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.
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.