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11 October 2006
Dress Sense An Indicator Of Fertility In Women
by George Atkinson

Scientists from the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) say they have evidence that women put more effort into their clothing and grooming during their most fertile periods.

Previously, it had been believed that women hide all signs of ovulation, even from themselves and their mates; but this looks to be off the mark, say the authors of the new study. "Near ovulation, women dress to impress, and the closer women come to ovulation, the more attention they appear to pay to their appearance," said UCLA's Martie Haselton, the study's lead author. "They tend to put on skirts instead of pants, show more skin and generally dress more fashionably."

The study, published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, found that even total strangers could detect a difference in a woman's grooming habits when the woman was approaching ovulation.

"The thing that's so remarkable about this effect is that it's so easily observed," said UWEC's April Bleske-Rechek, the study's co-author.

The study was based on tracking 30 college coeds in committed relationships through an entire ovulation cycle, flagging each woman's most and least fertile period and photographing the women at that time. To ensure that only the women's attire and grooming were taken into account, the researchers blacked out the participants' faces in the photographs.

Using a kind of scientific mash-up of the website "Hot or Not", volunteers were then asked to identify the photo in which the woman was trying to look more attractive. Remarkably, in 60 percent of the cases - a frequency, say the researchers, that goes well beyond random chance - the volunteers picked the high-fertility photos. Haselton believes that the results show that ovulation status manifests itself in an observable and dramatic difference in how women dress.

Interestingly, the women not only seemed to have paid more attention to their appearance as they approached their most fertile period, but the more fertile the women were, the more likely their pictures were to be selected. The approach of menstruation, however, did not seem to have any observable effect on how the women dressed; suggesting that the onset of ovulation had a greater impact on a woman's dressing habits than the so-called PMS period.

"There's a popular notion that when women approach menstrual onset, they get out their bloated clothes and they pull out their sweats," Haselton explained. "So if what we were measuring was a PMS effect, you'd expect that if a woman has her photo taken one or two days before menstrual onset, then she's going to dress frumpier than someone who had her photo taken 10 days before menstrual onset. But we didn't find that to be the case."

The research reinforces other studies that have shown subtle shifts in women's behavior each month as they approach their most fertile period, including a propensity to flirt with men other than their partners and an inclination to stray from their routine in ways that are suggestive of mate-shopping. "Something in women's minds is tracking the ovulation cycle," Haselton said. "At some level, women 'know' when they are most fertile."

The behavior may explain a change that has recently been observed in men's behavior around ovulation. "When women are in their high fertility phase, their partners are more attentive and loving toward them," Haselton said. "But we don't know exactly what it is that men are picking up on. Quite possibly, it could be something about women's behavior, including their style of dress."

Based on material from the University of California - Los Angeles

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