting and quoting the Golden Rule. Christ asked BOTH the sinner to sin no more (woman at the well) AND people to act charitably at all times. It is a two way street for ALL involved.


There is a BIG difference between judging a person on what they are wearing and reading the message that is being sent by the clothes that the person is wearing.

Our brain "gets to know" people almost instantly based on the cues that they give to us. Because unfortunately we don't have the time to sit down with everyone and get to know them personally. We give off hundreds of personality cues everyday without ever thinking about it: from the car that we drive, if we drive one, to the food we eat and the way we walk, talk, and smile. We are hardwired to read these cues in order to make a relatively informed decision in a VERY short amount of time.

One highly relevant social cue is the way we dress. Our bodies are a giant billboard and, unless we want to join a nudist colony, we HAVE to put something on that billboard. No matter what we put on that billboard we are sending a message for everyone that comes in contact with us to read.

So, can we point fingers and say, "don't judge" when all we are doing is reading the message that the individual put on their billboard????


To be fair though, the ladies of this blog have all complained at some point (and I would say rightly so) about being judged for not showing skin or otherwise dressing modestly.

Yet when the idea of disrespect towards women who dress scantily or in a more sexually charged manner comes up, like in the Christina article, it's considered obvious (but wrong!) and that the women in question should know better.

You can't have it both ways.

Cady Driver

I love this post! Our family just got back from a trip to Saigon and Nha Trang. Before we left, my husband, who had traveled to that area of Asia before, informed me that generally speaking, the Vietnamese people are very modest people and they frown upon immodest dress. That being said, I made sure to bring my most modest tops and longest skirts so as to not offend the culture there.

When we were there, I saw plenty of women in the younger generation dressed very immodestly in the western style of clothing, which was their choice since many Asians admire the West. That being said, it was interesting to note the reaction that their compatriots had toward these women. The local women who dressed in the traditional, modest and beautiful ao dai were treated with utmost respect and deference and the women who had adopted the western style of mini skirts and low cut shirts weren't treated as well.

It was an interesting experience for me to observe in a foreign culture. As an American, the locals were extremely polite and lovely to be around, but I'm not so sure that would have been the case if I had been dressed immodestly.

I was also impressed with the grace and beauty of the Vietnamese women dressed in their ao dais. They carried themselves with such confidence and fully expected doors to opened for them and for men to bow their heads in salutation to them. It was lovely, really.

Just some observations. I'm not so sure that we have "progressed" in the west by cheapening ourselves in the way we dress. On another note, in the whole two weeks we were there, not once did I see a pregnant teenager or a teenage mother.


"On another note, in the whole two weeks we were there, not once did I see a pregnant teenager or a teenage mother."

I think if you were to look at the web site below, you may find a reason why.


Cady Driver

Thanks, Robert....I actually just saw that article this morning and I was about to write in about it and say that I stand corrected about the issue of teen pregnancy. It's really, really sad to see.....

The cultural taboo of unwed teens having babies probably prevents the majority of teens from even making the choice to keep their babies and since the adoption/orphanage situation there is kind of grim, they don't have that option either.


I work in a bookshop and while I am polite, helpful, and respectful to all my customers regardless of type, (and believe me, we get the full gamut of dress and manners through our doors,) I find that I do respond in (civilised) kind to them based on their presentation. If a man is in a suit, I tend to address him 'sir' as opposed to a man dressed in trackies, to whom I may say 'thanks mate'. Likewise with women, I tend to engage with them at the level I believe they are expecting, familiar or formal. I bring a smile to most of my customers faces.

Robin Goodfellow

Common courtesy isn't common anymore because we realized we don't "owe" it to anyone. Just as much as any other behaviour is "owed".

However, that doesn't actually mean that we don't _want_ to be polite.

Here's what I mean.

I haven't always been the best son. When living with my parents, I would be nagged to shovel the driveway in the winter. A lot.

Except that I did actually want to shovel it sometimes. The problem is that it was expected of me before I could enjoy _offering_ my energy to do it. It was a huge turn-off, and resulted in me not shoveling as much.

Back to the OT, presenting yourself better, is basically a visual pre-emptive "please and thank you" to us guys. We're biased on appearance, because it saves us from the "punk" (btw, I'm aware of "don't judge a book by its cover", thank you) types who tell us to get bent when we behave in any kind of chivalrous manner.

Courtesy begets courtesy, and I can't think of an easier one than simply wearing clothes that'll make you feel better about yourself regardless ;)

LaJoie Ward

Interesting points! I've always dressed conservatively (although I am definitely one with an eye for fashion, so long as it's modest fashion!) Even so, I hadn't thought about it from the angle you presented. Thanks!

After a recent trip to the mall, I wrote a humorous story about the experience:



Its about time that we get out of pants and jeans--I think 42+ years is long enough--I wonder what would happen if we bring back white gloves for going out along with 'below the knee' skirts and dresses? I think girls would stop trying to be too 'forward' with guys (i'm beginning to see teen girls drive and pick up boyfriends on dates)


A major flaw in this article is that it seeks to explain what women can do to be treated with more respect. By placing the blame on women, for being dressed less modest than others, we allow men to get away with treating some women with little respect. This article borders on victim blaming language in regards to sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Jubilee - What century are you living in? Some women like to wear pants and jeans. And your statement about 'women being forward with guys' is extremely sexist. I think that many women reading this articles would be insulted by this double standard. Also, what is wrong with teen girls picking up guys for dates??

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