Karliemarie Lane has never been to Burning Man (a "transformative" annual camp out in the Nevada desert), but she’s convinced she’d find the love of her life there. Men, covered in desert grime, hair a wind-whipped mess, nary a shower in sight. Yes, finding Mr. Right at Burning Man would be simple. Although they didn’t meet at a festival, Lane says her current relationship is great. But her boyfriend is very clean, groomed. She wouldn’t say she has a fetish, but Lane, 23, has a definite preference toward outwardly dirty men: Long, greasy hair, weathered skin, scruff, cuts, scrapes, sweat.
Later, as a teen, Lane dated a skater. The dirt under his fingernails and his unkempt hair were turn ons. There was something mysterious about how unbathed he looked, how he wore the aesthetic like a halo, an intangible energy saying “I really don’t care.” Lane loved every unwashed inch. “It’s just golden,” she says, “it’s something golden about them.” What is it about hands signaling a long day’s work or a pair of jeans not having seen the inside of a washing machine that women like Lane find attractive?
There was something mysterious about how unbathed he looked, how he wore the aesthetic like a halo, an intangible energy saying 'I really don’t care.'
These characterizations, in turn, have psychological and biological reactions in women. In a 2008 study, men with light stubble were rated by women as more attractive and a more suitable romantic partner. Even more recently, in 2016, researchers asking women to rate men’s attractiveness found heavy stubble to be the preferred look among study participants and men with this kind of facial hair were more likely to be seen as suitable long-term partners.
All of the physical components pertaining to hair length, smell and body type signify to a woman how masculine a man is, says sexologist Dr. Damian Jacob Sendler. “Women have always been attracted to men with higher levels of testosterone and you can visibly assess it in most men,” he says. High testosterone in men tends to manifest in physical details like more hair, more muscles and deeper voices. Not to say your average suit-and-tie type doesn’t have these qualities, but images of construction workers, lumberjacks, and outdoorsmen—who, after a long day’s work, look sweaty and dirty—tend to lean stereotypically buff and rugged.
This kind of dude—a provider, a handyman—Carolyn Manning finds attractive. The 28-year-old has long associated a strong-looking, dad bod-possessing, bearded guy with tousled hair as someone who knows their way around a toolbox. “I have deep-set psychological issues of being taken care of and I feel like if a guy is very well kept … they’re kind of self-absorbed,” Manning says.
She traces her infatuation with dirty-looking guys back to sixth grade when she found skaters attractive. As an adult, Manning lost her virginity in the back of a car to a guy who’s currently homeless and has dated multiple people who lived in vans either before, during, or after their relationship. It’s not so much the look she’s attracted to, “it’s an assumption of what that aesthetic means,” she says, a lifestyle of being able to do a lot with very little.
Behavioral scientist Nick Hobson says this perspective stems from the lumberjack stereotype of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when men would retreat into the woods to perform strenuous and dangerous work. “The escaping-into-nature type man was an attempt for urbanized boys to regain a sense of authentic, primal manliness,” Hobson says. “The perception from women followed: A man who lived the natural way, in the wilderness, would be seen as genuine, bold, and a risk-taker.”
Ashley Laderer tends to go for adventurers of a more modern era: artists and musicians. Just as lumberjacks were associated with a freewheeling lifestyle, so, too, do dudes in bands. If you look a little greasy and are playing an instrument in your Tinder pictures, Laderer, 25, says, she’s more likely to swipe right. “If you look like you've been on Warped Tour sweating on stage, that’s great,” she continues. “You’re glistening and you’re dirty.”
Just because a man looks dirty doesn’t mean he should smell that way though, Laderer says. (Lane and Manning agree.) Offensive body odor is a line, when crossed, signifies a guy’s a little too unwashed. The key, says celebrity groomer Barbara Guillaume, is to only look unbathed.
For her part, Guillaume, who’s worked with Daniel Craig, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Grant, and Colin Farrell, puts effort into making her clients seem like they just rolled out of bed. All it takes is running a little bit of product through air-dried hair to give the perfect tousled appearance, minus actual greasy hair and stench. It’s a styling choice that screams “I’ve been places, I’ve lived,” Guillaume says. “He doesn't have to prove himself. ‘That’s me and I’m comfortable with that’ and there's something very attractive about that.” And no brand of body wash emulates that kind of confidence