12 Women On How Relationship Status Affects The Way They Dress

Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.
Yesterday, I caught myself staring at my bank account in the same way I normally stare at my closet: "Ugh, there's nothing here I can use!" Okay, so that comparison might feel like a stretch, but for a single writer who often has to make new "first date" outfits out of staple pieces I've had forever instead of new items from a costly cart on ASOS, it's pretty apt. But does a woman's relationship status influence her wardrobe almost as much as her bank account? In a time where conversations about feminism and female autonomy are taking place regularly, it's possible that, nowadays, we dress for ourselves more than ever. Maybe being in a relationship means you never have "nothing to wear," or maybe being single means that your style can be ever-changing. But these descriptions feel too simplistic, and "doing you" looks different for everyone. To get some perspective, we spoke to 12 women about dressing for themselves, sexiness, and how a relationship does (or doesn't) affect it all.

"I desperately want to be one of those girls who dresses the same whether they have a boyfriend or not. But the truth is, I'm in a long-term relationship, and I wear sweatpants so often. Like, too often. (I also work from home, but the relationship definitely factors in.) Also, I don't dress up as much if I go to a bar. It's not that I don't want other guys noticing me — I don't really care either way — but I don't wear as much makeup to the bar because meeting men just isn't one of my priorities. I don't think I dress more or less ~provocatively~ when I'm single versus in a relationship, though. My necklines have pretty much stayed the same, regardless of whether I'm in a relationship or not, because I don't really think my relationship should impose rules on how I dress. But I definitely wear less makeup, just because I give less of a fuck whether I have a pimple now."
- Maya, 24
"I wish I could say I was the type of girl who purely dressed for herself and didn't give others' opinions a second thought when I rifle through my closet in the morning, but alas, I am not. I would say I swing more toward dressy 'pretty' when I'm seeing someone or going on a date and want to appear (appear being the keyword) like a class act. I try to dress like at any second we might run into his sister or cousin or grandma, and they would tell me how much they loved my outfit (and how charming I am, and how we should just get married already). I also can't date anyone who doesn't think it's adorable when I wear the same pair of sweatpants for an entire weekend. When I'm single, I would say I'm a bit more adventurous in my dressing. Depending on the setting, I'll try and play up my best assets. I might show a little more cleavage out at night, or wear my favorite work dress when I know I have a fancy industry event and might meet someone. But I also think it's true that girls dress for girls. No guy is truly going to appreciate my DVF wrap dress that I thrifted for $50 in the East Village like my homegirls. So regardless of my relationship status, I'm always trying to impress the ladies of Manhattan with my innate fashion chops."
- Kristen, 25

"I definitely think I tend to dress a little sexier when I'm taken. Being in a relationship automatically gives me a boost in self-confidence and makes me feel protected from cleavage lurkers. I wouldn't necessarily wear something super-sexy or too revealing when I'm just out with my friends, because I don't want to give off the wrong impression. However, when I'm with my man, I won't hesitate to make more risqué wardrobe choices since there's a spoken barrier of 'Back off; she's mine.' This doesn't mean I let relationships dictate my wardrobe choices, but it's not fun to get pervy glares all night long when you're just trying to have a good time. As for the few dates that I do go on, I pretty much always dress in an above-casual, slightly fashion-forward, never-showing-too-much-skin kinda way. Don't we all like a little mystery?"
- Lucy, 26
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Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.
"I tend to dress the way that I'm feeling at that moment. When I'm happier, more positive, and excited, I'm more thoughtful about what I'm wearing, whether it be happy to be single, or happy to be dating someone again. For example, I recently went out with this basic nice guy for the second time. One of many indicators that it wasn't something I'd like to pursue further was that I just ended up wearing what I'd been wearing all day…I really didn't care to change into something nicer for him — or something that I'd thought he'd appreciate. But I like to date guys who appreciate style. So if that's not in their DNA, I'm automatically bummed and 10 times lazier, because I know as long as they can see a smidge of my cleavage, they'll think I'm the prettiest. When I'm content being single, I tend to dress for the occasion. If I'm going to places where I feel safe (dive bars, concerts, art stuff), I'll deck myself out in pieces that make me feel fly as hell. If I'm going somewhere I feel unsafe (Midtown bars, finance-people happy hours, clubs, etc.), I'll just wear inoffensive basic hot stuff, but maybe with a bright lip or something."
- Emily, 23

"I'm single, and I rarely dress up for a date. I definitely do my hair and makeup and wear an outfit, but it wouldn't be particularly dressy or sexy, because that's just not how I dress. When I meet someone for the first time, I want to present myself accurately, and my style is part of that package. If I were going to the theater or something, I'd dress accordingly, but I'm typically going to a bar and splitting the bill half the time."
- Stephanie, 29

"I think I'm most conscious about what I'm wearing when I'm newly dating someone. When I'm single or when I'm in a relationship, I'd say my dress takes on a 'stable' nature, and I don't think about what I wear as much. But when I'm wanting to impress someone specific, I'll think about it more — which jeans look best, or which color makes me look most tan. What I think is funniest about this, though, is that in general, dudes don't think about women's clothing that much. I've talked about this with friends who agree, and I definitely think about what I'm wearing more when I know I'll be around other women, because I know that unlike a man, they'll take note of my new sweater."
- Lauren, 25

"I work in fashion, which is very much a 'dress for other women' business, so that's really the relationship that drives what I wear. It'll always be some form of oversized sweater or monochromatic blush tones or leather or whatever trend we're pushing in the showroom, because 'If we're not wearing it, why would someone buy it from us?' I definitely tone it down when I'm single or casually dating. I tend to go out with guys with more traditional jobs, so it creates kind of a weird imbalance when we first meet and they show up to happy hour in a suit and I'm wearing a romper and leg warmers. I have kind of a uniform that I wear when I go out when I'm single: jeans or leather leggings and a black sleeveless top (varying levels of cleavage or backless-ness, depending on the venue). I already have chronic resting bitch face, so there's no need to make myself seem even less interested in being at the bar by wearing a blanket scarf. I also wear my fleece pajama pants instead of yoga pants when I'm at home, if that counts. I transition from pants to skirts when I start considering them real dates, and then start mixing pants back in when we get further along. I honestly didn't realize that I did that until just now. Being in a relationship for me is just gradually convincing a guy that he really thinks high-waisted shorts or cable-knit turtlenecks are sexy."
- Samantha, 25
Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.
"I try to dress cuter and more put-together when I'm single. You never know where you might run into your future husband, right? If I'm in a relationship, I feel less pressure to flex. If I'm dating you, you've heard my lamest jokes and have seen what I look like in the morning…and you still chose to stick around. I'll also wear weirder stuff and experiment with random trends more when I'm single. If I'm on a first or second date with a guy, I'll try not to scare him off by wearing something outrageous until he gets to know my personality better."
- Raven, 25

"My relationship status never can influence how I dress. Only I determine what I can and can't wear. I used to date a guy for years who was around my height, and he didn't love when I wore big heels. Unfortunately for him, I love big shoes, and that wasn't going to change anytime soon. I'd say the only time I may ever 'change' the way I dress is for a date. You don't want to give it all away up-front. You know what they say about an air of mystery, and I think it goes a long way. I like to dress sexy all the time when I'm out and about. I'm comfortable and happy with my body, and I like to show off what my mama was so kind to have given me. I do, though, typically like to choose: boobs or butt. If you don't choose one asset to highlight, I think you start to teeter on the line between sexy and trashy."
- Liv, 24

"I've always been more of the type to dress for myself. But I also recognize the times when I'm actually interested in someone, because I'll hate everything in my closet (and on my floor). So I guess when I'm single and crushing, I try harder. My mood influences my wardrobe choices more than my relationship status does. If I'm completely uninterested in seeking a partner, I don't give a shit how I dress. I'll wear all kinds of crazy outfits. Like, I've been known to roll out of my house rocking knee socks, a skirt, and a weird graphic tee, or be all 'club noir' with head-to-toe black and leather (which gives me this swagger that intimidates guys and is probably the reason I love it so much). Sometimes I'll barely powder my face and apply mascara, and other days I'll have a full face of makeup, crazy glam eyeshadow and all. But I'm a practical dresser when it comes to dates. Are we going hiking? I've got my hiking boots laced. Are we grabbing drinks at a hip new restaurant/bar? Your girl's got skinny jeans and heels. But I'm such a bum when I'm taken. I try way harder when I think I have to impress every dude/lady/person I might run into while picking up my Thai order and zit cream. But when I'm taken? They better know I'm cute already so I don't have to try. Unless it's their birthday or I'm particularly horny, then no matter what I'm wearing on top you can bet I've got my cutest lingerie on underneath."
- Olivia, 25
Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.
"I would say my dress varies slightly based on my relationship status. When I'm single, I will dress dumpy when I am just hanging with friends or alone, and will dress nice when I am going out on the town for lunch or dinner or drinking or whatever! When I am in a new relationship, I will dress pretty much the same, but when I am alone with the new guy, I will go for the 'Oh, I barely put on makeup and got dressed but actually contemplated my outfit and made my makeup look like it doesn't exist' look. When I am dating a guy for a while, I will want to look good, but not make it a priority if I do not have time to run home and put on makeup or switch my day look to my night look when out and about. I will always want to look nice, but do not care as much. On first dates, I usually go for the more conservative, mature, pretty look, and by the fourth date, I will sex it up a bit. It, of course, depends where we are going and what we are doing. When I have a full-on boyfriend, I will always try to dress to the occasion, but if we make spontaneous plans, I do not stress on my appearance."
- Lauren, 25

"Because I'm in a long-term relationship and not going out on dates as frequently, I don't dress up as often in dresses/skirts with a full face of makeup and my hair done. When I'm single, I have to plan outfits for going out to dinner and whatnot, and I put a lot more effort into hair and makeup and don't dress casually like I do when I'm in a relationship. In my relationship, though, I get dressed up very nicely when we do go out and try to take care of myself — not let myself go. Everyone tries harder when they're single, in my opinion. It's biology."
- Megan, 24
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