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Plain And Suffering

I’m single and looking for a boyfriend. I’m not one of those women whose appearance is always impeccable. I just can’t seem to muster the energy to dress to impress for everyday errands. Today, I was at the dog park, wearing baggy jeans in need of laundering and an oversized T-shirt, with frizzy-messy hair -- when I saw this gorgeous man. I wanted to strike up a conversation, but I felt embarrassed about my appearance. Should I have gone for it and hoped that my personality would make up for my scruffiness?

--Dressed Down

Yes, it is possible to land a man without having yourself sewn into a sequined evening gown and airlifting in a team of hair and makeup rescue workers whenever you’ve got a library book to return. That said, the next time you’re about to stumble out of the house in a big, underwashed pair of man-pants and hair that looks like an homage to the Brillo pad, you might consider pandering ever-so-slightly to your target audience.

Men are attracted to attractive women. What, exactly, “attractive” is does vary from man to man, but it generally involves women who are unlikely to be mistaken for paunchy, middle-aged plumbers named Clem. In other words, if you’re looking for a boyfriend, it’s in your best interest to invest that extra 72 seconds of effort to throw on an outfit that sends the message “Ask me for my phone number” instead of “Ask me for a free estimate on snaking your drain.”

Safeguard against lapsing into Le Look Janitoriale by presetting limits for your “Maximum Hag”: your bottom line on how ugly is too ugly to leave the house. You might even try an experiment (call it “The Advice Goddess Challenge”). For a week, overdress instead of underdressing. Wear a halter dress and a huge, glamorous hat to walk the dog, and your date-slayer outfit to run out for a quart of milk. Look like the party, and the party might just come to you. Admittedly, party-wear can’t really compete in the comfort department with copper repiping chic. Then again, unless your idea of comfort is having a nice big bed all to yourself for the rest of your life, perhaps smearing on some Revlon and wearing a two-inch kitten heel to the grocery store isn’t such a high price to pay.

Launch an assault on your closet, and sell, give away at gunpoint, melt, or burn anything you’d hate to be wearing while encountering a gorgeous guy. Forget being a slave to fashion: “Oh, but everyone’s wearing body bags with little holes cut out for the eyes and mouth this season!” Be a slave to the facts instead -- piles of data collected by psychology professor Devendra Singh, showing that men are drawn to an hourglass figure -- and wear clothes that show (or give the illusion) that you have a waist. Don’t despair if your actual body shape is more test tube or rain barrel. That didn’t stop the practically hipless Joan Crawford, who shapeshifted her way to a waistline by wearing cap sleeves the size of Mount St. Helens.

Curbing your tendency to dress like a rising star in the septic industry isn’t just about landing (and keeping) a man. You could be getting acquainted with your next boss, or your new best friend -- if they aren’t too busy offering you directions to the nearest homeless shelter and a couple bucks to buy yourself a bowl of soup. Sure, you can also approach them -- as you could’ve approached the guy at the dog park -- but maybe the best ice-breaker isn’t apologizing that you gave up personal grooming for Lent.

Copyright ©2003, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.