We’ve addressed workwear on Privilege, several times. We’ve explored festive occasions that require little black dresses, or designer confections. But some of us require a more relaxed elegance. We wonder, how to dress when retired, or working from home, or, fleeing our suburban haunts for the big city? In other words, what kind of wardrobe is comfortable and without ceremony, but still stylish?
One might well ask. This is my most current and central fashion quest. At my nadir, pressed for time after a brisk neighborhood walk, I entered Whole Foods wearing baggy white basketball shorts, sports bra, white tee printed with Microsoft marketing gibberish c. 1998, and Mizuna walking shoes in pink, white, and silver. We will pause as you guffaw. Urgency is the best teacher. Here’s what I’ve learned.
The difficulty in what we’re going to call “Relaxed Elegance” is that comfort and elegance conflict in their origins.
- Comfort is loose, durable, and often visually random, because one prioritizes feel over look.
- Elegance is structured or fragile, a little fierce. Also harmonious in silhouette, color, and relative “fanciness” of pieces.
Clearly, one has to figure out the least uncomfortable determinants of elegance that can be imported to comfortable gear. Let’s look at the answers first, then deconstruct the whys and hows.
- If you are going for Relaxed Elegance, Classic Variant, you want to get the basics right. You can’t rely on a fabulous Prada dress to eclipses other lapses. Go with well-done basics, for the effect of subtle style. (Unless you’re an Advanced Styler. Which I’m not, so can’t address.)
- In this mode, first, do your silhouette homework. What pieces, what shapes, what proportions, support your silhouette in a way that pleases you. If you haven’t already explored body shape on Inside Out Style, I recommend you do so soon. I like the way I look with bare arms and covered collarbone, flared trousers, fitted waists, and a jacket. If it works, repeat. Good geometry bores no one.
- Focus on color palettes for the most effective tweak to sophistication. Go for monochrome, in navy, black, gray, brown, or “off” colors that suit you perfectly. Alternatively, wear shades all in a similar family, or if you’re adventurous, dress across the color wheel, i.e., navy with a flash of orange, purple with mustard. Avoid overly sweet pastels, be chary with pure primaries. Except red, if you can carry it off. You want appear intentional, albeit casual.
- Now look at your default casual clothing and upgrade the fabric – from cotton tees to silk, from oxford cotton camp shirts to cotton lawn button fronts.
- Buy some go-to pants. Jeans will serve you well. Or good khakis. You can even find drawstring pants that work, if you pay attention..
- Align your your shoes and bags with clothing, don’t go up a notch of “fanciness.” That said, also avoid shoes that look cheap.
- Keep two or three classic but informal jackets in your closet, i.e. a short trench, a sweatie peacoat, a knit jacket. They will add the touch of structure that elegance requires. In this world, vs. the work world, you are wearing your jacket most of the time, without having to type in it. It will make more impact than almost anything else.
- Accessorize with small pieces of good jewelry, or a classic large watch. Statement pieces require statement outfits or they will unbalance you. One can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear by adding big necklaces.
- Never forget that you have hair. It must be well-handled.
Let’s say your At Home outfits consist of flannel pyjamas, yoga pants, or loose jeans/khakis. With any old tops. (Some of you may swear by worn out dresses, I wear dresses only to, well, dress up.) You will want to modify your preferred mode for Relaxed Elegance. Let’s look at a few examples.
Let’s say you’re a loose jeans and khaki sort. To a client meeting in the city, wear good jeans in your go-to shape with a top in the same color. Blue jeans, navy top. White jeans, white top. This creates what Inside Out Style calls the Column of Color. Then add a classic (with a twist) jacket in a contrasting color, Complete the picture with really good shoes, real gold jewelry, and a man’s watch. Make sure your hair is impeccable. Mine is long now. I like low ponytails, if the holder has some smack to it.
Or let’s say you wear yoga pants at home. To take them to Whole Foods, wear layers in shades of the same color. I tend to go for all black, myself, black pants, tee, parka and Pumas. But one could venture out in the purples and lavenders if one were talented with color, and pull it off quite well. Especially if you add one accessory across the color wheel, like an acid green hair tie or tee.
I must note an important rule in the High WASP dress canon is Do Not Add Fancy Shoes To Sports Attire. Same goes for jackets. If you’re dressing for physical activity, and taking that on the road, do it proudly. To us, anything else looks dowdy. As I said above, You Can’t Make A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow’s Ear. So don’t try. Impunity, impeccable impunity.
Fear not, my friends, there’s a Relaxed Elegance world beyond solid colors. To add sophistication, and edge, I recommend that you follow the Artsy strategy – mix patterns in the same figure quality, i.e. small or large, dense or sparse. Just stay in a color family. A classic jeans jacket counteracts all the drape, toughening it up. Remember, elegance, even this far left, requires a smidgen of fierce. And good shoes.
So now, how to guarantee that one actually leaves the house wearing these appropriate get-ups, rather than in the moral equivalent of basketball shorts? We can all shop. But can we implement?
Strategy #1: Make sure your At Home gear is SO DREADFUL that you’d never wear it out. I write in the flannel pyjama bottoms above. Yes. I do. They are my work uniform. The uniform is an honorable tradition, is it not? And I will never wear them out of the house unless my survival depends upon it.
Strategy #2: Don nothing but Relaxed Elegance, even on the sofa. My hat’s off to you, conferring instant Grande Dame status, no matter your age.
So. Now. First things first. Go stare at your closet and consider. Great endeavors require a pause before the leap.