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Is It Wrong to Change the Way You Dress to Make Someone Else Happy?

We need to find a balance between self-expression, self-respect, and respect for others.


Art Credit: Gabriela Hansen

There are few accessories I love more then a red lip. There is something about the intense hue that perfectly lends itself to a festive occasion—it’s undeniably loud, but also approachable and playful. So, as I prepared to attend a birthday party with my new boyfriend, I selected my favorite bright, red matte lipstick to add a little pow to my look.

It was the first time he’d seen me with the stark retro hue, and I had turned to him with a smile, cocked my head in question and asked, “Well, what do you think?”

As honest and true-blue as ever, he answered point blank, “I think I prefer a few shades lighter, or something more like your natural color.” I never knew my spirit could descend so fast. I followed up with a defensive, “Well I like it!”, and asked if he had any other make-up or sartorial opinions I should know about. “I guess I’m not a fan of high-waisted skirts or pants,” replied the poor guy—he was unaware of the territory he was stepping into, as I happen to be a girl with a penchant for vintage, particularly 70’s high-waisted denim.

I felt torn between defensiveness and a desire to please and be admired by my boyfriend. Would choosing to forgo my much loved red lip and high-waisted pants reflect a lack of self-possession as a woman?

I have previously reflected on the question of who we dress for, challenging the rallying cry to “dress for yourself” and—when it comes to personal style—urging a more balanced combination of self-expression, self-respect, and respect for others. But, I have also argued passionately against allowing our sense of personal style to be manipulated by cultural or social pressures in order to appear more sexually appealing to men.

The truth is, there is an inherent part of a woman that wants to be pleasing, to be delighted in. When it comes to style, it can be a struggle to wade through the murky dichotomy between taking joy in expressing yourself, protecting yourself from objectification, and being pleasing to the ones you love.

But what if compromising on a few personal style choices to please my boyfriend symbolized an expression of love, rather than a lack of autonomy? By wearing that hand knitted sweater from grandma or opting for a more neutral lip color for my boyfriend; I am choosing to acknowledge that I don’t exist in a vacuum, that even my own personal style choices affect those around me, and—perhaps more importantly—that I care.

What do you think? Is your style all about you, or would you alter the way you dress for the others?

(Photo by Gabriela Hansen)