“If you can’t be better than your competition,” Vogue editor Anna Wintour as soon as stated, “just dress better.”
Indeed, new analysis suggests that ladies don’t simply costume to be modern, or to outdo each other on the subject of engaging males. They additionally costume for different ladies.
But Wintour’s quote misses a few of the nuances that go into the outfits ladies select with feminine mates, co-workers and acquaintances in thoughts. It’s not nearly dressing higher. In reality, my colleagues and I discovered that ladies could be motivated by one other issue: avoiding the slings and arrows of different ladies.
The psychology of ladies’s wardrobes
My social psychology lab explores how ladies navigate their social relationships with different ladies. With my co-authors, Oklahoma State graduate pupil Ashley M. Rankin and Arizona State University graduate pupil Stefanie Northover, I lately studied what goes into ladies’s style decisions.
Of course, each women and men take into account a wide range of considerations when choosing their outfits: price, match, event.
Existing psychological analysis on ladies’s clothes decisions tends to heart on how ladies costume for males – the make-up, footwear and colours they choose to impress the alternative intercourse.
But we posed a distinct query: How may ladies costume for different ladies?
For over a century, psychologists have been occupied with competitors between males. Only over the previous few a long time have researchers began to significantly look into how ladies actively compete with each other.
The competitors isn’t essentially good. Like males who compete with each other, ladies could be aggressive towards different ladies they’re competing with. But it’s hardly ever the bodily sort. Instead, social scientists like Joyce Benenson, Kaj Bjorkqvist and Nicole Hess have proven that ladies are extra liable to depend on social exclusion and reputation-damaging gossip.
So we puzzled: Do ladies ever costume defensively – to mitigate the prospect that different ladies may go after them?
We know that ladies who’re bodily enticing and who put on revealing clothes usually tend to be targets of same-sex aggression. For instance, psychologists Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma discovered that ladies behaved extra aggressively towards a horny girl when she was wearing a brief skirt and low-cut shirt than when that very same girl wore khakis and a crewneck.
We reasoned that ladies would pay attention to this dynamic – and a few would attempt to keep away from it. So we examined this idea in a sequence of experiments.
First, we studied whether or not folks would count on ladies to be aggressive towards enticing, scantily clad ladies.
We requested 142 folks to learn a situation about two ladies, Carol and Sara, who met for espresso after connecting on a friend-finder app that was like Tinder, however for platonic relationships. We requested the individuals how they thought Carol would deal with Sara throughout an in any other case uneventful espresso date. Although the eventualities had been the identical, some folks noticed a photograph of Sara that depicted her as a horny girl sporting khakis and a crewneck; others noticed a photograph of her sporting a low-cut shirt and short-skirt; and a 3rd group noticed her within the extra revealing outfit, however the picture had been photoshopped to make her look much less bodily enticing.
We discovered that when Sara was enticing and revealingly dressed, folks anticipated Carol can be meaner to Sara.
We then wished to see whether or not ladies would additionally act on the notice of this dynamic, so we ran a sequence of experiments with college-aged and grownup ladies from the U.S.
For a set of two research, we instructed feminine individuals to think about that they had been going to fulfill new folks in an expert setting, like a networking occasion, or at a social gathering, similar to a party. They had been additionally advised to think about the occasion as both single-sex or mixed-sex.
In the primary, we requested ladies to attract their superb outfits for these occasions, and we later had undergraduate analysis assistants measure how a lot pores and skin was revealed. In the second, we requested ladies to decide on outfits from a menu of choices – akin to buying garments on-line. Each of the doable outfits had been rated for modesty by a separate set of individuals.
In each research, ladies selected extra revealing outfits for social occasions than skilled ones. This wasn’t stunning. But curiously, ladies selected much less revealing outfits to fulfill up with an all-female group – no matter whether or not it was an expert or social setting.
But wouldn’t the extra revealing clothes in mixed-group settings merely mirror their need to draw males?
Not precisely. Not all ladies dressed the identical for different ladies. The ladies who rated themselves as extra bodily enticing had been those who selected extra modest outfits when assembly up with a bunch of ladies. This helps the concept that they had been dressing defensively – to keep away from bringing consideration to themselves and being focused by the opposite ladies.
Because same-sex aggression is extra prone to come from strangers than mates, in our remaining experiment we requested 293 younger ladies, aged 18 to 40, what they’d put on to fulfill up with a potential feminine good friend. Again, we discovered that extra bodily enticing ladies indicated that they’d costume with extra discretion.
Together, these findings present that ladies don’t at all times costume to impress. Nor do they costume to aggress. Instead, there’s a extra refined social dance happening – one which entails humility, hesitance and heightened consciousness.
[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]