Women just about always dress for perception but when we don't know what that perception is, we also rely on what works. I believe the biggest difference is that women have the perception that dressing well is a competition so no matter who they are dressing for, we have the mindset of competing for the attention. It may sound ridiculous when you think about it, but I find it to be very true.
When women go out with their friends, many of them want to dress better than their friends. For some women, it makes them feel good if a man will approach her instead of her friend. So in this scenario, the woman is competing against her friends and she is dressing for the man.
It seems that while in a relationship, a woman dresses for herself instead of her boyfriend or husband because she often feels that he doesn't know what to pick out for her. If she was dressing for him, it would seem that she would would wear whatever he wanted even if she didn't like it, right? It would seem that way but if you think about it, a woman knows what looks good on her and what her man is attracted to. So she will shop for herself and ask for his opinion to confirm she is correct.
Yes, the man may complain about how long she takes to get dressed and tell her that she looks fine with what she has on but she ignores him and takes the time to walk out the door looking fabulous. I believe this is because on a subconscious level, women in relationships are still in competition mode. She takes that long to get dressed because she wants to look so desirable to her man that he won't even consider looking at another woman while they are on a date or she could just want to attract other men. If we wouldn't go to a bar wearing what we lounge around in, (if a bar allowed us to) then I doubt we dress for ourselves.
In most cases, men dress for women and women dress for men.. We definitely dress for other reasons such as wanting to look professional at work but even that comes down to attracting the opposite sex. Why do some of us wear perfume and cologne to work? Do we think it's going to help us perform better? Did we forget to take a shower that day? If neither of these questions end in a yes, then I believe it's because we want to be desirable to our clients or co-workers. Do women truly need to wear so much make-up to look professional at the job or do we want that red lipstick to attract some man that walks in our office?
I think it all comes down to the fact that you never know who you're going to see wherever you go, so it's best to look your best because your appearance often speaks louder than anything else. With this mindset, we will often have the opposite sex in mind. I believe it's smart to think this way because at least if something in our character is flawed, we've attracted this person with our look, which will less likely work with someone of the same sex or who is not attracted to us.
I don't think there's anything wrong with men dressing for women and women dressing for men; however, I want women to stop thinking it's a competition. Women should never compete for men. If that man is meant for you, he will love you for your heart and soul; not for what attracted him to you.