I've been reading comments at various on-line articles about the mating dance and I must say that I find myself raising an eyebrow.
The issue seems to be about what signals indicate that a girl is open to being approached while out, and there are things here that I don't quite understand.
The argument seems to be that what a girl wears is never to be taken as a signal at a club or party that she's looking for potential partners or trying to attract attention. That line of argument is well enough when arguing that no one deserves to be the target of violence or harassment because of what she's wearing, but it's still difficult for me not to read how people dress without looking for signals. Commenters assert that women aren't dressing up for men when they go out, and that no male should ever believe that a girl is dressing up to signal that she's part of the mating dance. That strikes me as self-evidently wrong.
I know that when I go out at all, I go through a whole ritual, and I'm very aware of what I'm doing. In my own mind, I really am imagining rituals of garbing and armouring--- the matador before the corrida, the priest before High Mass, the knight before tournament or battle. If I'm standing in front of the mirror before going out, I'm very much trying to imagine myself as part of something very formal and formalized. I know that I'm trying to choose what I wear to send signals.
Some of that is about class. No question about that. When I leave my rooms to go out anywhere at night, whether to a bar or an event of any kind, I'm in costume--- in armour. I want what I wear to give off certain signals about class and education. The black blazer, the oxford-cloth button-down, the necktie in regimental stripes--- those are chosen to say things about me. A gentleman of a certain age, of a certain background. Someone who can be a bit insouciant, but who's been taught how to dress and behave. Someone whose background can be read as good schools and a liberal arts background.
That presentation is always and ever carefully curated. Part of it is that I very much was taught to dress in certain ways, and I can't imagine being out in public after dark in anything that doesn't meet the standards I was trained to for what was proper. I want the look to suggest something a bit old guard, but with a hint of the casual. The ties--- well, I like ties. And they're carefully curated--- regimental striped ties with the colours of British army regiments my character in a novel might have served in, regiments associated with long-ago campaigns I've enjoyed reading about. I'd never wear them in London--- be clear about that. Never in London. No one in this city is likely to identify them, though, and they're my secret. They help me be the character here that I'd have been in a good novel. There in the mirror, I'm creating myself as someone who should be out in the night, as someone who's living inside the right kind of novel or film.
Why do I do it? I do it so I can live inside the novel or film in my head, so I can be that character. But one of that character's key qualities is that he's attractive to girls, or at least attractive to lovely girls who can read his presentation. Yes--- if I'm dressed to go out, it's always and ever so that that certain niche of potential young companions will read the signals and, if my luck holds, respond. If I'm out at all, I need to be...in character. If I'm out at all, I want certain girls' eyes reading me. Whatever else I'm doing, I'm dressed for my imagined reader, for a very particular audience. If I'm out, I'm signaling to attractive, clever, bookish girls. I don't leave my rooms after dark if I'm not in character to appeal to my niche audience.
That's probably why I can't ever accept those comments where the gender warriors rant that when they're out in something slinky or revealing that they don't do it for men or as a signal. Oh, fine, there's certainly something about announcing status--- they know that other women will read labels and designs and combinations and so they're staking out status claims. But anyone who insists that she's dressing to impress other women seems to me to leaving something out. If she's dressed to demonstrate that her tastes and styles are better than the next woman's, you have to ask better for what? That's a proof-and-pudding kind of thing. Having clothes with the right labels or right fashion lines is all well and good, but the point of the clothes is to be stylish and sexy. The clothes work when they convey that message. And the proof is in the response. I can't get around that.
So much of this seems to me to be an attack on the whole idea of the mating dance, the idea that social interaction always has that subtext of sexual possibility. I've spent my life looking at the social world as a whole set of possibilities for seduction and romance. Whatever else you're doing, those possibilities are out there. And you come to the ritual armed and armoured. Going out at all puts you in places where the mating dance can happen. Going out at all is always and ever about the mating dance. And you remember that you're in costume, in uniform. Always in character, always ready for the dance to swoop you up.