Girl Talk

Women experts give guys straight advice about dressing, grooming and how to impress a lady.

By The Improper Staff
Illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley

Men have opinions. If they didn’t, the world would never have embraced noodling for catfish, or day trading. But since men’s opinions are sometimes in need of gentle repositioning (or, in cases, a correcting thwack), we asked female experts to deliver unvarnished lifestyle advice. Here, then, are practical tips on how to cook a meal for a woman, how to conduct a first date, how to get a haircut, how to build a wardrobe and how to work out. Turns out, ladies like glutes.

On Dressing

by Andrew Rimas


To resuscitate an ailing wardrobe, you need money and effort. But you also need education. Alisa Neely of Scout, a personal styling service, makes a career out of tutoring men (and women) on the importance of a nicely fitted leg.

“The most important thing I ask is, ‘What’s your lifestyle?’” says Neely. “That makes a difference on the pieces you invest in.” For most gentlemen, two all-year suits and one summer suit are sufficient, but it’s important to keep them sharp. “Slimmer is what’s happening now in men’s fashion. Often male clients like to be comfortable, and they take that too far.” Additionally, smaller collars and lapels demand a thinner tie. “The fat tie is dated.”

Neely also recommends giving thought to shoes. “It’s not that expensive shoes make you look better. You can find a nice Cole Haan at Marshalls.” Avoid square toes, and plump for both a good pair of black and brown shoes, and a casual boot to wear with jeans (never gym sneakers). “Men need nice jeans,” says Neely. “I love Diesel. Levi’s makes some great ones. AG Jeans does nice ones for men.” Opt for embellishments or whiskering only at the risk of looking like a screaming douche.

Every man should also own a quality, fitted trench coat and a wool coat for winter. Pocket squares and patterned socks, too, are currently fashionable, and should complement the outfit—not necessarily match it. As for headgear, “Sometimes. But you don’t always want to be wearing a hat. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard.”

On Dating

By Hannah Lott-Schwartz

Feminism has done a lot for lady-kind, but it’s thrown the gents for a loop when it comes to dealing with the so-called fairer sex. “The hard thing in the dating world now is that women are very strong,” says Janine Bush, founder of J. Allen Matchmaking. “Men aren’t taking on that chivalrous role that they used to.” What women really want is a man. Think Mad Men without the misogyny and cheating, mixed with just a dash of nearly any Ryan Gosling character. The basics:

First, the encounter. “You should approach a woman within three seconds of seeing her,” says Bush. By acting fast, you don’t have the time to talk yourself out of it or fall victim to the creep factor (looking at her longingly all night but never making a move). Pickup lines are encouraged, as long as you don’t actually mean them. “Get their guard down, you’re going to win,” says Bush. “Anything that breaks the ice.”

Next, the date. All first dates should come in two parts, says Bush, who recommends appetizers at a bar for a younger crowd and a full dinner for those a little older. The first half of the date should be an activity—going bowling, visiting a museum, taking a bike ride—something that shows another side to your personality. Activities help brush the stiffness off a first date, so that you’re comfortable sitting down and talking one-on-one.

Finally, the send-off. “The safety issue is something that men need to consider,” says Bush. The old standards still apply, no matter how independent women become: Escort your date to her T stop or car, or hail her a cab. Once there, lean in for a hug (use both arms), and leave a lingering kiss on her cheek.

On Grooming

By Nick Altschuller

Oriana Harris has been styling hair for six years and, as her father is Marc Harris, owner of Salon Marc Harris, she’s grown up in the business.

“One of my guy friends said to me, ‘I need a big boy haircut. What should I do?’” For Harris, the first step is: Stop getting the same damn cut. “Be age appropriate,” she says. “For too many guys it’s a number one clip on the sides and two on the top. It’s important for your personal style to evolve.”

Think new but classic, like the Boardwalk Empire–inspired dos that have sprouted around town. If that’s too far a step into skinny jeans, at least ask for texture. “Texture is probably the most important thing for guys’ hair,” says Harris. “It removes weight and bulk, and it gives shape that a barber’s clippers can’t.”

Post snip, while it may be scary, try some product. “A lot of guys think L.A. Looks gel from middle school is the only thing,” says Harris. No one wants to wear, or touch, a head of crunchy spikes, so grab a bottle of Bumble and Bumble grooming cream ($28, 5 oz.; $12, 2 oz.). “It helps tame hair without it looking like it has a lot of product,” says Harris. “It’s a better version of your hair.” If that pharmacy aisle is too intimidating, let your laziness work in your favor and skip a shampooing. Over-clean hair can be puffy, shapeless and altogether unmanly.

Maintenance is also key. “There’s nothing worse than a hairy neck or overgrown sideburns,” Harris says. Many salons, like Marc Harris, offer quick and complimentary neck trims between appointments.

Of course, even Samson’s hair receded. Once 50 percent of your previously fertile plain becomes a barren tundra, it’s time to go short. “When people try to hold on to it, and it gets long, it ends up looking worse,” says Harris. But she assures you, everything’s going to be OK. “It’s life. Just let it go.”

On Cooking

By Linh Tran Brincat

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so the cliché goes, but a woman’s vital organs are much more discriminating. It’s not only about how the dish tastes (if that were the case, what’s to stop you from plating takeout from Mistral?), but also about the thought and creativity that goes into its preparation. Carolyn Johnson, executive chef at 80 Thoreau, recommends not only knowing what your beloved prefers to ingest, but which meal of the day is her favorite.

Johnson speaks from experience, as her significant other, Bill Flumerfelt, chef de cuisine at Nubar at the Sheraton Commander, successfully seduced her with his breakfast cookery when they both worked at Icarus. “Potatoes cooked in duck fat,” she recounts more than a decade later. “Eggs every way.”

What sealed the deal for Johnson, though, were the dozen handmade fortune cookies Flumerfelt whipped up one Valentine’s Day early on in their courtship. “They all had different fortunes,” Johnson says. “Some of them were funny. Some were sweet. It was a good mix.”

Though it might sound daunting to anyone without a pastry degree, Johnson says the cookies aren’t hard to make. “The folding action is the trickiest element. You have to fold the cookies up while they’re still hot.” The potential for burns and blisters is all the more reason your lady friend will appreciate the effort. As another cliché goes, no pain, no gain.

On Exercise

By Hannah Sheinberg

Jumbo-size protein powder, too-tight tank tops and referring to triceps and biceps as guns—men’s exercise has become a caricature of sorts. But women don’t expect, or even want, a bulged-vein bodybuilder who flexes in front of the mirror. “I think [men] need to concentrate on building a healthy amount of muscle,” says Megan Graham, a competitor in Miss Bikini USA and Miss Bikini America who also owns her own salon, Megan Graham Beauty, on Newbury Street. “It doesn’t look good when a guy is too scrawny. I don’t think girls are necessarily looking for Mr. Universe, either.”

When it comes to the actual process of working out, Graham, who exercises three times a week and can bench press 65 pounds, recommends a full-body routine including squats, deadlifts and hip thrusts. “Crunches aren’t really using up a lot of calories, so you’re better off doing something to stabilize your whole body, so you can actually get more results in a shorter amount of time.” Building your core helps ward off the toothpick leg syndrome—a direct result of only training upper-body muscles—and overall maximizes the body parts that women will really notice. “I think women are checking out men’s butts, personally,” says Graham. “They should be working on that.”

But the most important rule for men while exercising is proper workout etiquette. “You could not do anything worse than to try to pick someone up at the gym.” Especially if you’re extending an invite to the gun show.

This article originally appeared in the January 16, 2013, issue of The Improper Bostonian.