Noelle McCarthy: Dressing for men

By Noelle McCarthy

A new boyfriend has Noelle McCarthy transitioning her style from cute and quirky to Audrey Hepburn . . . except slightly filthier.
A new boyfriend has Noelle McCarthy transitioning her style from cute and quirky to Audrey Hepburn . . . except slightly filthier.

The clothes that women like to wear are not the clothes that men like to see on women. This would not be a problem, except that men are in charge of what is sexy and what isn't.

That's a big call, and very First Year Women's Studies. It's true, though. Get a new boyfriend if you don't believe me.

I got one last week, and my feminism went out the door as soon as he went in it. I've spent the past weekend in high heels and cocktail dresses after five years of wearing whatever pleased me - trainers, brogues and smock dresses most recently.

But they won't do anymore now that there's a man on the manor. I was pulling the red Miu Miu heels out of the back of the wardrobe less than 24 hours after I met him.

If you'd asked me to describe my style up to that moment, I'd have said "interesting" maybe, or "individual", "quirky" even. Now there's only one way I want to look, and that's sexy.

I want the male gaze, even if it's just one man gazing. I want to be an image to be looked at, however reductive that is in terms of feminist theory. I want to be an object. Where the hell does that leave me?

In a style dilemma, is the short answer. The troubling ramifications of the drive for self-objectification notwithstanding, I've got a more immediate problem. What do I wear when I'm with him that I'll feel good in, and he'll find alluring?

I don't have a huge repertoire of outfits to captivate a lover. Why would I? I dress to please myself alone, as you do when you're single. I wear dungarees and trainers and rompers and over-sized printed dresses and headscarves that make me look like Hilda Ogden. I wear stripey pants, and moccasins, giant green sunglasses as modelled by stylish ancient ladies in the recent eyewear ad campaign for Karen Walker.

I'm not dressing for a boyfriend, I'm dressing for other women and style bloggers. Well, I was, but now I'm trying to transition from cute and quirky to Audrey Hepburn, except slightly filthier.

It's a big ask, and the subtext doesn't bear thinking about, really. As a woman who is changing how she dresses because she has a boyfriend, how do I justify my capitulation to the masculine hegemony?

Easy. Style is inherently fluid and I'm tweaking mine, merely. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I'm still wearing Miss Crabb dresses and so what if they've gotten shorter?

The Miu Mius are back in play after a long hiatus, and the bright green KWs have been swapped for some cats-eye frames, a la Audrey. It's my look, Captain, but not as we know it. Demure in a way it's never been, and more traditionally feminine than I've yet gotten used to.

I've traded in my feminist principles for gazes of naked admiration, and my toes are aching. But cats-eye sunglasses suit me, and sometimes being stylish means making room for changes.

* What do you think: have you ever changed your style for a man?


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