Dressing for realWorld dates

When it actually comes time to choose an outfit, what do you put on? Well, if it were up to me, everybody would have a first date in their grubbiest, most comfortable clothes (grubby in terms of well-worn, not dirty). Men wouldn't shave, and women's legs would remain bristly, and new clothes wouldn't even be contemplated. This non-dress code (or dress non-code) would complement the activities planned, which, if it were up to me, would be active and fun and casual. None of this fancy restaurant stuff, worrying about prices and the right fork and not dribbling and stray bits of broccoli between your teeth and a snooty waiter and tight shoes or collars or tables. But, since I'm not in charge of the universe, I promise to help you get through getting dressed for your date in the real world.

Understand that no one, not even cute little ol' me, can or should tell you exactly what to wear on a first, second, or fifth date. You already know. Just trust yourself. Use that three-pound blob of gray matter sitting atop your neck (no, you don't have something large caught between your teeth). In other words, if you use your head — and not your credit card or your Vogue or your MTV or your rose-colored glasses or your mom — you'll look and feel just fine. But don't panic. I know it's hard to keep your head on straight, let alone your wardrobe pulled together, when you're prepping for a date. But if you keep the following in mind, you'll do just fine:

1 Rule 1: Preparation before, comfort during. Worry a lot about what you're wearing and how you're smelling and looking before you leave the house so that you never have to waste a moment thinking about it after you've left.

1 Rule 2: There is no one right way. Creating a look is very different from the way you would sound out a word or learn to dance or memorize French verbs. It's not like "Put your left foot here and your right foot there." Dressing yourself up to go out is a recognition of who you are, your personal style, what you want to say about yourself, how you want others to see you, and, in a way, a reflection of your unique sense of yourself. You go, guy. You go, girl. If you're thinking this is a mini exercise in Relationships 101, you go to the head of the class. You've been paying attention.

A surefire way to make sure you end up in the right outfit is to think about your outfit in terms of what looks and feels good on you, how appropriate the outfit is for the activity, how your date is dressing, and so on. The following sections lead you through this examination.

What do I look good in?

A date is a time for the tried-and-true: the outfit you already know inspires everyone to ask, "Have you lost weight?" — or the male equivalent, "Have you been working out?" If you find yourself musing, "You know, I've always wanted to try spandex," immediately do the following: Drop this book, run to the bathroom, turn the faucet on cold, and shove your face beneath the icy stream. If no water is available, a gentle, but firm, slap on both cheeks will do. Save your experimental urges for dark, stormy nights full of lightning when you're trying to jolt a green-faced monster with a giant flat-top back to life.

Just an average quiz

What would you say is the average height and weight of the average American man or woman? The average height of a man is The average height of a woman is a. 6' a. 5'6''

The average weight of a man is a. 150 pounds b. 160 pounds c. 170 pounds

The average weight of a woman is a. 120 pounds b. 130 pounds c. 140 pounds

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average man, between 18 and 74, is 5'9'' and weighs 170 pounds; the average woman is about 5'4'' (actually 5'3.7' ) and weighs about 140 pounds. The point is, hardly anyone looks like Brad Pitt or Halle Berry. Striving for such an image, and/or wishing your date would, too, is not only a losing battle but not much fun for either of you.

If you're not sure what you look good in, put on a potential outfit and stand in front of your mirror. Then really look at yourself, from head to toe to the back of your heels. You'll be tempted to be judgmental. Don't. This is a time for honest appraisal, not nit-picking.

If you're not good at figuring out what looks terrific and what qualifies you for arrest by the fashion police, ask a best friend to be brutally honest (if one isn't handy on the day of the date, do this beforehand). Friends see stuff you've been overlooking for years.

1 Select substance over style. Style is great, and great style is truly fabulous. Often though, the latest, latest, latest style is a tad too trendy for anyone other than the very young and very hungry. Again, go for it only if it looks good on you.

1 Pick the right color. Yeah, I know. You guys aren't about to hold an orange scarf up to your face to tell whether you really are an "autumn" instead of a "winter." I don't blame you. Who needs the devastation of discovering you've spent your life as the wrong season? Yet, a little color savvy goes a long way. Often, it's hard to tell if a color really does look good or the salesperson was pulling your leg when she said, "Puce is you!" Once again, a trusted friend can come in handy. One quick rule: If your skin has a yellowish cast to it, you probably look best in soft browns, golds, and reds. If your skin is more pinkish, try grays, blues, and purples. When in doubt, hey, there's always basic black.

1 Consider the breadth and scope of the entire date, not just the sashay to the car or to the table in the restaurant. If there's dancing after dinner, for instance, that jacket's going to come off, so you'd better make sure it isn't the cornerstone of your look (or at least that your shirt is ironed).

1 Choose fabrics that wear as well as you do. Satin? Linen?

Fuhgettaboutit unless you're dating a Shar-Pei who loves wrinkles.

What do I feel good in?

Comfort is crucial. You'll have enough emotional turmoil to grapple with without fussing over a shoulder pad that keeps slipping or a silk shirt that suddenly feels like a plastic bag.

1 Select cozy fabrics. Cotton or velvet or any other material that feels soft against your skin is a good choice.

1 Make sure that the fit is fabulous. Take the penny test: Drop a penny on the floor; then pick it up. If your waistband is too tight, heels too high, skirt too narrow, slacks too snug, shirt too short, or gold chains too heavy, rethink your look until you can easily scoop that penny off the floor. If your outfit doesn't pass the penny test, put it back in the closet.

1 Wear what you already own. The temptation to rush out and buy the perfect outfit will be strong. Resist it. You don't want to take chances with an outfit that hasn't already proven itself at least once. "New" doesn't necessarily mean "flawless." Hems fall, button threads unravel, perspiration shows. Again, play it safe and go with what you know.

Where am I going?

This point is simple, but often overlooked. Ask yourself, "Did she really mean it when she said, 'We'll grab a bite to eat'?" If so, case closed: Wear a catcher's mitt. But if you're not entirely sure, there's no harm in asking, "Is this a casual affair?" — only, leave out the word "affair" so he won't get the wrong idea.



The light fantastic

I was once on a canoe trip with a very beautiful female friend who arrived for our wilderness vacation in full makeup: foundation, powder, shadow, eye liner, lip liner, mascara. The works. From afar, she looked as gorgeous as ever. Up close, however, in the blinding glare of sunlight, she looked a bit like a Kabuki dancer. Once we got rowing and sweating and sprayed with white water, her makeup ran faster than two-dollar pantyhose.

The moral of this story? Lighting is everything. Makeup is not just makeup. You need to know how you'll be seen before you can create the best look. Before your big date, know how the setting will be lit and apply makeup accordingly. This may require a little research, but believe me, it's worth it.

If you're . . . ahem . . . a certain age — and worry about it — it's to your distinct advantage to file a few softly-lit hang-outs in your mind for future reference. When he asks, "Where would you like to go?" you can toss off candle-lit venues with aplomb. Note:There's nothing wrong with blowing out that votive candle in the center the table. Who needs to set a menu on fire?

Stu FF

Stu FF

Did I pay attention to detail?

Shine your shoes. Press your collar. Check for errant threads. Rub the lipstick off your teeth. Tuck in the tag. Clean under your fingernails. Sniff for excessive aftershave or perfume. Unstuff your purse. Freshen your breath. Match your socks. Check out the rearview in a full-length mirror (don't forget the back of your hairdo). In short, pretend you're going to Sunday school and grandma's watching.

1 Department store dressing rooms are notoriously overlit. If you look good in there, you'll look good anywhere.

1 Bathroom mirrors are typically underlit for bright, daylight makeup. If you can, apply daylight makeup close to a window flooded with natural light. If you can't, recheck your makeup once you get outside and blend in any areas that look a little thick.

1 Unless you're covering surgical scars or other major skin care challenges, you should always be able to see your skin through your makeup. Foundation is designed to improve Mother Nature, not replace her.

Have I figured my date into the equation?

Dressing for your evening out is primarily about making you feel like a million bucks, but while you're at it, throw a few cents of sense your date's way. Tom Cruise and anybody aside, most short guys feel a tad shy with an Amazon woman at their side — especially if he has a bald spot previously seen only by birds or passengers in low-flying aircraft. Date night may not be the right night to break out those four-inch heels. Grungy rock stars aside, most women prefer a guy who at least ran his fingers through his hair — unless, of course, he's been working on the car or in the garden or out in the stables and his shower is broken. (In that case, the whole date will be a wash, so you might as well reschedule.) The point is, a date is a twosome. Some consideration on your part can help make it one heck of a great time.

Think about what your date will probably wear. If you're beaching it, lose the tie. If you're going to a barbecue, don't wear something suitable for a funeral. Dress age- and place-appropriate so that you're not likely to be taken for her father or his baby doll. This is also not the time for gender-bending outfits. When in doubt, think about both your comfort and your date's. Remember that it's easier to remove a tie than wish you'd worn one, and overdressing makes you look elegant, and underdressing makes you look sloppy, so if you can't hit it exactly right, try a bit over rather than under. My aunt has always maintained overdressing will get you taken to a better restaurant.

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