Monday, August 10, 2009

“F” For Effort (This One’s for the Women)

Recently I witnessed an interesting phenomenon. It involved a guy who, surrounded by attractive, dolled-up, perfectly coiffed women, chose the one woman who, though neatly put together, was the most casually attired in the group. When asked about his selection, he responded that all the other women seemed to be trying too hard. “You know …” he said, “hair and make-up too perfect, too much cleavage … too much effort.”

This comment got me thinking and soon enough I was recalling an instance in my life where I was forced to go out to a trendy party straight from work without what I thought was the appropriate attire. I was wearing my most boring lawyer-like pants suit and had no time to get myself freshly done up. Trying to transform from “motion mode” to “martini mode” in the bar, I lost the jacket, rolled up my sleeves and wore my best accessory - a smile - as many PYTs in skimpy black dresses sashayed around me. To my surprise, I had no lack of suitors that night, one even telling me that it was appealing to him how casually dressed I was. The thing was, I stood out in my casualness and sent a message that stated in essence, “I don’t need to get decked out to impress someone. I’m ok in my own skin.”

Ok, I know what you (the women especially) are going to say -- “You just told me that I should prepare for a date like an interview, and now you’re saying I shouldn’t try too hard when out about town! How is a hapless dater supposed to know when trying ‘just enough’ suddenly morphs into trying too hard?!”

Fair question. But like everything in life, it is an awareness of your circumstances and surroundings that should guide you to the right conclusions. For instance, dress that is appropriate on a Saturday night at Soho House is without doubt going to look ridiculously over the top on a Monday night at your book club. I’m sure some readers are thinking: “I don’t need to read the Sunday at Noon blog to know that – tell me something I don’t know…” Unfortunately, I don’t know all of my readers personally, but the woman I met last Tuesday in the black dress sporting three inches of cleavage at an East Village party for a friend’s recent book launch clearly missed the memo. And she’s not alone…

Examples of women trying too hard are everywhere. Take the women who wear a ton of makeup to the gym with the apparent desire to attract a man, but who fail to realize that what they are really doing is sending a red flag to men -- whose thought process is inevitably going to the question of whether the stunner on the Stairmaster is going to look like Cruella deVille the morning after. Newsflash to women (ok, too many news flashes?): most men prefer less makeup than more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to go to your 6am spin class totally au natural, but a light lipstick color, a light mascara and you’ll trick the guys into thinking this is exactly how you look when you roll out of bed (they’re easily fooled). Just kidding guys. The point is men will notice the overall naturally pretty look without thinking or wondering how many levels of foundation it took to get there.

And then take the women who can be found throughout the city wearing tops showing serious cleavage at 3pm in the afternoon. I sat across from one such woman over afternoon coffee recently and listened to her lament her single status and her unpleasant encounters with prurient men. With her best interests at heart, I advised her that if she really wanted to meet the right kind of guy, she might want to hold off on the peep show. Now, a shirt like the one she was sporting might not convey anything other than sexy fun on a Saturday night out in the Hamptons, but in the middle of the afternoon in Manhattan it frankly reeks of desperation.

Make it no bones about it*, I’m all for using your assets – my motto is “if you got it, flaunt it” - whatever “it” is. Got great legs? By all means – under the right circumstances - wear a miniskirt that would make the 80s proud. Perfect tush? Sure, wear tight jeans that hug every curve (just make sure you have your Cosabellas on). Men want to go for, and be with, a woman who is put together, feminine and sexy. But it’s one thing to look nice and it’s another to look over the top. Most men are not interested in (at least for more than a few hours) meeting the woman who has clearly gone to great lengths to attract the guy. Why is it a turn-off? It shows desperation, a lack of self-confidence, a need to go out and find a man (rather than having the man find you) and on some level it implies that you are not a happy individual, a complete individual, until the knight in shining armor has come into your life.

So when it comes to the date attire, it’s a delicate balance. Of course, you want to adopt and implement the “interview approach” and wear something that makes a good first impression (i.e. something stylish, flirty and subtly sexy) but you also want to convey an air of ease. An outfit that conveys “I like you and am excited to see you, but I didn’t spend five hours getting ready for you.” Ok, you maybe you did spend five hours getting ready (between planning the outfit in your head, talking about it with your friends, maybe even shopping for it), but the point is not to look that way. It kind of reminds me of that old commercial telling people it’s ok to be stressed or nervous but “Never let them see you sweat.”

*As my loyal following’s intellectual curiosity may cause them to wonder about the origins of this expression, I once again delved into our language’s rich past for answers. Although some sources state that because it is such an ancient phrase, the phrase’s origins cannot be accurately traced, several sources indicate that the expression was used as early as 1459 to refer to someone not making a fuss if bones turned up in his or her soup or stew. See