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Bringing sexy forward
July 19, 2009 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me be more comfortable with my (straight, female) sexuality and be more sexy

Several well-meaning friends have told me in my single phases over the years that I dress too much like a priss and should try to look and act a bit more sexy, and just well, lighten up and not take things so seriously. I've realised I actually have little idea of what to do/wear and moreso, feel uncomfortable with the idea. I would like to feel natural and confident and comfortable with playing up my sexuality (being flirty and dressing in an attractive way) and I'm not sure why I don't (was not raised religious or anything).

I take part in a lot of male dominated activities and have always had this perhaps misguided idea that not playing up my sexuality when mixing with the guys was a matter of integrity and a way to be taken seriously. I'm also pretty uncomfortable with unwanted sexual attention and feel anxious when someone hits on me and I'm not interested because I worry that I won't get the balance of kind and assertive right and I tend to feel guilty for not reciprocating. I'm not sure if this is part of it.

I dress very femininely, but more along the lines of "girly" than "womanly" - pretty but definately not sexy. It probably doesn't help that I also look much younger than I am.

I'm not a prude but I think I might come across like one because I feel so uncomfortable with being "sexy" until I actually get in the bedroom - and this is obviously limiting my opportunities to do so! When I go out to clubs with other single girls they're just so much more confident and out there than I am, and I feel kind of awkward. I still want to be me but would also like to be a bit more sexy and womanly without feeling ridiculous or like a piece of meat.

I always feel uncomfortable when I get attention for my appearance, so I try to underplay it and cover up, but then get frustrated when someone I find attractive doesn't notice me.

Help me shake out of this please!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not a prude but I think I might come across like one because I feel so uncomfortable with being "sexy" until I actually get in the bedroom - and this is obviously limiting my opportunities to do so!

Is your goal here to "be more sexy" or to get more guys in the bedroom? You don't have to "act sexy" in order to get a guy interested in having sex with you. We're not complicated at all. If you see a guy you're interested in, just go up to him and tell him. The vast majority of guys will really appreciate it.

Trying to get a guy to 'notice' you is a waste of time. For all you know, he might notice you and not try to act like he's noticing you because he doesn't want be rude.
posted by delmoi at 6:56 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can only add.."Be Yourself"
I think you'll feel sexy and give off the vibe..when you're with the right person.
Of course you don't like people hitting on you or when you're getting unwanted sexual attention. That's class.
Women who overtly dress sexy and flirt are advertising their needs and availability.
They may not be the least sexy when alone with a man.
If you find someone attractive ,your attire is not the key..Just introduce yourself and be friendly...Sexy comes later.
This probably isn't what you want to hear.
But you sound like a naturally nice person to me.
posted by Palmerpoodles at 7:02 PM on July 19, 2009


I definitely agree with the idea that if you're into a guy, tell him.

But be prepared to be rejected. Just because your like a guy and have the guts to tell him doesn't mean that he feels the same way.
posted by dfriedman at 7:06 PM on July 19, 2009


Let's take other people out of the picture entirely here for a second. Let us pretend, for a moment, that the guys you speak of do not even exist. What you keep talking about is confidence, and how you want some. This sounds like the root issue, rather than the question of "sexiness", which is a subjective thing that is defined totally differently by different people.

I would try taking the focus off anyone else--guys, other girl you compare yourself to in clubs, etc. Rather, I'd place that focus squarely on yourself. What makes you feel attractive? Confident? Have you thought about dressing to please yourself? When you like what you see when you look in the mirror, and your appearance expresses exactly what you want to (be that confidence, sexuality, or what have you), other people will notice that spark. In my humble opinion, it's better to choose whatever makes you feel pretty, put it on, and think damn, I look hot in this than to worry about wearing what someone else will find alluring, then feel "ridiculous or like a piece of meat". Even if what makes you feel pretty is...an old flannel shirt and pair of hip waders (going for comedy here). Or a vintage dress with a high neckline. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, even a pair of hot pants and some killer heels. Whatever. Just make sure, first and foremost, that you are comfortable in your own skin, anyone else's perception of that skin bedamned. When you feel sexy to yourself, without worrying about whether someone else thinks you're attractive or not, you exude confidence. Sparks. People will see those sparks and want to know more about you. Now that's sexy.
posted by sarabeth at 7:07 PM on July 19, 2009 [16 favorites]


I'm also pretty uncomfortable with unwanted sexual attention and feel anxious when someone hits on me and I'm not interested because I worry that I won't get the balance of kind and assertive right and I tend to feel guilty for not reciprocating. I'm not sure if this is part of it.

Then, uh, don't dress sexy.

The fact that your friends get hit on more, and like it, shouldn't affect your behavior. You don't like that attention, so why should you draw more to yourself?

As delmoi points out, there is no reason that you have to dress sexy in order to get laid. And likewise, you shouldn't wait for a guy to notice you--or a girl to notice you, for that matter.

There's literally nothing sexier (to me) than a cute girl walking up to me and saying, "Hey, you're cute. Wanna give me a ride home?". She doesn't need to be all vamped up, just cute--and it sounds like you dress attractively, just not provacatively. It doesn't need to be as brazen as I quoted above, but you're limiting your opportunities far more by taking the passive role than by not showing cleavage.
posted by Netzapper at 7:07 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I feel so uncomfortable with being "sexy" until I actually get in the bedroom

Well, me too. And it's much to the delight of the man who gets all that sexy shown to him privately.

If you're dressing unattractively or childish, then you need to work on that. If you're just modest and reserved, then don't worry about it.
posted by 26.2 at 7:08 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you don't feel comfortable with being ostentatious, maybe you shouldn't be?

As delmoi asks, what is your goal? In my experience people wear the uniform of their group. Is the club scene your group? Do you want a lot more attention? Is it quality or quantity that you're after? I'm guessing looking sexy is going to get you more quantity, at the expense of quality?

Of course I'm a bit biased. For one, I for one am a wildly attracted to women who are pretty but somewhat plain. Also, I think the world is severely lacking in individuality. We need more people who almost but don't exactly fit.

Just be yourself. Experiment with sexiness, but if it doesn't work figure out how to accentuate other parts of your personality. The difficulty is going to be getting your close friends on board. They may be resistant to you wanting to look and act differently. But, definitely experiment.
posted by TheOtherSide at 7:17 PM on July 19, 2009


You might want to try some modest but definitely sexy dresses from Shabby Apple. I think these sorts of styles go a long ways in making one look attractive and sexual without showing off too many goods or promoting a level of sexuality that might be too much for the office or with your long-established male friends.
posted by cior at 7:22 PM on July 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm also pretty uncomfortable with unwanted sexual attention and feel anxious when someone hits on me and I'm not interested because I worry that I won't get the balance of kind and assertive right and I tend to feel guilty for not reciprocating. I'm not sure if this is part of it.

I'd guess that is a major part of it. I know women get harassed by guys and that's not cool, but you also need to accept this:

You want guys you're interested in to find you sexy and approach you. But there's no way to magically filter out the ones you find unattractive. If you put out a net, you're always going to get some boots and tires along with the fish. I bet if you get more comfortable turning down the ones you aren't interested in, the rest will come naturally.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:33 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Don't push yourself to do something atypical for yourself, unless it's something about yourself you're trying to change. If I were you, I'd focus less on dressing/acting "sexy", and more on learning to give and receive non-verbal and verbal cues.
posted by davejay at 7:37 PM on July 19, 2009


I always feel uncomfortable when I get attention for my appearance, so I try to underplay it and cover up, but then get frustrated when someone I find attractive doesn't notice me.

I agree with sarabeth - the problem is not "sexy" - the problem is how you feel about yourself and how attractive you are.

Why do you feel uncomfortable when you get attention for your appearance? Don't you deserve the compliment? Didn't you get dressed up on purpose? Isn't it nice to have others recognize the effort you have put in to look extra special?

Why do you feel frustrated when someone you like doesn't notice you? Do you feel if you were being more "sexy" he would? Like it's your fault for not being "sexy" enough?

I just think what's going on here is something more internal, than external. Guys, please correct me if I'm wrong - but I think that a woman who feels really good about herself and her appearance becomes sexy, by default, regardless of how much skin she is showing.

I agree with being yourself, but it's important to feel really good about being yourself! What can you do to feel even better about yourself?
posted by Locochona at 7:43 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oy, with the "be yourself". Of course, be yourself, but for Pete's sake people, she says she's feeling like she's in a rut with her clothes. We all make choices about our clothes, our choices send certain messages, she's trying to see what it would take to send a slightly different message.

It's standard advice in this kind of thread, but have you seen the tv show What Not to Wear? (There are British and US versions of this, try both) They give very nice systematic advice; a good starting place for someone who doesn't think about clothes much.

The real answer is, of course: take a friend and go to a store with a bunch of different clothes and try things on that you normally would rule out.

For example:
1. Necklines. Try different necklines that show a little more skin up top - doesn't have to be anything crazy, small changes make a big difference here. Try a wider v-neck, or a boatneck, etc.
2. Skirts. If you normally wear trousers all the time, try skirts that come to your knee. Try some that are cut close to the body, and some that flare (A-line).
3. Materials. Do you wear t-shirt material, or oxford-shirt material that stands away from the body? Try silk, or something with a little bit of spandex in it (eg jeans with 5% spandex), etc. The material of a garment makes a difference to how it fits, how it feels and catches the light etc. Also certain materials read as older, more professional etc - if you're wanting to get away from looking too young.
4. Shoes. Would you think about wearing a bit of a heel? Doesn't need to be a high one, or a really skinny one... Just a short heel can give you a feeling of "authority" or something like that, which can be fun/sexy. Try some at the store, see what's the difference between the ones that are in your normal range and the ones just beyond that.
5. Haircut? Having a good haircut can make a big difference. Are you in a rut like long hair always in a ponytail, etc? Maybe a different, shorter, etc cut would be a nice change?

(Of course, I have no idea if any of this applies to you, and we don't know what your current wardrobe is like etc. You need a real-world friend to help with details here.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:01 PM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Locochona hits it on the head. A confident smile is about as attractive as it gets (and far more interesting than just sexy). And I'll concur with Delmoi, us guys aren't all that complicated, whether it is the bedroom or just some flirty times out in the clubs you are looking for. Nothing wrong with saying 'Thanks, not interested' if a guy expresses interest that goes too far.
posted by meinvt at 8:13 PM on July 19, 2009


If you wear something...regardless of how sexy or attractive it is...and you're not comfortable with it...you will NOT come off as sexy. GUARANTEED.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:20 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here are some examples of different necklines, on pretty conservative shirts that you could still wear for a night out. Which of these might work for you depends on your figure and your comfort level, but just take a look at these small-step choices:
ballet neckline
ballet neckline with detail at the neckline
scoop neck
scoop neck with detailing at the neckline
button-up, open to create vneck
v-neck with detailing on front
v-neck with ruffle
cowl neck

(It might help if you let someone know an example of the style you have now, and of the kind of style you think you're shooting for. Catalog pictures or actresses that come to mind?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:24 PM on July 19, 2009


This part is a little striking: "I'm also pretty uncomfortable with unwanted sexual attention ..." You do not get it both ways. Life is full of these tradeoffs.

People have a variety of levels of skill at reading body language, and you may notice people noticing you (ad infinitum). What they don't have (as far as I know) is telepathy. If you dress "more sexy," the direct consequence of that is more sexual attention. Assuming that the proportion of unwanted to wanted remains the same, that means you're going to get more instances of unwanted sexual attention. I don't know of any way to dress which says, "Only people in whom I might have a mutual interest should find me attractive."

Everyone has outlined what you can do, both to your apparel and to your self-image, but it sounds like your absolute first step would be to get comfortable handling unwanted attention: diverting, detecting and avoiding, gentle turndowns, and so forth. Otherwise, you're going to feel awkward and you'll go right back to your previous behavior, which you will now have reinforced by negative experiences.

It's like placing a full-page ad in the New York Times, but not having enough people to handle the incoming calls.
posted by adipocere at 8:32 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


and have always had this perhaps misguided idea that not playing up my sexuality when mixing with the guys was a matter of integrity and a way to be taken seriously.

this straight guy thinks that's super sexy. just be more assertive with the smiles, eye contact, hair flips and laughing. sneak inthe ocassional touch and the boys will usually be right there. If they don't seem interesting, then tell them you are crushing on them. I think things will be fine after that.

Practice doing these things with dogs, cats, rocks, mirrors.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:40 PM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you don't have friends who you think can offer you the kind of candid advice, and solid fashion sense that the What Not to Wear TV team offers their hapless guests, you could hire a stylist/personal shopper. For hourly fees that range from $15 to $150 an hour, you can expect that in 3 or 4 hours, a professional stylist may have a look at your wardrobe, interview you to understand your wants and concerns, and perhaps take you shopping in a couple of stores to help you put together an outfit or two, that accomplishes what you need to do.

Rates and availability of stylists/personal shoppers vary greatly by area. If you have trouble finding someone you think can help you (try Craigslist, the Yellow Pages, Google, etc.), you can contact most major department stores for introductions to their staff shoppers and style consultants. Store shoppers are obviously going to push store merchandise, but I think you'll find their general advice is usually solid, and put in terms you can use yourself, elsewhere.
posted by paulsc at 8:50 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember the following point...

Authentic True Fact: Men usually don't care how you dress. Sure, some aesthetically-inclined men may prefer one style over another, or a member of a subculture may give you points for wearing the uniform of that subculture, but...

unlike what the women's magazines would have one believe...

for the most part... again... men don't care how you dress.

If a woman is not pretty, she's still not pretty when wearing a $2000 dress. If she's pretty, she's still pretty in rags or a potato sack.

So, basically, women will often care very, very much about how you dress-- but men rarely will.

Onward.

> I'm also pretty uncomfortable with unwanted sexual attention and feel anxious when someone hits on me and I'm not interested because I worry that I won't get the balance of kind and assertive right and I tend to feel guilty for not reciprocating. I'm not sure if this is part of it.

Part of it? This is almost all of it. At some point in your life, for what were probably excellent reasons at the time, you established a series of equations that are now putting a crimp in your life, e.g., being sexy= being disrespected and not taken seriously; being sexy= receiving unwanted attention and feeling uncomfortable; being sexy= making other people feel bad.

The thing is, you don't need to worry about making guys feel bad, so long as you remember how visually men are wired. Just smile, and when you want to dismiss a guy, say, "You're an interesting guy. I've got to wait for a friend/some friends of mine now, but [smile non-ironically and look him in the eye, in a friendly way] thanks for having the courage to come talk with me." Then look around for your friend.

Remember, guys are hypervisual; just looking at an attractive woman makes a man feel really good, so if you *look friendly* and stay grounded enough to say one unpredictable thing while you dismiss a guy, he'll mainly remember how cool you are (while you did the incredibly hard work of standing there and looking pretty).

He may well even spread the news of your coolness to his more attractive friends.

As to the other equations:

a) the more attractive you are, the more men will actually respect you. In fact, the more attractive they find you, the stronger their incentive to pay the utmost attention to what you say. A woman who combines intelligence and beauty is usually taken very seriously indeed.

b) receiving unwanted attention. Assuming a context within which you are physically safe, try asking yourself these questions: Can you practice keeping calm, so that every attractive guy who sees you notices how cool and mellow you are, even with guys you don't like? Being cool with the Inevitable Uglies suggests that you're a cool person generally, and therefore someone worth actually keeping around.

For that matter, what do you want to DO with the attention of men who don't meet your standard?

Can you practice Being Fascinating, so when you meet a guy you actually like, you know that much more about how to have a great time with him? Can you introduce him to less attractive women, and thereby gain immense prestige and respect and gratitude? Can you make deflecting or neutralizing attention into a kind of art form, so that you gain incredible confidence as you walk into every new situation?

The bottom-line is this:

Being attractive puts you in control... and it's up to you whether you want to make your newfound experience of being in control something you can use to make people-- even the guys you don't want-- feel great, and see you as a charismatic figure that everyone loves to have around and welcomes immediately and instinctively.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:02 PM on July 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


I have a friend who has a similar problem.
Her difficulty is that she looks 16 when she's 26.
I told her to wear fishnets more.
And like, silkier items that show off cleavage.
It's true she does get more attention.
Not always from men she likes.
But now she has more options.
You;ll have to get better at letting guys
know you're not interested in them
if you start throwing out the bait.
Good luck.
posted by Sully at 9:21 PM on July 19, 2009


You sound nervous and curious. And maybe not sure how to strike a balance between confident and sexy and the girls you see who clearly feel confident and sexy but ugh.

So the difficult thing is, how do I "be myself" and get out of this rut and feel comfortable with my sexuality...without projecting it weirdly or trying too hard and wow this seems like a complicated dance.

The normal answer is to go shopping with a friend. Try on stuff. Have fun. No pressure. It's hard to imagine exactly what you mean by pretty but not sexy, because this is really subjective. But girly vs womanly, and being taken seriously, remember that you can demonstrate some curves without looking provocative.

Maybe it would help to lean on some vintage-y styles? That might let you be modest and sexy in a way that makes sense to you. It's a shame that you're anonymous...if not, I'd ask you to tell me what type of woman you admire?
posted by desuetude at 9:43 PM on July 19, 2009


Authentic True Fact: Men usually don't care how you dress.

If a woman is not pretty, she's still not pretty when wearing a $2000 dress. If she's pretty, she's still pretty in rags or a potato sack.


I disagree completely. Men don't care how you dress inasmuch as they may not care how much you paid for your dress or what brand it is, but they certainly care how you look, and dressing appropriately is a big part of that. I don't think men would approach a pretty girl dressed in a potato sack. I do think they would approach a plain girl dressed attractively.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:03 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Waiting for the guys to approach you is a sucker's game. Why wait for a maybe-rotten-maybe-not apple to fall out of the tree when you can go get a ladder and pick the right one yourself? (Hint: Rotten apples fall with more frequency.)

I recently participated in the World Naked Bike Ride. There were nearly 3000 naked people on this ride (no fooling!), and the gender ratio was pretty evenly matched.

** I did not see one unattractive woman on this ride. **

You might blame self selection bias or the fact that bicyclists usually have pretty nice calves, but, no, it was because clothes don't matter with regards to sexy. Confidence matters. Doing something that most people would never do, in total safety, surrounded by likeminded compatriots is a good way to be more confident. Clothes aren't sexy. Confidence is sexy. Clothes may or may not be a tool to aid your confidence. Use them and test them like the tools that they are.

I might add, once you find your sexy, try to wield it with the wisdom of someone who always had it for years and years--because you HAVE always had it. If you have trouble buying that, pretend you're the person you will become from dressing super confidently for several years. How does that person act? How do they respond to advances from men? How do they carry themselves? Who do they choose to date or go home with? How often does 5+ years you go home with a new guy? ... Fake being this person until you are this person. If you don't approach a major change in your persona with this kind of foresight, you'll probably learn these lessons the hard way. That is to say, the heart you break may be your own. (Or some genuinely good guy's heart.)

A couple other off-the-wall suggestions:

Get an OK Cupid account and spend some time building up your profile. The software encourages lots of levels of interaction and you'll get practice at those kind but firm turn downs. Practice is the only way to feel more comfortable here, so you might as well do it on the Internet where the stakes are a lot lower than a club.

Find a quiet, comfortable, private place with a good Internet connection and try this meeting your future self guided meditation. When you meet her and she's awesome, pay attention to what she's wearing. And don't forget to ask her how she got so awesome. http://www.stevenaitchison.co.uk/blog/2007/04/12/guided-meditation-meeting-your-future-self/
posted by Skwirl at 10:43 PM on July 19, 2009


Just a counterpoint to ludwig_van's comment. I've been hit on while sick and looking like death. I have been hit on wearing ratty sweats with sweat-damp hair while leaving the gym. That's the modern potato sack, IMO. And no, I'm not the type who wears cute coordinated gym outfits. When I say ratty sweats, I mean it.

And in many ways, Anon, I am or have been like you. I was a late bloomer and uncomfortable with putting myself out there. I've always been a huge geek and a gamer and hung with the guys a lot (and still do). All this being hit on fairly often started happening after I worked through some early-20s soul-searching as well as started working on my confidence. As my confidence grew, these inward changes led to outward changes as well as differences in the way others approached me.

Now, suddenly I was getting this attention, but not used to fielding it. I think I'm still learning. I feel a little awkward on occasion, especially if a guy seems interesting because I don't want to be presumptuous about his intentions (I've been with my boyfriend for several years). And when it is clear that someone is hitting on me, I try to let them down gently, which can lead to the occasional awkwardness.

But sexy is a matter of confidence -- how you carry yourself, how open and approachable you seem, even how you carry yourself physically (posture and/or stride, things like that). That isn't to say that working on tweaking your manner of dress and maybe styling your hair differently or trying a new lipstick shade - little things like that -- wouldn't boost that confidence. Sometimes little things make a big difference - getting your eyebrows shaped properly for instance.

I'm a devout user of red lipstick, but I went beyond my comfort zone and have been playing around with nude colors and pinks in recent years. I used to have hair down to my thighs. I got about 15" cut off one day just like that. A lot of confidence comes from learning about yourself and trying new things. Break out of your comfort zone, but that doesn't mean put on or do things that make you uncomfortable.

You need to dress for yourself and do your hair and makeup for yourself. Don't worry about what others think. It's okay to feel a little uneasy trying something and learning to like it, but if something just does not feel like "you" then don't wear it just to do it or worse, for some perceived notion of 'sexy'.

I think LobsterMitten also had some good advice as far as playing with necklines and choosing different fabrics comes in.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:49 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think that potato sack theory is a bit too much about abstract extremes. Like, sure, Scarlett Johansson in a potato sack would still be quite appealing. And Susan Boyle in a red-carpet gown isn't quite going to appeal as much, irregardless of how well she sings.

But yeah, mostly I'm with meinvt on the confident smile. I really don't get why models are always made to do that haughty scowling thing.

In terms of clothes, remember that showing a bit of skin doesn't have to equate to short skirts & lots of cleavage. I think most guys appreciate a bit of shoulder or upper arm, or some bare back - something that hints at nakedness & sensuality, but in a way that you sound like you might be more comfortable with.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:54 PM on July 19, 2009


UGH.

Do you admire or desire the type of attention and relationships these well-meaning friends (women?) receive as a result of how they dress?

You're much better off going for feminine, clean, and situation-appropriate rather than "sexy." Do you really want the first thing a guy thinks about you or says to his friends about you to be "Hey, she's really sexy"? It doesn't sound like you do. (Yes, I know men always evaluate women as potential sexual partners.) I don't usually pull the feminism card, but GOD I hate how we always have to be "sexy." What is wrong with just looking like a nice girl?

You mention "single phases" so it doesn't sound like you have trouble getting boyfriends/sexual partners. Who cares if your friends think you dress or act like a prude? You are not trying to date/sleep with/marry your friends.

Tell them to STFU and go back to their SATC DVDs.
posted by thebazilist at 10:58 PM on July 19, 2009


Now that I've calmed down a bit, I just want to make sure that (a) you don't have a unibrow, (b) you don't have any hint of mustache or chin whiskers, and (c) "feminine" dress doesn't mean a uniform of turtleneck sweater and wide ankle-length skirt or that a non-hipster man could fit into your jeans.
posted by thebazilist at 11:05 PM on July 19, 2009


Double ughing. I, like thebazilist, feel yukked out by the notion that you need to "dress more sexy." I feel like yelling, "who the fuck for?!?!" Unless most of the guys around you are majorly hot and worthy catches, I feel like this is putting you in a demeaning position. If you like makeup and fashion and all that, by all means, pretty yourself up because it's fun, or because you like feeling girly (nothing wrong with that.)

Now, if there are numerous hot guys who are worthy of attention, by all means, learn how to apply makeup properly and wear cute (but not uncomfortably revealing) clothes. There are are tons of youtube tutorials that will tell you how to apply makeup. It takes practice.

But if it's mostly a bunch of guys you are uninterested in, fuck that! Ask out the one who interests you. That's the cost (and privilege) of being a woman who could give a shit about looking pretty for men. You have to learn to be more pro-active.

Once you ask that guy out and he says yes, then you can feel free to dress up for him if you want. This will at least keep the unwanted male attention away, for the most part.

To me that seems like the best out of both worlds: being pretty just for that one special guy, and being cool and casual for everybody else.

Again, you just have to be willing to be the one doing the asking out, IMHO. As for looking sexy, there are billions of blogs and youtube videos on makeup and fashion. You need to find girls who look like you (both facially and in body-type) who are skilled in dress and makeup.

Good luck. Again, you sound awesome as you are.
posted by thisperon at 1:37 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


This may or may not work for you, but pretty underwear makes me feel sexy and confident-- it's a way to tell myself "why yes, I am that kind of girl" without advertising. You've gotten a lot of good advice here, though, for snazzing up your look.
posted by molybdenumblue at 3:19 AM on July 20, 2009


Also yeah, don't buy the "dudes don't care how you dress" thing. This may be true for a few, but I think when guys say this they really mean they are oblivious to the technical details of dress and makeup. It doesn't follow that these things have no effect on them.
posted by molybdenumblue at 4:14 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you want to change your physical appearance somewhat - do you have a friend whose taste in clothes you admire/appreciate, and a few hundred dollars to spend? (If so, your course seems clear to me.) If it were me, I'd start with one new outfit that sent the message I was trying for, but I'm a middle-aged straight guy and I don't know jack-shit about clothes.

Let me echo what others have said: in day to day life, you should dress and carry yourself like you are genuinely comfortable doing. Be comfortable in your own skin and the right percentage of "sexy" will be clearly visible at the right times to the right people. As one data point, confidence and intelligence in an adult female human between the approximate ages of 18 and 90 pique my interest every time. :-)

I actually find provocative dress and behavior an irritation in the workplace, and that's pretty much regardless of the nature of the provocation or the gender of the person doing it. You dress and behave modestly at work? Bless your heart. Good instinct, and keep that up.
posted by enrevanche at 4:28 AM on July 20, 2009


Have you watched the show on TLC - "What Not to Wear"? I've learned a lot about how to dress nicely and with a style that's my own from there. It's helped me understand that you can dress up without being too "frou-frou" and that you don't have to run around in sweat pants and a t shirt to be comfortable.

Check it out if you get a chance.
posted by Mysticalchick at 5:07 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd try to dress better rather than trying to dress sexier. I agree with the "What Not to Wear" recommendation. Either shop around or make an appointment with a personal shopper (free at department stores) and try on a lot of different styles. You may be surprised by the styles you end up liking or thinking look good on you, so cast a wide net. Also, you might try looking on youtube for hair and make-up how-tos to get some new ideas if you generally do the same thing every day. I'm not suggesting you need a makeover, but I do think that making enough of a change that it feels like a fresh start can be a huge confidence boost.

You probably won't be comfortable in "sexy" clothes--short, tight, low-cut. But you may be comfortable in vintage-style clothes (actual vintage, recreations, or vintage-inspired like you can find at Anthropologie or Banana Republic) or the J.Crew preppy/classic style. These latter options can keep your clavicle covered, if you prefer, while giving you a new look.

Also, your question reminded me of this: there was a segment on This American Life recently about a woman who was trying to get this coworker's attention, so she always wore her favorite, "sexiest" (also happened to be awful 80s acid-washed) jeans when she knew she'd see him. They ended up getting together, but one day he saw her folding those awful jeans and asked why she had to keep them. She was shocked! She'd felt so sexy in those jeans, credited them with attracting her husband. He, on the other hand, had responded to the confidence she felt while wearing them (and to the other likable things about her) and had acted on those feelings in spite of his distaste for acid-washed jeans.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:32 AM on July 20, 2009


The key to looking sexy isn't what clothes you wear, but how you wear them. Don't worry about them being perfect all the time. Just relax and look friendly, comfortable and confident and you will look good in whatever you wear.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 5:59 AM on July 20, 2009


I take part in a lot of male dominated activities and have always had this perhaps misguided idea that not playing up my sexuality when mixing with the guys was a matter of integrity and a way to be taken seriously.

That might be the key right there. You need to be able to look hot while feeling that people can take you seriously. Beauty and brains. Sexy certainly doesn't mean you have to be one of the tee-hee-dumb-girls. It sounds like you're not one of those girls, so don't try to be sexy the way they do. Find serious women who totally bring it. Like, say... Michelle Obama. Can you say she doesn't have serious integrity? And yet, smoking hot.
posted by heatherann at 6:41 AM on July 20, 2009


Oy, this was me about ten years ago. To an extent it still kind of is.

I'm trying to think what helped me, and how to apply it to practical advice to someone else. Which is hard to do, since I'm not even sure how I got past it myself. So I'm going to punt with some "hmm, give this a try" ideas; I know the milestones I reached, but I'm not sure how I got there, so I'm flailing for things that MIGHT get you to these milestones.

1. Take a day and go to Victoria's Secret or some other fancy-poo lingerie store, and get the hottest, sexiest, lavishest lingerie they have. Seriously take your time with this one, and get exactly what you like best -- whether that be the most killer knockout bra you can find, or the slinkiest negligee they have, whatever. Just make sure that whatever it is, when you put it on and look in the mirror, even YOU think "...holy crap, I look HOT." Buy it, and wear it a lot; if it's a bra, wear it under your regular work clothes; if it's a negligee, wear it when you get home from work.

My hunch is that this will lay the groundwork for some confidence, in a sort of secret impish "oh, if you only KNEW what I have on under this blouse" kind of way. Notice how you feel when you wear it; and remember that.

2. Take another day, and go "window shopping" shopping. As in, spend a day in the stores just trying things on. You are NOT there to buy anything, you are just looking at options. Look for something that will make you feel the way the lingerie makes you feel. Experiment -- maybe it's long, silky, flowy skirts that make you feel that way. Or a blouse with long sleeves, but a low neckline. Maybe it's a form-fitting turtleneck. Or, hell, maybe the magic outfit for you is just a tank top and jeans with really hot shoes. It doesn't matter what the actual garment actually looks like -- as long as it makes you feel the way you feel when you wear the magic lingerie.

3. If you do find one outfit that makes you feel hot, the way you do when you wear that lingerie, even better -- buy that, whatever it is. Find the opportunity to wear it. Notice how you feel when you wear it, and notice people's responses. Wear the lingerie under it if you can, for an extra boost of "ooh, I'm hawt."

4. The next time you go shopping for clothes, take a moment to consider what it is about that magic outfit that actually works, and build upon that. If it's a neckline, look for that neckline. If it was built in a way that nips in at your waist and gives you an hourglass figure, look for something that builds on that. If it's just the t-shirt and jeans and hot shoes, maybe just look for more hot shoes and a flirtier tank top. But what's happening here now is that you've had some experience with something that makes you feel sexy, and you can try to follow that vein. And yet -- still try other things, because if something else gives you that magic "ooh, this is the way my bra makes me feel" feeling, get that too. It could indeed be something different.

You may find in all of this that what makes you feel sexy is different from other people conventionally tell you is sexy. Maybe girly works for you -- depending on how someone carries it off, lacy and ruffly things can be kind of hot in an "I'm a prim and proper young lady on the outside, but just get me alone in the cloakroom and see what happens" kind of way. And a t-shirt and jeans can be hot in a tomboyish "after we armwrestle, we can...wrestle in a different way" kind of way.

It's the inner oomph of you feeling sexy that carries anything off, and I'm trying to start you off by getting in touch with your own inner oomph.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:16 AM on July 20, 2009


I don't usually pull the feminism card, but GOD I hate how we always have to be "sexy." What is wrong with just looking like a nice girl?

They are not mutually exclusive. "Sexy" need not be "slutty."
posted by desuetude at 7:35 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, you sound like you could be me. I have a problem about dressing conventionally sexy too. I don't know why, but I think it is because I had two younger brothers, and always had to appear really 'strong' so that I won't be weak.

However, like other posters have said, being sexy doesn't necessarily mean dressingly 'sexily', meaning, showing cleavage, arms, or a lot of leg. It *does* mean dressing well and acting confident. I dress very prettily/ girly, with subtle makeup, a lot of cute full knee-length skirts and fitted tops. And, it's fine. This is who I am, and I feel very confident being this person. The key is to finding your own style, maximizing your looks, and being confident about how you look.

Also, about acting prudish at nightclubs -- alcohol generally loosens inhibitions :-)
posted by moiraine at 9:49 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


**5. Haircut? Having a good haircut can make a big difference. Are you in a rut like long hair always in a ponytail, etc? Maybe a different, shorter, etc cut would be a nice change?**

All other things being equal, men find longer hair "sexier" than short hair. There may be exceptions, but I think most men would agree with that premise.

With that said, I find nothing sexier than a fit woman (of any age) in a simple pair of jeans, a t-shirt, medium-to-long hair pulled back in a pony tail, and little to no makeup. The latter is the "confidence" I find sexy; it says, "This is me..take it or leave." There was a recent article/pictorial in a major magazine (French Vogue) showing supermodels/celebrities/others, etc.. without makeup. Wow!
posted by teg4rvn at 11:26 AM on July 20, 2009


I feel really bad for the OP, because she asked for advice and most of what she's gotten was a bunch of "you're okay just the way you are!" platitudes. I mean, yes, of course she's okay just the way she is. But obviously something's missing and she wants to do things differently, otherwise she wouldn't be here, right?

Anyway, a few general pieces of advice :

Clothes and shoes DO matter. Coordination DOES matter. Guys DO notice. But what we don't notice (and really have no clue about) is price or branding. So what really matters is what looks good on you, and not how much it costs - because let's face it, we have no appreciation for that.

And forget about handbags. Guys could give a crap about them. They're like that piece of parsley on your plate that you push away and forget about. I've never once heard a man comment on a woman's handbag. They're like the female version of a pissing contest. So if you're trying to attract men, forget about the handbag. (on the other hand, if you've got materialistic girlfriends you want to impress, go ahead and buy that $1000 bag)

Now onto specifics :

This part is REALLY subjective, so I want to make clear that I'm only speaking for myself. There is no single standard for attractiveness, and what looks hot to one guy looks hideous to another. So I can really only talk about what I personally find attractive.

Having said that...

Legs. Some men are leg men. I am a leg man. I notice the legs. Pantyhose and tights accentuate a woman's legs. I've seen plain-looking girls go from zero to hot just by employing the right legwear. You will get more attention if you do this. Not every guy's thing, but for a lot of us, yes.

General look. Some guys really go in for androgyny. They're all like, "jeans and sneakers and t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts, woo-hoo!" Nothing wrong with that. Once again, nobody's right or wrong here. But myself, I couldn't possibly disagree with them more. I think a sexy look is one that is explicitly feminine. Something that jumps out and says, "I am a woman!" The less likely a man could get away with wearing it, the more likely it is to be sexy. Big poofy dresses (think vintage), long flowing skirts (think hippie), anything shiny or sparkley, anything that could be described as "diaphanous," any sort of smooth, silky material, anything that accentuates your figure (yes, this goes for big girls, too). You don't have to wear things that look "slutty" or even revealing; just feminine.

Hair. Really depends on the woman and what type of hair she has. Long hair is always a safe bet. Short hair that is short on purpose can be hot - a bob can be spunky and charming. Short, spikey lesbian hair is never attractive, unless you're trying to pick up a lesbian.

Shoes. Anything that's got some style. Anything that looks like you're wearing them on purpose. Anything that doesn't say "I just threw these on because they're what I had lying around." Heels are sexy, but not always necessary. But please, no flip-flops.

Anyway, that's all for now. Once again, this is just what I happen to find attractive. I'm not trying to oppress anybody with my fascist beauty standards or anything.
posted by Jake Apathy at 4:15 PM on July 20, 2009


Oh yeah, and some people mentioned makeup. Really I have no clue about this because I think makeup is one of those things that a guy only notices if it's bad. Lipstick definitely adds to hotness, but am I the only guy who thinks really shiny glossy lips look kinda weird?

And if you have a pimple or something, don't put on a bunch of excess makeup to cover it. That usually just makes it look worse. I mean, pimples? Everybody gets them. But some spot where the makeup is all caked on and I'm wondering, "what the hell is she trying to hide?"
posted by Jake Apathy at 4:18 PM on July 20, 2009


I feel really bad for the OP, because she asked for advice and most of what she's gotten was a bunch of "you're okay just the way you are!" platitudes. I mean, yes, of course she's okay just the way she is. But obviously something's missing and she wants to do things differently, otherwise she wouldn't be here, right?

But the thing, Jake, is that even in trying to offer constructive advice, you fall all over yourself to quantify that with "but this is just what I like" and "some people like this, others don't". Which is why people haven't offered too many specific constructive "get X top and Y pants and Z will follow" advice. Because everyone's different, and not everyone can look good in the same thing.

Which is why I tried to focus on "whatever you wear that makes you inwardly feel 'damn, I'm hot', that is what you should be wearing." What you say about not caring about labels sort of applies -- you probably don't care what labels someone wears if she has the inner oomph to pull it off. For some people, knowing that "yeah, I can afford Christian Dior, choke on THAT y'all" IS what it takes. For others, it'd be "yeah, I got this for five bucks from a consignment store and look how hot it is, that's right" is what does it.

In both case, it's that inner sense of "yeah, I look awesome" that really wins the day. And different things do that for different people. Which is why we can't define specific outfits for the OP, because we can't know what'd do that for her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 PM on July 20, 2009


Ok, since Jake's pointing out some of us haven't offered specific advice, I'll go ahead:

First, take the "makeup isn't important" and "I love the no-makeup look" guys with a grain of salt.

Guys say this all time, but it's only because they're referring to women who've applied their makeup the wrong way. So then they assume all makeup is bad and unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Good makeup is subtle, and barely looks like you've got anything on. Guys are fooled all the time. They think they like the natural look, but what they really like is two things:

1) clear looking skin (achievable with the right foundation if you're skin is spotty) and
2) well-defined eyes (mascara or eyeliner does the trick.) Pluck and shade brows so they are defined (not scanty)

Those are two holy grails of looking attractive to most men. Slight blush is usually pretty cute, and eyeshadow is entirely optional.

Again, check out youtube tutorials on makeup and find the one you like. It's my opinion that most guys are "face" oriented, so you can pretty much wear anything you like (baggy clothes and what not) to look pretty, if your face looks good. If you have some body issues or want to downplay certain parts of your bod, this is where knowing what flatters you in terms of clothing (color, fabric, and shape) can really help you as well. For example, what looks good on a tall, skinny woman and a larger, short woman is usually going to be different. Again, the internet will really help you out. You can check out myshape.com for starters.

And Jake, part of what we're addressing in the OP is that her wanting to be change seems to come from her friends' pressuring her to "BE MORE SEXY." I guess a couple of us take issue with that directive, and the pretty (IMHO unhealthy) implications that come with that. Like society and media don't ask women to "BE MORE SEXY" enough as it is? Do you have daughter or sister? Would you give the same advice you gave to them as you just did for anonymous?
posted by thisperon at 5:28 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do you have daughter or sister? Would you give the same advice you gave to them as you just did for anonymous?

I'm assuming this is some kind of rhetorical question. Do girls really ask their fathers and brothers how to look sexy?

But if one of my lifelong female friends asked me that question? Yes, of course I would give the same advice. But I'd also stress that it's only one man's opinion.
posted by Jake Apathy at 6:02 PM on July 20, 2009


Guys say this all time, but it's only because they're referring to women who've applied their makeup the wrong way. So then they assume all makeup is bad and unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This. I've never known a woman's eyes to look worse for makeup, except when it's so shoddily applied or misconceived that it stands out like a sore thumb.

I guess that sounds circular & self-evident, but what I mean is that good eye makeup is where it's all at, and you can pretty much do whatever the hell you like with the rest & still look stunning - Including, to about a 90% extent, the clothing & definitely the handbag.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:24 PM on July 20, 2009


It was rhetorical, Jake. Sorry, didn't mean it to be so harsh. As you can see I take issue with her friends comments (not so much yours.)
posted by thisperon at 6:33 PM on July 20, 2009


Guys say this all time, but it's only because they're referring to women who've applied their makeup the wrong way. So then they assume all makeup is bad and unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This. I've never known a woman's eyes to look worse for makeup, except when it's so shoddily applied or misconceived that it stands out like a sore thumb.


Sure, take us with a grain of salt--most guys are fooled by naturalistic makeup. And it is basically true that nobody's eyes are made less attractive with well-applied makeup--I actually like even the most vampy of eye makeup.

But, there are some of us who aren't fooled even by well-applied makeup. And some of us who aren't fooled rather prefer that your face, which we hope to touch at some point, isn't covered in gross smeary shit. There's little I hate more than getting foundation all over me (and my couch and my clothes) while making out.

[Does anybody remember a web test from a couple years ago that had photos of girls with none, naturalistic, and "club" makeup? The whole point of the test was to prove that guys thought they liked no makeup, but really liked naturalistic makeup--and couldn't tell the difference. Does anybody remember where it is?

Turns out, as verified by that test, I can both detect makeup and don't especially like it. We do exist.]


Like society and media don't ask women to "BE MORE SEXY" enough as it is? Do you have daughter or sister? Would you give the same advice you gave to them as you just did for anonymous?

I have, in fact, advised my sister on looking sexier. I've gone shopping with her for stuff that's downright slutty. And she looks damn fine when she tries.

Why shouldn't my sister look sexy if she wants to? And why shouldn't I offer what advice I can if she asks?

Oh, that's right... as a good American male, I'm supposed to chase pretty girls and premarital sex, but ensurepretend that my female relatives are pure and chaste? Please. I'm not that hypocritical. And the incest taboo isn't strong enough to keep me from recognizing that my sister's an attractive woman.
posted by Netzapper at 9:34 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm supposed to chase pretty girls and premarital sex

Um, who told you that you were supposed to do this?
posted by thisperon at 10:12 PM on July 20, 2009


Also, the point my point about sister and daughter doesn't have to do with chastity. I'm sorry if that was vague. It has to do with helping out a woman who feels uncomfortable with trying to be sexy around men.

What I hear is a woman asking "I feel weird about attracting male sexual attention, but I'm interested in getting dates." Which is far different than, "I'm ready to be hot and want men to be attracted to me."

Both are valid desires, and I have no quibbles with either. The part I don't agree with is "BE MORE SEXY" is the best answer for the first situation.
posted by thisperon at 10:32 PM on July 20, 2009


Need more "cowbell" in the sexy department? Paint your little tootsies any color of your choice and wear some kick-ass sandals. You sound like more of a fun person than you feel like and this will show it! Best of luck.
posted by boots77 at 6:19 AM on July 21, 2009


You don't have to shake out of this until you and only you really want to. I was a LOT like you in college, and I had well-meaning friends and acquaintances (hell, therapists even...bad therapists) try to gently tell me over and over again I seemed a little stuffy and buttoned-up and ill at ease with displaying my sexual confidence or whatever. But that was kind of bullshit, because frankly I had other things on my mind. Later, like 5 or so years later, when I decided to give myself a gradual makeover, it was because I felt different inside and was ready to look different. But don't do it just because your friends point out you look a little unusual. Seriously, who cares.

Now, when you're ready to, my advice would be definitely yes, a really kick ass haircut. That's a great starting point because it's a one-time thing, and if you're used to being low maintenance and not thinking about your appearance, you'll still automatically look different, fresh, new, whatever. Very little effort involved. It always depends on face shape and all that, but a common good place to start is getting a short(er than you're used to) angled bob. Almost no maintenance involved--seriously, I don't even brush or blowdry my hair--but it's quite sexy and playful without being super radical/edgy fringe of society stuff.

Make up...I find it helps to have a super glamor pussy friend who still manages to not be a fashion Nazi and have her give you recommendations for specific products to start out with. Or go to Sephora and tell them flat out you're new to it and nervous. Makeupalley is a great forum, by the way. Paula Begoun can also be helpful and less bullshit-sale-driven. When I finally dove into make up in my mid-20s for the first time ever, personally I found the following items essential to doing it right: Urban Decay's Eyeshadow Primer Potion, proper eyeshadow brushes (don't need to be expensive necessarily, just, not those disposable little foam pad things shadows come with! Proper brushes...elf sells 'em for like a buck each, drugstore brands work for me too), lining my eyes with either eyeshadow applied thinly with an applicator or really soft liner brushes...NOT liquid eyeliner. Maybe I'm just a doofus, but liquid eyeliner (unless it's light colored and hence forgiving, like those metallic liners Urban Decay came out with) is too messy and precise for my clumsy hands to deal with. Hard little eyeliner pencils are painful and similarly unflattering for clumsy me. Really nice lipgloss in a super flattering shade (this is totally trial and error since shades are so specific to people...I like Korres plum lip pots and Bonne Bell Lipsmackers in Dr. Pepper). A heated eyelash curler (you can get a cheap one for like 4 or 5 bucks) and Lash Architect mascara. elf sells a white pencil they call an "eye widener" that you apply to the inner corners of your eyes...it's practically invisible, but it really does make you seem more awake. These things will open up your eyes but are very subtle, so they're a good way to start.

Pencil skirts, depending on the kind of shape you have, can be super sexy while still seeming strangely professional. I love, love, LOVE them.

Really comfortable bras are a way to make YOU feel sexy all day without actually revealing anything to anyone else. Ditto stockings with garters or thigh highs, and cute undies. A nice slinky slip or robe to lounge around the house in private in can also boost your mood just for you.
posted by ifjuly at 11:39 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did you get this advice from women or men? I think men will usually figure out if a woman is attractive, even if she isn't dressing sexy. I'm even more sure about this if you're engaged in male dominated activities.

If you like some single guy, but he doesn't make any moves, then maybe you should make the moves yourself? Why spend all your time trying to get some guy to think it's all his idea when you can just act?
posted by jeffburdges at 5:02 AM on July 22, 2009


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