Reader A. e-mailed me this conundrum:
You know how some women seem to always look fresh and pretty and manicured and wrinkle free….. well, that would not be me. Even when I try really hard, I can’t seem to pull off the “polished” look and it is so discouraging. Last weekend, I went to Nordstrom and decided to not wear the usual Alaskan attire of athletic pants and puffy coat—I put on simple black tights, a cute black corduroy Boden skirt, and a white tee. Simple. I felt pretty good when I left the house. An hour later, trying on some clothes in the dressing room, I was appalled at how shabby I looked!! Hair was frizzy and flat, the black tights and skirt felt too thick and overpowering for the bright sunny day that we were having, and the corduroy skirt looked old even though I only wore it 3-4 times!
This happens all the time. I don’t have a talent for shopping and don’t replace my clothes often. Maybe I am buying the wrong fabrics that date really fast, but the thing is, I don’t buy cheap trendy stuff—cashmere pills, tees lose shape after a few washes, corduroy—don’t even get me started.
I am in sore need of advice. I know that some of it is simply me being hypercritical of myself and it would probably be easier to look polished if I wore fine wool suits rather that simpler stuff. What are your thoughts?
For the record, when I look polished in my photos it’s because I’ve had time to primp, lint-roll, and tidy myself up beforehand. If you were to stop me in the street and take my photo, it’s more than likely that my face would be an oil slick, my skirt would be rumpled, and my hair would look a fright. Many, many women – myself included – don’t look polished and perfect every minute of every day.
Since I rarely look polished myself, I can only guess at how other women do it … but here are my guesses:
- They’ve spent AGES honing their grooming routines: Polished women either have easy haircuts, easy hair, or the ability to style their hair in ways that stay put. They have also researched, tried, and bought cosmetics that work well with their skin and last for hours and hours without looking goopy or worn. They look after their nails, their brows, and their roots. They are personal grooming experts.
- They touch themselves up frequently: Even a polished gal has to reapply sometimes. Every bathroom break is a chance to check for lint and clothing creases, apply some powder and lippy, and make sure everything is in place.
- They wear clothing that fits them well: The quickest way to look unkempt and sloppy? Wear clothing that is too big or small, slides around on your body, or fits poorly in multiple ways. A close-but-comfortable fit means you can go about your day without constantly readjusting your garments. (Tailors can help!)
- They keep it simple: Just about every polished woman I’ve ever seen has been wearing a sleek, minimalistic ensemble. A key piece of jewelry or a statement-y accessory adds interest but, overall, she is purposely plain. Clean lines, lots of chic neutral colors, and classic styling.
- They buy quality: I tried on a brand new Burberry trench coat a couple of months back, just for kicks. And you know what? It should’ve just looked like every other affordable London Fog trench in the world, but it DIDN’T. It looked gorgeous and classy and expensive and amazing. Quality can be thrifted, of course, since a used garment made well will generally weather better than a new garment made shoddily. But it also stands to reason that a new garment made well will weather even better than a used one, especially if it is in the care of someone for whom “polished” is a priority. Some cheap stuff can look expensive, but nearly all expensive stuff looks expensive.
My impression is that it takes time, money, and loads of effort to look polished. It seems effortless, but it isn’t. It’s effort-FULL. I’m certain there are a few women out there who can grab anything hanging in the closet, slap on some lip balm, and look ready for a board meeting, and a few more who can do “polished” on a shoestring budget. But the vast majority of women who look perpetually polished do so by pouring lots of personal and financial resources into their efforts.
Now, few of us are likely to start doing all five of these things ourselves. Especially not all at once. But if polished is a priority, start with touch-ups, properly fitting clothing, simple ensembles. It should move you in the right direction. Grooming routines and quality garments can be cultivated and procured on a much longer timeline, and doing so will help you define your own specific brand of polish.
Image courtesy J.Crew.
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