What would women wear if men didn't exist?
July 23, 2006 7:19 PM   Subscribe

What kind of clothes would women wear if men were not around to look at them?

I have a feeling men would be wearing about the same stuff they do now. I don't feel the same about women's fation though.
posted by nintendo to Society & Culture (57 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sweatpants & t-shirts. Oh wait, that's what I wear anyway. :)
posted by bim at 7:23 PM on July 23, 2006


Actually, a lot of women dress up for other women's approval. Now that might be because they want to look better to show the other women that they 'win' or some such. But something tells me that even without men women would be in competition with each other.
posted by nadawi at 7:24 PM on July 23, 2006


To assume that women dress for men at all times is pretty insulting, nintendo. And not really true- all other things equal, I think I'd wear the same things.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:24 PM on July 23, 2006 [2 favorites]


Nah, I bet they'd wear the same stuff. They're trying to impress each other, not men.

...is this really answerable, though?
posted by equalpants at 7:24 PM on July 23, 2006


Exactly what I wear now. I dress cute for myself.
posted by kalimac at 7:30 PM on July 23, 2006


Well, even if there are no men around, many women judge themselves and others on how they would look to hypothetical men. I try to look "presentable" sometimes even if I'm just home by myself doing work because knowing I look like I just stumbled out of bed is a distraction, even though I know how ridiculous that is. Women are constantly expected to look good for men, and it's hard to just turn off.
posted by transona5 at 7:30 PM on July 23, 2006


To assume that women dress for men at all times is pretty insulting, nintendo.

Sure it is, but did he? That's either some killer irony or what many men would call a 'typical' female misreaction to something that totally wasn't an insult. "You look slim today dear" becoming "You usually look fat though" in the woman's mind.. The man only asked a question!

In any case, I've asked my girlfriend the same thing and she has always answered the same way as the women above. There might be occasions she'll dress to impress me, but generally it's an esteem thing.
posted by wackybrit at 7:33 PM on July 23, 2006


I would probably lose the heels. There would be fewer tall people that I would need to look in the eye.
posted by Alison at 7:36 PM on July 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


Duh--whenever men aren't around it's naked-pillow-fight time 24/7, thus we'd all be naked and armed with pillows.

More seriously, I grew up in a community that enforced quite strict separation of the sexes, and women/girls still dress up with heels, makeup, and all that crap at the women-only events. (The community's dress code prohibits wearing low-cut or very tight clothing, so I can't speak for that, but women still work at being attractive and still wear uncomfortable or impractical things in the name of fashion.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:48 PM on July 23, 2006


My theory -- and I've had it confirmed by three or four girls -- is that girls dress for themselves first and foremost. Just yesterday a friend was talking about how much she liked the way her new shoes went with a particular outfit, and she admitted that she was still looking forward to wearing the ensemble even when she was planning on hanging around the house.
posted by danb at 7:53 PM on July 23, 2006


I pretty much wear jeans and a tshirt all the time anyway. If you're positing a scenario where suddenly all men disappear, then I don't think fashion would change much because of the history behind it and cultural inertia. If you're trying to imagine how fashion would have evolved in a society of women without men ever...that's too deep for me.

you might want to change your tag: fashion, not fation
posted by jacalata at 7:55 PM on July 23, 2006


When I dress up, whether it's for work or a social function, it's not specifically to impress men. In fact, it's probably mostly to ensure that other women don't talk smack about my outfit behind my back.

If no one is around to look at me, i.e. when I am home alone for a weekend, I wear pajamas and bunny slippers, or in the summer months, pajama bottoms, a tank top, and flip flops.
posted by tastybrains at 8:03 PM on July 23, 2006


Your question can be answered by examining how women in a cultural setting like that of the middle east dress, when they are out of the public eye but among each other.

Take Saudi Arabia for example. There is a huge market for high end fashion. This seems counter intuitive because women remain covered in public. Where would they be wearing all these chanel suits and fendi shoes?

They wear them under them at the office... offices which are completely female. So in the company of only other women, they glam themselves out in designer clothing that no one on the street will ever see.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 8:18 PM on July 23, 2006


You assume that women dress in such a way as to get men to look at them, but that's not always the case. I would wear a lot more revealing clothing (like low-cut tops, especially) if it weren't for men always staring at my boobs or checking out my cleavage. So I defense-dress by covering up. So to answer your question, I would wear clothing that covered up less of me.
posted by iconomy at 8:22 PM on July 23, 2006 [2 favorites]


I'd probably wear tighter clothing, more like leotards/stretchy t-shirts and pants/tights all the time. Think Star Trek (or dance class - very comfortable clothes required). I'd love to dress like they do in Star Trek, sort of. But a) my figure's not always flattered by clothes even a little like that, and b) I don't want other people to _think_ I'm trying to show off my body.
posted by amtho at 8:25 PM on July 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


girls dress for themselves first and foremost

Of course that's what they would say, but this is a chicken-or-egg question, because what's considered good-looking is a reflection of deeply ingrained social and biological values. Your friends say they're dressing for themselves, but their values -- what they think looks good -- are themselves influenced by the social and biological contexts.

For example -- most women's clothes emphasize the shapes of breasts and hips. Why? A social biologist will tell you it's because these parts of the body are associated with fertility. The humans that displayed a tendency toward dressing to emphasize these features, and the humans with a tendency to react to this social symbology, were more likely to pass on their genes -- and their culture.

So, your friends say, "I'm dressing for myself." And they truly believe that. But all of the clothes in their closets are the end result of decades of "fashion" and tens of thousands of years of evolution.
posted by frogan at 8:28 PM on July 23, 2006


Men's presence has nothing to do at all with what I choose to wear.

I wear what makes me feel good.
posted by k8t at 8:38 PM on July 23, 2006


I used to wear mini skirts and low cut tops and fuck-me boots. It was fun attracting the attention but I got over that. Now, I wear (all the time) cargos & t-shirts and gym shoes. I never ever wear high heels. Don't own a pair. I wear clothes to prevent me being naked, and to protect me from the weather. Occasionally I'll wear a particular item because it reminds me of some idea (i know - weird eh?) or because the colour is special to me. Some people wear clothes as an artistic statement. Some people wear clothes as an indication of status, some to attract others. So many reasons. Silly to attribute one reason to an entire gender.
posted by b33j at 8:40 PM on July 23, 2006


The qualifier 'if men didn't exist' makes this a basically unanswerable question. If men didn't exist, clothing for women (largely designed by men) would probably have evolved in a much different way.

And of course, if men didn't exist, and women are still reproducing, then that basically changes the whole nature of society, right? So women may not be dressing up for men anymore, but they may at times be motivated to dress up for whoever or whatever is impregnating them, or protecting them, or having sex with them. And if that's other women, then the clothing is no doubt going to reflect that, but then, if men have never existed in this scenario, then the creatures we're talking about aren't really women anyway, and not really human, either.
posted by bingo at 8:43 PM on July 23, 2006


bingo, you're right, but I think it's easier if you think about it as "if men stopped existing" rather than "if men never existed." So I would imagine that all the men died off and women were able to reproduce through some kind of technological means.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:56 PM on July 23, 2006


I think it's easier if you think about it as "if men stopped existing" rather than "if men never existed." So I would imagine that all the men died off and women were able to reproduce through some kind of technological means.

With that in mind, I'd argue that you wouldn't see many changes in the short term, and then cultures would evolve over time to so that "looking good" = "whatever made it more likely to be successful, get ahead and reproduce more effectively."

But then, I'm just a fan of this guy as a thinker.
posted by frogan at 9:00 PM on July 23, 2006


b33j: fuck-me *boots*?

I've seen pumps and sneaks... but I can't imagine you mean by 'fuck-me' what I've come to associate it with, which is "backless shoes you can kick off across the room before you hop into bed."
posted by baylink at 9:02 PM on July 23, 2006


fuck-me boots, also known as cfms (come fuck me boots)
posted by jacalata at 9:14 PM on July 23, 2006


b33j: Fuck me boots. Yum. :) I assume these are the over the knee variety?

baylink: AFAIBT fuck me pumps have backs. They just have stiletto heels as well.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 9:15 PM on July 23, 2006


Women dress mostly for other women, not for men -- if you want to see what 'dressing for men' would look like, visit a Frederick's of Hollywood and go to the 'clothing' section.
posted by little miss manners at 9:30 PM on July 23, 2006


It would a world without
1. makeup
2. heels
3. bras
4. thongs
posted by The Jesse Helms at 9:49 PM on July 23, 2006


>>women's fation
GAH.

WOMEN DRESS FOR OTHER WOMEN: it's something that you figure-out when you're in like 8th grade. that's the way it has always been. so your question is null & void.

btw, The Jesse Helms, most women wear bras and thongs for sake of comfort, support, and pragmatism (not many of us are comfortable running around with jiggly, loose tits and grandma's baggy, cotton panties).
posted by naxosaxur at 10:05 PM on July 23, 2006


I'd still probably wear a bra, especially if I wanted to jog or anything like that. But it'd be a nice, comfy, utilitarian sports bra. Other than that, it'd be nothing but sweat pants and T-shirts for this girl. No low-rise jeans, no figure-hugging tops, definitely no painful shoes.

Interestingly, I've just finished reading Volume 1 of Y: The Last Man, a comic book about a plague that wipes out all the men on earth. I'm only up to a few months after the event but so far most of the women seem to be dressing exactly as they did beforehand (with the exception of supermodels being forced to work as garbage collectors). There's also a gang of violently misandrist lesbians who fashion themselves as latter-day Amazons and burn off their left breasts... but of course, all this is being imagined by a guy anyway.
posted by web-goddess at 10:16 PM on July 23, 2006


Ack! A thong is *not* the only alternative to Grandma panties. Ever hear of plain cotton bikini briefs? The whole point of thongs and G-strings is to minimize VPL... and if you're not wearing skin tight ass-hugging pants, there's no need. Add that to my list.
posted by web-goddess at 10:17 PM on July 23, 2006


There's a line from a John Mellencamp song that I think is totally true: "The girls walked by, dressed up for each other."
posted by hazelshade at 10:25 PM on July 23, 2006


Tweed suits, hot pants, bird-butted jeans & the wrap dress.

All else is conjecture.
posted by rob511 at 10:46 PM on July 23, 2006


Ladies are dressing for the ladies, regardless of their sexuality.
posted by Orrorin at 11:18 PM on July 23, 2006


Regardless of what women would wear, my guess is that it would all be two to three sizes larger, on average.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:46 PM on July 23, 2006


It's a hundred degrees in the shade; at home I'm wearing light clothes and no bra, but when I go out of the house I put on things that are in no way see-through, and a bra that gets drenched in sweat the second I hit the street. Why? Because if I didn't, I would get the kind of attention I don't want, and a certain percentage of men would be completely sure that my clothes are advertising that I want to have sex with them - yes, them!! as soon as possible!!!! :)

So... totally agreeing with iconomy - I would wear more revealing clothes if there were no men.
posted by taz at 11:57 PM on July 23, 2006


I'm sad at what was marked best answer here.

True - not all women dress for men, but the question was valid, because many do, and most of those that don't do so "always" still do it "sometimes" or "often"...

Clearly ThePinkSuperHero fancies herself an exception to the rule, and that's fine and good.. but the rule exists.
posted by twiggy at 12:54 AM on July 24, 2006


To help make this question less theoretical, as yourself how lesbians dress. They, presumably, are not dressing to impress men (though men are always there and always looking) and don't much care about the male gaze or male gays or male anything else. Not that all lesbians could be expected to dress alike, but how do clothing trends differ between straight and lesbian women?

But lesbians must deal with female eyes. A different question is how would people dress if humans were asexual, if every bit of clothing wasn't the equivalent of bright petals or a glowing abdomen or a crest of feathers.
posted by pracowity at 1:47 AM on July 24, 2006


hazelshade - that's from Van Morrison's "Wild Night" - Mellencamp covered it.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:02 AM on July 24, 2006


I think the real answer has to lie between the extremes that some folks here are replying with.

If men vanished tomorrow, sure, there would still be miniskirts and heels, and there would also still be sweatpants. There would still be some women who just put on clothes each morning to keep the sun and the wind off. The women who used to dress to impress men would start dressing to impress each other, and the women who have always dressed for each other would keep doing it.

There would probably still be little black dresses, since wearing a tight dress well is still a challenge and a challenge well met is still impressive. Hell, there would probably still be thongs, since your little black dress isn't going to impress anyone if your panty lines are showing.

But even if the design elements stay the same in women's clothing, I'd expect the design goals to change a great deal, and with them the little details of cut and fit. Instead of clothes designed to convey sexiness, I expect we'd see more designed to convey power, attitude, or "hey-I-look-this-good-when-I-get-out-of-bed" slack. The lines on a little black dress in our hypothetical manless world would probably be very different from what we're used to seeing here and now.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:17 AM on July 24, 2006


3. bras

You've got to be kidding me. Anyone who has serious breasts (probably b and above) will acknowledge that bras serve a very important support function- most of them are not designed for sexiness.
posted by miss tea at 5:28 AM on July 24, 2006


This question is flawed, since it fails to take into account the various spheres of human existence - Home, Work, Clubs, Grocery Stores, Bowling Alleys, Salons, Rifle Ranges, the Gym, etc. We don't dress the same, with the same unconscious goals, in every sphere. So I contend that, if women suddenly stopped existing, men might dress the same at work, but would they go to clubs at all? And if they did, would they wear those silly "button-up-shirt half-unbuttoned over white undershirt with jeans and sneakers" costumes? I bet you'd see a lot more guys wearing ratty boxers under sweat pants with Van Halen shirts.
posted by muddgirl at 5:29 AM on July 24, 2006


On a related note, weren't men's ties designed to emphasise the genitals - hence the pointy end? In a world without women, we'd never have to wear the bloody things again. Probably not worth the trade-off, though :(
posted by blag at 5:42 AM on July 24, 2006


If you enjoy these types of ponderables, check out the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.

James Tiptree, Jr. wrote Houston, Houston, Do you read?, which is collected in Her Smoke Rose up Forever (a very excellent short story collection). (James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of Alice B. Sheldon--a fascinating person, she deserves more than this passing mention.)

It's an interestic topic, perhaps there have been mefi posts or askme posts about it. feminist science fiction authors for search terms? I have vague memories of an askme about it, but perhaps I'm confabulating.

I like all of the gender speculation woven through Greg Egan's works. He probably wouldn't have been listed in a feminist sf thread. and find Raphael Carter's (who wrote the androgyny RAQ) story, Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation. It's been collected in various places.

posted by bleary at 6:19 AM on July 24, 2006


Oh, and in answer to your question--I don't know. Myself, I would probably dress similarly. I think many would (in the first few generations). I agree with the other posters who point out that some other group would take on the role of the mechanism that drives sexual displays (that's one facet of your question).

Speaking of which, you might also enjoy reading up on animal behavior and sexual dimorphisms.
posted by bleary at 6:24 AM on July 24, 2006


There are a variety of influences on how women dress, enough that removing one factor would have a negligible effect.

Also, I think muddgirl has good points about context and behavior alterations.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 6:27 AM on July 24, 2006


Anyone who has serious breasts (probably b and above) will acknowledge that bras serve a very important support function- most of them are not designed for sexiness.

Agreed!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:43 AM on July 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think muddgirl and nebulawindphone have it. Women dress the way they do for a variety of reasons. Just taking men out of the equation wouldn't mean everyone was suddenly in sweatpants and t-shirts.
posted by schroedinger at 7:05 AM on July 24, 2006



Women dress sexily for other women? No. Women dress sexily to demonstrate their high sexual status to other women.
If all the men in the world died, Y: The Last Man style, I reckon it'd take about a year for this trend to die off. That said, without the watchful eye of the sexual predator, women would probably be a lot less guarded about what they wore. I'd predict naturism.
posted by greytape at 7:31 AM on July 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sweatpants
posted by onepapertiger at 7:38 AM on July 24, 2006


How about visiting an "assisted living" facility? Hardly any men in one of those. The ladies there have no one to impress, but some still do their best to look a certain way.
posted by Eringatang at 9:34 AM on July 24, 2006


I'm with Taz and Iconomy, in that there are things I put on to get less attention from men, particularly as I spend a lot of time on foot or on the train. Aside from that, my clothing choices are either motivated by selfishness (what silly outfit I want to be wearing, for me) or pure laziness (what is easy and comfortable).
posted by oneirodynia at 10:02 AM on July 24, 2006


pracowity: To help make this question less theoretical, as yourself how lesbians dress

I don't know how far that will get you. True, there is a distinctive butch style that many lesbians adopt, but I am guessing this has a lot to do with identity & visibility, not unlike punks or goths or skaters or whatever dressing in uniform. It demarcates those within the subculture from those outside.

OTOH, there is a whole other bunch of lesbians who would be practically invisible to you unless you saw them in context, because their dress sense is exactly the same as that of straight women. What this says about how women would dress if men were not around is beyond me.

muddgirl: would they go to clubs at all? And if they did, would they wear those silly "button-up-shirt half-unbuttoned over white undershirt with jeans and sneakers" costumes?

Ew! How naff. Exactly which month of 1985 was your town teleported back to?
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:39 PM on July 24, 2006


greytape: "Women dress sexily for other women? No. Women dress sexily to demonstrate their high sexual status to other women."

I have to agree with this one, to a large degree. It's dressing to impress men mostly to show how much better they are, how much sexier, to other women.

Except for when it isn't. :)

I'm old, more or less married and comfortable with myself. When I was young I tended to dress to be thought of as attractive and so that other girls wouldn't snipe at me behind my back. These days I tend to lean toward comfort: lounge capris, political or pop culture t-shirts. Make up only when I have the yen to do so. Or have a job interview. Job interviews, of course, are the great equalizer, when we all dress to impress, male or female, straight, gay or bi.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 5:31 PM on July 24, 2006


I would not wear clothing if men were out of the equation. Finally, no leering! And/or what iconomy, taz and oneirodynia said.
posted by Lynsey at 9:12 PM on July 24, 2006


UbuRoivas: True, there is a distinctive butch style that many lesbians adopt, but I am guessing this has a lot to do with identity & visibility, not unlike punks or goths or skaters or whatever dressing in uniform. It demarcates those within the subculture from those outside.

Um....no

Twiggy: True - not all women dress for men, but the question was valid, because many do, and most of those that don't do so "always" still do it "sometimes" or "often"...

Um...no (and ...huh?)

greytape: Women dress sexily for other women? No.

No? My girlfriend works at a sex shop and says she likes to look hot so that more women will buy strap-ons off her. Oh, golly! is she lying to me?
posted by azuma at 6:19 AM on July 25, 2006


Oh, golly! is she lying to me?

Yes, you should break up with her.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:29 PM on July 25, 2006


azuma: "um...no" to what, exactly? The existence of the butch look? That's undeniable where I live. Fully 90% of my dyke friends adopt it. The idea that it is a subcultural uniform? Hell, when you walk into a bar & again, 90% of the people there are dressed identically, it's pretty hard not to come to that conclusion. My best guess is that your "um...no" is rooted in academic queer theory arguments about gender identity that, frankly, most of the people adopting the costume neither read, nor care about. I am not disputing the theory, it's just that down on the ground beneath the ivory tower, people are just people & they like to fit in with their chosen crowd.

An afterthought, as well, in case anybody returns to this thread. It sounds like the question so far has been framed in terms of whether women dress for women or for men, which is a false opposition. Why not both? Assuming that we are talking about straight women, and assuming that it is true that women dress "for" other women, the question remains: do they dress at all for men?

Many have derided the leering & unwanted attention, but all this says to me is that they don't dress for the *wrong* type of men. Single women wanting a partner would have to have mens' opinion at least in the back of their mind, and I have often heard partnered women say how much they enjoy innocent flirtation, or using their sexuality in office or social occasions. This leads me to believe that some (at least) do dress "for" men, but only the right men, or only if the situation is going to be nice, safe, controlled, and free of unwanted attention from Wino Bill.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:39 PM on July 25, 2006


I am guessing this has a lot to do with identity & visibility

I'm saying "um....no" to your idea that lesbians dress a certain way to signify their membership to a subculture, not denying that the look exists. Me, and everyone I know who dresses like that do so because it makes us feel comfortable and/or sexy. FYI, I've never studied queer theory. In fact, I work in a factory.
posted by azuma at 2:42 AM on October 20, 2006


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