Unpacking Attraction

What’s the sexiest item in your closet? A short black evening dress? A pair of strappy red heels? A dark tailored blazer? Or maybe it’s an expensive designer ensemble that you only wear for special occasions.

The hottest item I own isn’t hanging in my closet; it’s folded in a drawer, resting between a stack of jeans and a pile of heavy winter pullovers. I am talking about an argyle sweater.

I own five argyle sweaters, each featuring a different color scheme: gray on black, gray and white on red, cream and light blue on navy, gray on purple, and purple on gray. And they are collectively my favorite attire. I regularly combine them with different dress pants and shoes to create what I consider to be a very empowering set of outfits.

Most of the sweaters pair well with black pants and black heeled ankle boots. However, the red argyle demands red shoes—not strappy heels but bright red pumps. I sweep my long hair into a bun either at the nape of my neck or in the traditional “librarian” spot, and I accessorize with small, handmade earrings. If it’s cold, I choose a solid scarf in a coordinating color. If it’s really cold, I pull on my dark purple wool coat with its high collar. If it’s miserably cold, I choose a heavy black peacoat.

By now, you’ve probably guessed that I’m not prepping for a glamorous night out—although I wear this outfit to as many places as I can. I choose my most attractive, my most empowering attire for work, not for play. So what makes it sexy?

As a visually impaired person. I’m not about to praise the power of visual impressions. But I can’t escape the reassuring reality that people take me seriously in this outfit. I don’t know if it’s the bun or the argyle or the brisk, no-nonsense pace I adopt in the sensible heels, but this ensemble does what we hope all our efforts at attraction will do: it gets me attention. And it does what many endeavors at attractiveness don’t do: it gets me respect.

Wrapped in argyle and carrying a white cane, I am marketing myself as a threefold entity: Academic Blind Woman. I recognize, with pride, that this is not the preferred image for cosmetics commercials, designed to market a specific version of “sexy” to consumers. The women who appear onscreen to sell longer-lasting hair color and pore-hiding mineral powder are measuring their attractiveness with different units, and I doubt whether my preferred wardrobe merits a conversion table.

According to commercials,  a sexy woman rarely wears her hair up—unless she plans to take it down and display its shine, volume, and texture with a flirtatious head toss. She never appears in argyle, but she occasionally gives a nod to business professionals with a tailored suit. And she doesn’t carry a white cane unless she’s in a trailer for a Lifetime movie or a diversity training video. She’s slender, but miraculously curvaceous, with a mid-range voice. Despite its tousled quality, her hair behaves. Her teeth flash, her eyes sparkle. (Needless to say, one eye does not drift to the left.)

In addition to her studio-perfect beauty, the sexy woman projects some admirable qualities. She’s carefree, confident, and fun. She knows what to say. She doesn’t get pushed around. She’s independent.

Of course, commercials aren’t selling the product; they’re selling the woman. They’re selling confidence, attractiveness, freedom from stress. These atributes, not the hair color, are what’s being advertised. The hair color, the loose powder, the dessert-flavored-yogurt-that’s-just-as-good-as-real-dessert, they’re all a means to an end.

In my commercial, a neatly dressed woman stands at a desk before a pile of opened books. She holds a dry-erase marker in one hand and gestures with the other. The camera pans around the room, catching the enthusiastic faces of attentive students. Text at the bottom of the screen reads: “Dress yourself in dreams.” A scene switch shows our leading lady back in her office, opening a large envelope and drawing out a copy of a glossy peer-reviewed publication. She flips to the table of contents, finds her name, and marks the pages of her essay. A final scene shows her leaving her office, chatting with students, conferring with colleagues. The image fades and the screen flashes a final message: “Let your dreams dress your life.”

When I’m dressing for the part I’ve always wanted to play, I’ll set my confidence against any commercially created product. Nothing can make me feel more attractive than knowing I’m about to begin another day of teaching. Wearing my practical, efficient, coordinated uniform, I feel like my most authentic self. I can’t imagine a feeling more sexy than that.

4 thoughts on “Unpacking Attraction

  1. My argyle collection includes sweaters AND socks! Even my terrier has a blue argyle sweater. I definitely have aspirational items in my closet, clothes do make a person feel good or bad at times.
    So I had to read “dessert flavored yogurt” twice. I thought–what’s desert flavor?? Oh, low vision.

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