What Should You Wear on a First Date? Why it Matters

When You Dress to Impress, Are You Seen as Attractive or Seductive?

Posted Sep 03, 2017

First Impressions Matter: Attraction Sparks Interaction

It is time to get ready for your first date with a prospective romantic interest.  This could be the first meeting with the person you decide you want to spend the rest of your life with.  No pressure, right?  Not if you wisely think through the only aspect of the date you can control—what you wear.

Even if you have been trading photos on a dating site for the last several months, research indicates that what you wear to your first in-person meeting can spark chemistry and compatibility, and impact perceived relational suitability.  In other words, time spent strategizing your first date outfit is time well spent. 

You already know all of the usual rules.  Choose something flattering, clean, and destination appropriate (no stilettos to a ballgame). And when it comes to fashion, aim for timeless over trendy.  If you try to recreate the look of your favorite music artist at the latest awards ceremony you might feel self conscious, worrying about being on the losing end of “who wore it better.”

Ensure your selection is appealing yet not too revealing, so you don´t spend the evening tugging at your hemline or adjusting your neckline.  First dates can be stressful enough without you being physically uncomfortable as well.

In terms of specifics, a series of studies by Nicolas Guéguen (2015) demonstrated that men find women in high heels to be more attractive.[i]  The higher the heel the better.  There is also a robust body of research that demonstrates that true to stereotype, that men are attracted to women wearing the color red.[ii] 

Yet you don´t need to strut into a first date looking like Jessica Rabbit to impress your dinner companion.  In fact, if you do, you might inadvertently send the wrong signals. 

Provocative Clothing Fuels Misperceptions

We are well past the offensive notion that women who dress provocatively are “asking” for trouble.  Yet research indicates that clothing may nonetheless create a perception of sexual availability. 

Research by Avigail Moor (2010) reveals a gender-based perceptual difference regarding women who dress in a revealing fashion.[iii]  She found that men interpret a sexualized look as indicating an interest in sex and evidence of a woman´s intent to seduce, while in reality, women wear sexy clothing in order to feel and look attractive, not to seduce.

Racy v. Conservative Attire:  Attraction v. Assumptions

Nicolas Guéguen conducted a field study to test research indicating that men believe provocatively dressed women are more likely to be sexually available.[iv] As an example, he notes that Abbey (1987) found that men were more likely (than women) to construe clothing such as shorts, tight jeans, a low-cut top, or no bra, as an indicator of sexual receptiveness.

In his research, Guéguen found that men at a bar were more likely to approach a provocatively dressed woman than a woman who is conservatively dressed, and more likely to believe she will be open to sex on a first date.

Guéguen´s research, entitled “The Effect of Women´s Suggestive Clothing on Men´s Behavior and Judgment: A Field Study” (2011), studied the behavior of 108 men on 16 different nights in two taverns in France.  He found that after initial eye contact was made, men were quicker to approach a woman wearing suggestive clothing than a woman who was conservatively dressed. 

The two women in the study, one 20 and the other 21, walked in to the bar together in each experiment.  The suggestively dressed woman wore a very short skirt and an off the shoulder tight fitting top with a plunge neckline, and the conservatively dressed woman wore a long skirt and blouse.

In addition to measuring approach behavior, when questioned by a male confederate, the men perceived a higher likelihood of having a date, and having sex on the first date with the suggestively dressed woman than her conservative counterpart.

Although this was not a study about first dates, Guéguen´s research highlights the danger of misinterpretation associated with the belief that a woman´s attire signals sexual interest and availability.

Perceptions Are Not Reality

On a first date, perceptions are often incorrect.  In reality, most women do not dress specifically to seduce a man she is meeting for the first time.  Both parties should appreciate the need to move slowly on a first date in order to ensure clear communication, avoid false expectations, and promote healthy relational choices. 

About the author:

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert.  She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). 

She lectures around the world on sexual assault prevention, safe cyber security, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. 

Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD

Find a full listing of Dr. Patrick´s Psychology Today posts at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-bad-looks-good 


[i] Nicolas Guéguen, “High Heels Increase Women’s Attractiveness,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 44, issue 8 (2015): 2227–2235.

[ii] See, e.g., Andrew J. Elliot and Daniela Niesta, “Romantic Red: Red Enhances Men’s Attraction to Women,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95, no. 5 (2008): 1150–1164.

[iii] Avigail Moor, “She Dresses to Attract, He Perceives Seduction: A Gender Gap in Attribution of Intent to Women’s Revealing Style of Dress and its Relation to Blaming the Victims of Sexual Violence,” Journal of International Women's Studies 11, no. 4 (2010): 115-127.

[iv] Nicolas Guéguen, “The Effect of Women´s Suggestive Clothing on Men´s Behavior and Judgment: A Field Study,” Psychological Reports 109, no. 2 (2011): 635–638.