There are two types of clothing-related comfort: let’s call them physical comfort and personal comfort. Physical comfort is when your shoes don’t make your feet ache, your waistband doesn’t subdivide your torso, and your hair isn’t constantly tickling your neck. Personal comfort is when you walk by a mirror and think, “Oooooh. Foxy LADY!”
Must these be mutually exclusive? Does one trump the other?
The other day, my friend’s partner came home from a shopping trip and started kvetching about how huge and messy and awful she looked. Friend drug partner to the mirror and said, “LOOK at what you’re wearing.”
Oversized, formless button-down shirt. Loose, baggy dude jeans. Huge clodhopping Docs.
“You know better,” my friend chided.
“I do. But I just wanted to be comfortable!” her partner moaned.
And she had been. Physically. Until she got a glimpse of herself in the mirror, at which point her total lack of personal comfort eclipsed the physical comfort she’d created with her sloppy, hide-inside outfit.
Mirrors can make us far, far tougher on ourselves than we need to be. But we can’t avoid our reflections, unless we live like hermits. The world provides us with endless opportunities to scrutinize our physical selves: public restroom mirrors, glass doors and windows, even pools of water throw our reflections back toward our critical eyes. If you’re walking around in the world, you’ll be seeing yourself, so be prepared. Catching a glimpse of your image in a shop window and gasping in dismay is an experience we’ve all had, and it’s on par with forgetting your lines in the school play: nowhere to hide, nothing to be done.
If you’re dressing for physical comfort alone, you might want to steel yourself for some serious personal comfort sacrifice. And yet, there’s no need to strap yourself into a breath-banishing girdle and stilettos, thereby trading in ALL your physical comfort for a sleek look. While there are certainly women who care nothing for physical discomfort if it grants them beauty, and there are certainly women who happily shun glamour in favor of a gloriously soft and unconstricting wardrobe, most women can and should seek a happy medium.
Each of us has a highly individual balance of comfort and aesthetic that must be identified and maintained. Although there are a few items out there that offer total comfort paired with total style – and, when identified, these should be snapped up at virtually any cost – most offer only one or the other. Few stunning shoes allow for endless miles of walking. Few deliciously comfy sweaters flatter the female form. So, outfit by outfit, we must identify tradeoffs. Stilettos with a boxy sweater, Docs with a sassy miniskirt, slim-fitting pants with a flowy tunic, a tailored shirt beneath a formless cardi. A single piece that offers polish and definition can change a sloppy outfit to casually chic. A single piece that offers loose lines and comfort can change a stuffy outfit to unstudied cool.
Here are some general tips on mastering the physical/personal comfort balancing act:
- Make sure either your top or your bottom is tailored. Loose-fitting garments from head to toe look ghastly on women, and compromise personal comfort.
- If you want to appear slimmer, but shy away from anything fitted, choose tailored pieces crafted from heavier fabrics. Don’t succumb to hide-inside clothes! Remember: it is more attractive to show the world an imperfect form than a formless mass.
- Pick your shoes based on the coming day’s activities. If it’s an errand-running day, grab flats or wedges. Just-shy-of-unwalkable heels are ideal for day-long meetings.
- Be clean and neat. Even if you’re not wearing a lick of makeup and your outfit is 100% physical comfort, shiny hair, clean nails, and well-groomed brows will help you look more pulled-together.
- Accessories can up your style quotient without affecting physical comfort. A stack of bangles and some sizable hoop earrings will instantly dress up a graphic tee and jeans. A vibrant, printed silk scarf transforms a boxy white sweater and black slacks from blah to belissimo. Adding a few bells and whistles to your comfy outfits can make them shine.
Priorities vary: some of us MUST have foot comfort at all times, some will endure year-round-Spanx-wearage for a smoother waistline, some would never don a pair of Birkenstocks unless they were part of a Halloween costume, some fear spandex more than death. But we’ve all got wiggle room, and we can all create balance between physical and personal comfort.
How do you maintain the balance?
(Boot image courtesy www.drmarten.com, earring image courtesy www.whitefirejewelry.com)