Dressing Well Without Chanel; Missive 1

Around here, the crusade to dress with relaxed elegance continues with some success. I finally found suitable khakis. Over the last year I had bought two pair, one from Land’s End, one from L.L. Bean. Nope, too rough. I looked at many more in the usual mall shops, J. Crew, Banana Republic, and so on. Nope, too stretchy and too trendy.

Then, in an online discussion forum, “BunsenBurner” recommended Karen Millen.

See? The Karen Millen Tailored Cotton Pant, $199. All-cotton, wide waistband, fine fabric. Niiice stitch detail.

Ankle length, not too skinny. Label says dry clean but I threw caution to the wind and and pants into the washing machine – no visible damage. Shrank some, but they were a tad big anyway.

These pants play a key role in preventing work-at-home schlub. They are  so comfortable that I’m willing to wear them for every activity except writing or gardening. For now with with a loose, cream, lace-trimmed tank, and orange Havaianas, but I have my sights on a few more options. The Kate Hepburn look begs for a white shirt. Oh goody. We can go button front or tee. Stretch the borders of white to cream, even peanut.

I’ll have to see where those v-necks hit. How fine the fabric on the button-front, how nifty the buttons. I could also make good use of one of these pairs of shoes.

Cork’s having a moment. Are the slides too dowdy? The wedges too precious? Paul Stuart makes exceptionally comfortable shoes behind those leather rosettes, and I could always use another pair of Havaianas, this time in dull gold. Of course I really covet the studded Louboutins, (Hola Chica indeed!) but can’t quite tell myself they deserve a place in Dressing Without Chanel. Which poses the question, is a $500 shoe the moral equivalent of a $3000 jacket? But I digress.

You might be saying to yourself, wait a minute, white shirts are not exciting. Maybe not, but they are the stuff of which a certain kind of wardrobe is made. The Grande Dame is never truly casual. The Artsy can fling together this and that. But the Sturdy among us, or those with Sturdy leanings, must take the uniform of our heart and clean it up.

(I’m sure you’re thinking, “That’s a lot of money for khakis.” True, but cost per wear will be quite low in the end.)

If you want to assemble a wardrobe of not-boring basics, you have to pay attention to subtleties. This white shirt is not the same as that other white shirt, these tan sandals certainly not the same as those over there. One must venture offline, to the world of linen vs. cotton, peanut vs. beige. I report to you as a scout, face streaked with yellow dust, palm fronds in pith helmet.


Karen Millen Khakis
James Perse button front

Petit Bateau peanut colored v-neck tee

Over-sized Deep-V Tee
via Urban Outfitters
Shoes from upper left, clockwise, ending in center


Vanelli cork wedge
via Arthur Berens
Paul Green Ema Fango
via Zappos
Eric Javits “Squishee” slide
via Arthur Berens
“Hola Chica” Louboutins
, via Barneys

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  • Totally agree, Lisa. I love the Louboutin’s too, however, would not pay $500 for this style. Just doesn’t make sense to me for casual. And, on the white shirts, depends on where you’re going. I saw the most wonderful one yesterday, I’ll try to find it and send it to you. xx’s

  • Can not WAIT to inspect these closer on my PC. ‘Tis drawing close to that time o’ year sniffle, sniffle when the uniform comes out; khakis, oxford and or cashmere sweater, and so I’m pinning my hopes on your find. On another note girlfriend…had dinz with ole Maxminimus last week and it sounds as though we can add “scrappy” below “love a great khaki” in the things we have in common column :)

  • You know I wince whenever I read clothing prices on your blog, right? :) Ah, well – if someone saw the check I just wrote for an entire pastured hog, they’d feel the same way about my food.

  • Firm believer in buying quality that will both last and make you happy wearing it.

  • hi lisa,

    those khakis are pretty. i bet you look great in them. i couldn’t live without white shirts. maybe a little too dramatic but true.


  • i love jcrew for classic american basics, tees and chinos included. a good stock of humble basics are so key for a chic wardrobe!

  • I love the style lines of those pants! And you are spot on about being choosy in regard to details. I often throw that vital part of the chic equation to the wind when I happen to find something that could work in my wardrobe. Maybe I’m impatient, but I sense it has more to do with the limited selection offered in my well-upholstered size. However, after discovering your blog, new and exciting clothing options have come to my attention and I’m both delighted and grateful for it!

  • I’m in love with the Paul Green sandals, and I like your khakis. White T and easy breezy outfit. Perfect!

  • Like the KM pants…difficult to find pants without pockets back & front..my hips cannot take extra embellishments!! so off to check these out.

    This gal can never have too many white shirts…have a passion for mens’ white shirts. Ida

  • Those khakis look worth every penny of their price, on the basis of that stitching alone. What a gorgeous detail! My own khakis were in that range and they earn their keep almost as well as my jeans (mine are a rather different aesthetic than yours, with a slightly dropped crotch, skinnier legs, but I love them as much). These basic uniform pieces are wonderful for their ability to be tweaked towards a customized whole just the way you are so inspiringly doing through your particular favourite white shirt or T, and your version of the perfect accompanying sandal (my vote’s for the slingback cork wedge — I actually find the Louboutins a bit busy, heresy I know!)

  • Because I am so much older…I can say that you are well on your way to the rest of your life in classic, easy on everyone elses’s eye, quality style.

  • Love the khakis Miss Privilege, they look *very* much like a pair I have from the Gap. It’s wonderful to see Karen Millen mentioned, I am a big fan. The Paul Stuart sandal insight is also helpful, I don’t think I have ever tried on a pair of his shoes and am now inspired to do so. :)

    Enjoy a splendid week!

  • Yes! This is how it’s done. (I’d almost be tempted if those khakis were available in a petite cut.)

    Those Louboutin sandals aren’t classic enough for me to shell out that kind of money though. There are so many cute options out there for much less, that will still give a few years of wear.

    Yeah, the slides are kind of dowdy.

  • I wish more people understood that they should think of forgoing an extra pair of shoes and opt for a really well made pair of pants that fits them! I think $199 is reasonable for a pair of pants you like that much. I also really like those cork sandals–top right–plain, but not slouchy. Can’t wait to see your final choices!

    xo Mary Jo

  • I’m a sucker for nice stitch details. And sandals :-)

  • 199 dollars is a small sum over here in Finland for a pair of khakis.
    I still wear my 2 similar pairs of cargos ( from last year ), and this spring/ summer again 2 similar pairs of off-white khakis, both by Lexington, a Swedish brand marketing all American style.
    Since pants/ trousers/ jeans are my everyday wear, I am very satisfied with mine.
    The white shirt, definitely not for me, nor could I imagine wearing sandals, ouch the dirty feet.
    Sorry for being so honest!

  • Lisa, I thanks fir your search for
    khakis. I checked out Orvis, LLBean
    and Bass, although haven’t decided.
    White shirts and T’s are a classic look.
    Also these are a great alternative to jeans.

  • Beige trousers a and a white shirt are one of my favourite summer outfits, along with hair the size of a small planet.

  • Loved the all choices, especially those khakis, but I gotta say the slides scream “grandma” to me ( a club I look forward to joining, but not quite yet). My quest for perfect khakis continues… Btw-to Allie Von Summerverb-tell Maximinimus I am having withdrawals from his blog ending!
    Madeline aka Muffy

  • Lisa,

    You must look very chic in those trousers and the white shirt with the Haviana’s in a punch of orange.

    Thank you for blazing the trail…

  • I love the combination of white shirts/khaki trousers. When I lived in the Bay Area and So.Cal, it looked snappy and Hepburn-esque. Alas, here in the Pacific NW, it looks a bit too washed-out. So. I’m considering options…

  • Hi Lisa…what a great blog you have…just found you!
    Love the Karen Millen pants…I’m definitely a linen/beige fan!
    I’m a new follower..please drop by my blog if you have time..

  • Would love to have the perfect pair of khakis, I have none at the moment and it’s not so easy looking airy, effortless, and comfortable in the summer without them…ditto for the white shirt. Love all of your choices!
    xo J~

  • I love those pants. A wide waistband is my best friend when it comes to pants. All of those shoes would work equally well I think, of course, it all depends on occasion.

  • Gold havianas, hmmm.

  • I completely agree about the $ of the khakis. I keep clothing that I love FOREVER. My mother used to say that a well-made garment will look as good on the inside as the out. xoxo

  • These are not khakis, they are, as the maker calls them, tailored cotton pants. Khakis are not this fine, which explains why you like these pants. They are hard to find. I find khakis make me look like a retired gym teacher, but fine cotton pants make me look like Audrey Hepburn’s aunt. Great find!

  • Love the khakis, but they’re not offered in size 14. Bummer! Cost-per-wear would be pennies for me if they did.

  • I think The Preppy Princess and I have the same pair of Gap khakis!

    I recently bought a fairly spendy (for me) casual dress and have received so many compliments on it, that I’m tempted to send them even more money! By the end of the summer/early fall, my cost per wear will be pennies.

  • What a lovely discovery! Perfect pants are worth a high dollar price tag, as long as they hold up through more than one or two seasons. I’ve had good luck with Land’s End casual pants (the chinos, not those sad elastic-waist-I’m-waiting-to-expire numbers). However, the ones you found look like a great step up.

    I like the wedges, but agree with the other posters that even if one has the means with which to buy $500 sandals, doing so seems a bit…conspicuous. Surely there are more reasonably priced but attractive cork wedges on this Earth? Paying top dollar for a staple like a Chanel jacket, which one can wear across a life time as long as one doesn’t radically change shape, is an investment worth making. The quality of such a garment bears the price- same with well-made men’s shoes or ladies’ boots. Sandals, on the other hand, are almost disposable items and don’t seem capable of bearing a $500 price tag with dignity.

  • Lisa,
    I love the outfit, or the idea of the outfit, but suggest these shoes instead:


    Really hip and cute, but well-made and sturdy too.

    2:28 pm
    rb said...

    Oh, and then something jade – necklace or earrings – to add color in a very San Francisco way.

  • I like the Paul Green sandals you chose and have liked Karen Millen for some time!

  • I like the pants. The wide waistband can be flattering any muffin-tops get hidden under it.

    My wardrobe has room for multiple pairs of Khaki pants. They can have a number of undertones. Yours are slightly tan looking. Sometimes I want browner tones and sometimes I want a bluer tone that will work with my gray jacket.

  • Great post Lisa… my kind of dressing too. And love the white shirt, and the pants definitely. I have those exact Havianas too! x

  • Ms. Priviege, you certainly have an eye for detail. As one who prefers skirts to pants, I would love to see this “All-cotton, wide waistband, fine fabric. Niiice stitch detail” in a simple knee-length skirt. Such would be oh so right for oh so many.

  • Marsha – I look forward to your input. And thank you for talking me down off the Louboutin cliff.

    Allie – Scrappy! Love that. Kate Hepburn approves. Hope you like the pants – they aren’t scrappy, more like appropriate.

    Jan – I know. Believe me, I make those asides with you in mind.

    Mary Anne – Resolved! [gavel down:)]

    Janet – Thank you. Rare moment of drama from you, wholly appropriate.

    miss sophie – I could not find any chinos I liked at J. Crew. But my basics are getting better all the time.

  • Beautiful dreamer- Thank you. My pleasure. Many have expressed annoyance at the fabrics and quality for larger sizes. Let us hope the world of technology and new business models continues to improve that situation.

    Marcela – Thank you. The Paul Green’s are my favorite among these too – once I move out of my Louboutin haze.

    ida – If you know of great men’s shirts, for women, do tell!

    Mater – Why thank you! And yes, I’ve backed off the Louboutins, just in time.

    Valentine – It is part of the goal, to be gentle on others’ eyes, I agree. Something about civility. Thank you.

    TPP – Ah, so you knew KM? I should have guessed.

  • Une femme – Thank you. Still on the shoe hunt:).

    Mary Jo – I know, I guess that some people just like to shop. I prefer to own well.

    Susan – Hooray for stitches!

    Metscan – Why no white shirts? Doesn’t suit you? And I’m a Californian. We don’t mind dirt:).

    BarbaraG – Do tell me what you find?

    Tabitha – Hahahahaha.

  • Madeline – OK. No slides:). We all mourn The Max.

    Hostess – My pleasure!

    Jean S. – So interesting, that that weather has that impact! I wouldn’t have known. Do you need to wear more saturated colors?

    Catherine – Thank you! Welcome. I will go and take a look.

    Jessica – Thank you!

    Laura – It does depend on occasion, so much does.

  • Terri – Yes? No?

    Preppy 101 – I like your mother, unsurprisingly:).

    Duchesse – They are khaki-colored pants. What, then is a khaki? Twill, of course is OK. Is poplin allowed? Silk? Cotton only? To me, these are khakis. Enlighten us!

    Laura – Bummer! As for sizing, they run a little bigger than US clothes. So I wear a 4 in J. Crew, but need a 6 in Karen Millen.

    Patsy – I have some GAP khakis too but they belonged to someone else and are 2 sizes too big:). That’s what I garden in.

    cafelatte – That is a good point. Those sandals would not be well-treated, and the sole would bear most of the burden.

  • Flo- Oh my gosh. Sexy Sturdy. You have found us out, here in our sub-species den:). That is one heck of a dress. And is the silhouette that looks best on my, or did at least, before my stomach decide it would not go gently into that good night.

    rb – Ding, ding, ding. We may have a winner here. And that BLOG!

    Miss Cavendish – Thank you for the confirmation:).

    RoseAG – Interesting. I know I don’t like the yellow khakis, but had never thought there were bluer tones. I suppose that’d be the ones they often call stone?

    Sarah – Thank you. I am so happy to be in your company:).

    Sylvie – So it’s just as tough for skirt-wearers? Yikes!

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2 Trackbacks

  1. […] rb posted a link in the Privilege comments to a blog called “Barking Dogs.” Get it? Devoted to comfortable shoes. If you have the […]

  2. […] The sandals are, as promised, very comfortable. (Thank you to rb, who suggested these in a comment.) And I often rely on the over-sized watch to uplevel an outfit, just a […]