Last week, we took a look at ways women can dress to enhance their appeal to eligible bachelors. Today we give equal time to the other side of the equation: how men should dress to attract women.
First and foremost, experts advise, leave the office at the office. Three-piece pin stripes have their place--and that place is not after-work cocktail parties or dinner dates.
"Women see men all day in suits," said Los Angeles-based color and design consultant Jennifer Butler, who presents seminars in Orange County. "When they go out at night, they like something a little more casual.
"If a man doesn't have time to go home and change after leaving the office, he should bring along a sports jacket and a more casual tie to change into. Even if he's just going out for a drink, he should look as different as possible from what he worked in. He'll feel more relaxed if he creates a different expression for himself."
"You can't expect to be in the same frame of mind dressed in a business suit as you would be dressed in more casual wear," agreed Viken Momdjian, president of Politix, a Southern California-based chain of men's clothing stores. "If you go to a party in a business suit, you'll find yourself talking business the whole time.
"You'll present the wrong personality for that environment. You might appear stuffy and unapproachable. When you're trying to meet women, looking accessible is very important."
Besides, there's nothing like overdressing for a social event to ensure that you will feel awkward and conspicuous all night, added fashion consultant Aggie Manville of Aggie's the Total Look in Dana Point.
"It's better to be a little bit underdressed than overdressed," she said.
However, Butler admonished, the definition of casual wear is not faded jeans and a Windbreaker--unless the date entails a hike in the mountains.
"When I consult men about their wardrobes, time and time again what they're missing the most are things that would be nice for dating," she said. "On one extreme, they have shorts to go out on a boat, and on the other extreme, they have suits for the office--but nothing in between. They don't own a pair of dressy pleated slacks, a nice sweater or a silk shirt."
Costa Mesa bachelor Marcus Meleton, who bravely volunteered to act as our model for "do" and "don't" dating attire, fit that stereotype to a T-shirt.
"Let's see . . . ," he said, contemplating his closet. "All I have are suits and blue jeans. Will jeans with a pair of tennis shoes be OK for the 'after' picture?"
The 33-year-old aerospace engineer came up with a blue pin-striped "banker's suit" to illustrate the office-only image. "It's what I wear when I have to give presentations," he explained.
For a casual-yet-sophisticated night-on-the-town appearance, Meleton unearthed his seldom-worn gray pleated slacks and cordovan loafers. A pale-pink Oxford shirt and blue tweed sports coat completed his "preppy look"--a favorite of Orange County women, according to an informal poll conducted at the Sports Connection health club in Costa Mesa.
"I love khakis, loafers, a button-down shirt," said Sandy Ludwick, 25, a business analyst in Costa Mesa. She also likes the clean-cut look.
Variations on that basic, conservative style were expressed recurringly, in a number of ways: the Brooks Bros. look, the yuppie look, the all-American look, the boy-next-door look, the continental look, the "thirtysomething" look.
"You know Michael on (the television series) 'thirtysomething'?" asked Jan McDonald, 30, a marketing consultant in Irvine. "He's my ideal of how a man should dress: suspenders that give him a slightly arty look, plaid shirts that make him look homey, hair that's well-groomed but not military-short."
"I'm not into an overly hep look," said Libby Zoe, 32, a Newport Beach sales manager. "I like tweed jackets, sweaters, glasses with tortoise-shell rims."
Fear not--women still admire a man in jeans. "I definitely like the look of jeans with a sports coat," said 25-year-old Denise Spicer of Costa Mesa, an assistant buyer for a department store. "Jeans go great with a sweater vest over a shirt with a button-down collar. But no cowboy boots--yuck!"
"I lust after men in jeans and white T-shirts--the Bruce Springsteen kind," confessed Orange resident Amy Bellows, 35, a hotel publicist.
Whatever "look" a man chooses, said George Pinckney of the Fashion Academy in Costa Mesa, he should look himself. "A woman can recognize a phony a mile away," he warned. "Not every man is Mr. Macho or Mr. Business Executive or Mr. Arty. I would look and feel ridiculous if I suddenly went out and got an ear pierced and started wearing flamboyant clothes."
As she advises women, Butler said that men should dress to attract their "type." The accountant whose tastes run on the conservative side should stick with that all-American, preppy style. The musician desperately seeking an artistic soul mate, on the other hand, might let his hair down a bit.
"A pierced ear can look really great on a man," Butler said. "But he's sending out a message about himself, and he needs to be sure it's the message he wants to convey. He's saying: 'I'm creative, I'm a free spirit, I'm not mainstream.' And that's the kind of woman he is going to attract."
One final note on business suits: They may be inappropriate evening wear for most occasions, but women nonetheless appreciate a man in corporate-world uniform.
"For me, the ultimate is a three-piece, pin-striped suit--the Wall Street look," said Carol Meyer, 29, an interior designer in Huntington Beach. "Men can't dress sexier than that."