September 28, 2009

Effortless Style

I was running around the west side today, doing some mundane errands after work. I was toting around my usual big leather work bag, in addition to a Dean & DeLuca shopping bag, a bottle of wine and a venti wild sweet orange hot tea. Turning direction at a corner, I caught a view of myself in a bank window, and was surprised at what I saw.

Although I felt frenzied, tired and a bit weighed down, I looked good. My trench collar was flipped up by the wind, my studded flats peeked demurely out of my black slim trousers, my crystal earrings were swingy and bright, my hair was tousled and shiny, and the bright red summer scarf around my neck warmed up the color in my cheeks.

I glanced one more time, and realized it: I have achieved (mostly) effortless style.

Upon waking up this morning, I did the usual Chi/makeup routine and grabbed my black slim trousers, a pintucked blouse, 3/4 sleeve cardigan and flats. Instead of coordinating several pieces of jewelry, I put on a statement pair of earrings with my watch and headed out, without giving my "look" much thought at all. And yet, in a moment when I didn't even feel it, I realized I looked pretty darn good.

Some bits of what I'm going to write may come off as vain or arrogant, and if so, it's unintentional. My diet and exercise habits are evidence of my lack of complacency about my figure, and shopping is just as much about confidence for me as it is fun. But this moment today was a reflection upon my personal style, and an honest self-evaluation, something which is valuable to everyone, every so often.

"Effortless style" is a phrase tossed around a lot to describe fashion icons like Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn or Kate Moss. Countless magazine articles have been written on how to achieve effortless style, and women everywhere I look seem anxiously striving to appear as if they don't care, and didn't try, but look fabulous anyway. But based on the looks I see on the street, the articles I read, and the complaints of my female friends and relatives, effortless style is for many a lofty goal which, ironically, only comes with years of shopping, tailoring and studying.

But it doesn't have to be that way. No style is completely devoid of thought or effort, but obsession isn't required, either. Effortless style comes with the application of three basic ideas.

1) Awareness. We must all be aware of what works on us and what doesn't. This is the most time-consuming part, but a couple of days spent trying clothing on will yield several looks that are undeniably flattering or horrifying. For example, well-endowed women should eschew turtlenecks, short women should avoid capri pants, and skinny jeans only work on the skinny. Likewise, v-necks are universally flattering, as are straight, well-tailored trousers, blazers, wrap dresses, and high heels.

Awareness is best applied in the fitting room. Look critically at the clothes (NOT at your body) and be honest about the fit. You may need to go up or down a size, or tailor. You may also like how an item looks on others, but not you (turtlenecks, in my case). But only purchase items that enhance your strengths, like a beautiful collarbone, long legs, small waist or bubbly butt.

2) Confidence. After you've stocked your dresser and closet with clothes that fit and flatter you, confidence in your appearance should become much easier. Without subpar, ill-fitting garments taking up space and making you feel insecure, creating outfit combinations becomes fun and much, much easier. Be proud that you're one of the few who takes time to dress well, and who gives her body what it deserves. Remind yourself that no matter what your size or income, you deserve to look great.

Confidence is valuable in all parts of our lives, but it comes and goes for most of us. You won't feel like a million bucks every day; we all have those bloated, puffy, pimply, wrinkly, frizzy or achy days that make us feel like no matter what we put on, we'll look terrible. My advice is this: on those days, don the prettiest outfit that is clean and appropriate. A dress is super-easy and remarkably comfortable, especially with flats or low boots, and people will be so impressed with your outfit that your seemingly coarse hair, or dark under-eye circles or expanded waistline will disappear from their eyes and your thoughts. It will make you feel better. Promise.

3) Common sense. Yes, common sense is not very common. But if you're questioning an outfit you put together, and you're not sure if it works, ask yourself these questions:
- Do the pieces fit?
- Is a bright print or color balanced with a neutral?
- Is the formality appropriate for where you're headed?
- Are you wearing too much jewelry or accessories?

Generally, if your answers are yes-yes-yes-no, the outfit works. I enjoy the appearance and flexibility of neutrals, and you will too, especially if color-matching is challenging for you. And you can always dress up a simple tee with a big necklace or scarf, but a top with a print or lots of texture is best left unadorned.

It should be fairly obvious that looking good isn't especially easy for anyone. I know of 100-lb girls who still need to get all their pants hemmed; my size-2, 34DD friend cannot find an untailored Oxford that fits; some girls with model stature feel insecure wearing heels. So don't be discouraged that mass-manufactured clothing designed with a set code of measurements doesn't always fit you perfectly. That hardly ever happens.

If you hit a wall and can't decide on looks to try, or pieces to buy, there are many sources of inspiration, including magazines, blogs and newspapers, especially the Sunday Style section of the Times. Also, try thinking of one of your favorite outfits of all time. Why did you love it? Why did it make you feel good? Try recreating that fabulousness with current pieces.

And finally, as you build a functional closet that makes your mornings smoother and your style easier, keep a laid-back state of mind. It is, after all, just clothing. Leighton Meester said the best style advice she ever got was, "Wear whatever the hell you want." We all have misfires sometimes (including her), and it's not the end of the world. Consider fashion misteps lessons learned, and remember that most people are too wrapped up in themselves to spend too much time scutinizing you.

When was the last time you felt effortlessly stylish?


Red Lipstick Style said...

I really enjoyed your post, it was so well written. I don't think it sounded conceited at all.

I agree with everything your said, basically! How can one go out and be supportive and nurturing to others if she is hating herself and does not possess confidence. I think effortless style really gives us that confidence we need. I workout hard - long runs, Lotte Burke Pilates, I want to feel strong and I'll admit it, look good in all the fashions I spend my hard-earned money on. When I feel like I look good, I'm happy. I'm willing to go that extra mile for someone else.

I would say today I have that effortless style going on. I was running late and quickly chose a trusted black Anne Klein skirt, black patent pumps from Nordstom and a cream Forever blouse with ruffles topped with a Banana black patent belt (I'll post a picture on my blog tomorrow). I feel great today and have been well-received (outfit-wise, haha!) in two meetings, shopping at lunch and passing some colleagues in the hallway.

Thanks for such an insightful post!

Beth Dunn said...

There is nothing like actually waking up and feeling like a women (with girl/lady all in there as well). It is a moment and I'm so sure we all deserve it and I'm so happy to hear you are there--don't let it go!! xoxo

Lauren said...

Wow...what a great post. I feel like I need you to take me shopping!! :)

Hope said...

RLS: So glad to hear of another girl enjoying classic neutrals and some intense cardio :) It really does help!

BD: Yes, we do deserve it.

Lauren: Be picky and be patient. Also, creating a look book out of magazine clippings that you love will help you zero in on what styles you like.

Thanks everyone!
- H

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