ETIQUETTE: Compliments

A man should know how to compliment a woman's appearance. But ask the nearest lady, and she'll tell you that when it does happen, it too often sounds like an oafish come-on. It shouldn't need to be said—but we will anyway—that focusing all the attention on her sexuality is out of line. The art of the compliment is not a free pass to get suggestive; it's an opportunity to make her feel great about herself. Here's how:

Say it right away. This particular brand of admiration is appearance-based. So as soon as you see her, tell her how lovely she is. Wait too long, and it'll seem like you're searching for something to say.

Don't use a 5-cent word. Avoid anything even remotely similar to hot, sexy, smoking, etc. Don't make her feel like a piece of meat. At worst, it's offensive; at best, it displays a glaring lack of creativity. Women are objectified enough as it is. Be the exception. And for God's sake, don't say she looks "nice." It's like telling a guy he's "cute"—the most mediocre praise.

Don't use a 50-cent word. Steer clear of words like ravishing. Beyond the term's sometimes vulgar connotation, it's also a measure of grandiloquence that's probably best reserved for your poetic efforts. Instead, opt for something simple yet charming. Beautiful, lovely, glowing, wonderful, stunning, gorgeous, and terrific are all appropriate; pick one that feels natural.

Be specific. The essence is in the details. Mention what catches your eye. Then say why you noticed it. Nicole and Jena from The Style Tribe are brilliant examples.

Nicole, that belt looks terrific. The dog-head buckle is so unique; it reminds me of the labrador retrievers my family had.

Love your bag, Jena. It's classy and low-profile, but you can see how well-made and detailed it is. How long have you had it?

Similar rules apply for the dudes: Make it sincere, and be specific. "That sweater/those wingtips/that tie looks great. I've been looking all over the place for something like that. Where did you get it?"

He feels affirmed; you now know where to pick up some new digs.

Mean it. Don't flatter for flattery's sake. Be sincere the first time, and you won't have to repeat yourself to seem genuine. And if you find yourself not noticing things things, work on becoming the kind of guy who pays attention.

Immediate, clear and heartfelt. Then leave it at that.

Photos: Maureen O'Hara and Marlon Brando (used under the Creative Commons license) from Flickr user slightlyterrific. Nicole and Jena from The Style Tribe. Cam, Jeff and Seth by us.


  1. Great suggestions for terms to compliment another on his or her appearance.

    Best Regards,

    Ulrich von B.

  2. I completely agree with everything in this post...

    I think sometimes guys think women don't handle compliments well, but they only make me uncomfortable when the complimenter is exhibiting exactly the problems you've listed!!

    Midwestyle always knows what's what.

  3. Excellent suggestions! As a petite girl, I hate being called "cute". And the ones for women complimenting men... so good!

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  5. Absolutely brilliant, guys! All too often the modern "gentleman" becomes so engrossed in outward swagger that he forgets his inward style --more inherent than purchased. Great post and reminder!


  6. I am all for this for grown-up women. Little girls should never get complimented on their appearence, and rather should be treated smart little women who like to read books and do math.

  7. I love this! I'm sharing this post with everyone I know!

    <3 The Daily Dani


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