Posts Tagged: casual

On Effortlessness

effortless style

A few months back, I spoke to a St. Kate’s class about style and body image. I can’t quite remember how it came up, but at some point I found myself listing off the number of products I use on my face to create what magazines deem the “no makeup look.” I’ll recap for you: Even putting aside moisturizer, sunscreen, and under-eye cream, I use BB cream, concealer, eyebrow pencil, blush, eyeliner, and mascara. So between six and nine products. If I skip the eyeliner and mascara – which I often do out of sheer laziness – it takes me about 10 minutes to do all of this. Add them back in at we’re talking at least 15, possibly more since I still kinda suck at eyeliner and frequently have to perform some sort of Q-tip triage.

I feel like the emphasis on making your makeup and personal style look “effortless” has ebbed somewhat, but the undercurrent remains. People still worship at the altar of slightly mussed yet eternally chic French girls, and marvel at the slouchy cool of off-duty models. Google “how to effortless style” and you’ll get well over 6 million results, including magazine articles, books, blog posts, and forum entries. We want to look amazing, but somehow want to hide the fact that looking amazing frequently takes gobs of time, money, and effort. And some of us believe that appearing stylish, trend-savvy, and sleek without revealing any of our efforts is essential to appearing stylish, trend-savvy, and sleek at all. Because after all, if we work hard to look good, we must be vain and self-absorbed. But on the flip side, if we don’t work hard enough to look good, we’re deemed frumpy and out-of-touch. So, ya know, lose-lose situation here.

I know my opinion has virtually no impact on dressing practices as pervasive as these, but for the record I love people who try. I love seeing evidence of effort and interest and passion. In a world that becomes more casual by the minute – moving steadily toward a time in which wearing cargo shorts to a state dinner will be completely appropriate – it makes me so happy when I see people who have clearly put some time and energy into crafting their looks. Effortlessness is fantastic. If you couldn’t possibly care less about looking on-trend, more power to you. Wear what makes YOU feel awesome. But if looking “effortless” is the goal, yet assembling an effortless-looking outfit takes twice as long as actually dressing effortlessly … Well, I’m not gonna knock it because many of these carefully crafted “effortless” looks are unspeakably cool. I just feel like there must be a better descriptor for them, considering how effort-intensive they truly are.

There are some people out there who are innately, naturally, effortlessly stylish. Their style looks unstudied because it is unstudied, and everything they throw together looks magnificent. I understand that the real desire here is to be those people, to look magnificent in everything we throw together, to have style coursing through our veins so we don’t have to think hard about outfit assembly. But what comes naturally to some must be learned by others. And some of us will never learn enough to be effortlessly stylish. Luckily, we’ll always be in the majority, so we’ll have lots of effort-fully stylish pals around to keep us company.

Image via Beauty High

P.S. I have now typed the word effortlessness enough times that it looks like utter gibberish. Wheeeee!

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Getting Comfortable

comfortable sweatshirts

For a long time, I believed that a little bit of physical discomfort could be beneficial at times: Stiffer, more formal clothing can put you in a focused frame of mind and encourage extended concentration. Some experts recommend dressing up for phone interviews, both because the ritual of dressing can help center you, and because speaking to someone on the phone while wearing business attire makes the interview experience feel more weighty and real. And in the midst of our increasingly comfort-obsessed culture, it saddens me to see that people choose to wear cargo shorts to the opera* and t-shirts to four-star restaurants. Dressing up lends a different energy to our activities, and I enjoy that differentiation.

But I just got back from a short session with a client in which we selected an outfit for a photo shoot. She is a makeup artist who loves helping others look their best for photos, but dies inside every time the lens swings her way. AND she was told to wear an outfit that perfectly encapsulated her personal style. We talked about this challenging request, and agreed that if the mandate had been “semi-formal” or “a blazer and blouse” or anything that provided specific parameters, it would’ve been considerably less daunting. She wanted to look classic, luxe, and approachable, but I also knew that she needed to be comfortable or her anxiety would show through in the photos. We picked a favorite utility jacket, marled white tee, and layered gold necklaces, a combination she’d worn dozens of times in real life. This grouping provided her comfort on several levels: The clothes and accessories weren’t stiff or restricting, it was an outfit she’d worn before that felt reassuringly familiar, and it felt authentic to her personality and style. Sure, she would’ve looked more glamorous in a sequined cocktail dress, but it would’ve made her uncomfortable in so many ways. Not worth the risk or potential trade-off.

I’ve also observed the link between clothing comfort and body comfort. The mild discomfort of suiting and heels, or button-front and pencil skirt can work to focus attention, or it can make the wearer self-conscious and fidgety. This may sound obvious: It’s only natural that comfortable clothes would make our physical selves feel better. But I’m talking on a more abstract, self-image level. For some people, stiff, formal clothing makes them feel like impostors, like their bodies are unwieldy or don’t belong. Discomfort in clothing only serves to amplify the discomfort in body that was lurking just below the surface.

The idea of being “too comfortable” is a fascinating one, really. Policing of comfort is likely linked to the distinctly Western fear of laziness, a state of being that we believe will descend if we spend our entire lives feeling relaxed in our bodies and minds. And while I still believe that dressing for occasions is a rewarding way to set certain events and experiences apart from the everyday, I’m beginning to think that letting people spend more time in their style and body comfort zones could lead to a happier, less anxious population.

What do you think? What does comfort mean to you? Do you feel there’s a difference between clothing comfort and body comfort? Is there such a thing as being too comfortable? What do you think would happen if all dress codes were obliterated worldwide?

*I have witnessed this first-hand. Cross my heart.

Images courtesy Nordstrom – left | right

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Volumizing

IG poncho-esqueMy Inner Hippie Chick adores a poncho. But they’re not always the most practical garments. What do you do with a shoulder or cross-body bag? If you have to drive? I love this poncho-eqsue sweater as it gives me the look without the hassle. As a petite woman (5’1″), I have to be careful about voluminous garments that can swallow me whole; this one works for me because the fabric is soft and the knit open, and I don’t feel as though I’m wearing a yurt. I’ve also balanced the look with slimmer pants, and a bag and shoes with some visual weight.

poncho-esque 2Earrings: Argento Vivo
Scarf: McQ by Alexander McQueen
Sweater: DKNY Pure
Tee: Adea (long sleeve scoop neck)
Jeans: Frame Denim, no longer available. (similar style.)
Bag: Rebecca Minkoff
Bracelets: French Kande, Stella and Dot, no longer available (similar look)
Shoes: Eileen Fisher (these are SO comfortable!!)

poncho-esque 3

Do you wear ponchos or blanket wraps? Do you have tricks for balancing an outfit that includes more voluminous garments?

A note: this will be my final post as an Already Pretty contributor. I’d like to thank Sally for inviting me to be part of the AP Contributor team, as well as all of you who have read and/or commented over the last couple of years. I’ve had a blast, yet it feels like a good time to pass the baton, and I know Sally will have a fabulous contributor lined up to take over.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for http://unefemme.net. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.
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Already Pretty contributor Une Femme is fifty-seven eight, married to the same wonderful monsieur since 1995, the mother of a special-needs teenager and two hooligan dogs, a full-time administrative professional, a coffee-holic, Paris-obsessed, native Californian, and a petite and curvy femme d’un certain age. She believes that personal style is an essential form of self-expression, and started her blog, une femme d’un certain âge, in 2007 hoping to start a conversation about style for women over 50.

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