Age Inappropriate Fashion at Teen Choice Awards: How Hormones Pick Our Outfits

Jason Merritt/Getty ImagesJason Merritt/Getty ImagesIf you tuned in to the Teen Choice Awards, then you may have noticed the stars dressed a bit, well, provocatively for a kid-friendly award show.

Selena Gomez's barely-there strapless dress and sky-high heels might not be "age-appropriate," but the ensemble gives us flashbacks of the crop-tops, hot pants and miniskirts we donned in our high school days. In fact, my own freshman class' skin-tight, midriff-baring scanties prompted the senior girls to start a "freshman clothing drive" in the lunchroom (talk about freshman hazing!).

Recent studies have shown there's a scientific reason for this: Ovulating women have a tendency to hike up their hemlines. Could it be that's just our hormonal teen selves peeking out again?

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If you have a teenage daughter, then you know that combining raging hormones with dressing appropriately is like mixing oil and water.

At a small school in Washington, several tween girls showed up to this year's 8th grade promotion in sexy, strapless dresses that were "so short they could hardly move in their stiletto heels," says an educator at the school. The school is now considering a dress code.

But if you think a teen girl should be able to distinguish between a school event and a nightclub, her hormones disagree.

When Hormones Are Raging
In "The Female Brain," Louann Brizendine, M.D., asserts that huge estrogen surges cause teenage girls to zero in on their looks-all in the name of attracting male attention (as though it takes any effort to get a teen guy's attention). And hormones may drive their concerns about looking, dressing and acting as stylish and chic as the mean girls.

"The hormones that affect their responsivity to social stress are going sky high, which is where they get their off-the-wall ideas-and clothing choices-and why they are constantly staring at themselves in the mirror," she writes.

If you think you're past that phase, don't be too quick to turn up your nose. Ovulation can convince full-grown women that life is a nightclub too.

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"Research shows that women who are ovulating dress in sexier, more revealing clothes," says Sarah Hill, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Texas Christian University. They also spend more money on sexier clothing, like strappy heels or a tight blouse, and less on practical choices like socks or pajamas. According to new research, ovulating women may even spend more time applying makeup.

A 2006 study in Hormones and Behavior found that women wear more feminine, revealing clothing with more frills (like lace trim) during ovulation. In fact, observers were able to pick out a woman's menstrual phase based solely on her wardrobe.

For adult, premenopausal women, their estrogen and testosterone levels spike just before ovulation (around day 14 of your cycle), sparking the sexy styling. For teens, the surges are constant.

"With adolescents, their hormones aren't regular yet, so they have spikes all over the place, not just when they're ovulating," says Beth Ricanati, M.D., YouBeauty Wellness Advisor. So while adult women might only feel the urge to sex it up once a month, teens feel it all the time.

Sexual competition may prompt the extra primping.

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One study showed that during ovulation, priming college women to think that there were a lot of highly attractive women (i.e., competition) on their campus led to a significant increase in the sexiness of the clothes they reported wanting to buy.

Self-Esteem Matters, Too
Hill's research has shown that self-esteem dips during ovulation-just at the moment when women want to appear more attractive. "It's not a huge decrease," says Hill. "But women feel just a little bit less good about themselves." She found that the bigger the decrease, the more women focused on appearance enhancement.

A dip in self-esteem, combined with a hormone-fueled sex drive boost, may be enough to lower your neckline. "Women might be feeling a bit less satisfied and a bit more randy, so they put more effort into mate attraction behaviors," says Hill.

Still, that doesn't mean you're biologically programmed to wear miniskirts, or even to emphasize your looks when your hormones hit their peak.

In our culture, wearing sexy clothes catches a crush's eye, but in other cultures, you might see very different hormone-driven choices. "If learning to play the bongo drums is attractive in one culture, then we'd predict that ovulating women would do that," says Hill. "It all depends on that culture's attractiveness standards."

Sexy drum circle, anyone?

- Nadia Goodman

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