New research sheds light on how women choose clothing when competing with others for a potential partner. The study has been published in Evolutionary Psychological Science.
“We came up with this idea in a Psychology Capstone course. My coauthors were students at the time and were interested in whether women use clothing as a form of competition with other women, and whether this would depend on the situation and who their competition would be,” said lead author Carin Perilloux, an associate professor of psychology at Southwestern University.
In the study, 393 heterosexual and bisexual women between the ages of 19 to 28 were asked imagine that they were currently single and pursuing a partner before reading a short story describing an upcoming party in which their male crush would be either present or absent. The story said they would be attending the party with a female companion who was either more or less attractive than them. Moreover, this companion was either described as an acquaintance or a close friend.
After reading the vignette, participants were shown a page of clothing items and were asked to create an outfit to wear to the party. A separate sample 50 women and 50 men, who were unaware of the purpose of the study, rated the revealingness and sexiness of each clothing item.
The researchers found evidence that the attractiveness of the companion, participants’ level of familiarity with the companion, and the presence of a crush influenced how women chose clothing items.
“When a woman’s crush is around, she’s likely to dress in sexier clothes if she’ll be with a female acquaintance than a close female friend. This supports that women do seem to use clothing as a form of intrasexual competition and/or mate attraction, but only when competing against women with whom they are not close,” Perilloux told PsyPost.
But the study — like all research — includes some caveats.
“We used an imaginary scenario and generic clothing – it would be better to test this with real scenarios and a participant’s actual clothing, but this was not logistically possible in our study. Furthermore, we might have underestimated the effect of the attractiveness of the woman in the scenario because we asked participants to imagine someone either more or less (randomly assigned) attractive than they are. Because people tend to befriend others of similar attractiveness, this might have prevented our ability to detect an effect for this variable,” Perilloux explained.
“Because we found that the presence of a male crush was one of the biggest effects in our model, it seems likely that women’s clothing is at least partially a mate attraction method, and that its use in direct intrasexual competition might be weaker or even non-existent.”
The study, “Friend or Foe? Mate Presence and Rival Type Influence Clothing-Based Female Intrasexual Competition“, was authored by Emily S. Olson, Ella R. Doss, and Carin Perilloux.