In Praise of Man-Repellent Fashion

If you’ve ever starved yourself into a little black dress, worn a bikini that rode up your ass, or slipped on the ice in heels because you just couldn’t be seen in something sensible (and potentially man-repellent), read this now.

By Alison Gary


As soon as I opened the cardboard box from Nordstrom, I knew I made a good purchase. The garment inside was predominantly composed of charcoal-colored yarn, the kind that looks as though white dog fur has been woven into it. Slim horizontal stripes started at the bust and ran down the torso and sleeves in a rainbow of some of my favorite colors: vermillion, Kelly green, sunshine yellow, orchid, camel, and candy pink. It tented straight from my boobs to below my crotch, the sleeves were an inch longer than my fingertips, and the turtleneck was loose enough to engulf the entire lower half of my face. It was perfect.

This is not a sweater one wears to get laid or win any fashion awards. It’s not a sweater that gets likes on Instagram. This sweater is the kind that will only garner likes from fellow “I wear what makes me feel good” people. The kind of person I wasn’t most of my life but now embrace with all my oversized-sweater-loving heart.

My journey to wearing whatever the hell I want began when I had my first crush, at age four. Yep, I’ve been obsessed with being attractive to the opposite sex since I was basically a toddler. I no longer remember the boy’s name, but I have a brief memory of him in a navy bomber jacket, cornered between a bookcase and a play kitchen. And if memory serves, he was cornered by me trying to hug or kiss him or make him my boyfriend.

I do remember the name of my next crush. It was first grade, and his name was Tony. Tony had red hair, and his face would blend right into it when he was nervous, embarrassed, or angry. I felt I was in love and just had to tell him how I felt. I took some three-part carbonless paper my dad brought home from his job, separated the pink sheet from the white and yellow ones, and penned a love letter to Tony. I gave it to him the next day at school. Tony wasn’t the strongest reader and couldn’t decipher what I wrote. So, he went to the teacher and asked her to read it to him. Ouch.

I wasn’t always the best student, or the most popular. I was a good kid who did okay in school, didn’t drink or smoke, and didn’t fool around with boys — yet the boys, even the ones who fooled around with other girls and knew they’d get nowhere with me, liked me. Being good with boys was my superpower.

What can I say? Being attractive to men has been a form of currency for women since the beginning of time. And when you realize you excel at it, it’s hard to stop taking advantage of it, even when you realize all the bad decisions made because of it. Like standing outside for an hour in January to get into a popular club wearing nothing but a crop top and low-slung jeans.

Like spraining your ankle twice in one summer for wearing 5” heels to work.

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Like getting a sunspot on your cheek at the age of 29 because you spent more hours in college in a tanning bed than in a lecture hall.

Like spending the last hour of every one of your friends’ weddings with severe stomach cramps from wearing the highest strength Spanx for 12 hours straight.

Like attempting to use duct tape as a strapless bra. Seriously kids, don’t try this at home … or anywhere.

For most of my life, I used fashion to whittle my waist, elongate my legs, and highlight my bust. I chose colors that would assert my authority without making me look too aggressive or bitchy. I chose looks that emphasized my femininity and made me appealing to men. Because I could, and because I did it well.

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But when I turned 40, things changed seemingly overnight. Suddenly, I woke up with pillow creases on my face, my metabolism slowed down dramatically, my knees started sounding as though they were made of Rice Krispies — and, to my surprise, I no longer cared who the hell thought I was attractive (well, other than me).

My first step into man repellant fashion was wide-legged cropped jeans. They made absolutely no sense to my husband who couldn’t figure out why I’d want to wear “a denim bell on each leg.” I, however, loved them and found them to be my gateway drug to wearing whatever the hell I wanted to, men’s opinions be damned. I moved on to high-waisted jeans that hit the bottom of my ribcage and was soon was mainlining baggy pantsuits with flat loafers and brogues. Things got hardcore when I bought my first wireless “comfort” bra. These days, a sweater that turns me into a doghair throw pillow is the norm. And this new normal makes me feel strong, smart, and downright sexy.

There’s something freeing about becoming invisible to attention for what you wear. At first, it can be upsetting, but then you realize how much more you can enjoy. You can eat the bread, you can reduce the number of products in your makeup routine, and you know that when you receive compliments and promotions it’s because you did good — not potentially because you just looked good. So, bring on the caftan! Bring on the empire-waist. Never again will I suffer Spanx-related gas pains or numb feet after a night in heels. They say that sexy is being comfortable in your skin. I’d add that it is also a matter of your skin being comfortable in your clothes. And by that measure, I’ve never been sexier.  

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