How to dress to please men

lisa_armstrongNot long ago a colleague asked whether I liked the Givenchy show, with its slinky black dresses, slinky black trousers and intriguing leather arm armour. That figures, he said when I told him. You’re a woman. Women, it seems, had liked it; men had not. There are a lot of women dressing for women these days, my colleague concluded.

I think he was referring to the ingenious hybrids around: the rampantly successful shoe boot, shoe sandals, the latest curiosity, the sock-shoe, the aforementioned arm armour and the forthcoming leather uni-thingy.

Men, it would appear, aren’t crazy about hybrids. Perhaps they’re too complicated – the hybrids that is. It’s too difficult to work out how to undo them, let alone get inside them. And here we find yet another source of strife in the eternal mismatch between the genders.

When I interviewed Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz recently, he mentioned his dislike of women dressing for women. To him it’s rooted in the competitive rather than in a desire to please. He’s probably right, although competitiveness appears to have been hardwired into women for the past 40-odd thousand years, so getting rid of the waiting list for the Louis Vuitton Spicy shoe probably won’t change our biological destiny very much.

I know what he means, though. There is something demeaning about buying things in the twisted satisfying knowledge that your sisters (as we once called all other females, as opposed to the more current Hot Bitches) will cast covetous eyes over them. Yet it’s also irresistible (or is that just me, tormented and damaged by years of going to fashion shows, where the dress codes are so complex only a woman could ever hope to crack them?).

Men are just too easily pleased. Pop on a pretty dress and a pair of moderately sexy shoes – not slutty though, as they really do not get slutty, even when it’s ironic and from a hot new Shoreditch designer – and they’re happy. Where’s the challenge in that? No wonder some of the biggest spenders on couture are women who enact their public lives hidden behind veils and only get to reveal their fashion moments to each other.

It isn’t that men can’t hold sophisticated views about what women wear. But the eye is different; they’re from Mars, we’re from Vuitton (and before you e-mail, I know not all women are like this and that some serious ones never think about clothes at all, except when they’re e-mailing me to tell me they’re not). Men see the whole – silhouette, colour, whether it’s too tight, quality (up to a point), price tag (up to a point) and context. Women see… everything.

It’s perfectly possible to please yourself sometimes and the men in your life at others without developing two wildly incompatible wardrobes. For harmony and courtesy’s sake, it’s probably not a bad idea to try. Of course the ideal is meant to be dressing to please yourself. But what if pleasing yourself depends on pleasing others? Truly, the mysteries of getting dressed are fathomless.

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