I pointed out how as a teenage girl, I would have loved to have worn more revealing formals than my parents allowed, but as a mother, I feel very differently when my sons have prom dates who show up with heaving cleavage and naked backs. My baby boys have nowhere to place their hands that they are not going to be touching bare skin, not to mention struggle all night to not let their eyes fixate inappropriately. I don't want to admit what direction their thoughts will turn.
I posed the question whether girls dressed to impress their dates, or influence them. I also confessed to knowing how my date would probably have ended it I'd worn a dress like the ones I see at dances today. Back then, I had the body and an appreciative boyfriend. Face it, times haven't changed that much.
Writers use wardrobe (and its malfunctions) to "influence" a reader's emotions. We often objectify our heroes and heroines to enhance the scene. Guilty as charged. For instance, a guy's jeans riding low, ripped and exposing patches of naked skin, or hugging tight in all the right places, suggests sensuality. Moves the reader into a lustful frame of mind. Same with a blouse unbuttoned to expose the lace edging of a deep cut bra (usually a red or black one), or shorts/skirt cut high and exposing long, toned (and tanned of course) legs that has your hero's eyes wandering upward and imagining what sexy surprise awaits.
Now take the same use of wardrobe and look through the antagonist's eyes. A female boss checking out her assistant's deep V waist snugged tight in a suit jacket that accentuates his broad shoulders, or drapes effortlessly over a tight derriere. Or the male boss who calls his secretary into the office the day she wears a particularly low-cut blouse, and has her purposely lean over his desk to view a document while he helps himself to a peep show. Both hero/heroine are not soliciting their boss' reactions on purpose and, in fact, are usually written unawares. But what reaction is invoked in the reader? Not lustful in this point of view. Disgust, loathing, and anger get the reader's blood pumping, which is what the author wants.
Then take the use of written wardrobe choices one step deeper and look through the eyes of the villain. The stalker, serial killer, or rapist. The stalker would see your hero's expensive, designer wardrobe as a representation of money, giving this villain motive to continue and get dangerously closer. The serial killer could view him the same, but would also see the hero as haughty, a "show-off" pimping superiority and his death—deserving. But how would a rapist view the hero? Keeping the storyline heterosexual, the rapist would probably see the hero attached to the heroine—who's the object of the rapist's rage or drive for power. The hero would be considered an interference and if dressed to the nines, a threat to the rapist's power position, because of the attention the hero garners from onlookers, and adoration from the heroine.
What if the hero is dressed in the jeans mentioned above and a tee shirt stretched tight over muscly pecs? Then, the rapist not only watches him, but your heroine's body language. How she responds. If she touches, kisses, or acts as one would interpret as "happy", the rapist would see as stupid, silly and childlike. Her reactions feed the rapist's anger.
Switch the focus to the heroine's wardrobe. The stalker watches from either a hidden or obvious viewpoint. Takes in the low-cut blouse, mini-skirt, or shorts, his eyes performing the same roving technique written in the hero's POV. But the stalker sees the heroine dressing this way on purpose—for him, the villain. In his mind, she's inviting him/her to follow. The serial killer sees a girl dressed this way as vulnerable. Advertising her insecurities by dressing sexy to attract attention. He/she sees the heroine as insignificant—easy prey. Someone no one will notice gone immediately, giving the villain time to disappear.
The rapist is a whole other animal. A girl dressed suggestively, and again she will probably be written with the hero, angers the rapist. Just as before with the hero wardrobe scenario, he'll see her stupid, naive, and needing to be taught a lesson. In all likelihood, she will remind him of someone from his past or current life that belittled, shamed, or holds dominion over him, and his resentment and need to feel empowered will be driven by the resemblance, as will his rage.
So what does the reader feel now? Fear. Anxiety. The need to warn the hero or heroine of impending danger. The reader's heart races at this point if the author's done his/her job, and it started with how the character, soon-to-be-victim, is dressed.
We authors are tricky. We take something ordinary and twist it to paint the scene, build the emotion, and hook our readers into wanting to turn the next page. If we can do this with clothing, imagine what we can do with food.
Back to my question. Impress or influence? Married or single, when we're "putting on the ritz", so to speak, we definitely dress to influence. When we are doing everyday activities, we dress to impress—in case we run into someone we know. In the workplace? Both. We use our wardrobe to get the results we need.
Thanks for stopping by and learning about a trick to use in your own writing, or one to watch for in the books you're reading.
As always, be kind to one another.