Concepts of Sexy Dressing

Sexy dressing is controversial. There seems to be a profusion of unwritten rules about how women can and should dress sexy, when we can do it, how often we can do it, and how we should look when we do. Additional unwritten rules touch upon how old we can be and still dress sexy, how much or little we can weigh and still dress sexy, how many traits or abilities we can have that differ from the perceived norms and still dress sexy, and on and on and on. It’s overwhelming and infuriating and these lists loom so large that many of us have opted right out. Sexy dressing is too fraught, too risky, too laden with the potential for judgment and misinterpretation to even bother. Many women are just not interested in the scrutiny – positive or negative – that comes with sexy dressing.

But I also know that sexy dressing can be private, intimate, and expressive. Under the right circumstances it can feel empowering and freeing. And for many women, sexy dressing is an act of rebellion that says, “I am a proud and sexual being. And there’s nothing shameful about that.” Sexy dressing can be incredibly fun, and even those of us who don’t do it often have a fabulous time doing it on occasion.

Sexy dressing also encompasses a HUGE variety of styles, garments, and looks. Since there as many ways to dress sexy as there are ways to be and feel sexual, it’s a very broad spectrum. But the three main categories that come to my mind when conceptualizing sexy dressing are as follows:

Showing bare skin

Most of us show bare skin every single day, but keep it confined to our faces and necks, hands and arms, calves, ankles, and feet. Once more skin is exposed – shoulders, decollete, midriff, thighs – most consider the outfit in question to verge on the sexy side. Many people have sex while naked, and outfits that reveal either lots of bare skin or bare skin in known erogenous zones can subtly evoke emotions and ideas about sex.

Showing body shape beneath clothing

Think of Joan from Mad Men. Most of her dresses keep all of the above-mentioned sexy zones totally covered. But her dresses and skirts are form-fitting and show her figure very clearly. Nothing is loose, everything snug and tailored. And her looks are frequently and effortlessly sexy because of it. Actual tight clothing that pulls and pinches seldom evokes sexiness since it looks awkward and uncomfortable. But clothing that fits to the figure and shows the body shape beneath is sometimes perceived to be on par with clothing that reveals bare skin.

Items that have a sexy history

High heels, leather clothing, fishnet tights, bustiers, and loads of other garments, shoes, and accessories have become symbols of sexiness in and of themselves. Each has its own history and reasoning, but they all share a common trait: When they’re incorporated into an outfit – even if the rest of the outfit is relatively non-sexy and/or modest – they add a dose of sexiness automatically.

Now we’ve FINALLY gotten to the interesting part of this post. Let’s talk about how you feel about sexy dressing! Here’s what I’d love to know:

  1. Do you dress sexy?
  2. When and why?
  3. If you were going to assemble a sexy outfit that you felt fabulous wearing, what would it include?
  4. What does dressing sexy mean to you?


  • If you feel strongly about these issues, express your views respectfully and civilly or they will not be published. I’m happy to participate in a discussion that includes contrary opinions, but will not tolerate cruelty.
  • Be courteous and kind to each other when responding to remarks from other readers.

Image courtesy Bebe.

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  • I •sexy dress• via my underpinnings! I am a huge fan of leg garters ~ not to be confused with a garter belt! The look a lot like men’s sock garters only they are worn on the upper thigh. Vintage silk slips, retro inspired shapers and bullet bras make me feel secretly sexy which spreads by way of positive osmosis to the the outfit to the attitude!

  • I do, on occasion dress sexy. Most of the time, I dress professionally for my job and school and every day life. If I am attending a special event, I try to add just a touch of sex appeal. Fishnets and heels are high on my list because the flatter the leg. I will show some cleavage, but I do so judiciously. If I am showing cleavage, I usually wear a statement necklace too, to highlight the look.
    Dressing sexy does not always equal sexy; I think no matter what I wear, I feel sexy whether the people I pass daily notice it or not. Dressing sexy can only highlight what I already feel; if I don’t feel it, then no matter what I wear….its not sexy.
    Sexiness doesn’t always equal young, skinny and beautiful….it is acquired within and radiates externally.

  • Sonja

    Hihih – “Many people have sex while naked”, that part made me laugh out loud! So true …
    This subject is something I’m very torn about, because I’m still not comfortable with many things related to that – being a woman, being feminine, looking attractive, getting a certain kind of attention from men.
    But yes, from time to time I like to dress up in a way that feels deliberately sexy to me. For me this usually means heels, pants and a strapless tube top or halter top. Also a bit of makeup and usually long dangly earrings. I do this look mainly in summer, because it’s warmer, of course, but also because I feel more sexy in summer, when I’m tanned. I love to show off my broad shoulders, the part of my body my boyfriend finds most sexy… I usually wear a look like this for going out with him, or for something special like a concert or party.
    In my everday looks, I have many elements that are kind of sexy, but not because I want to look sexy, but because figure flattery is important to me. I wear mostly low necklines, because as a busted girl they soften my face and somehow make me look taller, I think. I always show off my waist, because this emphasizes my hourglass figure and makes me look more proportioned. Sexy isn’t the main goal of this, but I suppose it comes with it.
    I have to admit that I have a problem and get a bit judgy when it comes to super-sexy looks, both with other women and myself.
    I personally try not to include too many sexy elements in one outfit, for example I show either my legs or a lot of cleavage or wear something very clingy or make-up, never all these things at the same time.
    Apart from the heels I think I don’t wear or own any garments that fall in the “sexy history” category.

    • I agree, I dress similarly. I have an hourglass shape and have a larger bust as well. I don’t like outfits that are overtly sexy 99% of the time because A) they look like the person is trying too hard / wants a lot of attention B) are most often not situation-appropriate and C) they can cheapen a person’s look and associates that person as a person I wouldn’t want to be (intelligence, moral character, conduct, etc- while this is never true, it’s impossible to tell how or who a person is based on their clothing, clothing is a representation of yourself to others like it or not)

  • Stephanie D

    I would love to BE sexy, but, I don’t think that I am. There are women who can wear jeans and a loose tee and be sexy…I would love to be that. That subtle sexy that somehow, some way, some women have. So, for me, I dress for what I am. I’m pretty to a point and relaxed. So that is how I dress. I’m still young though and one day, as I grow into this body, I hope to find my sexy.

    What I would wear though? I think I would go the mad men route and wear fitted items. Or, as Vintage Lucero mentioned above, something that only special someones could see.

    • Heidi L.

      “as I grow into this body, I hope to find my sexy”.Well put…

      Heidi L.

    • Thank you Stephanie, for voicing your thoughts so beautifully – I feel similarly about myself.

  • Your example of Joan raises an interesting thing — that some bodies are considered to be…well, not sexier than other bodies, but more unavoidably sexual, if that makes sense. Joan has an extreme hourglass figure; it’s not just that her dresses are form-fitting, it’s the form that they’re fitting. I’ve seen that in my life: for me to wear a snug t-shirt is more risque than the same t-shirt of the same snugness would be on my sister, because I have a larger breasts than she does. Growing up, I definitely received more negative feedback/pressure towards greater modesty from Christian women than friends with straighter figures did.

    It’s quite interesting to me, and I haven’t thought it all out completely, but I think it ties in somewhat to patriarchal ways of viewing fat on female bodies — fatter bodies (or bodies with more fat e.g. simply larger boobs) are viewed as more tempting, more objectifiable, more “out of control.” Hmm!

  • Molly

    I LOVE knee high boots. I LOVE textured tights and fishnets. I LOVE that my breasts are small enough that I can wear low cut shirts without making a spectacle of myself. Do I do these things all at once? Not for work. But I’m not afraid to work these things into my wardrobe when I can.

    For awhile, when I first started “dressing like a grown up,” I felt like I had to give up my personal style and dress “boring,” because the professionals I see in my field don’t typically wear the same things I want to be wearing. For a couple years, I thrifted clothes that I didn’t like at all, because they fit me and seemed “professional” enough.

    I’m sending most of this stuff back to the thrift store now. I’m over it! I’m under 30, I’m an attractive woman, and I’m allowed to have a fashion personality, damn it. I can dress myself as the sexy woman I am without looking like a playboy bunny, while still being work appropriate. OK, my fashion choices are a little riskier than others in my workplace take. I would totally wear the tights in the picture at the top of this post to teach college students in (though with a knee-length skirt and more conservative heels). If I don’t let my personality show through in my wardrobe, I stop feeling like the attractive, colorful person I know I am. Dressing like “myself” gives me the confidence I need to live my life well.

  • shebolt

    I dress “sexy” at work through form-fitting dresses, and skirt/top combos. I try not to show a lot of skin when my outfit is body conscious, because then it becomes too sexy for work.

    I dress “sexy” at parties by showing a little more skin. Shorter skirts, slinkier blouses, higher heels, etc. I have a small chest, so lower cut blouses don’t really do much for me.

  • A rich vein to mine. I often wonder about the ban against sexy when older. The French don’t mind it, why do we Americans get so nervous?

    • Shay

      I think because for the French sex appeal comes from within. It doesn’t matter the age, what matters is truly not giving a damn about what anyone thinks. I’ve found that with this attitude, people don’t feel the need to try hard or over do anything. So the sexiness is natural and not contrived. Many Americans SAY they feel comfortable in their own skin, but truly believing it and not needing acceptance from anyone for one’s own choices are completely different. I’ve lived in Europe for several years and am finally understanding why American fashion comes across as so contrived and try-hard. People SAY they don’t care, but they really live for positive feedback. Here, compliments aren’t really given and don’t really matter if they are – what you think about yourself is what matters.

      • Sam

        That’s a fascinating take. I love it.

        I always felt that Europeans had an expanded definition of sexy, deeming women ‘s bodies of different shapes and ages “worthy” of sexy dress and mannerisms.

  • I’ll say that I don’t dress sexy, because my intent is never “to be ‘sexually attractive'”. Even with my sweetheart, even when I am 99% sure we’re gonna bone, it’s never ‘how can I look like a hot bitch’. I dress to emphasise the wholeness of me in various ways, and sometimes that will BE sexy or partially/largely about having some sex.. but I can’t say “I dress sexy” and not feel a psychological itch. This probably sounds snotty and holier than thou. But my dressing intent is always ~how can I look tremendous~ before ~how can I look sexy~. I don’t know how those are different precisely.

    I do not-wear some things because I know they’ll be understood as sexywear, but those are getting fewer as I become more accepting of my internal sexuality i.e. less likely to be confused by other people’s projections onto my slate.

    I appreciate your writing this post!

  • Lina

    I find that a little red lipstick and a healthy dose of confidence in your body can go a long way 🙂 but as far as clothes go, I like outfits that include high heels, tights and bare shoulders.

    Some day, I’d also like to own a corset and be able to incorporate it into an evening outfit. I’ve been looking around a bit, but I can’t justify the prices of the ones that look appropriate (i.e. not Fredrick’s of Hollywood =P) and I also don’t have too many events to attend that would call for a corset…

    By the way, when I think of women that exude confidence and sexiness, I think of Audrey Hepburn and Clara Bow (in the silent movie “It” from 1927).

  • Ericka

    Do you dress sexy?
    I would say rarely (intentionally anyway). I do it occasionally on dates or nights at home (!) with my husband. I am pretty busty though, and occasionally have had a misjudgement on top where I was showing too much cleavage—thank god for cardigans and scarves. Rarely I might wear a sexier piece if going to a party but I don’t go for vavavoom usually; I just don’t like that kind of attention (long story).

    If you were going to assemble a sexy outfit that you felt fabulous wearing, what would it include?
    Scoop neck top, flared skirt with belt to emphasize waist, killer shoes.
    Also boots make me feel very sexy and badass so just about any out fit with great boots is sexy to me (maybe not to others, though).
    I don’t do supper fitted items or if I do, I pair with a looser item.

    What does dressing sexy mean to you?
    Feeling awesome confident and powerful. And a thumbs up from the hubby.

  • I don’t think about dressing “sexy” unless it is for my husband. And the extent of “sexy” for that is a dress and some high heels. (He’s a traditionalist). 🙂

    That said…I have a curvy figure. If I dressed it in loose clothing I’d look like I’d gained twenty pounds, which does not make me feel good about myself. I like form-fitting (though not as tight as Joanie’s) clothes, clothes that drape. And I love high heels. They make me feel good…and that’s my aim when getting dressed. Whether or not someone else thinks that’s sexy has no bearing on what I choose to wear.

    As for showing skin, I wear tank tops and sundresses in the summer. I wear shorts. I wear knee-length skirts. Depends on my mood and the temperature index! I do try to keep the girls from showing too much (I’m a D cup so lower-cut tops can tip into the “too much” (for my comfort level) category fairly easily. A camisole usually does the trick if needed).

    But aside from covering my breasts appropriately and I suppose, not wearing the shortest skirts anymore (I am 45), I don’t worry about skin showing either. Again- I dress for myself, to feel good. Aside from weather- and situation-appropriateness, that’s the only goal in mind when I’m choosing an outfit. 🙂

  • Aziraphale

    Haha, tricky questions here.

    1. Sometimes. But subtly sexy. Never in an over-the-top way, I hope.

    2. When I go out in the evening with my husband, or with a group of friends, or to an event like the theatre or a wedding. Or just for everday, I often wear one element that, as you say, has a “sexy history” — like fishnet stockings, or high heels, or a leather coat. But for daytime wear I usually keep it to one “sexy” item per outfit, so for example if I’m wearing fishnets, I’ll put on combat boots with them, not high heels. Fishnets and heels are evening wear for me.

    3. I think I’ve got more than one type of outfit that is subtly sexy. My favourite combinations:
    – skinny jeans, drapey top, elegant pumps
    – skinny jeans, button-front shirt, fitted waistcoat, steampunk boots
    – fitted top, pencil or slim A-line skirt, stockings, high heeled boots/shoes
    – bootcut jeans, tight tee shirt, black leather knee-length coat
    – knee-length pencil skirt, fitted button-front shirt, red lipstick, heels

    Come to think of it, bright red lipstick is a component of many of my so-called “sexy” outfits. The other common theme is clothes that fit my body properly, and reveal its shape to some degree, without being overly tight.

    4. For me, “sexy” doesn’t involve anything that makes it look like the person is trying too hard. I know you hate that expression, but you know what I mean. Super-tight, super-short, too much makeup, too much cleavage, heels so high you can’t walk — that sort of thing. It looks either awkward or a touch desperate, neither of which are ever truly sexy.

    When I see a woman who looks confident and comfortable in her own skin, who makes eye contact, who has good hair and teeth, and is wearing clothes that flatter her shape and hint at what’s underneath, that’s sexy. Heels and red lipstick never hurt either, if she can pull those off with panache.

  • Judy Carpenter

    I find sexy to be more of a state of mind than anything else. And what each person finds sexy is different. When I feel sexy I tend to take more care with my appearance but that is about it. When he puts on his jeans, T shirt and sneaks, I always find him sexy. And when he looks at me with love I feel sexy. So for dressing sexy, no not especially. I make a distinction between dressing sexy and looking romantic. He doesn’t. I think dressing in an overt sexy manner is a turnoff. And things that were considered sexy and for working girls when I was young are now fashionable(over the knee boots eg.)

  • As the mother of a 21 year old daughter this post brought back memories of
    discussions I had with her regarding the issue of dressing sexy. I talked to her about covertly dressing sexy rather than overtly…. The best example of covert that came to mind was sexy secretary look. I would say I love showing my curves and body shape, but not so much skin. I do however love shirts that go off the shoulder,or show your back…. I am the mother of three sons, so not real big on walking around showing my cleavage… think they appreciate that!

  • The things that make me feel sexy probably are not the common ones, since I have a very straight figure. So for special occasions I like to show off my back instead of my chest and for the every day, I like to wear bracelet length tops and ankle pants to show my wrists and ankles. I don’t think anyone notices, but these parts of my body make me feel sexy and I can deploy them in any situation, since they’re not usually considered obviously sexy or inappropriate for work.

  • I am more likely to dress sexy when I feel good about myself. When I first met my husband and I was on a body high, I wore lots of things that made me feel sexy (which generally overlaps with what he finds sexy thus reinforcing the desire to wear it). Things like thigh high stockings and lacy thongs were things the general public didn’t have to know about. Leather pants are full coverage but feel sexy. If we’re going to a bar where it’s appropriate, I’ll go all out. Short skirts, cleavage, etc.

    The real key is that I have to feel confident in the outfit, for me, that means no clinging around my waist unless it’s structured like a corset to hide my belly. I love my breasts, my legs, so I’m more likely to play those up.

    Although it is funny what drives my husband crazy that ends up making me feel sexy. I have a floor length halter dress with a build in bra in a black and white print. If I wear nothing but that dress and red lipstick, he loves it. I feel comfortable, appreciated and sexy, but really all I’m showing is shoulders.

  • CW

    Interesting topic! This blog is constantly fighting to help women view themselves as whole beings, not just a body to be looked at. So, if you define “sexy” dressing as using your clothing to intentionally convey sexual attitudes or messages, the whole point is how other people perceive what you are wearing. Doesn’t that kind of undo the whole anti-objectification thing? (Bedroom wear exempt, obviously.) My philosophy on dressing myself, every day, is to wear things I love and that make me feel confident in my appearance, while maintaining weather/occasion appropriateness. I wear leather, high heels, etc. on a regular basis, but never with the intent of achieving a “sexy” look- because I don’t want people to look at me and think sexually; I want them to see me as a whole being. The problem with “sexy”, in my opinion, is that it strays awfully quickly into “tacky”.

  • Cee

    It’s funny. I got to your first question, Sally, and I tripped up.

    Do I dress sexy? I find it difficult to answer one way or another, because I differentiate between dressing to feel sexy and dressing to appear sexy to others. I certainly choose outfits that I think make me look attractive (by ‘attractive,’ I guess I mean colours which I like, cuts which emphasise the favourite parts of my body) but I recognise that these are outfits which *I* think are attractive, not outfits which I wear to attract sexual attention. Does that make any sense? Maybe not. I guess what I mean is that my aesthetic judgements may not tally with what is conventionally considered sexy, but I feel sexy in these clothes because of how they make me feel.

    Case in point. Last winter, I bought a black turtleneck, for purely practical reasons. (I live in England, and I was moving oop North so it was COLD!) To compensate for the coverage, I wore a shortish magenda and navy ruffled skirt with opaque tights and calf-high boots. I also wore a chunky necklace to try and create the impression of a more flattering neckline. So, while I had put effort into the outfit, I thought I looked more like a slightly rebellious beatnik than some sort of siren.

    My partner, to this day, say it is the sexiest outfit I wear. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

    • This makes total sense to me, thank you for making this point. I do this to: dress up to feel sexy, but not in an obviously, what-one-might-expect-to-be-sexy kind of way.

  • Chris

    I feel like I dress sexy at events, charity and weddings as the dresses are low cut and I have an hour glass shape. I cover sometimes as I feel people are judging me. I am amazed at how many religions tell women what is modest dress but so little guidelines for the men. Last time I checked the news they are often up to no good! I think it is interesting how people react to cleavage.

  • Rudyinparis

    I definitely dress “sexier” depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle. Around the time I’m ovulating, sometimes I feel I’m bursting with sexiness. I guess for me dressing sensually happens on a day-by-day basis, not on occasions. No matter how fancy the event, if I’m not feeling it, I’m not going to dress that way.

    I’m just not a heels wearer, although I often wistfully wish I was. I’m trying to incorporate at least some heels into my life. I’ve just never, ever worn them, so they feel awkward and fake to me. So I would never wear them for a sexy event, becasue they’re just not “me”, and it shows.

    A sexy outfit I felt fabulous in would include jeans that fit my derriere (my best spot) and motorcycle boots. A little shirt, something that shows off my flat stomach. Probably nothing too lowcut… I’m older, and kind of flat chested, and I feel like my chest is just kind of bony. I definitely highlight the lower half of my body.

    Dressing sexy for me means that through my dress and manner I am subtly showing that I’m a woman that enjoys sex and the sensual pleasures.

  • Annie

    1 & 2) I dress sexy occasionally – not on a daily basis (I work from home, so, seriously, no point there), but for nights out or special events. When I do so, it’s much more likely to be body-conscious dresses and heels, showing some cleavage, though not too much. (I’m a G-cup, at which point showing a little is often much more tantalizing than showing a lot.) Showing a ton of skin makes me feel more awkward than sexy, and now that I’m over 40, going the body conscious route seems a better fit overall.

    3) I have a wonderful black Max Mara cocktail dress I found in, yes, the thrift store! Shows just the right amount of cleavage, hugs in all the right places, hits far enough above the knee to make my legs look long but not so far that it becomes inappropriate for formal occasions. That plus red heels = very sexy! That said, some things that help me feel sexy aren’t obvious: dangling earrings, darker or bolder lipstick, perfume, silky scarves in rich colors. Elements like that add a sense of luxury and sensuality to any outfit; even a (well-fitting) T-shirt and jeans can go sexy when you accessorize it right.

    4) I think dressing sexy is about asserting that yes, you are a sexual person, and yes, you are proud of it. That said, sometimes I feel like too much overtly sexy dressing suggests that being sexual is the only element of your personality you’re putting out there – and I feel like we’re all so much more complex than that.

  • Sarah

    When I was younger I was very interested in dressing in a sexy manner. But as I have aged I have become less of a fan. I have been in some situations where I was dressed in sexy clothes and received unwanted attention from men, which made me very uncomfortable. I have been groped in bars and catcalled on the street…no thank you. My understanding of sexiness has changed as I age. I don’t want to put my goods out there for everyone to see…just the person I want to have sex with. I feel like women who are truly comfortable with their sexuality don’t need to put it all out there. And as I have gotten older (I am 31), I feel like dressing in an overly sexy manner in public (not in the bedroom) can seem desperate. I know I have sex; the person I have sex with knows I have sex; other than that, it’s nobody’s business. I don’t really feel like I need to prove to others that I am a sexual creature, because I know I am.

    I don’t know that there’s any such thing as a truly sexy outfit. It’s the women who wears it that makes it sexy or not, depending on how she feels about herself. A woman in jeans with a lot of confidence can be just as sexy as a woman in a bondage dress wearing stiletto heels who doesn’t feel confident.

    For me, sexy dressing means feeling comfortable in my own skin and confident in my own sexuality. It all comes from within.

  • Before I read responses, here are mine (re-ordered):

    What does dressing sexy mean to you? Dressing in a way that makes me feel good about my body and/or my shape. A top that is form fitting and shows my chest to advantage (without plunging necklines) is sexy. A pair of pants that make my rear look great and my legs look slim is sexy. Even certain jewelry or a vibe from the outfit can be sexy- even as simple as a color. It’s hard not to feel sexy in a pretty color when accompanied with figure-flattering cuts. There are varying degrees of sexy- outright sexy is saved for the bedroom.

    Do you dress sexy? Yes, even sometimes now at 38 weeks pregnant

    When and why? Almost every outfit I put together has a ‘sexy’ element in it- not the entire outfit, but at least something. Great fitting jeans with heeled boots are sexy to me. A ‘sexy’ top with more moderate bottoms. Balance is key for most situations.

    If you were going to assemble a sexy outfit that you felt fabulous wearing, what would it include? Dressing sexy for a new years eve party with friends/going out would be a great fitted dress that falls slightly above the knee but isn’t too revealing on top, awesome heels, semi-sheer tights, and great jewelry. Sexy for the office is a great-fitting pair of trousers, pumps, and a flattering top in a great color for me.

    • After reading the comments, I thought I should add- sexy to me is about how I feel, not about the attention I receive. I am uncomfortable with too much attention and hate getting a lot of comments, but sometimes I do attract it unconciously. I don’t dress ‘sexy’ for those reasons- I do it for me, because I feel good about myself, and yes I feel sexy/attractive/happy when I like how I look. It’s about how I feel about myself throughout the day, not about male attention or even my husband’s attention. He doesn’t love everything that I feel sexy in, but it doesn’t matter- that again is not my purpose. If I dress overtly sexy, it is for him- but again, very situation and super rare for me unless it’s only for the bedroom.

  • Sam

    I think I’m in the minority here… because yes, I do dress sexy, particularly over the course of the last year. I tend to go the “covered-but-tight” route over “drapey-with-exposed-skin”.

    A few factors:
    – My husband and I are not the most, uh, bedroom-compatible couple you’ve ever met. Wearing tight, short dresses around the house has successfully kicked things up a notch.
    – Speaking of that compatibility issue, wearing form-fitting clothing in public attracts appreciative looks from strangers that increase my self-confidence.
    – As noted by some readers above, fashion has veered toward the form-fitting, so I don’t feel particularly inappropriate when I wear tight stuff in public.
    – I’ve been exercizing a lot, with emphasis on weights. Being muscular makes me feel… I dunno, kind of like a ripped gay guy? Confident, sassy, strong. So wearing the female equivalent of tight t-shirts and tight jeans gay guy uniform feels appropriate.

    • Sam

      A qualification about my workwear: I’ve been wearing more fitted things to work than I used to, but nothing particularly revealing or outside the norm for my workplace. I take my “workplace appropriate” cues from Corporette.

      And re. the attention I’m rather pleased to attract these days: As a teen and twenty-something I loathed the sexual attention I got because most of it was crude and inappropriate. These days it tends to be more respectful and appreciative. Why? No clue; maybe my muscles and confident posture disuade the more aggressive/sleazy element. Or maybe I’m just older.

  • Rivkasaurus

    I come from a religious background where modesty is emphasized and dressing sexy is discouraged. In high school, we were told to wear boxy, long sleeved shirts with loose fitting skirts that covered the knees, even when sitting. Most importantly, we were discouraged from standing out in any way, whether with hairstyle, makeup, or clothing. I knew a girl who had long, naturally curly and attention-grabbing hair. The administration repeatedly demanded that she cut or straighten it. I thought this was ridiculous.

    I followed these guidelines till I realized that dressing this way made me feel miserable and did not suit my hourglass shape. I still cover anything above my knees/elbows and below my collarbones. However, my clothing now is more form-fitting and I definitely stand out due to my love of vintage and color. I also love wearing fishnets. I don’t do it to be sexy; I just love the texture and think it looks quite classy with the right outfit. I do get heat for it, which annoys me to no end.

    When I turned 21 almost a year ago, I temporarily suspended my rules and showed more skin just for going out to bars. Eventually, I stopped because it made me feel uncomfortable and attracted attention that I did not want.

    For me, a sexy outfit is just an outfit that makes me feel fabulous and classy. I’d probably wear a modest, vintage dress with tights and low heels, and a swipe of red lipstick.

    I must confess, due to my background, I tend to automatically judge people who expose a lot of skin or incorporate too many “sexy” elements in their outfits. It looks tacky to me. I think looking classy is more sexy in any case.

  • I almost never dress sexy, but I also work with children of my job, so 90% of the time it would be inappropriate to dress sexy – especially with the teenagers!

    I’m definitely not opposed for it for other people, it just doesn’t fit in with my life.

  • When I buy clothes, I often ask myself, “does this make me feel sexy.” I want to look attractive to other people and alluring to my husband. I never wear things that make me feel physically uncomfortable. My idea of a sexy outfit is 1) fitted jeans and a flattering top or 2) a great dress (I love skimpy sundresses in summer) that shows off my legs, my favorite body part. But it’s the little things that push simpler outfits into the sexy range: jewelry, makeup, the actual fit of the garments and good shoes. I don’t wear heels (which definitely look sexy) very often because of foot problems, but I think I still look sexy in flats.

  • Oh so much to say here between my varied life experiences and being involved in a burlesque dance community!

    In my experience, to encourage someone to not just look at you, but to get their hands on you:

    * Keep these things to a minimum: big bead necklaces/bib necklaces, scarves, hats, boots, opaque stockings. These items create an extra layer of personal space around you. This can be useful – if you want to wear something short/tight/cleavagey but want some distance or respectability, add a fascinator or fill in the cleavage with a huge necklace.

    * Things women think are sexy that are actually not that appealing: Black clothes. Fishnets. Corsets (oh, folks like to look at them, but they’re hard to get off and discourage actually doing anything sexy). Overdone makeup – hard red lips, over-lined eyes with fake lashes on top – and its partner, overdone hair. I see all of these frequently with burlesque novices trying to be sexy for get-togethers – the result is more Burlesque Barbie, like a doll in a display case, than a touchable woman.

    * Heterosexual men love: Pencil skirts. Skinny jeans. All shades of red, from pink to burgundy. Glimpses of leg and cleavage, nipple show-through (the last is tough to deploy just-right). Those short tight dresses. And, amusingly, garments that encourage the idea of interaction and access – tops or dresses with zippers or that button down the front entirely. I have a vintage 80s t-shirt with random zippers and the zippers are a hand magnet.

    There was a study that claimed that women should bare 40% of their skin to be maximally sexually attractive – I’ve linked to it. I do have some dresses that hit this metric, and they are remarkably successful. When I want to ‘dial it down” with them, I wear them with opaque stockings or leggings.

  • Kirsten

    My husband is 35 years my senior, and shortly after we married, I learned quickly that anything “sexy” annoyed my husband’s friends wives. To fit into his social life, I’ve had to dress older. Now I wear elegant clothing tailored just enough to not look baggy, but isn’t snug. Sometimes I miss showing off my figure a bit, but it’s not worth the trouble.

  • great questions, and great comments! hmmm well, i come from a pretty conservative religious background (although not as conservative as some…), where modesty is pretty strongly emphasized. but i’ve always kind of hated that. i mean, i’m not going to walk around in a short skirt and stilettos all the time (although i would if i felt like it was a proper venue, like a club or something). but i have always had a larger bust than most women, and if a shirt is tighter on me than on someone else, that shouldn’t mean i can’t wear it. i didn’t ask for my boobs, and i’m not going to be ashamed of inhabiting a female body. and i’m not going to be held responsible for men’s thoughts about me, even less so their actions toward me. so, i don’t know. i’m sympathetic to the idea that clothes convey meaning to others, but i feel like so often that can get turned into a ‘well what was she wearing? was she asking for it?’ kind of conversation that is used to excuse bad behavior. there is also a whiff of ignoring anything a woman might have to say in favor of her physical appearance, and that’s dangerous too.

    so low neck shirts for me! besides high neck shirts, because of my big bust, make my head look tiny. and thatz not okay.

  • Maegan Zimmerman

    Thanks for this post and the interesting comments! In the last two years I’ve lost about 115 lbs. I went from a size 26 to a 10, or 12, depending on the day and the article of clothing. I’ve noticed with this radical transition I haven’t really been dressing in what would maybe traditionally be considered a “sexy” way. Partly because of a limited budget I’ve had to keep my wardrobe full of items that will work for as many aspects of my life as possible, and I think partly because I’m still getting used to this new body, as it is still changing.
    Before, I think I was trying too hard, trying to get attention for the wrong reasons, and showing off my then much more ample bust. Now, with considerably less cleavage to speak of, I find myself gravitating more to garments that nip in at my waist and show off my awesome collar bone, and skirts and dresses that I can wear with the calf and knee boots I couldn’t fit into before. When I was bigger, sometimes I felt sexy, sometimes I didn’t. That hasn’t changed now. What has always been consistent is I feel sexiest when I look my best in something that flatters my shape and I know I’m smokin’ hot in.

  • Mary

    I have loved readers’ comments! Esp. Sadie’s tips informed by a background in burlesque.
    When I’m feeling sexy, it’s mostly when I’m with the boyfriend, or when I’m wearing clothes I know he loves on me (even if he’s not around).
    I definitely feel sexiest when I’m in clothes I love — and these are the ones I want to wear when I’m happiest: narrow jeans & drapey t-shirt, heeled shoes I can walk fast in, a necklace that hits right between my small breasts, bright non-primary colors, a dress with a waist …
    So by that definition, yeah, I do dress sexy, every day.
    Sexy = happy = comfortable-yet-hot = looking sharp = ready for anything … The concept is nebulous to me, and blends with all sorts of other positive stuff.
    I don’t do a lot of the looks that are considered “sexy” — I’m thinking of short & tight skirts, fishnets, low-cut tops, stilettos, false eyelashes and lip gloss — but I’ve never felt unsexy because of it.

  • Wow! Truthfully, I hadn’t given much thought to all the constraints around sexy dressing until I read your post. Then i realized just how judgemental I can be when someone dresses in a sexy way that I deem ‘wrong,’ even if it’s something minor. I’ll keep an eye out for that, now.

    I love dressing sexy – under the appropriate circumstances. Sometimes it is more overt – a high-waisted leather pencil skirt with a skimming silk top – but often sexy to me is just calling attention to myself – through an eye-catching colour, a signature piece or an edgier style than I am used to. I rarely show cleavage or a whole lot of leg, come to think of it – but I often feel sexy.

  • Margo

    It’s a myth that residents of th EU have embraced a wider variety of what is considered sexy and attractive. More Europeans smoke than do resident sor the US, thus thinner. EU TV and film stars are far more standardized–not Kardashians there.
    Straight men like small waist to hip ratios, the color red, open-toed high heels and smiles.

  • Love what Molly said above. I worked in very conservative workplaces and never totally kowtowed to the fashion culture. I wore suits, but they were tailored. My lipstick was red and I always wore heels.

    I just am getting rid of some of those pieces now (7 years later) and have been dying laughing at how completely conservative those pieces would be in any other environment. The definition of what’s sexy can be greatly impacted by context!

  • This post was great when I read it yesterday and even better with all the comments now! Very interesting (and DIVERSE) answers, which I’ve loved reading. Here’s my input.

    Do you dress sexy?
    Sometimes I actively dress sexily (or attempt to), but often I dress to feel confident instead (like several other commenters) which in turn makes me feel sexy.

    When and why?
    If I’m actively trying to dress sexily, it’s because I want to feel that way or want to express that side of my personality. I don’t think it is a certain time or day or anything, it’s just when my brain says ‘Today is a SEXY day’ or ‘Today is a CONFIDENT day’ or a FUNNY day, etc.

    However, I’ve realised that my actively dressing sexily does not always equate to the times when others (my boyfriend) finds me sexy. What I think of as sexy clothing/confident clothing aren’t the same as his. Which is interesting.

    If you were going to assemble a sexy outfit that you felt fabulous wearing, what would it include?
    Figure-hugging dress, interesting or just plain, sheer black tights and some good heels. Big hair and strong (but not masking) makeup. This is what I see as the epitome of sexy, powerful women – the glamazon, the bombshell – so that’s what I inhabit when I want to dress sexily.

    What my boyfriend sees as sexy is: tshirt, shorts, tights and sneakers. This is what I might wear any time of the day, maybe going out partying – it’s not a ‘bombshell’ look. I know exactly why each of us thinks the particular look is sexy: it’s about confidence, power, honesty, androgyny and intimacy (too long to explain here) but I like that I can dress as both and enjoy both for their separate ‘types’ of sexiness.

    What does dressing sexy mean to you?
    Feeling glamorous, exciting and powerful. It doesn’t mean being sleazed over, feeling uncomfortable or exposed, or feeling like you are ‘pretending’ to be someone you’re not. Sexiness is inherent in oneself; dressing sexily in your chosen manner is just a way to express it.


    PS As always Sally, brilliant post 🙂

  • Sally, I hope that you’ll write more on this topic, and perhaps synthesize all of our comments – so interesting and revealing. Women find heels sexy, and color sexy, and fit sexy. If I consciously want to draw attention (it doesn’t sem to be about sex to me these days), I aim a for razor sharp look, fitted, sleek, black and red, more makeup than usual – but all covered up! I think texture is intriguing too. I would wear velvet leggings, or black lace gloves, or patent boots. Maybe not all together. 🙂

  • kerry

    long-time reader, first-time commenter, 😉 this is something i’ve been thinking a lot about lately. as a matter of fact, earlier this week, i asked one of my closest friends if she thought i was putting out some kind of signal; i’ve been getting a lot of…forward comments from men over the last year or so. i LOVE to wear boots and have two pairs of frye harness boots (black and brown) that i wear pretty much everyday – and which garner a lot of comments from men. i decided to change up my outfit the day after i spoke with her; looser fitting jeans, no boots and a longsleeved tshirt. it didn’t work; i still got comments about how i was dressed and how i looked. sigh. i wish, as sam commented, that the attention i get was respectful and appreciative; the majority of it is crude and off-putting.

    i also often get comments about looking sexy while in my work clothes. which unsettles me; i am a high school teacher; i most definitely do not try to dress sexy for work.

    1. Do you dress sexy?
    Sometimes. Like other commenters, I don’t necessarily show a lot of skin – or want to – but I know what looks good on me and how to show off my… assets. I struggle with letting down my feminist self, though.

    2. When and why?
    When I feel like it! When I want to shake what my momma gave me. When I know I’m going to see an ex. Haha. And when I’m out of town.

    3. If you were going to assemble a sexy outfit that you felt fabulous wearing, what would it include?
    Leather. Boots; likely knee-high A form-fitting dress, probably black. Big silver hoops.

    4. What does dressing sexy mean to you?
    I am not sure! I’m going to have to revisit this one.