“Who are you dressing to please?” is a question that gets tossed around a lot. Many proclaim that they dress for themselves and themselves ONLY. Some sheepishly admit to dressing to attract the attention of potential romantic partners. An even smaller group fesses up to dressing competitively with other women.

But to state that you dress for a single audience or purpose is likely an oversimplification. For most of us, I think it’s a mix … and a mix that can be hard to decipher. Are we drawn to certain items because they please us on some inherent level? Or because we know that wearing them will make our sisters and coworkers just a tad envious? Or because we believe they’ll make us appear sultry and sensual and utterly kissable? It could be any, some, none, or all of these things.

Yet there are certain aspects of our appearance-centric choices that can remain more pure. We may buy lingerie solely for the purpose of partner-pleasing. We may buy green garments because we know our moms like to see us in green. We may buy oversized sweats so that Sunday mornings with the cat and the newspaper are fugly but comfy.

I will freely admit to dressing for others. Now just to be clear, I buy stuff I love and I never buy stuff I DON’T love, so my wants/likes loom large in the mix. But I like looking good, I like getting compliments, I like wearing stuff that strikes up conversations with strangers about clothing and shoes and accessories. (Mostly so I can tell anyone who likes what I’m wearing exactly where to go to get one for themselves. What’s the fun of getting a compliment if you can’t share that shopping joy?)

I will even go so far as to say that I work out – at least in part – for others. I mean, I’ve finally reached a point where I enjoy exercise, feel better when I’ve gotten it regularly, and challenge myself constantly to become more athletic. But I work out for my doctor, who tells me that I need to stay fit for multitudinous reasons. I work out for the approving glances that my well-toned calves earn me. I work out for bragging rights about freeweights and push-ups, intervals and biking distances.

But my tattoos are mine. They are, in many ways, the single aspect of my appearance that deflect all outside input. I don’t give a shit if you hate my tattoos, or if you think I’m foolish for doing something so permanent to my body. I don’t care if you know what they mean to me. I got four tattoos without even asking anyone’s opinion on the designs. And when I consulted HM on the red crown on the back of my neck he thought it was too big. I got it as big as I wanted anyway. But it wasn’t about rebellion, it was about what I knew I wanted, regardless of anyone else’s opinions.

Most of us dress for multiple audiences, but many of us also have some aspect of appearance that is ours alone. What’s yours?

  • La Historiadora de Moda

    I dress professionally (if quirkily) for the classroom, conferences, etc. I do, however, have three tattoos, and I don't worry too much about two of them being covered up for said things. (In winter, though, they do tend to go into hiding under multiple layers.) I also have a nose ring that I essentially never take out (aside from cleaning) and a tongue stud.


  • vampfan30

    I have been reading your blog for a few months now & just now commenting…I have needed some of the things you have said over this time frame, so I want to say thanks for that & also, as a tattooed lady myself – they are all mine, y designs, my want, my need, my expression. If anyone has a problem with that, too bad.

    Sal, you rock.


  • Nicole

    Thank you for this post. So very much.

    I have two tattoos and hope to have more someday. I constantly get asked if I regret them (particularly in regards to the compass rose on the back of my neck) and I have always responded, "No, I love them." I was even told on my wedding day by a family friend, "Aw, how can such a pretty girl have done something like THAT to herself?!"

    I still love it. And someday I hope to have two more … one on each of my wrists for my two kids (one of whom I haven't met yet).

    I dress very utilitarian (I'm a pregnant mom these days so that's where my energy goes) and my husband is a little tight with the purse strings, so my tattoos are mine. All mine.

    Thanks again, Sally! :o)

  • Diana

    I've toyed with getting a tattoo for a long time, but I have yet to decide on what I design I would like.

    But I have to say, you totally rock for owning your tattoos and not caring what others think!

  • K.Line

    Oh, good question. I have no idea. I assumed it was all completely for me, till I started thinking about it :-) Can't answer this yet.

  • futurelint

    I guess a lot of what I wear (in terms of clothing and make-up) is so I feel good about myself and so other people can see and know that.

    I guess my hair is mostly about me. Whenever I wear it down all I hear is "You should wear it down more often." "I love your hair when it's down." etc. I like it up. It annoys me when it is down. I worry about it when it is down. I know it looks good down, but well, I like it up. So I wear it up, 90% of the time.

    I have to agree about the tattoos. I'll tell people about the ants on my foot, but the bells on my side are between me and Kurt Vonnegut. I'm planning to get one on my forearm soon and I'm so excited!

  • hillary

    I dress to please my inner critic. And my husband. If he doesn't like it 95% the time I won't wear it.

  • Michael McGraw Photography

    My Cardigans are for me. I have worn them all my life. This brown one I have on today is getting it's second wearing since Monday.

  • Tina Z.

    Funny! I have several tattoos that all represent me (despite protest from hubby about size of my last one too, takes up most of my lower back) but on most days I look like I walked out of a J Crew catalog. The dichotomy is striking when the tats are visible and I love it. So I guess I dress for others to some extent but with my own little (sometimes secret) twist.

  • cwhf

    I used to dress and groom myself (or not as the case may be) to try and meet some expectation of others , as well as to meet odd stereotypes/beliefs in my head, e.g. you can be smart or attractive/pretty but not both.

    As I have gotten older though, I now dress mainly for my own amusement; for example my Fluevogs make me insanely happy and perk up my day. I couldn't give a **** what others think of them (though they mostly love them); if they hate them, I still love them and they are entitled to my opinion but it doesn't penetrate/impact my self image/style anymore as it once did.

    The one thing I will say is just for me is probably my hair. As a black woman, unfortunately my mother and female relatives insisted on chemical treatments to "control" my hair when I was young and I bought into it in early adulthood. But I got sick of floppy lifeless hair, scalp burns, and being a slave to keeping it up and went natural. I love it, it is wild and curly and unpredictable. My aunts still cluck judgementally when they see it, but I love it and no one can take that away from me. My hair is like no one else's and it is truly and emphatically me. I've gotten plenty of negative feedback on it (and a fair bit of positive) but it phases me not at all.

    I must say your tattoos is reawakening my desire for a tattoo. I have dreamed of getting a stylized turtle tattoo (in a somewhat Navajo style) for several years. I love the symbolism and mythology of the animal, a constant reminder of patience and strength.

    I can't tell you how much I love your blog btw!

  • Phoenix Diva

    Love your blog! I have to say that I am in agreement that my personal taste dictates a lot of what I wear. So does my body design. If I am having a "fat day" you can bet that a pencil skirt or fitted outfit isn't on my list of things to wear that day, and that my skinny jeans get a workout when I'm looking a little less Miss Piggyish in my eyes.
    Now someone who sees me may have another opinion, but as long as I don't look like a What Not to Wear "before", I'm good.

  • QuiteLight

    Hmmm… good question. I have to say, while I do consider my tattoos to be for myself, my first reaction was my pallor. I have extremely pale white skin that I love. I briefly tried to tan in high school, after years of being told how "unhealthy" I looked, but unlike a lot of the Pale, I barely tan or burn either. I realized that I LIKE how pale I am, and consider it a point of pride. I think "porcelein" & "geisha", and am still being carded at 34!

    I've only been reading for a few days, and already you're challenging me! THANKS!

  • Make Do Style

    I always dress just for me. I only wear what I want to wear. Clothes are my pleasure and my expression.
    But when I go to the gym I wear any old tshirt and pants thing!

  • Sal

    Oh, kittens, I adore you. Thanks for all these great comments – it's just fascinating to hear about what you each consider to be your exclusive domain. Tatts, hair, paleness … the gamut!

    And, of course, HM's cardigans.

  • hope505

    …I'm tattooed also…!! The tattoos help me love my body for being unique. Plus: I never feel completely naked!
    * ; )

  • Anonymous

    My eyebags.

    When I first read this nothing immediately occurred–although I've lately found myself reading a lot of style blogs, I don't really dress nicely except on weekends.

    And then I remembered my eyebags.

    I have EXTREMELY dark circles under my eyes (an ex called them my eye capsules, a la cuteoverload dictionary terms). And a number of my friends and family have gently suggested fixes for them. I've even found undereye concealer waiting for me in various places.

    But I love my eyebags. They're my favourite part of my face. I don't know why; I just know that I look more like me with them, and more like someone else without them.

  • AsianCajuns (Lauren)

    I didn't start buying or seeing things as mine until I realized Cath and I had very separate styles. I think I was about 20 (egads!) when that happened. I think having a twin is awesome and unique, but it is easy to get swallowed into a duo versus being seen as your own person.
    Not that it matters ๐Ÿ˜‰ but I love your ink, Sally!

  • Kelly

    This is a great topic, Sal.

    I would say a lot of my lingerie is just for me. Of course a lot is for BF too ๐Ÿ˜‰ but there are plenty of things I wear that he rarely, if ever, sees – the slips I wear under my work dresses or the cute undies I change out of before hitting the gym are things he doesn't really witness because they are in the laundry basket by the time he gets home from work. But that doesn't stop me from spending a bundle to have gorgeous things to see when I'm dressing and undressing all alone.

    I am also totally with QuiteLight. I slather on SPF and have never set foot in a tanning salon (unless you count the classy 24-hour combination laundromat/tanning salon I went to college – for laundry purposes only!). A lot of people give me unsolicited advice about how to "get some color" and I don't recall anyone ever actually telling me they like my paleness. But I really do. So I protect it.

  • Sal

    Anonymous: Eye capsules! Yes! I IMMEDIATELY thought of that term from CO when I started reading your comment. And I think they're a perfect example – an aspect of your appearance that is 100% yours, even if others don't quite understand it.

  • bekster

    For me, I would say it's my glasses. I had contacts for years (after years of ugly glasses that were totally wrong for me), but I actually prefer the glasses I have now. It feels very familiar to me to have something on my face, and I like being able to show my inner nerd on the outside.

    Also, a lot of my accessories are just for me. I do agree that most of the time we have mixed motives for wearing what we do–and I do want for people in general to think I look nice. But, any time I wear leopard print (in a scarf, earrings, etc.) OR any time I can manage to find something that feels "SciFi" to me (I have a necklace that fits the bill), it is totally for me.

    On another level though, even wearing things that are "for me" are kinda for other people too. I mean, the whole idea is that we're trying to show the world something about us, right? (whether or not they like what they see…)

  • burntphotograph

    i'm still learning my "style" but i know i somewhat dress in a way that (i hope) makes people feel i'm successful and garner their respect. it makes me feel better considering i have yet to actually be successful in my own eyes… i guess i feel like "fake it 'til you make it," if that makes since.

    as for my tattoo, that was a spur of the moment decision that i like every other day. some days i think "what were you thinking?!" then i remember i wasn't thinking and i can remember fondly back to that time. :) at least the artist did a really good job and i do like the symbol!

  • Michelle

    I think a lot of my appearance is strictly for me…I'll admit to loving the compliments that my wild and varied shoe collection gets me, but I've had as many negative as positive responses to my tattoos, nose ring, and purple hair, and I still LOVE them. They make me indescribably happy. And I'd say those are all pretty big components of my appearance, haha.

  • Icy @ Individual Chic

    I say I dress for me but really I dress so that others can see "who I am". So I wear quirky clothes, very short hair, strong glasses, and loud shoes so that people can see I'm not afraid to be noticed.

    Like futurelint and cwhf I'm all about my hair (very short in my case) and I don't care what anyone else thinks about it.

    My moon tan (like QuiteLight and Kelly) is a thing of Pride.

    Like Bekster I'm also love my glasses after years of wearing bad ones, then moving to contacts and finding I missed them.

    And like Sal and vampfan30 and Nicole and TinaZ and hope505 and Michelle, my tattoos are all for me.

    Thanks for a great post.

  • All Women Stalker

    Well, I don't have to follow a certain dress code since I am a freelance writer. So I guess I can say that all aspects of my wardrobe are pretty much for me. My hair, too.


  • Anonymous

    I would say my hair. It took me years to own it, thanks to disastrous perms and bad reactions from my mom and one seriously controlling boyfriend. I just thought I had "trouble" hair and ignored it as much as possible. Now I have fun experimenting with it — it's been short, long, purple, streaked with pink, etc. I love it most of the time, but right now I've been growing it out and it's a bit of a pain. Still, it's completely MY hair down to the streaks of gray at the temples and slightly green ends.

  • Anonymous

    I dress to please myself & others as well. I have my basic "costume". I wear a black top, and jeans. Dark jeans, wide legged jeans, light jeans & heels. That is just me, pretty much everyday. I add things to each outfit, but really? That's just me.

    I have a huge tattoo on my back – took 3 different trips to the artist and almost $1000. But worth it, because ya know? That is me too! It's art. and it's on my body forever – how cool is that??

  • Audi

    My tattoos are my own too, though I have on occasion consulted artistic friends for design ideas. Also, Mark totally does not get the appeal of poofy tulle skirts, sequins, or shiny shoes, but I simply adore them and wear 'em anyway.

  • Rebekah

    I shaved my head. Men were not impressed, my extremely conservative church was DEFINITELY not impressed, and I didn't give a damn.

    That buzzcut changed my life. It weeded out shallow suitors and forced me to come to terms with my face; turns out that "coastline of Florida" hairline I THOUGHT I had didn't even exist.

    More importantly, that single act of quiet rebellion made me realize I didn't want to spend my life in the extremely conservative religion that dictated so many of my actions.

    Go me!

  • Hannah

    My piercings are my own. I got my first two on my earlobes when I turned 10, and a cartilage one when I turned 18. I covered it up for an interview since it was a professional job, but even though it hurt and took forever to heal, I'd never take it out. It's something I wanted for years before I got it. My boyfriend probably didn't approve and usually I listen to his opinion but this was something I did for myself and only myself!
    I'm not planning on getting any more though. I'm happy with my own art!

  • roryborealis

    Right there with other posters on the pallor and hair. My hair is dark auburn, but premature greying runs on my family so at the ripe old age of 31 I have broad silvery-white Bride of Frankenstein stripes at each temple. I love them. I frequently get unwanted advice about colouring over grey hair, but I rock my skunk stripes. Besides, a lot of goth and psychobilly girls in my social circles spend a lot of time bleaching similar streaks into their hair; mine are natural and not bleach-damaged.

    I also own my tattoos and piercings. I have a full sleeve (one more sitting in about three weeks, and that baby is done) and a number of smaller pieces, and it surprises me how being a somewhat heavily tattooed woman shades peoples' opinions. Though small and dainty tattoos are largely accepted, at least in most larger cities, being a chick with a sleeve is still kind of transgressive. (Hey, if people don't like my ink, they don't have to look. They can go do something productive, like reading a book or volunteering at a soup kitchen or animal shelter or something.)

  • Candice Virginia

    This is a very inspiring subject. For me, I have a few piercings that mean the world to me: especially my belly button. It may seem mainstream at this point, but I got it done because I knew for years and years that I wanted to add that piece of self-expression to my body. Additionally, I have a tongue ring. I took it out recently in an attempt to appear more professional, but I miss it dearly. Piercings (like tattoos) are extremely personal: I'm thankful for the small visual reminders of what makes me me.

  • Sonja

    Love your tattoos and all your reasons for doing what you do! In recent years, I've gotten better about dressing more for myself. I don't dress nearly as interestingly. But it's just not a passion of mine. I love clothes but I prefer comfort over high fashion. Sometimes I feel self conscious around people who are very into what they wear. But ultimately, I feel more comfortable in my own skin and do what I like. :) xoxo

  • WendyB

    I dress for gay men. Duh!

  • The Raisin Girl

    Mine is probably my hair. I've been told I look good with long, short, dyed, natural, big, flat, etc hair. I've been told I look stupid with and without bangs. And my hair has done all of those things at some point. But I always do it for my own reasons, although I love to get compliments on it anyway. I stopped dying it because I liked the unique reddish-brown color, even though a lot of people liked it better red. I kept bangs for years even though they were out of style, and I cut it off short even though everyone was telling me my long hair looked great. I don't dry it, ever, even though I look like a drowned rat until it air dries. It's where I experiment the most with my style, and where I take input and feedback the least. When my hair stylist told me I needed layers with a perm, I told her no because, at the time, I hated layers. When my stylist later told me I shouldn't do layers with this one haircut, I got four or five because I wanted them, and I thought they looked great.

    I really just love my hair.

    The only other aspects I can think of are my fingernails and toenails. I've always worn odd colors (blue, green, rainbow mix, black, dark brown, electric pink, etc) on my fingers and toes, despite protests from literally every adult and fashion-conscious peer in my life. The colors hardly ever match what I wear for more than a day, and I usually neglect changing the polish for far too long, but I like it. Strangely, chipped peach-colored polish makes me feel more like a fun-loving 21-year-old and less like a harried college student with too many bills to pay.

  • Jessica Strong

    If not leaving the house- I dress for comfort- soft and warm.

    Since I spend more time out of my house…

    I dress for other women. I'm not competitive. In the right clothes, other women are open and friendly. In the wrong clothes, I get snubbed. This is universal! If a male cop pulls me over, I'm getting a warning. If it's a woman and I've got make-up on (any clothes) I'm getting a warning. However, if she pulls me over and I've got no make-up on- guaranteeeeeeed ticket : )

  • Anonymous

    Like others here, I love my hair — it's nut-brown and almost long enough to sit on and curls gently after I wash it.

    I also think that the way I dress is mostly for myself — I wear mid-calf-length skirts almost all the time because I like how they look and feel. Of course, I do think about how others see me, so it's not purely for myself, but I know it is somewhat for myself because of a recent theater experience. I was playing my first pants role, and wearing skirts was awkward for the blocking, so I wore pants to rehearsals. And of course it was for a good reason, but I really didn't like being forced out of my sartorial comfort zone without a choice in the matter. It didn't feel like me. (I'm not including the actual costume, which was super cool and which I didn't mind in the least.)

  • Anonymous

    Love this post!

    I have one small tattoo. I always wanted one, and as soon as I turned 18 I went to the tattoo parlor and got one.

    Now Iยดm a little conflicted, because Iยดd like to have more, but my bf hates them with a passion.

    What would you do?

  • Sal

    Anonymous (5): That's a toughie, my dear. Ask yourself why you want another tattoo: Is there something you want to commemorate? Do you just love how they look? Are you feeling rebellious? Is there a symbol you feel connected to that you want as a permanent part of your appearance?

    If your reasons are deeply personal and feel very strong … then wait six months and see what you think. This is the advice I'd give ANYONE considering tattoos, not just someone whose BF objects.

    I'd also recommend talking to him about why he dislikes tattoos. Maybe explaining why YOU love them will open his eyes a bit. But, in the end, it's your body and your decision.

  • Casey

    Hmm… If I look at my dressing choices closely, the majority do have some level of "for others" in mind. Sometimes I do dress purely to please me and me alone (usually the days I end up looking completely overdressed and over-the-top), but most days there is some element of thinking about reactions or another person that figures in. I don't have any element as personal as a tattoo, but I like to think that my signature red lipstick is completely me. I don't wear it every day, but those days I don't feel as much myself as I do on others. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Sailor Husband really doesn't like the red lipstick (he won't kiss me if we're out somewhere if I've got it on!), but I wear it anyway. lol. I guess that's my little bit of fashion rebellion! lol.

    โ™ฅ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

  • myedit

    Good question…like always.
    I definately dress up for others and have fun playing with my appearance. I have no tattoos and my belly button ring (now gone), I got in rebellion to my mom, so that was definately not just for me…
    The one thing I can think of that is just for me and I don't give a rip what others say, is my height. I'm tall and that's not going to stop me from wearing the tallest heels I can find. That's all mine!

  • One Womans Thoughts

    As much as I love to dress in a diffferent style from day to day, I can honestly say, that for myself, a tatoo would be too difficult to have. I think as much as I would love the design today, perhaps in a few weeks or months, or years, I might decide that i don't express who I am at the moment. I am in awe of the courage to choose a permanent design on self. I enjoyed your blog immensely.


  • Iheartfashion

    My hair is for me. People tell me all the time that long curly hair would be beautiful, but I don't want it long; or they give me tips on straightening it. I like it curly. I've (almost) stopped caring what other people think I should do with my hair.

  • Katie

    I have really curly hair. The kind of hair that makes old ladies stop me in the street and tell me how lovely they think it is. And as much as I love my hair, as well as the constant comments – sometimes it's nice to be noticed for something else. I don't want to always be defined by my hair!

    But whenever I straighten it, it becomes a really big deal to everyone else. My family actually complain about it to me, or drop constant not-so-subtle hints that they wish I wouldn't straighten it. Sometimes it makes me feel like my hair doesn't actually belong to me at all.

    Katie @ http;//thedisappearingangel.blogspot.com

  • Kelly

    You know what? I thought of another sort of weird one. I have some moles that I love. I have a mole on my butt and a mole near by bellybutton and one on the back of my neck. Well the first two are usually only seen by BF ๐Ÿ˜‰ and he's never really said anything about them. Anyone can see my neck one if I put my hair up, and my mom offered to pay for it to be removed a couple times. But I love them and I don't want to get rid of them. I think they're cute little asymmetrical accents. And I love rediscovering the constellations of little dark spots I have on my arms and legs.

    I had one on the underside of my jaw when I was little. I didn't even notice it until one day my uncle told me it was a beauty spot. Then in high school for some reason I picked at it until I had scratched all the skin right off (I didn't dislike it, maybe it was stress or something?) and when it healed, it healed back regular skin color instead of brown. And I kick myself for doing that whenever I see a profile pic of myself.

  • Denz

    You know, I had a whole list of things that are just mine (some underwear, my lightweight jackets, maybe-but-only-sometimes-my-cartilege-piercing), but quite honestly: I only have one breast. I was born without the other one, and for a long time I struggled with not being "symmetrical enough" or feeling like I was ugly because of it, and I thought very seriously in high school about plastic surgery, but now it's just me.

    Bra shopping is still a bitch, and I pad my bra because I like looking hot and boob-ified, but I like the way I look, and I like being able to see straight down my chest, and while I still mostly think I'm good-looking in spite of the missing boob, I'm over "fixing" myself physically and think (at least sometimes) I am a pretty damn hot one-boobed chick.