Reader Deb wrote to me with this fabulous question:
As a middle-aged woman, I often hear style gurus advise women of my age that we can wear trends as long as we “wear them with sophistication.” I’m happy that age-related style rules (no long hair after 35) are no more, but I’m floundering a little with the sophistication bit, especially sophistication on a budget.
Would wearing just solid colors be more sophisticated? Have you helped any of your clients with this issue? Is sophistication just one of those things that you recognize when you see it, or can it be described?
This is a doozy, but well worth addressing. I think that sophistication – especially in dressing – is ephemeral, difficult to describe, and HIGHLY subjective. It’s an observation that’s tied closely to personal taste, so what appears sophisticated to me may look ghastly to you. But, in my opinion, a few tenets generally hold true:
- Minimalism: Very few over-the-top styles read as sophisticated. Limiting outfits to a small group of beautifully-designed, high-impact pieces will do the trick.
- Muted tones: Much as this lover of brights hates to admit it, cool tones, neutrals, and dusky shades generally look more sophisticated (and expensive) than their lighter, bolder cousins.
- Agelessness: This gets to the heart of Deb’s question. Babydoll dresses and graphic tees generally appear young. Thick nude stockings and quilted coats generally appear old. Items that work well for women of all ages – like basic black skirts, simple ballet flats, and fitted cardigans – convey chic sophistication.
- Clean lines: Embellishments like ruffles, buckles, embroidery, lace trim and such are deployed sparingly. This ties into the minimalism thing, but is worth calling out as it applies on a piece-by-piece basis.
As for the advice to “deploy trends with sophistication,” my guess is that it’s simply code for “one at a time” or “sparingly.” Which, frankly, is good advice for ALL women or ALL ages! Trends are incredibly fun and I encourage everyone to indulge … but not head to toe. If you love the look of velvet – a forecasted fall/winter trend for this year – try a velvet blazer or scarf instead of a full-skirted velvet dress. And don’t mix trends – wear that velvet piece with classics, instead of pairing it with over-the-knee boots and a cape. I know that sounds like an oversimplification, and it is – but you get the picture. Dip your toe in trends, don’t bathe in them. When you want to deploy a trendy piece, surround it with simple, gorgeous, classic pieces and let it shine.
The more general question of “what is sophistication?” is such a fabulous one that I’m not going to keep it to myself! What do YOU think? And, as Deb asked, do you think that sophistication is just one of those things that you recognize when you see it, or can it be described? What do you think of my guidelines for sophisticated dressing?
Image of sophisticated lady Sigourney Weaver via collider.