A clean shirt, a non-wrinkled dress and a nice pair of shoes: They all seem like obvious decisions for a first date outfit, right? As it turns out, what to wear on a first date actually matters a whole lot more than any of us were aware of.
To get to the bottom of the dating-meets-fashion debate, we enlisted Chiara Atik, a dating expert and author of Modern Dating: A Field Guide, and asked her: Does what you wear on a first date really matter?
Here’s what Atik had to say about why your clothes are important—and some of her reasons might surprise you.
StyleCaster: Here’s the question everyone wants to know: Does what you wear on a date really matter?
Chiara Atik: It does matter, for sure. Dressing yourself is a little bit like personal branding. It does say a lot about who you are.
If the person you’re seeing hasn’t talked to you yet, and is just looking at your photos on a dating profile or from across the room, they use clothing to determine if they might like you and if you might get along.
So for people who don’t follow fashion closely, will their date’s clothing have an effect?
Another thing that we’ve learned in studying this is that one of the ways to instantly make yourself more attractive and more presentable to other people is your clothing. It’s not so much what label or what trend, but that they fit well, and what state your clothes are in. People look more confident and more put together in clothes that fit them. That seems self-explanatory and obvious, but there are some people who just don’t put any thought into what they wear on first dates.
Why do you think the fit and appearance of clothing is so impactful?
These are the changeable parts of your appearance—you can’t easily change your body shape, but your clothing choice is something you can definitely alter. Personal style is branding: What you wear does determine the type of person you’re going to attract.
If you naturally have sort of a hipster-y Williamsburg style, and you wear Lily Pulitzer on a date, it’s not going to attract the kind of person you want. And this is a little obvious, but the other thing clothing really affects is how you present yourself and how you feel. It’s not about the actual piece of clothing, but about how confident you feel and how you carry yourself in something that you feel special in and proud of.
What are some of the most common mistakes you’ve seen people make when choosing their dating attire?
Something that often comes up is high heels. Women either totally love heels and may never be seen without them, or they hate them and never wear them. Sometimes they wear flats on the first date because they’re worried about being taller than their date, but it’s really just about how awesome you feel. It’s not like your date is going to grow if you keep dating them, so just wear your heels! If you do wear them, though, make sure it’s not an active date. Make sure you know what you’re doing ahead of time.
Any other words of wisdom when choosing an outfit?
Try to dress to match the occasion: More formal for an evening date, but if it’s a daytime date, keep it casual.
And what are some things ladies generally like?
If you’re trying to date a more fashion-conscious woman—most women in metropolitan areas tend to be a little bit more fashion-conscious—shoes are big. Don’t go with dad jeans. Also, I’ve never really been much of a fan of the short-sleeved button down.
A version of this article was originally published in March 2014.