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What Is It about a Man in Uniform?

8 July 2008

Especially in bygone days, but even now, it has been common to hear women say, “I love a man in uniform.”  They mean it romantically/sexually, but their attraction clearly stems in large part from the kinds of associations they gather from a uniform.  What women ostensibly mean when they refer to “uniform” are not refrigerator repairmen and Arby’s employees; they mean police officers, military, doctors, firemen.  Notice how each of these uniforms indicate key traits:

  • Economic viability
  • Physical strength and vigor
  • Mental acuity
  • Social status

That is, women can “safe-sexualize” a man in a uniform because he is a known entity.  Other types of uniforms may provide a stereotype for more daring sexual fantasies, such as the shirtless Harlequin romance beefcakes or Diet Coke’s “Lucky” commercials.  But for the most part women fall back on men whose occupations are indicated in safer, more professional garb, making transparent a whole other host of socio-economic qualities.  Uniforms signify a kind of homogeneity useful for identification of one’s rung on the social ladder.  Think about it: it’s indicated in the name itself, uni-formity. 

How interesting that men tend to like women in outfits, not uniforms.  Barring the nursing profession, occupational garb isn’t as important for men, who generally look for women who are able to accentuate their lives, not women who provide a financial or class-status cornerstone.  Thus men like changing appearances, whether that be the changing fashions from day to day or the erotic role-playing in the bedroom.  But these trends may be reversing in some part as women play a greater role in business outside the home and men identify less with their roles as breadwinners and defenders. 

Any further thoughts or observations?

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3 comments

  1. This is so interesting to me. I think you’re right that the uniform in these contexts signifies a known entity for women–something that they can view as secure.

    You know, like a nurse’s garb, another women’s uniform that can be sexualized for men is the French maid’s outfit, which is also a kind of uniform. But certainly not a uniform that connotes social or financial security.


  2. You’re right about the French maid outfit. Such outfits carry the sense of predictability that is inherent in role-playing. But it is telling that outfits are meant to be changed.

    Would you agree with the distinction that where uniforms are supposed to keep things predictable, outfits are supposed to keep things interesting?

    Betty Friedan used to point out that stay-at-home wives in the fifties had become obsessed with eroticizing the bedroom. Why? Friedan concluded that it wasn’t because they were more desperate for sex, but because their domesticated, simple lifestyle meant they were altogether too predictable to their husbands. Such women were already uniform. They needed role-playing to “bring life” into the relationship (i.e., preserve some kind of dynamic self identity).


  3. Yeah, I think you’re right about the general distinction about uniforms keeping things predictable and outfits keeping things interesting. I was trying to think of another eroticized female “uniform” and couldn’t think of one.

    Back to men in uniform, I’m not sure a woman would ever consciously think that they are looking for predictability in a uniform–they want the strong, virile, exciting man that belongs to the uniform. But that’s where the predictability comes into play, I suppose–they associate a predictable set of desired characteristics with the uniform itself.

    The Friedan point is a really interesting one.



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