Are you look­ing at me?

We en­light­ened women dress to please our­selves alone. Or do we? Brigit Grant con­sid­ers the true mo­tives be­hind our fash­ion choices

The Jewish Chronicle - JC Magazine - - I Recto Ry -

SO WHAT about her?” I ask my hus­band in a mezzo forte whis­per. “Who?” he asks as the woman I’m re­fer­ring to dis­ap­pears around the cor­ner. “The one in the brown boots that don’t go with her All Saints skirt. The Kan­gol hat and Burberry trench? Well, do you think she looked good?”

“Not really,” comes the la­conic re­sponse, which is re­mark­able as he clearly didn’t see the woman I’m bleat­ing on about. “No, she’s try­ing too hard,” I con­clude and al­low my hus­band to go back to read­ing the pa­per.

“What about her?” I yell sec­onds later and this time he picks up my lead. “Fab­u­lous,” he says ap­prov­ingly, as we both vis­ually trail the tall blonde in leather trousers and army jacket up the street.

This is a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of our peo­ple-watch­ing ban­ter, though when I say “peo­ple”, I really mean “women”, be­cause more of­ten than not it’s the fe­males who are the fo­cus of my at­ten­tion.

It’s not that I don’t no­tice men — I do — par­tic­u­larly those who at 600 me­tres have a pass­ing re­sem­blance to Ge­orge Clooney. But even a great­look­ing guy in a savvy suit will never be as fas­ci­nat­ing to me as a woman. Not in a sex­ual way, but the re­al­ity is that women spend more time look­ing at other women than they do gaw­ping at men. The pri­mary rea­son for this is be­cause fe­males are keen to see what “the op­po­si­tion” is wear­ing, how much cel­lulite they have, what their hair looks like and how thin they are.

Sure, men make com­par­isons in the locker room (even if they don’t dis­cuss it) but I’ve yet to meet a woman who can re­sist com­ment­ing on a mem­ber of the sis­ter­hood, though typ­i­cally she will couch it in the fol­low­ing way: “She’s got such a lovely face. It’s a shame she hasn’t taken bet­ter care of her­self.” Sound fa­mil­iar?

Clock­ing other women’s shoes, height, im­per­fec­tions, pedi­gree of hand­bag and plas­tic-surgery sta­tus is a com­mon thought process, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by a swimwear com­pany — in­ter­est­ingly, be­cause women are at their most vul­ner­a­ble in swimwear. It’s by the pool or on the­beach­when­the­clawsre­al­ly­come out.

Some of you may be old enough to re­mem­ber a show from the 1970s called The James Burke Spe­cial, sim­i­lar to To­mor­row’s World but with ex­per­i­ments. Mr Burke made a marked im­pres­sion on me when he de­cided to mon­i­tor how men and women look at each other. Men, as it turned out, see the whole woman — they don’t look for faults un­til later. Women, on the other hand, com­part­men­talise other fe­males the sec­ond they lay eyes on them and zoom in on ev­ery flaw. It is be­cause of James Burke that I have stayed away from com­mu­nal dress­ing rooms and still refuse to try any­thing on in a cu­bi­cle with­out a mir­ror. If the only op­tion is mod­el­ling the gar­ment on the shop floor for the sales staff, I would sooner not. I don’t think I need their opin­ion or ex­pres­sion when try­ing on an ill­fit­ting frock in the wrong bra.

This leads to an even big­ger ques­tion — do we gals dress for each other or for men? Per­son­ally, I’m caught be­tween the opin­ions of Carine Roit­feld, former ed­i­tor of French Vogue who says she dresses for her­self and the view of de­signer Is­abel Toledo who says: “Women dress for men. I do dress for my­self be­cause it makes me feel em­pow­ered, but I’m def­i­nitely look­ing for (my hus­band’s) ex­pres­sion, not his ap­proval.”

There are oc­ca­sions, notably date nights, when a woman dresses with a man in mind. I, for one, will al­ways ask my hus­band’s opin­ion and then choose to ig­nore it or not, de­pend­ing on the mood. But on a day-to-day ba­sis, 42 per cent of women say they dress to im­press their fe­male pals in an at­tempt to a) win their ap­proval, b) look like them and blend in or c) make a stand-alone state­ment so they get talked about.

You know which cat­e­gory you fall into, but chances are most of us will be­have just like my­nah birds and dress in the same feath­ers as our peers. Talk­ing of feath­ers, dark or un­flat­ter­ing hair roots are one of the things women look out for most on other women, along with cri­tiquing tans, physiques and spot­ting wed­ding rings. One in 10 women have ad­mit­ted they al­ways want to look bet­ter than the op­po­si­tion, but a more op­ti­mistic 40 per cent say they don’t com­pare them­selves to other women in a spite­ful way. I think my women-watch­ing ban­ter tells you where I fit in to all of this. But you can al­ways ask my hus­band for a sec­ond opin­ion.

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