Can adult women project "pretty" and be taken seriously?

Deborah said in another post somthing I thought was interesting very interesting.  "... such a pretty look but not juvenile..does that make sense?" I think this idea completely makes sense because we've been trained to think of pretty as young, without substance or depth. I'm thinking the proverbial airhead. 

It wasn't until I joined YLF that I realized that pretty could be grown up and didn't need to be just ballarinas, pink tulle and sparkles. What do you think?
This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.

56 Comments

  • replied 7 years ago
    Of course! That is why I said you looked pretty and strong. Aesthetically, the look you crafted was very pretty, but a solid grounded pretty, a womanly pretty as opposed to little girl pretty.
  • Aziraphale replied 7 years ago
    Hm...I don't think I necessarily equate "pretty" with "youthful".  "Cute", however, is a word I use almost exclusively for young people, small children, baby animals, and occasionally, little old ladies.  :-)
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    It's a really good question, DV. I think you achieve this, just as Ceit says. The question is, what are the elements, if someone should want to copy? I think your strength always comes through. Perhaps that is the secret. Someone without your inner strength and character might be taken less seriously. 


  • Beth Ann replied 7 years ago
    You are a master at grownup pretty, DV.  I think it's a very advanced and valuable skill.  Do people take us seriously when we look pretty?  Hmmmm.  I'll have to think about that. 

    I know that I feel brighter and happier when I'm around other women dressed "grownup pretty."  I like arty/edgy looks too --- as if creative dressing helps unlock my own creative energy.
  • MsMary replied 7 years ago
    Definitely!  I like to think I'm pretty, and I also like to think I have plenty of authority and, dare I say it, gravitas.  I actually kind of enjoy the contrast.  As I've said before, today I may be rocking a turquoise pencil skirt, green heels, and a purple jacket, but you underestimate me at your peril!  ;)
  • Day Vies replied 7 years ago
    Suz & Ceit -- I guess I wasn't talking about myself as much as I was commenting on how we generally use the word pretty. I was surprised to have the word used to describe myself. (I definitely see it as a complement!)  So much of the time I am described as strong, direct, substantive etc. I am just curious about how we can use outfits to convey aspects of ourselves that aren't all that obvious.  

    Aziraphale brought up a great point on how pretty is used. A woman in her prime is generally described using goregeous, beautiful, attractive, but pretty connotes something or someone that's dainty, fragile or requires protection of some sort (like babies, small children, adolescents, and little old ladies).

    We all have the potential to be pretty but beyond style preference why have many of us given up pretty or decided not to show this side of ourselves consciously or unconsiously?
  • ramya replied 7 years ago
    I just came back to add I think Maryk suits this to the T and here she replies :)
  • Day Vies replied 7 years ago
    Suz - I think the elements of "grown-up pretty"  are clean crisp lines juxtaposed with more organic textures and prints. Grown-up pretty has structure but maybe there is a focal point that is distinctively feminine like pearls, a bow, a pastel color, lace etc. I think in someway there is always a juxtaposition of crisp tailoring and 1 or 2 strongly feminine elements ... any more and the look would be specifically juvenille or costumey.  
  • ironkurtin replied 7 years ago
    Yes.  Women can be taken seriously no matter what they wear or what they look.  It may take a little work, but yes.
  • Sona replied 7 years ago
    Also pretty is not just long haired super young victorias secret models. I recently read and article about controversy surrounding a short haired lingerie model. I was agahast. I think Angie, Rae, Aida and other fabbers with short hair would look fantastic in lingerie/bikinis. Age, size, face structure  hair length have nothing to do with pretty, sexy or sartorially fab.
  • Sara L. replied 7 years ago
    I hope so because "pretty" is the one compliment I get more than any other.  I'm not beautiful or gorgeous but I am pretty.  I've never thought of "pretty" as being associated with juvenile though - I think of "cute" as being juvenile, not "pretty".
  • Angie replied 7 years ago
    What IK, Ceit, Elisabeth, and Mary said.

    Okay. I need to write a blog post about this because when I hear negative talk about "pretty", I furrow my brow. Being called pretty is a beautiful compliment! End of story.
  • Ruby Tuesday replied 7 years ago
    I really hope so as I define my style as urban pretty.

    I'm drawn to soft fabrics, soft silhouettes, soft colours and some aspects of vintage. I am not twee, saccharin or frivolous. I hope I come across to others as having a grown up yet pretty style. I am certainly not a push over.
  • rae replied 7 years ago
    I think sometimes the word pretty gets conflated with twee. They are two wholly different things in my eye. There is a whole forum here full of pretty, stunning, striking, and gorgeous women, and I take everyone seriously. 
  • goldenpig replied 7 years ago
    I agree with everyone, I think this forum is filled with pretty, strong, smart and confident women of all ages and shapes!
  • Transcona Shannon replied 7 years ago
    IMHO, "pretty" is just another word for "beautiful" and they are both wonderful words.
  • Zapotee replied 7 years ago
    Absolutely. I think I go for pretty but oh boy, I am as serious as a heart attack, when it comes to business. It is the only way to go about it. I am the second youngest in my position and tend to look a bit void of substance. I like the surprise element there.
  • Echo replied 7 years ago
    It is fascinating the associations we have with different words. I have never equated "pretty" with being weak, delicate or in any way less serious. I do find "cute" to bring up associations with youth or inexperience, but not pretty. I have to agree that I see it as nothing more or less than a wonderful compliment.
  • Thistle replied 7 years ago
    I agree with what everyone else here has said.  Pretty is entirely different to me than "cute".  I think of my DD as "cute". Twee is my niece, and oh is she ever!  But them, she is 12.  :)
  • Janet replied 7 years ago
    Interesting discussion, which I believe we've touched on here before. I agree wholeheartedly with Elisabeth, Mary, and Angie. 

    An artists' group that I belong to had a lively discussion one day about being taken seriously as an artist if your work is considered "beautiful" or "pretty." We started calling it the "pretty problem." So much of the art that gets attention by the critical world is not "pretty" and to the contrary uses visual dissonance and ugliness to make a statement. When work is "pretty," people often stop at that surface assessment and fail to look deeper at what the work means. 

    I suppose one could argue there is a parallel with looks and style. However, I can think of a lot of women who are/dress "pretty" but still forces to be taken seriously. Again, the devil is in the details -- situation appropriateness comes into play of course (there is a time and place for ruffles and other "pretty" details, and you have to know how much and when to use them), but I've never thought of "pretty" as anything other than a compliment. 


  • Day Vies replied 7 years ago
    I am so glad you all chimed in!  I learned something new twee -- never heard of the word before and had to google it.

    I just wanted to be perfectly clear that I absolutely agree that "pretty" is indeed a wonderful complement.

    I was just picking up on Deborah's hesitation in using the word and associating it with a juvenille look. I also wanted to explore some of my own conditioning with regard to the word. Especially when I know I have often censored myself when describing someone I see as authoratative and  strong by not also describing them as pretty. I am more likely to use "attractive" or "gorgeous", because I don't want to diminish their credibility in the eyes of my audience. I am certainly aware that being attractive does not mean empty-headed or lacking in gravitas.  

    I think Janet has a point. Critical acclaim and deep contemplation is generally reserved for things that aren't "pretty" in art and sometimes in fashion. I remember a thread some months ago about wearing silhouettes that aren't necessarily figure flattering to make a statement or to achieve a certain look.
  • rachylou replied 7 years ago
    Hmm. To me, pretty is "looks nice and is undisturbing." Beautiful is "looks nice and is disturbing."
  • Jyoti replied 7 years ago
    Eh.  I would like to think so, because I think my style is starting to skew quite heavily towards pretty/girly/romantic, but I have to say that in the past little while I've come across some remarks that make me think its more difficult to be taken seriously when projecting 'pretty'.

    I'm in the medical profession and I was reading something online about some reality show involving doctors.  There was apparently a scene where a female doctor said that if she felt pretty, she had a good day.  There were TONS of comments suggesting that people would switch doctors if their doctor dared to care so much about her appearance.  My takeaway is that apparently the stereotype pretty/caring about appearances = vacous is very much alive.

    I've also had a patient tell me to stop wearing such high heels, and a lot of older creepy patient dudes make inappropriate remarks about my clothes.  Apparently I don't project enough gravitas that they treat me like their doctor, lol.  I do think the things I have experienced go beyond pretty as a descriptor and more towards the struggle between caring about appearances and certain professions/roles that we fill.  Apparently patients trust doctors in scrubs the most. xD

    I have to say that compared to the comments here, I definitely see pretty, as it is commonly used linguistically, as more like cute and twee and related to dainty/delicate, etc. as was previously mentioned.  Beautiful has different connotations as does gorgeous.  They all essentially are driving at the same idea but bring up different associated imagery in my mind, and I think that's where your question comes from.  In summary, I think they can, but it is more difficult.  I think that's why the 'power suit' exists.  Its a shortcut for a woman to plant ideas about how she'd like to be perceived by others.  Its ubiquitous presence in the media and pop culture has conditioned our minds that the power suit = powerful woman.  In a similar vein, pretty is more often attached to other kinds of women (whether we like or approve of this or not).

    I don't even know what I'm saying anymore.  I hope something of this post is relevant, lol.
  • rachylou replied 7 years ago
    A thought for y'all: I associate "beauty" with powerful women, but by the same token I associate "pretty" with successful women. I propose to y'all that the two are not the same - but are equal in value all things considered - and that people say what they mean, and mean what they say.


  • deb replied 7 years ago
    I like the word 'pretty' and never thought of it as juvenile. I hope I have not offended anyone by using it. I equate pretty with feminine and handsome with masculine.
  • Aziraphale replied 7 years ago
    Looking forward to Angie's blog post on the topic.

    However true it may be that "pretty" and "beautiful" are not perfectly synonymous adjectives, I would still consider it a compliment if someone applied either term to me.  Neither implies weakness.  I would be less thrilled about "cute" for that reason -- although I'm probably a little oversensitive, owing to the fact that I'm short.  Smallness and cuteness often go together in people's minds, and let me tell you, it's hard to get taken seriously by anybody when they think of you as cute.
  • K. Period. replied 7 years ago
    I definitely think yes, but I would add this qualification: as long as pretty is being used to lightly say attractive or beautiful.  To me, attractive and beautiful both have much more forceful connotations. A woman who is attractive or beautiful is also strong. Pretty is a fabulous word when used among women with respect for each other as a light way of saying attractive or beautiful. I think that is why, among all the great women on the forum, pretty feels so comfortable and carries no negative connotations.  Outside the forum, in a professional context, it is an entirely different word.   
  • lyn* replied 7 years ago
    Whenever I hear "pretty" I think airhead too - and I think that it happens a lot to me, when people think that I'm basically just sweet and butterflies and twirly skirts (and they're kinda right). I think my "uglier" colleagues are taken more seriously, because it seems like they don't really have distractions, but people tend to ask me about family (spouse) and if I have children. Some of my frump-tastic colleagues never get asked about stuff like this. Alternatively, it may be that I am just more open to personal conversation.

    I don't mind being pretty (I may twirl when I am alone) - and I think as a clinician I sometimes use that to my advantage, especially when I project "put together" pretty, not necessarily bimbo airhead pretty. When people think I'm honest-to-goodness sweet, it seems like I don't really have a hidden agenda, and patients are more forthcoming with me. 

    What comes to mind for me is that I have a colleague who is very conventionally beautiful and wears very tailored clothes - you could stick her in France or Italy on any old day and she'd just belong there - and I think people think she is more cold or has a nasty attitude, even though she is a very nice and considerate person. 

    I smile a lot as well - and tend to use a lot of humour (as appropriate) and empathetic statements - but that's also part of the therapeutic persona (which of course, is grounded in who I am as a person). 

    I think "pretty" is good for taking people off guard too, and it is also useful for when you need someone to help you do things :p Like lift heavy boxes. Or do car things when you're kinda stuck. Tee hee.
  • dizzys replied 7 years ago
    Interesting topic. I will be rereading some text. I have been on this forum for a very short time and have to say, your style or look does not project juvenile or cute....the word pretty could denote a bit of juvenile or cute...maybe. I suppose it depends on how its said....you are classic beautiful and strong. I am straddling the line of juvenile and cute.....I find my self attracted to the ice cream cone or Scotty dog prints in the Jr. Dept. I love pink and Peter Pan collars etc. I am a bit whimsical and I wonder how I am perceived. I think I don't take my self seriously but I am capable and smart and loyal. I am working on confidence though.... I think that is the key to a lot! ( gone through a million interviews with little luck and wondering how I should change my first impression.)
  • Caro in Oz replied 7 years ago
    I don't see pretty as conveying any "weakness" or being associated with youth but I guess some do. 
  • dizzys replied 7 years ago
    Lyn, Your thoughts on the subject are interesting as you are in the medical field. Something people think of as cold and sterile.....although that may not be the case with therapy... I'm not sure. Your style is very friendly and light. I imagine it works for your purposes most of the time quite nicely. You can always deflect assumptions with your brain. :-)
  • lyn* replied 7 years ago
    Or sometimes I let them stand.

    "Oh... I forgot money to buy coffee. DOES ANYONE HAVE MONEY TO BUY COFFEE?"
  • Nicole D replied 7 years ago
    I find "pretty" is a guy term.  My husband's highest accolade! I think pretty has a feminine connotation but not necessarily youthful as other have said.
  • dizzys replied 7 years ago
    Lyn-nice!
  • rachylou replied 7 years ago
    I had a thought: There is another category, drop dead gorgeous. It's different from pretty or beautiful or gorgeous. I can't say what it is in a woman, but I have seen it in a man. There was a guy we called No Socks. He was so drop dead, people would see him and then leave the room laughing.

    You know, coming to have a look-see and then laughing is exactly what attractive isn't. Isn't that weird?
  • Deborah replied 7 years ago
    I haven't had time to read all the comments but I will go back.  Just wanted to confirm that I do think "pretty" can be taken seriously.  And I do see being called pretty as a compliment:)  I think like most things "pretty" has many modes. We are bombarded by media advertisements of 'pretty' young things wearing skimpy outfits promoting soft drinks for example but that is not the kind of pretty I was thinking of when I made the comment on DV's post. When I think about it, it was the femininity of the look that led me to 'pretty".  I fear I may have an unconscious association of pretty with the very young, how often do we find ourselves referring to a little girl as pretty?
  • Day Vies replied 7 years ago
    I agree Rachy -- I saw a young man in the sandwich shop today I could barely place my order because he was so distractingly gorgeous. Drop dead gorgeous male or female tends to turn most people into yes people.
  • Zapotee replied 7 years ago

    Are you kidding me Rachy? I know exactly what you mean. I had one of those no socks moments at my dentist office years ago. I swear, had I been single at the time, I would have made a move. That is also how I would feel if I ever meet Keanu Reeves in person, one day. I am waiting for Una to hook me up.You are a hoot.

  • shevia replied 7 years ago
    Very intrigued by Rachylou's distinction between pleasant and non-disturbing pretty and pleasant and disturbing beautiful. Neither precludes being taken seriously nor assures it.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    I think Rachylou's right that there's a distinction between pretty and beautiful (though perhaps they can overlap to a degree...Venn diagram, anyone?? ....where does "drop dead" go?) I also think Shevia's right that neither precludes being taken seriously. But either might make it more difficult. 

    I take "pretty" as a compliment, too. 

    It's partly about taking care, isn't it. We "pretty ourselves." If someone says we are pretty they are noticing that we have attended to the details. 
  • Joy replied 7 years ago

    This is another one of those amazing discussions. Growing up in the 50s, there were girls who were pretty and girls who were intelligent and it seemed impossible to be both. I would probably take bring called pretty an insult then. There is still some of this thinking around, but I hope that females can be recognized as both today.
    Didn't President Obama recently get criticized for calling a woman pretty or attractive (even though she is)? We were in Japan and I didn't get the details.

  • Aziraphale replied 7 years ago
    Joy, I think (or at least, I hope) things have changed.  When I was in high school in the 80s, you got bonus points for being both pretty and intelligent.  Extra bonus points if you also had personality.  ;-)

    Haha, Suz, Venn diagram.  I'd forgotten about those.  Don't we need three terms to draw one?  Pretty, beautiful, attractive, maybe?
  • Freckles replied 7 years ago
    A very interesting conversation.

    I've always thought both pretty and cute were compliments, neither referring to youth or weakness.
  • rachylou replied 7 years ago
    I will ponder today at lunch whether there is overlap between pretty and beautiful (and I will, sicher, because that is sooo me). In one way I'm inclined to say no, but in another - I feel they have a similar attractive effect.

    I will also ponder where drop dead goes, because I don't think it has the same attractive nature. It has a brain paralysing, eye-burning effect. It's a thrill, like an electric shock, and not necessarily enjoyable in the same way. I mean, for real, people did not like to be near No Socks. There would be people going in and out of the kitchen for little rest breaks.

    The pretty or intelligent question... an interesting one. The sort of thing one contemplates in middle school, and it's pretty critical one in determining your path to success. No one asks beautiful or intelligent, tho. That's probably telling. Anyways, I think all "high potential" middle schoolers know it's better to be pretty. Pretty gets you perks and you don't have to do anything. Intelligence, tho, och! The suffering! Everybody is so freeking slow!
  • T-Rex replied 7 years ago
    Pretty, to me, is completely unrelated to being taken seriously. Pretty, beautiful, cute, etc. are overlapping terms in my personal dictionary. A person can be one, more than one, or potentially all of them. I do use "cute" sometimes when referring to adult women, but I am usually thinking of what they are wearing as a component of how they look to me. As in "you look really cute" is another way to say "that's a cute outfit, and you look good in it".

    I remember hearing one of my best friends refer to several young girls dressed for their Quinceanera as "lovely", and I thought that was the best descriptor she could have chosen. It seemed to imply something more than "pretty", but I find it difficult to describe what it is. It's as though "pretty" is on the surface, but "lovely" implies a glow from within. BTW, she is a linguist. She puts effort into finding the perfect word for the occasion.

    I've been known to use the word "handsome" when referring to a woman, which does not mean I think she looks like a man. I believe this word pops into my head when I see a beautiful woman who has a strong, distinctive bone structure, if that makes any sense. Surface beauty, or prettiness, or cuteness may change or fade over time. A handsome woman will be handsome no matter how old she is, because the architecture will still be there.

    And finally, I remember a pretty funny bit about all these terms from an episode of News Radio. I can't look for it now, but I'll post it if and when I find it.
  • T-Rex replied 7 years ago
    Found it!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7iU2HFUXaU
  • T-Rex replied 7 years ago
    Dstalksalot, do you have a friend with experience interviewing people who could do some mock interviews with you? It's sometimes hard to tell what we are doing right or wrong when we are trapped inside our own heads. A frank critique from a professionally minded friend could give you insight into how you are presenting yourself in a way that you just can't get on your own.

    If you don't have someone like that in your life, maybe try this. If you feel that an interviewer likes you personally, but you still don't get the job, try getting in touch with him or her later and ask for honest feedback. The worst they could do is say no.  
  • Irene replied 7 years ago
    I think I'm getting lost in translation here.

    I always understood 'pretty' as in 'fine looking' or 'rather attractive yet not truly beautiful'. Also a feminine adjective, like you wouldn't call a man/boy 'pretty'. I never thought it would sound juvenile though!

    Pleas enlighten me here? :)
  • Ginkgo replied 7 years ago
    I have also never thought of "pretty" as meaning juvenile, and from my observations of a few decades of work, being pretty (applies to others, not me) did not keep women from being taken seriously;  they had the necessary skills, ability to present themselves, and good office politics.  But of course a lot of pretty women didn't advance either.

    Cute is an adjective I use for children but as others have said, I'd use it for an adult in referring to her outfit or total look.

    To me, feminine is not the same as girlish or twee, but it seems to me on the forum that frequently a feminine look is not held in high regard and considered girlish. Guess my rule is that pink ruffles would be twee, but neutral or dark ruffles are adult.  
  • rachylou replied 7 years ago
    Perhaps pretty is associated with young people because there's a sense that beauty requires the depth borne of maturity and experience.
  • dizzys replied 7 years ago
    T-Rex thank you.
  • Vildy replied 7 years ago
    I think of Roy Orbison growling and it works for me.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPWwGFSBZn0

  • Adelfa replied 7 years ago
    Re: drop dead--it's very rare I've encountered that but yes, it's entirely disconcerting and not really pleasant when it happens.

    I think of pretty as an asset to professional success.  Quite easy to be taken seriously if you wield it well. The head of our agency is gorgeous (and pretty and beautiful--they're not the same but she is all of the above, the sweet spot on the Venn diagram) and also the sound of her voice is beautiful. We all take her seriously.

    Growing up in the sixties and seventies I definitely believed in the smart vs pretty dichotomy. I also believed that true beauty knew no artifice, and that any other kind was not worth having, so it took me forever to learn to wear makeup, style my hair, etc.

  • T-Rex replied 7 years ago
    Dstalksalot, you are welcome. And good luck with the job search!
  • Firecracker replied 7 years ago
    I am laughing at the link T-Rex posted! It's funny because it's so close to the truth!
    I have to say, DV, that I would be flattered to be called pretty. And sometimes I think I would give up any claims to being taken seriously, if that's what it would take to be unquestionably pretty. But I know I wouldn't really be happy if people didn't take me seriously; in fact, I couldn't bear that.
  • T-Rex replied 7 years ago
    Yes, if I could have only one or the other, I would choose being taken seriously. Being pretty is a very good thing, but not being taken seriously would make me have screaming fits. 




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