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What to wear on a first date: outfit ideas and how to deal with first date nerves

by eharmony Editorial Team - November 22, 2023

Congratulations! You’ve made it to a major online dating milestone – an actual physical first date. Amidst the cheer, though, there’s plenty of trepidation. Don’t worry – it’s completely normal to be nervous on a first date – this is the first time you’re meeting someone you want to impress, after all. A few butterflies are to be expected and in fact, a good sign – if it wasn’t important to you, it wouldn’t bother you. In this article, we’ll cover how to deal with those first date nerves, the rules of texting before a date, and even if you should bring something (short answer: yes!). And we can even help you out with suggestions about what to wear on a first date. 

What to wear on a first date:  first date outfit tips

It might be a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. First impressions are really important, which is why it’s important to know how to dress for a date. Here are six tips to help you figure out how to impress your sweetie before you even say hi. 

Dress well but comfortably.

Is your first date at a coffee shop? A romantic restaurant? A hike or something equally outdoorsy? Dressing appropriately for your date doesn’t just show off your good judgement to any prospective partners, it also means you’ll be relaxed and comfortable. Who wants to be distracted from the cutie opposite you by uncomfortable shoes or a shirt that’s itchy? Or be unable to focus on what your date is saying because you’re too concerned about whether your top is riding up? Plus, your date could mistake signs of discomfort with your outfit  – crossed arms because you’re cold, constant fidgeting – as signs of discomfort with them.

Wear something you’re confident in.

Clothes really do make a difference to your state of mind. A 2012 study by researchers at Northwestern University1 found that clothing can positively affect both the wearers’ psychological state and their performance at a given task. You can take advantage of this by choosing styles and colors you feel good in – perhaps you wore those shoes when you got a big promotion at work, or maybe you know those pants make your butt look amazing, or you know you look fantastic in vintage. As a bonus, when you know you look great, your date will be more likely to think so, too.

Use color to send a message.

What is the best color to wear on a first date? While there’s nothing wrong with sticking to colors you like, research has shown that red and black are popular first date colors for a reason. According to a 2016 study2, women were more likely to wear the color red around people they were attracted to – for good reason, given a University of Rochester study that found that men were more amorous around women in red3. A study of participants of the British dating show “First Dates” also showed that black was the most popular color for first dates, followed by red4. So go ahead and pull that red dress or black shirt out of your closet!

Classic is classic for a reason.

We’ve all fallen victim to fashion trends at one time or another – there’s no shame in wanting to follow the trends, after all. But when it comes to a first date, a classic outfit is key – it makes you look effortlessly stylish in a way that draping yourself in the latest fashion trend just can’t. Classic clothes also have the advantage of not drawing too much attention, meaning that your date can focus on what’s important – you.

Go natural.

The vast majority of women (and increasing numbers of men) wear and love makeup – not only does it help you put your best foot forward, but it can also be a much needed confidence booster. However, you might want to go more natural rather than glam for the first date – a 2011 study from Proctor and Gamble5 found that obvious makeup affected people’s perception of the wearer. There’s a more prosaic reason to keep it subtle, too – you don’t want to set an expectation of dressing up that you’d find it difficult to maintain as the relationship progresses.

Be yourself.

None of the other rules matter as much as this one. It might sound a little cheesy, but the best outfit you can wear to a first date is your own skin. Wear those funky earrings, those anime print socks, the not-at-all-trendy sweater that you love. As Oscar Wilde said, be yourself – everyone else is taken. Not to mention that it’s exhausting pretending to be someone you aren’t. Besides, anyone who’s truly worthy will see the real you and love you for, and not despite it – so be yourself on the first date and every date after.

First date outfit ideas for women

There are so many options here that the urge to just cancel and hang out in ratty sweats can look very tempting. Resist! Here are three ideas for how to dress for a first date:

  • For a casual daytime date: A sundress with flats or sneakers is a classic for a reason. If your dress has a print, kit simple and classic and then go bold with the jewelry. It’s also a good idea to stick with flats rather than heels in case you two decide to take a romantic walk.
  • For an evening date: Stick with a dress, but in a darker color and possibly paired with a blazer, heels and slightly bolder makeup. If you’d rather pants, switch out the office-ready top for something that’s a little bit sexier, and trade out shoes and jewelry as well.
  • If sports are involved: Jeans and a graphic tee are best here, although you could wear bicycle shorts under a dress if you’re absolutely set on a skirt. Be sure to pick the right footwear, too; these days there are plenty of sneakers that are both cute and functional.

First date outfit ideas for guys

Guys may have it easier than women when it comes to deciding what to wear on a first date, but that doesn’t mean they don’t ask themselves, ‘How do I look attractive on a first date?’. Three ideas for what to wear on a first date for guys:

  • The basics: A well fitted button-down shirt  over a white tee-shirt, nice jeans or chinos, a nice watch if that’s your style, and either minimalist sneakers or boots.
  • Take it up a notch: A dress shirt in a darker color, dark wash jeans or slacks, watch, a jacket that actually fits, and dress boots. If it’s cold, add a sweater, ideally one that’s a nicer fabric like merino, or even a formal-ish coat. (Leave the puffy jackets at home unless  it’s winter).
  • Keep it casual: A polo shirt or nice t-shirt rather than a button-down , jeans, and minimalist sneakers. Resist the temptation to wear shorts; there is no first date casual enough for bare knees on men.

How to calm yourself before the first date      

 Like we said previously, first date nerves are absolutely normal and even a good sign! They’re not particularly pleasant to deal with, though, so here’s how to deal if you’re nervous before a first date:

Think through the nerves

Thinking about why you’re nervous can help reduce some of the pressure of meeting someone new. Remind yourself that having emotions is normal and natural, and just let yourself feel them. Acknowledging that you’re nervous can help your brain deal with anxious thoughts.                                                          

Stay positive

Rather than focusing on what could go wrong, think of all the ways it could go right. Research suggests that this technique, called visualization, can reduce anxiety and help you get to a better mental state6.

Do things with friends

Friends are great for many things and distracting you so you don’t drive yourself up a tree is one of them. Depending on your schedule and theirs, you could call, text, or even spend time in person with them to get your mind off your date.

Plan things out in advance

Knowing how long it’ll take to get to where you’re having your date and having a plan for the various ways the night can end can help reduce any pre-date nerves. You can even scope out the location in advance online so you know what to expect.

Remember that they’re nervous too

You’re not the only one – your potential date is probably dealing with a case of the butterflies, too. Take a deep breath and remember that nerves are a good thing – on your part and theirs.

Texting before your date

It’s become more and more common for people to meet online – on sites like eharmony, for instance. When that’s the case, there’s often a history of texting before the first date. Striking a balance between sharing too much information and keeping the mystery alive can be hard, so here are some tips to make texting before your date easier:

Keep it short and sweet 

You don’t want to share too much information; save that for the actual date! Instead, keep your messages simple and light, so your potential date knows you’re thinking about them but doesn’t feel like you’re smothering them with attention.

Share any need-to-know information 

One of the best things about online dating is how easy it makes sharing important information about yourself before the actual date. Things like allergies or physical disabilities or restrictions are good to share beforehand, so you don’t wind up taking a person who’s allergic to soy to a vegan café. You can also share any dealbreakers beforehand – who knows, you might end up dodging a bullet.

Don’t sext

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sexting in and of itself, it’s probably not a great idea to do it even before the first date, simply because you probably don’t know enough about the person to know if they’re trustworthy. Plus, there’s something to be said for anticipation.

Do send a confirmation text

We all have busy lives, so it’s good to send a quick text the day before confirming you have plans. You can also text your partner to let them know when you’ll be there, so they’re not stuck wondering where you are. 

Should you bring something to your date?

We’ve all seen the movie where the guy shows up with a bouquet of flowers on a first date. In real life, however, flowers are best avoided – not only are they a little antiquated, but they also mean your date has to either cart around an awkwardly shaped bundle or take the time to put them in water. If you’re bringing a gift (and you should regardless of your date’s gender – guys like being given presents, too) – consider something way more low-maintenance, like a book you think they’ll like, non-mainstream candy or something tied to their specific interests. You’ll get bonus points for being observant and thoughtful rather than dumping extra work on your date.

Searching for first date Tips?

Searching for further first date tips? Know how to behave before, during and after your date and get your relationship with that special someone off to a good start with our first date advice.

Preparation is the key to a stellar first date experience

First dates can be really nerve-wracking – they are, after all, an important milestone in a relationship. However, with a little forethought and plenty of preparation – including thinking about what to wear on a first date – it’ll be much easier to make the first of many. It helps, of course, when your first date is with someone you already have a connection with – which is where eharmony comes in. Eharmony helps you find real love with people whose personalities gel with yours – so sign up and get started on the path to a first date with one of our many eligible singles today.

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