The Only Thing I Need to Make an Outfit Sexy

I was 16 years old when I discovered clubbing. My best friend was friends with the bouncer at a cool techno club in my hometown of Hamburg, Germany, which meant we didn’t have to pay the 10-euro admission and were escorted past the waiting queue like celebrities as soon as we showed up. We went every Friday. I felt very adult and, though far from having sex, I wanted to look sexy.

During the day, I wore granny blouses, my mother’s neon aerobic leggings from the 80s and men’s blazers from the flea market. At night, I transformed into a groupie party girl. My going-out uniform was a pair of black skinny jeans, gray Dr. Marten’s boots and an H&M men’s crew neck t-shirt, of which I had cut off the sleeves to allow people to peek at my non-existent side boobs. My black bra, worn underneath, was padded with a 20-euro bill and a fake ID.

Seven years later and just over it, I guess, I have moved far beyond the concept of dress-to-impress-and-look-like-I-have-sex. I shield my side (and front) boobs from the public. I haven’t worn “skinny-fit” jeans since 2013. I don’t abandon my daytime self at night to impress men anymore. I refuse to do anything for the exclusive sake of pleasing a man. And yet, I still want to look sexy, especially when I go out.

The party and where it happens — a club, a bar – is a unique social space. We go there to be with people, yet conversations often only scratch the surface. The loud music, dimmed lights and dazing effect of alcohol ensure a safe distance to others. You get close to people without really getting close to them. You dance intimately with strangers you will never see again. The first impression counts, so there’s no time for misunderstandings. Maybe that’s why so many people still go for the traditional, blunt kind of sexy when they get dressed to go out. I think it’s why I did. Still, my sexy club outfits were never reserved for my pleasure alone; they were meant to trigger someone else’s sexual desire.

I respect the choice to wear low-cut tops, super high heels and mini dresses. But for me, years out of my clubbing phase, traditionally sexy clothing makes me feel awkward. I don’t like what I see anymore when I put on my old going out uniform. I gravitate toward a different kind of sartorial sexiness now: one that makes me smile knowingly, just like wearing beautiful yet invisible lingerie does. One that makes me feel interesting and mysterious. Isn’t the dance floor just the right arena for that? I want a Jacquemus kind of sexiness, one that’s a bit deconstructed, one that’s a bit quirky. It’s not about sex at all.

Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images.

Maybe we have to invent a new word for sexy, one that takes the female gaze into account, not the male. In the the meantime, I’ve identified the key accessory of the new sexy: a tie.

I knew it was the answer when I came across a photo of Diane Keaton in a black tuxedo with a white shirt and a black tie. A tie! Her outfit exemplified the kind of sexy I had been looking for. The tie requires you to button up, and not showing something stirs the fantasy. (There’s your mystery right there.) The tie makes me feel pleasantly put-together. Tying it requires attention, which is like an act of true and loving self-care. The tie communicates eccentricity and a tongue-in-cheek “overdressed-ness.” Nothing makes me feel more powerful than a tie, I’ll tell you that much. If only my fake I.D. could see me now. I think she’d be proud.

Photos by Tom Blesch; follow him on Instagram. Tie worn in video by Prada

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  • Harling Ross


  • Amelia Diamond

    I have needed a tie tutorial all my life

  • Greta

    Wow! All the pictures and outfits (especially the first two) are so beautiful!!!

  • Claire! Not only can she work a tie but man can she tell a story! AND to top it off, that tutorial is the most elegant of it’s kind my eyes have ever seen.

  • Anum Bashir

    can i just say, “Woah!”

  • Kelsey Moody

    “just like wearing beautiful yet invisible lingerie does. One that makes me feel interesting and mysterious.” yes! Also Diane’s sleeve length?!!! Sexy.

  • mandy

    this woman is amazing

  • Junglesiren

    She is absolutely right about switching the “gazer” from a man to a woman. You know we like different things… Claire is super sexy (partly because she never looks sexed up, it’s all natural), even in a paper bag… But she rocks the hell out of that tie!

  • Cléo Charpantier

    the shadows and light in those first few photos!!! so beautiful so good! love the last line: “If only my fake I.D. could see me now. I think she’d be proud.”

  • Bambi loves Rose

    love the way Claire thinks about things!

  • M Rae

    Can I ask what size the dries shirt is?

  • bettyblonde

    Claire are you really only 23? We are the same age! I need to catch up!

    • I am! Isn’t 23 the best age of all?? I spend half of my days looking outside the window and asking myself who the fuck I want to be

  • Jessica Williams

    The man’s tie around the white dress! I can’t wait to try that this spring.

  • Jessica

    My clubbing days started when I was 17 (and underage) in the late 1990’s. So naturally my uniform was very much Britney Spears-esque from that era. I think I did the over the top slutty/sexy thing to ensure my underage admittance, but in hind-sight it was so boring! I wish I could go back in time to that young lady and give her the gift of my current more interesting sense of style. I haven’t been to a club in a very long time, but the last time I did, I can recall wearing a shapeless sack-like utilitarian olive-brown silk dress with an oversized blazer and a pair of loafers, and I was happy to note that I probably got hit on more than me in my ridiculous tiny outfits from the past. If only my younger self had known better 🙂

    • But wasn’t it also so fun and exciting to dress that way? Didn’t it feel a little forbidden and so adult? I always had a good time in my groupie outfit. Going out, sneaking into clubs, dancing, staying up late, all of that felt like a entering a different world. I always put on CK’s “Beauty” perfume when I went out, so whenever I smell that perfume today, it takes me straight back to those teenage years when all I wanted was to explore who I was and who I could be. Don’t regret what you wore back then! After all, you’ve grown into a woman who wears olive-brown silk dresses with oversized blazers, a combination I want and need to try immediately

      • Jessica

        I do agree with you, so realistically no real regrets. Dressing that way helped me understand my comfort with my body and my transition into adulthood. And my friends and I still enjoy laughing at what we used to wear. Like the cheap skin tight pleather pants that were impossible to pull back on once we were sweaty from dancing and stopped for a bathroom break. These sometimes required having your best friend in the stall to help! I am, however, forever grateful that smart phones with cameras did not exist back then 😉

  • Carolina Delgado

    So well written!

  • The ‘tie’ may be the singular accessory at once strongly phallic yet ‘neutrally’ androgynous and thereby oozing appeal. Taking something that men ditch on Casual Fridays is not recycling as much as reclamation. The most bland ‘standard’ of male, conservative workwear enables a woman’s sartorial exploration. Outside of uniform regulation, never really considered them as ‘forward’ on Gibson Girls until Megan Fellows’ ‘pre’ Annie Hall spin in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. And at present? Just have to dig how modern-day ‘dude’ dandies have surpassed the Windsor for the Trinity, Eldridge, or Cape knots. Kudos and then some for this tie renaissance. And women who are ready. Just tying it does something for me. Something in the choice of loop feels practically subversive. Maybe authentic style should always strive for something a bit sly that way – where we turn over a ‘norm’ thru the not-so-simple act of placing it around our necks and striding down the street.

  • Krusty the Kat

    I love it!

  • Modupe Oloruntoba

    ‘Maybe we have to invent a new word for sexy, one that takes the female gaze into account, not the male.’ This! Fashion dialogue needs a new word for sexy sooo bad. Also, I respect the choice to wear a tie, but the one I had to wear from 8th grade to 12th – a rather miserable period of my life – still haunts me. Issa no from me, at least for now (can anyone tell me when we finally resolve our petty teenage baggage? I’m 25 next month). I do feel fantastic in a suit though.

  • TA

    Women having to co-opt male-coded behavior and dress (ties, suits, whatever) in order to feel “powerful” can be its own kind of patriarchy. That said, wear a tie (it looks great), but women shouldn’t have to challenge the male gaze (which is not our fault) or feel forced into modesty to assert power either.

  • susy bee

    Big boobs and a tie…hey, it could cover up the gaping buttons!

  • Charlie

    I love this! Ties are so sexy. I am a little bit afraid to wear one though because of my really short bob… I love my hair but (and I really, really hate to admit this!) sometimes I feel like I need longer hair to make things look sexy. Take suspenders. How do we feel about them? Because I have this beautiful pair of black suspenders with leather etc. but I just don’t know how to style them! Perhaps more hidden underneath a blazer that it only shows every now and then? Share your wisdom my dear MR comment section!

  • DATowpe

    I love the fabric of some vintage neckties but it looks too obvious that I’m trying to turn a tie into a fashion accessory. So I ‘deconstructed’ one and found that when you take an iron to it you can make it into a scarf. Just use a seam ripper and give that baby some new life.