Women's fashion and the male gaze

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Examples of modest fashion in high design
(L-R) Céline, Rennes, Creatures of Comfort

Should women consider their clothing choices when working in the world of men? That's been one of the many heated topics raised by the current debate surrounding sexual harassment.

Gymnast Gabby Douglas, fashion designer Donna Karan and Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik all managed to enrage many women recently, when they suggested they might consider the wisdom of wearing highly provocative clothing.

But clothing projects a message, and this DnA explores the semiotics of dress in the worlds of design and fashion - and how women "manage male expectations" while being fearlessly themselves.

Joan Barton, contractor with Dirty Girl Construction, explains why she won't dress to impress for the building site. It's all about setting a "tone for your goal."

Writer Naomi Fry talks about affluent young city women who are dressing down, in costly and unflattering garb that evokes religious cults, designed by likes of design Celine, Rachel Comey, Number Six and Maria Cornejo. She ponders whether this trend is about averting the male gaze or a "humblebrag" by attractive young women who can put the proverbial "sack over their heads" and still look gorgeous.

Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter, dean of Woodbury University's School of Architecture, tells DnA how women architects staked a position in the profession in equal-opportunity power suits and now have the freedom to dress in idiosyncratic outfits that express a "total design philosophy." And they don't have to be black.

She talks about architects' love of detail, a word rooted in the French word for tailoring, and how this expresses itself in designs with unusual profiles that are not necessarily about "form hugging" but about "showcasing an artistry and craft."