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Do the Clothes Make the Man?

Men: You want the girl. Dress sharply!

Sean_Connery_SuitIn my last post, I discussed a study showing that women who wore makeup were more likely to be approached by men at a bar, and more rapidly so, than on alternate days when they wore no makeup. On a related note, you may wish to check out one of my earlier posts on the allure of high heels. As promised at the end of my last post, I shall now report on the appeal of a specific male accoutrement. Take the same male, dress him up in separate attires of varying social status (e.g., Dunkin' Donuts uniform versus an expensive three-piece suit), and ask women to judge the attractiveness of the man in question across attires. Would there be a difference in how his looks, as well as his appeal for a prospective relationship, are judged as a function of how he is dressed?

This is the exact study that was conducted by John M. Townsend and Gary D. Levy. Men and women rated the attractiveness of two opposite-sex targets that wore one of three costumes varying in social status (low, medium, and high). They were also asked to provide the likelihood of agreeing to engage in one of six types of relationships (as listed in Tables 1-3 in the article): (1) coffee and conversation; (2) date; (3) sex only; (4) serious involvement, marriage potential; (5) sexual and serious, marriage potential; and (6) marriage. To reiterate, the purpose was to explore whether the status of the attire would affect the responses of the two sexes.

Here are the key findings: Attire status had an effect on women's attractiveness ratings but not on men's. Also, the likelihood of women engaging in any of the six types of relationships was highly correlated with status attire. Whereas men were also influenced by this manipulation, the effect was weaker than that found for women.

Bottom line: Women judge the same man as differentially attractive (in terms of his looks) as a function of the status of his clothes. Furthermore, the status of a man's clothes is a much stronger determinant of a woman's likelihood of engaging in any one of six types of relationships (than it is for men). Conclusion: The clothes do indeed make the man!

The findings that I have reported in the last two posts should not be construed as implying that either sex is shallow or superficial. Rather, these results demonstrate that men and women beautify themselves on the mating market in ways that are desired by the opposite sex. Ultimately, these beautification preferences correspond to sex-specific mating concerns that the two sexes have faced in our evolutionary history.

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