The girl in the shirt dress ...
... was standing by the counter at the tea shop placing her order. I walked past her and then went back and asked my friend if shirt dresses were hard to pull off. I asked because I rarely see them and I thought this young woman looked very good in hers.
What I discovered was that my friend disagreed entirely about the girl herself. She didn't think this girl unusually attractive and asked, somewhat incredulously, what I could possibly have seen about this girl to make her stand out from the several other attractive women standing near her at the counter. And my problem was not that I couldn't answer the question but rather that I could and that I could answer rather specifically.
I'd noticed the girl's face with was French looking and had a placid coolness about it that went perfectly with the coolness of the dress, which had thin blue and white vertical stripes. And I also noticed, because I walked behind her, the rather subtle curves of her body; subtle curves that went well with vertical stripes.
That's the positive way of putting it. You might also say that she didn't have many curves at all and had done herself a huge favour by wearing the narrow vertical stripes because they tended to accentuate what shape she had.
The way men look at women
My friend had a different assessment of the girl in the shirt dress and I suspect that her assessment was probably more accurate than mine in some ways. Her gaze was cool and largely disinterested. Mine was not.
Her assessment was also far more general for let me make a confession here: when I say that I admired the subtle curves of this woman's body, the truth is that I admired the subtle curves of only part of her body. I walked behind her and that allowed me to luxuriate a bit, if you know what I mean. I could not answer any specific questions about other parts of her body beyond her face and these particular subtle curves. I can't even remember whether she was tall or of average height and could not even tell you what her breasts looked like.
That is a fairly common way for a man to look at a woman and it is something we are commonly criticized for. I think it is highly defensible.
For what we men do when we look at a woman that way is to look for things that will give us pleasure. Our experience of a woman is sexual even if all we do is walk by her at the tea shop. Not all men do this. Gay men, for example, make broader assessments that are as likely to spot negatives as positives just like my woman friend did, which may go some way to explaining the significant number of gay men in the fashion industry. And there are men (as there are women) who aren't very sexual. But most people are sexual and so men mostly look sexually and women mostly present themselves sexually.
It's not an unalloyed good that we do this but it is a good. The obvious qualification is that it can tend to treat women as means and not ends. A woman may not want to be experienced sexually. Then again, I don't think this girl picked that shirt dress solely because it was comfortable.
That said, there is good reason to play this aspect of our personalities sotto voce, not the least of which is that most women prefer it that way most of the time. But even that is complicated because "sotto voce" means to speak quietly so as to emphasize not to de-emphasize. The sexual aspects of a woman's self presentation often lose power when explicitly discussed.
And there are a lot of women who don't seem to understand what is or is not appropriate. If your colleague shows up at work in a cleavage-revealing shirt and leggings, your best response is to act as if she really were wearing the suit she ought to be wearing.
But, all that said, I think we should be proud of the way we look at women. There is something inherently right about looking for a good experience and therefore looking at a woman in a way that makes this more likely.