As a lesbian with an eclectic sense of fashion, it has occurred to me that compliments on my outfits are not always as straightforward as they seem. This is especially evident when I wear ties (as I absolutely love to do) and dresses (which I also love, though not as much).
Scenario #1: I wear a tie.
A simple comment rarely has anything to do with the actual outfit. When someone says, “nice tie,” what they usually mean is “I notice you are wearing a tie.” More specifically: “I have noticed you are a girl wearing a tie and I feel the need to acknowledge this because it is slightly unusual and remaining silent feels awkward.”
Or maybe it is slightly more enthusiastic: “Nice tie!” = I’ve noticed you are a girl wearing a tie and I don’t entirely disapprove of this because it is different and variety is the spice of life!
A simple variation on the comment: “I like your tie.” = Hey, I have noticed that you are wearing a tie to express yourself and I admire that, whether or not I like the actual outfit.
And then the really big enthusiasm (“I like your tie!!!”) usually means, “Hey! I’ve noticed that you are wearing a tie and I think it’s SO SUPER-DE-DUPER COOL that you are comfortable enough to do that! I also fully support you and respect your identity, self-expression, and sense of style.”
Slight variations in vocal inflection and facial expression make it clear which meaning is intended. The ones who stay silent are either too confused or uncomfortable to raise the subject, so comfortable that it doesn’t seem worth mentioning, or so accustomed that they no longer take notice!
But does anyone see how cool my tie is?!!
Scenario #2: I wear a dress.
Reaction A: “Wow, what’s the occasion?” Translation: “Who is forcing you to do that?”
Reaction B: “Wow, you look really pretty today!” Translation: “You don’t actually look like a man today!”
Reaction C: “I love your dress!” Translation: “YOU ARE WEARING A DRESS.”
Reaction D: “You are wearing a dress!” Translation: ………
I’m not sure if people think I must be self-conscious about my dress and therefore need positive encouragement, or that I am not being myself and must be confused or in some kind of trouble, but the level of surprise and concern whenever I wear a dress is always astonishing.
It’s a good thing I don’t need any feedback on my sense of style to feel confident about it, because sometimes I wonder if everyone just sees my clothing as a window into my psychology or if anyone actually sees it for what it is.