What would be the opposite of "sexy clothes", as in "clothes that hide sexual bits" ? Like for a woman, a top that would hide and make her breasts much less pronounced?

Thanks in advance.

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    Ask any father with a teenage daughter. – cgTag Jun 20 at 0:52
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    As a father with a teenage girl, the opposite of "sexy clothes" is "anything I'll actually let my daughter wear" :-) – user45532 Jun 20 at 1:06
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    As a father of three young women (16, 19, 21) I can assure you that there are plenty of clothes at Walmart I wouldn't approve of, were my approval requested. As it has not been, however, I suppose the point is moot. – Bob Jarvis Jun 20 at 16:25
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    "Unsexy clothes" is an actual term found used commonly enough online. – English Student Jun 20 at 20:58
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    @Fattie Pretty sure people's vocabularies are richer on this end. There's also several thousand 'single-word-request' and 'word-choice' questions that suggest it's ok. – lly Jun 21 at 0:34

13 Answers 13

up vote 92 down vote accepted

OED

Modest

  1. (of a woman) dressing or behaving so as to avoid impropriety or indecency, especially to avoid attracting sexual attention.

    ‘the modest women wear long-sleeved dresses and all but cover their faces’

I think modest clothing conveys the meaning you're looking for.

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    @Tuffy By itself certainly immodest and shameless are better antonyms for modest than sexy. If the question was "what's the opposite of modest", sexy would be an odd answer. But in this context, I can't think of a better phrase for "clothes that hide sexual bits" than "modest clothes". Avoiding attracting sexual attention is right in the dictionary definition. Can you? – De Novo Jun 19 at 20:37
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    But must every adjective have a corresponding antonym? There is no reason why it should be so. Moreover, it is quite possible to imagine clothing that is modest but also sexy, partly because ‘sexiness’ is subjective. A person that fantasises about nuns would presumably find a nun’s very modest habit sexy. There is in any case fallacy about in saying that to be sexy clothing must reveal or highlight the ‘sexual bits’. – Tuffy Jun 19 at 20:55
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    The question actually is a bit contradictory. Opposite of sexy could be something like "frumpy" [you could have something frumpy that's still revealing though IMO, unlikely, but possible]. But "clothes that hide sexual bits" could be something like "modest", "conservative" (or even just "not slutty" or "normal") depending on the prevailing mores of the community. – pbhj Jun 19 at 20:57
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    @Tuffy you're quite right about sexy being subjective. The OP, however, was very specific about what s/he was looking for: a word for "clothes that hide sexual bits". In this case, it doesn't matter if the nun's habit aroused someone. The "sexual bits" were minimized as much as possible. – De Novo Jun 19 at 21:14
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    @Tuffy - You seem to be caught up in the title of the question, as opposed to the full question. I think Dan has nailed it twice; once when he answered with modest, and once again when he replied to your initial comment. – J.R. Jun 20 at 15:29

Frumpy

Defined by Merriam-Webster as:

dowdy, drab

and perhaps more relevantly by the Urban Dictionary as:

A female with lack of concern for appearance. Often characterized by sweatpants, frizzy hair, gramma panties and a paisty complexion.

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    This is an adjective that's usually used to describe a person rather than a style of clothing. – Cubic Jun 20 at 11:42
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    @Cubic - I've seen it used to describe articles of clothing and entire outfits as well. – T.E.D. Jun 20 at 14:36
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    Although I am shocked that Urban Dictionary would show any misogyny, this word can apply to men (and their clothes) as well. – thumbtackthief Jun 20 at 18:09
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    @thumbtackthief I have never heard of ‘frumpy’ used of a male. It is an insult used of females. That by itself rules out ‘frumpy’ as an opposite of ‘sexy’. – Tuffy Jun 20 at 19:46
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    The fact that "frumpy-looking" can be used for males is like pointing out that "pregnant-looking" could be used for males or "handsome" could be used for females. And Cubic, it's totally commonplace to use it as an adjective for clothes (exactly as with "sexy" "stylish" "boring" etc.) – Fattie Jun 20 at 23:27

Demure defined by the OED as

(of a woman or her behaviour) reserved, modest, and shy.

(of clothing) lending a modest appearance.

is a suitable antonym for "sexy".

Interestingly, however, the Collins online dictionary includes the suggestion that demure clothing and actions can be adopted to increase attractiveness in this entry:

If you describe someone, usually a young woman, as demure, you mean they are quiet and rather shy, usually in a way that you like and find appealing,

She's very demure and sweet. The luscious Miss Wharton gave me a demure but knowing smile.

  • I don't think Collins disagrees with you in that quote - the "demure" part is certainly not sexual (the "but" connecting to "knowing" is intended as contrast there). – Toby Speight Jun 20 at 15:37
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    I don't think demure is the opposite of sexy. This makes me think of the script from Total Recall -- computer: How do you like your women? ... Douglas Quaid: sleazy, demure. – Octopus Jun 20 at 22:28
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    "demure" is exactly correct. it's a way of describing clothes precisely as the OP described clothes. (Basically, deemphasizing sexuality.) A perfect answer. – Fattie Jun 20 at 23:29
  • @octopus I don't remember that line from Total Recall but I would suggest that Quaid is either suggesting that any sort of woman would attract him (the equivalent of giving an answer like tall, short: slim, voluptuous: blonde, brunette) or he was deliberately giving an illogical answer in an attempt to confuse the computer. – BoldBen Jun 22 at 22:48

Wholesome 2. Conducive to or promoting social or moral well-being, especially in reflecting conventional moral values: wholesome entertainment; a politician with a wholesome public image.

and/or

Conservative
​ If you are conservative in your appearance, you usually do not like fashionable or modern clothes or hairstyles: He's a very conservative dresser - he always looks like he's wearing his father's clothes!

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    Wholesome isn't very idiomatic when referring to clothing (at least not in American English). Conservative certainly is, though. – jpmc26 Jun 19 at 20:52
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    The classic "little black dress" is undeniably a conservative clothing choice under many circumstances, but it is sexy without being overly revealing. – arp Jun 20 at 18:14
  • While a person dressed in conservative modest clothing may be said to have a wholesome appearance, the clothing is only one part of the overall image. Hair, demeanor, jewelry, makeup on women, all help build a wholesome appearance. – arp Jun 20 at 18:17
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    @arp I have only ever heard 'little black dress' used to refer to when someone wants to look very sexy. While not necessarily revealing, I've certainly never heard it used for someone trying to cover up or dress modestly/conservatively. The "little" in "little black dress" directly counters such a notion. – TylerH Jun 20 at 18:43
  • @TylerH Arp's point wasn't that LBDs aren't sexy; it's that they are a conservative (long established, not daring/bold) fashion choice on occasions when something flashy or glamorous could be worn instead. In other words, 'conservative' can be used precisely to describe sexy fashions and is questionable as an answer. – lly Jun 21 at 0:41

To add another possibility although not precisely an answer(because it is more absence of sexual accentuation than opposite of):

If one was looking for a relatively positive word that meant "not-overtly-sexy-without-suggesting-innocence-or-drabness" you might try:

discreet at Oxford Online Dictionaries

1 Careful and prudent in one's speech or actions, especially in order to keep something confidential or to avoid embarrassment.

‘we made some discreet inquiries’

1.1 Intentionally unobtrusive.

‘a discreet cough’

discreetly at Oxford Living Dictionaries

1 In a careful and prudent manner, especially in order to keep something confidential or to avoid embarrassment.

‘he discreetly inquired whether the position was still available’

1.1 In an intentionally unobtrusive manner.

‘she coughed discreetly’

Discreet might also mean not flashy or not attention-grabbing as much as not sexy ( perhaps a weakness to this suggestion if you ONLY wanted not-sexy).

"Discreet" is still a bit of a euphemism(whether we want it to be or not there are biases) suggesting "less sexy" to those preoccupied with such, yet it spares the connotations of "innocent" as well as sparing criticism of "unfashionable" or "plain" (in plain's worse senses ... absence of flashiness could still be 'understated' while still high quality)

Of course there might be other words that just sidestep other ways "pleasant", "professional", "athletic", "sharp" etc yet none of those directly mean "absence of", or "done to avoid". discreet will suggest:

  • "not purposefully sexy (as well as not flashy and not attention grabbing) Without suggesting 'innocence' and generally not 'plain' or 'old fashioned' . More 'tasteful' than merely conservative.

  • "discreet" can be more gender neutral - so suggest fewer 'woman should be' stereotypes. (generally men's suits are discreet, but Elvis dressing discreetly would lose his white suit and/or Al Capone would lose his accentuated pin-stripes).

  • "discreet" can go well alongside positive adjectives. i.e. "Meryl Streep showed up in a discreet yet fashionable pantsuit for her intellectual property trial"

  • Apparently, I can't fix typos? – swbarnes2 Jun 20 at 18:35
  • @swbarnes2 you're welcome to. I'll try to go through and fix them myself later if you can't (and thank you in advance if you can) – Tom22 Jun 20 at 18:58
  • I tried, it wouldn't let me make a change of < 6 characters. – swbarnes2 Jun 20 at 19:55

'Modest', 'sensible', (kinda dated) 'demure', and (in some circles) 'conservative' are the nice ways to say this. 'Frumpy', 'dowdy', 'shapeless', and (in other circles) 'conservative' are disparaging terms. All are mostly focused on women's sartorial choices.

Two unisex terms that come to mind are

Unisex

A. adj. ... 3. Designed to be suitable for either sex; not peculiar to one sex. ...

People can be sexy in unisex clothing (wifebeaters) but it's usually rather difficult (Mao suits) and certainly not what they're designed for.

Baggy

A. adj. 1. Puffed or bulging out, hanging in loose folds. ...

Again, not necessarily unsexy, but the labels you'd see or search for when looking for clothes that are intended to be worn for utility or comfort rather than accentuating sexual attractiveness.


The best word for exactly what your example described, though, is

Concealing

1. [adj.] a. ... keep[ing] from the knowledge of others ...

2. [adj.] a. ... put[ting] or keep[ing] out of sight or notice... prevent[ing] from being visible. ...

The other terms all describe the character of the person (usu. woman) as revealed by their clothing choices or the style of the clothes themselves. 'Concealing' is the adjective describing the action of covering and hiding away all those fun bits from the eyes of those who shouldn't be noticing them.

  • 1
    Modest clothes/clothing... check. Conservative dress code and dress conservatively... check. Frumpy clothes... check. Concealing clothes...? not a common collocation, and more often than not, concealing is associated with hiding a belly or a gun. – Mari-Lou A Jun 20 at 6:35
  • I'd go for "shapeless", something that is shapeless is large, baggy, and more often than not, unsexy. – Mari-Lou A Jun 20 at 6:39
  • @Mari-LouA You're not wrong. It's not 'concealing clothing'. (Gun-ready clothes are apparently often 'concealed[-carry] clothing'.) We don't usually focus on the action itself; we usually focus on the virtue or lack thereof and secondarily focus on the cut of the clothes (as with your 'shapeless'). On the other hand, Joan of Arc and Mulan concealed their breasts. A Muslim might say burqas are 'modest'; an impolitic fashionista might call them 'frumpy', 'boring', or 'repressive'; but there is no question that it is concealing. – lly Jun 20 at 8:12
  • I'll go ahead and add 'shapeless' to the list though, since it's apparently unmentioned in the other answers. – lly Jun 20 at 8:13
  • "sensible" to me refers to functionality, not appearance. If you're going horseback riding, shorts would be sensible, an evening gown would not. – Acccumulation Jun 20 at 22:04

There are two different ways to go with this:

The excellent answer already given of modest, which very neatly encapsulates the request for covering and hiding body parts, though several people have pointed out that clothing does not necessarily need to be revealing to be sexy.

The "sorting the underwear drawer" answer of utilitarian which stresses the choice of form versus function.

utilitarian: designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive. synonyms:practical, functional, pragmatic, serviceable, useful, sensible, efficient, utility, workaday, no-frills;

Some but not all of the listed synonyms would work as well:. practical, functional, and sometimes sensible (most often seen in this context as "sensible shoes".)

This is not the whole story, of course. The nicer shirts that I wear to the office are neither plain/functional/utilitarian, nor sexy/immodest, they are just pretty shirts, a touch on the feminine side (and thus unlikely to be practical or durable), but not drifting over the line into "sexy".

(I know all the OP wanted was a word but there is a lot of cultural connotation and baggage around this area of language and social conduct.)

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    A t-shirt is "utilitarian", sensible, practical, and very functional but it can also show off a woman's bosom handsomely. – Mari-Lou A Jun 21 at 8:31

appropriate or appropriately

[adjective] suitable or fitting for a particular purpose, person, occasion, etc. an appropriate example; an appropriate dress.

source: Dictonary.com

  • An "appropiate" dress is not necessarily not-sexy. E.g. bikinis are "appropiated" if you are at the beach. – SJuan76 Jun 20 at 12:23
  • @SJuan76: Bikinis are only appropriated if someone's running around stealing them, or if someone has to use their bikini as an improvised wound dressing. Bikinis are, however, appropriate at the beach. :-P – Sean Jun 20 at 22:51
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    a bikini is "appropriate" at the beach, as a welding mask is appropriate when welding. But the adjective "appropriate" relating to clothing has a clear meaning of, basically, formal, demure - and indeed is exactly what the OP is asking for, in many situations. – Fattie Jun 20 at 23:35

In addition to all the other good answers (both "modest" and "demure" came to my mind), you may depending on context wish to consider

  • professional: exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace
  • no-nonsense: only interested in doing what is necessary or achieving what is intended
  • staid: gives an impression of age, of being old-fashioned
  • prim: easily shocked by sexual overtones

I would suggest austere : severely simple; without ornament

Dowdy might also be appropriate in some contexts.

Oxford English Dictionary: (of a person or their clothes) unfashionable and unstylish in appearance (typically used of a woman)

‘she could achieve the kind of casual chic which made every other woman around her look dowdy’

Unflattering, Unattractive or Unappealing

You might try one of these:

(Un)flattering : (2) : (not) helping to enhance attractiveness
(Un)attractive : (1)a : (not) arousing interest or pleasure
(Un)appealing : (1) : (not) having appeal

maybe sensuous or proper clothing

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