A dandy's guide to girl-watching.

Previously published Slate articles made new.
July 30 2010 2:40 PM

A Dandy's Guide to Girl-Watching

Checking out girls in shorts … tastefully.

As we enter the dog days of summer, men across the country will be engaging in the same time-honored tradition: Girl-watching. Last August, Troy Patterson examined the intricacies and history of, well, checking out women. The article is reprinted below. See our Magnum Photos gallery on girl-watching. Follow Slate's Today's Pictures on Twitter. 

(Continued from Page 1)

Put off by the fanny-pack'd tourists of Midtown, we turned north, discovering a great density of impressive subjects on Madison between 59th and 72nd, which is to say between Barneys and Ralph Lauren's Rhinelander Mansion. This stretch has its limitations, given the notably homogeneous collection of subjects it presents—cf. the marvelously diverse Union Square—but we nonetheless managed to excite our eyes, each murmuring internally about fine necks and necklines. It happens that Ralph Lauren isn't very far from Lenox Hill Hospital; thus, near the end of our excursion, I chanced to discover that it can be entirely gratifying to check out a girl clad from ankle to v-neck in sea-green medical scrubs if she holds herself well. I impulsively shared this observation with my companion who, contrary to protocol, moved not just his head but his whole body and shanked.

Though Sauers' three-second bottom-to-top once-over is quite a useful guideline, adhering rigorously to it is not without complications. For one thing, the human eye more naturally moves downward in attempting to pursue an approaching target smoothly; working up from a well-turned ankle to a pretty face, it more likely fixes a series of looks. Which is to say—indulge me a whim here— the most correct girl-watcher apprehends passing loveliness in a sunny flutter—as a series of little thrills to the soul. (Watching a stationary girl—or the mobile rear of a girl—is a whole different thing and affords a rather more meditative experience of physical virtue.)

For another, the human eye has a whole new range of eyefuls to reckon with these days, as mores are not what they were in Sauers' day. Any given girl might be watching the watcher with aesthetic or anthropological or plainly libidinous interest. The counterwatching complicates things, sometimes enrichingly. And notions of decorum have very agreeably shifted such that it is not uncommon for girls pushing baby strollers to strut as if working a catwalk. And it may be the case that a liberated girl may court extended mental admiration in any number of ways—by coquettishly tossing her hair, say, or pedaling a Schwinn while wearing a miniskirt. The contemporary girl-watcher may permit himself an extra moment of wonder or an extra degree of frankness in certain contexts, exercising his best discretion in the matter of how little discretion to exercise.


To be a gazer, some say, is to place oneself superior to the gazed, which works fine as a tenet of film theory and feels notably more dubious as a premise of girl-watching analysis. The girl may be an objectified being, but it is practically a subclause of the social contract that we all objectify ourselves in the mirror every morning. Meanwhile, the girl-watcher is subject to the absolute rule of his powers of vision and carries a distinct whiff of comic pathos. Figure, carriage, finish, charm, flesh, cool—these are omnipotent. It is the nature of beauty that the girl-watcher is helpless before the wonders of nature.

Like  Slate on Facebook. Follow us  on Twitter.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
The Vault
Oct. 1 2014 10:49 AM James Meredith, Determined to Enroll at Ole Miss, Declares His Purpose in a 1961 Letter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 10:44 AM Everyone’s Favorite Bob’s Burgers Character Gets a Remix You Can Dance to
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 10:27 AM 3,000 French Scientists Are Marching to Demand More Research Funding
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.