Fertile Fashion

Women Dress Better when Ovulating

All women have a range of clothes in their closet: oversized
sweatpants, stuffy business jacket, slinky sundress. We see these
incongruous vestments as symbols of our feminine mobility—beaded,
boatnecked, buttoned-up proof that we can sashay from the laundry
room to the board room to the Viper
Room
with the mere tug of a curve-hugging zipper.

starshine.jpg

Leave it to science to burst our bubble. It turns out there’s
another reason we favor diversified wardrobes—a biological one, in
fact. A recent study showed that women’s style of dress
changes throughout our menstrual cycles: We opt for more attractive
outfits as we near ovulation, the time of the month when we’re most
fertile.

Published last month in the journal Hormones and Behavior, the UCLA study
photographed 30 young women during ovulation, and again during the
least fertile phase of their cycle. Then, in what the university’s
publicists are calling “a kind of scientific version of the Web
site ‘Hot or
Not
,’ ” a panel of men and women were asked to choose the photo
in which each woman looked more “attractive.”

Sixty percent of the time—a majority researchers insist is “well
beyond chance”—judges chose the photo taken during ovulation. The
subjects tended “to put on skirts instead of pants, show more skin,
and generally dress more fashionably” at their most fertile,
according to lead author Martie Haselton. It’s not clear from the name or the
study whether Haselton is an ovulator or an inseminator, but the
good professor said the research proves “our evolution, our biology
is showing up in even the most modern of behaviors.”

One woman wore loose-fitting jeans and clunky boots during her
low-fertility photo, and a skirt and cardigan during ovulation.
Other subjects wore lower necklines, fancier jewelry, lace trims,
and, um, fringe while ovulating. I can’t remember the last time
fringe was considered “fashionable” but, hey, different strokes for
different evolutionary beings.

Other animals flaunt their fertility in a variety of ways. Cats
release pheromones. Chimpanzees experience an obvious swelling of
the genitalia when in heat. Certain dairy cows will winkle their
noses and curl their lips or, strangely, try to mount other cows.
Women, it seems, simply accessorize. Scientists have long believed
that humans “conceal” their ovulation, but if perfect strangers can
pick up on fertility cues just by looking at a couple snapshots,
Haselton’s research may have proven otherwise.

On one level, I applaud the research. If Darwin’s Galapagos
finches can have a sweet mating song, why shouldn’t we ladies have
a frisky mating wardrobe? Besides, it’s fun watching scientists try
to quantify abstract notions like “fashion,” and translate concepts
like “bling” into journal-worthy language. (Haselton told the
Washington Post that ovulating co-eds engage in
“self-ornamentation through attentive personal grooming.”)

On the other hand, the results are troubling. Women have worked
so hard to leave our breeder image back in the cave; it’s
disconcerting to learn that even as we demand professional tenure
and storm the political landscape Xena-style, biology would still
have us flirting shamelessly, even subconsciously—and with fringe,
no less. Scientists aren’t certain that ovulating women dress
nicely merely to attract male mates. It could just be the result of
a biochemical mood change.

But what if it is done purely to woo studs to our mating ground
or, in this case, dorm rooms? If women are programmed to don
frillier frocks on the days when we’re most likely to conceive a
child, what other man-pleasing behaviors might we engage in halfway
through our menstrual cycles? Taking the day off work to fry up
bacon and watch Robocop in our underwear? Picking a
barroom fight with the Jagermeister girl?

Forget it, ladies. I say watch your calendar and keep your
sweatpants handy. We’ve come too far to let a few tiny genes
dictate when and how we switch into come-hither mode. Biology may
be powerful, but it’s no match for a modern gal with a closet full
of options. And free will—unlike evolution, but very much like my
favorite hoodie sweatshirt—is entirely reversible.

Contact Starshine Roshell at starshine@roshell.com and
see her website
www.starshineroshell.com.

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