Eight o’clock on a freezing November evening — but for all the skimpy outfits on the streets of Manchester, you’d think it was 80 degrees on the Costa Brava. Here the women’s hems are so high — and their tops so low — that there’s no more than a few inches of fabric to shield them from the biting winter cold.
Only the fake tans manage to hide the goosebumps as they totter along uncertainly in six-inch ‘hooker heels’, arm in arm for support.
Tonight it’s Hannah Lawson’s 18th birthday and she’s out on the town with five of her college friends after spending three hours getting ready. Teamed with leopard-print ankle boots, her outfit lends a whole new meaning to the term ‘Little Black Dress’.
Aren't you cold? Six revellers all in skirts that show off daring amounts of their thighs pose on the streets of Manchester. One young woman in a black dress even has leopard-print high-heels
Birthday girl: This young lady in Cardiff proudly displays a cocktail glass hanging around her neck. Right, two young women show off their high heels and skimpy clothes during a night out in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
As she and her identically dressed friends line up, hands on hips, only the mottled skin on their naked legs hints at the six-degree temperature. But Hannah proclaims it’s worth it to give them that all-important quality: ‘confidence’.
‘Male attention is good. Then you know you look good,’ she says.
‘Yeah, guys wink and make sly remarks,’ chips in her friend Eleanor, 17. They have only just hit the streets, but already they know that their skimpy outfits have made an impact — another group of girls has branded one of their number ‘a slag’.
‘They’re just jealous because we’re beautiful and look young!’ says their friend Ruby Crowther, 19.
Of course, there’s nothing new about young women wanting to look alluring on a night out. But visit Britain’s town centres at night and you cannot fail to notice a disturbing trend: today’s generation of girls have fallen for a style of clothing that is perhaps best described as ‘stripper-chic.’
Suspenders: The tights worn by these two young females in Newcastle would have once been kept behind closed doors. The woman in red cowboy hat is keen to show off her her tiny skirt and lace thong
Party girls: See-through lace tops like the one worn by the brunette, right, in Newcastle, have become a guaranteed way for women to 'get male attention'
Red alert: This woman's revealing dress shows off a tattoo of flowers running up her leg. Right, this lady in Cardiff goes for the look of a burlesque dancer
The standard uniform — micro-miniskirts, sky-high heels and low tops — was once worn only by prostitutes on dingy street corners. Now it’s a mainstream style adopted by almost every female clubber and party-goer under the age of 30.
Why do they cheapen themselves so — especially at a time when young women have never had a greater opportunity to reject crass sexual stereotypes of old.
After all, girls are outperforming boys at every stage of schooling. In the workplace, female employees are starting to out-earn their male counterparts.
Why is it, then, in an age of true equal opportunity that so many women are dressing in such a demeaning way?
By visiting four cities around Britain — Newcastle, Manchester, Cardiff and London — on one night, the Mail set out to talk to these women and discover what motivates their choice of clothing. Their answers gave a surprising — and disturbing — insight into the values of a generation.
Joanne Avery, 23, is a clerical assistant from Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham, out clubbing in Newcastle. Her £45 Playboy skirt sits low enough to reveal a white thong, above it is tattooed her personal motto: ‘Couldn’t give a f***.’ It’s accessorised by another on her upper arm that reads: ‘Raw Sex.’
Joanne’s extensive wardrobe back at home — which includes 25 pairs of high heels — is made possible by the fact she still lives with her family. Indeed, it is her father who lends her money to help fund her £500 a month eBay shopping habit.
A group of friends in Cardiff prepare for the night ahead... but will they still look this way after a night of drinking?
Back to front: The extremely tight skirts of these young women in Cardiff reach the very tops of their thighs. Right, another young reveller wears a see-through top while her friend opts for platform heels in Newcastle
Joanne has no qualms about sharing the reasons why she is dressed so provocatively tonight. ‘I’m looking for a bit of totty. You have to dress in a certain way to get attention.
‘If you’ve got t**s, it helps. It does make me feel more confident. I’m a slut, but it’s OK to be a slut as long as you use protection, which most people don’t.’
For Joanne, it is simply not an option to dress more tastefully. ‘I’d never dress in jeans. I just wouldn’t like it. I always want to wear slutty clothes.’
It would be tempting to dismiss her comments as a one-off. But among the ‘stripper-chic’ girls whom we interviewed in Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle and London, it was clear that there are many others like her: ordinary women dressing in a deliberately sexualised style.
'I’m a slut, but it’s OK to be a slut as long as you use protection, which most people don’t'
Among their number were students, nurses, trainee accountants, trainee social workers, nurses and full-time mothers. When asked why they revealed so much of themselves, the answer came back time and time again: ‘It’s for confidence.’
Naomi Maxfield, an 18-year-old musical theatre student from Chesterfield, was out on the town in Newcastle.
‘I like getting male attention. If I didn’t, I would think: “What’s wrong?” ’ she says. ‘It’s quite a nice feeling. It makes you more confident. Guys smile at you, wink, whistle, try to chat you up.’
Natasha Parish, 19, a hairdresser from Newcastle, has taken an hour and a half to apply her fake tan, lashes and make-up. Once again, she cites the need to feel confident for her choice of clothing. ‘I think dressing up is a part of being a modern woman. I’m OK with how I look.
‘It is nice to get a bit of male attention, not too much. It makes me more confident if I know that I’m looking attractive.’
Given the acres of limbs that are exposed, you might assume that these girls are proud of their bodies. Quite the opposite.
It emerges that in many cases their outfits — and the male leering it provokes — are often a way to bandage up their insecurities in a world where they can’t match up to the oh-so-sexy, celebrity stereotypes of womanhood.
It doesn’t always work out as they hoped, as Sian, an 18-year-old carer on a night out in Cardiff, admits. Her insecurities about showing off her figure in such revealing clothes are so profound that she admits to drinking spirits with her friend to work up the bravery to leave the house.
‘We looked in the mirror before we left the house and were so upset that we necked half a bottle of vodka each.’
These shoes were made for walking: Three young revellers stride down the streets of Newcastle
The little black dresses: These two nightclubbers clutch their handbags in Manchester. Right, two more girls in Manchester who have minimal clothes on
Her friend Beth, a student, is wearing suspender-style tights, made popular by celebrities such as Rihanna. She says she didn’t buy them to look sexy or fashionable, but to cover up her legs, which she describes as ‘vile.’
‘There’s lots of pressure to look good. Boys always want that perfect person and other women all look amazing.’
Natasha Parish also ‘hates’ her legs — though you would never guess it from the scarlet and black micro-mini she is wearing in Newcastle city centre.
‘I wish girls wore a bigger variety of clothes going out,’ she says. ‘That’s why I wear dresses — everyone else does, so I would look stupid if I wore a longer skirt or trousers. I do wish it was easier and that I could go out in less revealing clothes.’
When Amber Davies, 21, a full–time mother from Bristol goes out in Cardiff, she wears her full armoury including a push-up bra and false eyelashes. But she has the self-knowledge to realise that ultimately it’s not a very convincing mask.
‘The only problem is that this isn’t what we really look like. In the morning, you’d be there without your hair extensions, make-up and false eyelashes, or your body-control pants — and you’d look completely different. Nobody knows what you really look like when you’re dressed up like this.’
The ubiquitous sky-high heels, fake-tanned legs and micro-skirts are about trying to create an illusion of perfection. With so many young women deep-down hating the way they look, provoking lust has simply become the easiest way they know to make themselves feel better. It’s about provoking a reaction.
'Girls had their bottoms touched and squeezed by men coming up behind them - or they were forcefully coerced into bars'
As Charlene David, 25, and Stacey Leonard, 27, stop to chat, two male bystanders come up behind them, put their hands around their waists and tell them they look beautiful.
Far from brushing them off, both girls said it illustrated the usual reaction they provoked from men — and asked for the compliments to be recorded.
Other girls were also seen being touched and having their bottoms squeezed by men coming up behind them — or being forcefully coerced into bars. Because they were barely able to walk on their stilt-like shoes, many couldn’t stagger away, even if they wanted to.
It is Leanne McGinley, 25, a mother-of-two in a leopard-print dress, who sums up the contradiction. ‘I do find the male attention irritating. But it would feel a bit weird if there wasn’t any.’
The price they pay is not just to their self-esteem, but also to their bodies. They are willing to go through agony to spend the evening walking around in hooker heels, of up to six inches. Girls report coming home with feet bloodied from blisters.
But still they say the pain is worth it to look taller and thinner. Kelly Hewitt, 22, a full-time mother from Durham, says: ‘I’ve still got clothes with tags in. My highest heels are six or seven inches — I can walk around all night in most of them.
‘Of course it hurts, but I think it’s worth it. If you want to look good, beauty is pain.’
If it gets cold as she walks between pubs and clubs, she says she just drinks more. ‘The drink warms you up by the end of the night.’
But despite the fact these girls endure the chill and the blisters to look as they do, there is no sense of sisterhood. Instead women fight for pole position on the league table for who looks ‘hottest’.
It’s a contest that can spill into aggression and even violence. As the evening goes on, the alcohol flows and the pairings start to happen. Catfights break out, with competing tribes of girls shouting ‘slag!’ at each other from opposite sides of the street.
It comes as little surprise to discover that the more the women dress like strippers, the more men treat them that way. Among the men we spoke to, one described the women out on the town as ‘eye candy for free’ — and a chance to ‘window shop’.
Toby Harris, 29, a project manager from London, says he likes women dressing in barely-there clothes ‘because you get to think whether you want to sleep with them later’.
‘It’s a certain sort of women who dresses that way — easy chicks,’ he says. ‘They’re definitely not a long-term prospect because they are easy.’ In many cases, that sexist view may well be crass and unjustified. After all, shouldn’t women be free to dress as they please without being judged? But whatever their motivation for dressing as they do, there is no escaping how the micro-skirted mob are perceived by men.
Tom Jones, 23, a landscape gardener from Cardiff, says: ‘It’s good to give the game away and know what you’re getting. The less clothing the better.’
For Lewis Quinn, 23, an electrician from London: ‘Being around all these women is like being at a funfair with glaring lights in your face — but they’re not the sort I go for as it’s too revealing for me.’
What, then, of the parents of the girls who see their daughters disappear off into the night looking like life-sized Bratz dolls?
According to the women we interviewed, only a few parents had raised any serious objections. The greatest concern appeared to be the worry they might catch cold — not that they dressed so provocatively.
Some girls reported that their mothers checked their outfits before they went out and said they ‘looked nice’. Others said their mothers sometimes accompanied them out clubbing, envied their figures — and even borrowed their clothes.
Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos, author of the Home Office Review on the Sexualisation of Girls, believes society has become so influenced by porn culture that no one knows where to draw the line any more.
‘We are inheriting more from the porn culture than we realise — everything from fake nails to fake tans. Porn has become mainstream.
‘The sad thing is that the confidence of these girls has become directly proportionate to how they look. It doesn’t come from what they have achieved or what skills they have learned. It comes from how much attention and looks they get from men.
‘Of course, there’s nothing new about wanting to be desired and complimented. But with these young women, it’s not just that they like compliments. They crave them.
‘The problem comes when your only desire is to be desired.’
Additional reporting: Jenny Stocks & Laura Topham.