Is “Chic” Passé?

what is chic

chic in 1953, with some minor tweaks would be chic today. via

Conceptualizing Chic

I’ve been writing versions of this post in my head for months now. But it was one recent commenter on my Facebook page who asked “Is Parisian chic dead?” that prompted me to try to get some of these thoughts down, even if it’s in a rather rough, stream-of-consciousness form.

First, let me get this out of the way: if I see one more image on Pinterest of rhinestone encrusted nail art or cut-off shorts with pockets hanging below the hem, captioned “OMG So Chic!!!” I may lose it and cannot be held responsible. 😉 If there’s any word that’s so overused as to be rendered almost meaningless, “chic” has to be near the top of the list. (And the use of  “effortless chic” is particularly egregious.) Chic has become a catchall word for cute or trendy or what-my-favorite-celebrity-is-wearing.

And in these days of casual dress, “athleisure” wear, “normcore” and You Do You™ anything-goes style, does the concept of chic still have any relevance? Is it still something to aspire to, and does anyone still care?

My answers would be yes, yes and sometimes. So if there IS still such a thing as Chic, what is it? “I know it when I see it” is the easy answer but when I spot an image that evokes the word “chic,” there are certain specific qualities. And as someone who loves to define and quantify (with an eye toward being able to duplicate good results), I wanted to try to capture the parameters of Modern Chic, at least as I see it.

Defining Chic…

Chic is: (relatively) timeless. While silhouettes and details may change, the basic design elements translate across decades.
Chic isn’t: trendy, extreme.

Chic is: wearable. By real people.
Chic isn’t: something that only works on a red carpet or runway.

Chic is: cohesive. The overall effect is that of a pleasing whole; the various bits don’t fight or compete with each other.
Chic isn’t: random. Not usually.

Chic is: elegant. Though not necessarily expensive. (While quality helps, I’ve seen women who look absolutely chic in men’s Hanes tee shirts. It’s all about how you wear it.)
Chic isn’t: designer logos head to toe. Flashy.

Chic is: light-handed, even witty at times.
Chic isn’t: too serious, ponderous.

Chic is: simple, polished.
Chic isn’t: fussy, over-styled.

Chic is: leaving something to the imagination.
Chic isn’t: visible underwear. Skin-tight head-to-toe. (Some will disagree, but I stand by these.)

Chic is: authentic. Appropriate to the situation and person wearing it. Bien dans sa peau.
Chic isn’t: forcing oneself into someone else’s clothing or style.

Chic is: knowing what works for one’s body and shape.
Chic isn’t: a size.

Chic is: well-fitting, but with room for movement.
Chic isn’t: sloppy.

Chic is: comfortable, both physically and emotionally.
Chic isn’t: constricting. If you’re hobbling or teetering, pas chic.

Chic is: a touch of individuality, something personal or unexpected.
Chic isn’t: too matchy, generic.

Chic can be: tailored, casual, bohemian, minimalist, vintage, or hand-crafted.

Chic isn’t: everyone’s style priority and certainly doesn’t need to be. People can have wonderful and enviable style without being particularly chic (as I’ve described here). Some people would find it boring or restrictive or outmoded and I say chacun à son goût; that’s what makes the world a more interesting place.

To answer this post’s title question, no I don’t think chic is passé or irrelevant. I still believe that chic is something to aspire to, and that true chic is something that elevates everyday style.

That’s my take. How do you define chic? Is it something that you try to achieve with your style?

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62 Comments

  1. Laurel
    July 15, 2015 / 3:14 am

    This is the best definition of “chic” that I’ve seen. “A touch of individuality – not matchy, generic.” I never thought of that, but of course it’s exactly right! I will pay closer attention from now on. Great piece.

  2. Alexandra
    July 15, 2015 / 3:42 am

    Touché

  3. Jennifer
    July 15, 2015 / 3:55 am

    I agree that Chic is overused especially in regards to Pinterest pins and Boards.
    I like you views and definitions of chic.
    Too me chic is still classic, simple, elegant. It suits the person and is not trendy. To me it’s that French element of slim black pants, flats, sweater or jacket and a scarf that is far from boring, never out of style but not so easy to duplicate. That is what I am going for whether it’s jeans, dresses or shorts simple but put together in that way that makes it so chic.

  4. Amy
    July 15, 2015 / 4:11 am

    I agree that the refined and elegant — simple lines, good proportion, classic — with a touch of the unexpected in terms of color, texture, line — is my idea of chic.

  5. July 15, 2015 / 4:23 am

    So very well said. I believe you hit home on every element of what truly makes a woman look and feel “chic”. I always agree, it’s extremely overused as well as misused. Thank you for putting it back into the correct concept and style. And, thank you for always looking the part.

  6. July 15, 2015 / 4:24 am

    I think the photo you posted above is the embodiment of what chic means to me. It means elegantly and stylishly fashionable. Synonyms are sophisticated, in vogue and smart. I think chic is found more often in everyday outfits, the simpler the better. When I think of chic, I do not think of embellishments. I think of plain simple tailoring, good lines and of course black and white, though I have recently become a fan of jeans and have found they can aspire to chicness too. It really comes down to what items are chosen and how they are put together. I think you said it best, “something that elevates every day style”.

    Accidental Icon
    http://www.accidentalicon.com

  7. July 15, 2015 / 4:43 am

    Oh, I so agree with all you’ve said. I saw a blog last week with many shots of a particular celebrity who is frequently featured in magazines and on-line; she was wearing cut-off shorts (pockets showing) and a casual tee shirt in every shot. That’s fine; she looked cute, relaxed, comfortable. But the headline for the post invited us to learn how to “be chic in shorts” this summer. Like you, I almost lost it. Seriously. And I almost wrote a snarky comment, but refrained.
    Thanks for reading my mind and saying so well what many of us are thinking.

  8. July 15, 2015 / 4:48 am

    lol! I love your comment about rhinestone encrusted nail art and cut-off shorts! I totally agree with what you’ve said.

  9. Thea
    July 15, 2015 / 5:08 am

    I’ve forwarded to my 18 and 21 year old daughters. A gentle reminder as to how I’d like them to present themselves when we are the “footing the bill”… and the same goes for me!

    Thanks, Sue!

  10. dottoressa
    July 15, 2015 / 5:22 am

    You’ve got pure essence of “chic” and I totally agree with you!
    Some time ago,when I found your blog,there was one question in comments,it went something like this- Am I chic or well dressed when most people around me think differently? And your answer was,as always perfect.
    It is,really, hard not to go with the stream,because media and celebs and some fashion icons or fashion critics “rule” public opinion and what’s in and what’s out and then there are a lot of people who simply follow their directions and rules
    I am from a european country (Croatia) where (in cities) there was strong sense for beautiful and elegant,even during comunism, we somehow managed to look chic ( we went to Italy or Austria or sometimes even Paris),there were seamstresses who copied looks from magasines…. Now,there are some new people ,new tastes,new money,lot of of logos and media screaming “this is chic”. And it is not!
    But,I think,those things were one of reasons a couple of you started your blogs. And stil are
    Dottoressa

  11. Lisa
    July 15, 2015 / 5:30 am

    I’m with you (and had previously “pinned” your lead photo). While we’re on the topic…Anyone looking at my boards on Pinterest would determine that Daisy Duke shorts, glitter encrusted nails and suggestive lingerie would not be my style and yet, everyday there is some new “picked for you” or “sponsored pin” chosen by Pinterest cluttering up my page. Chic is effortless, not contrived.

  12. Trice
    July 15, 2015 / 6:03 am

    Chic is not cute or trendy. Chic may not always be about the clothes your wearing but it is the way you present yourself to the world. Chic is about attitude and how you carry yourself. Then it is about the clothes that you choose. Chic is a package and some people just don’t know how to pack.

  13. Jill Harrison
    July 15, 2015 / 6:05 am

    Thank you for expressing your thoughts on what “chic” is … I could not agree more. I have some items in my closet that were purchased in New York more than two decades ago that I still wear. I feel great in them because they are beautiful, of wonderful quality and are timeless. I still have people ask me where I bought them. They coordinate with things I have purchased this year. To me, this exemplifies chic.

  14. July 15, 2015 / 6:19 am

    Oh, so well done! Personally, I’m not sure I ever aim at “chic,” never mind have a chance of achieving it, but I admire it in others — like elegance, “chic” seems to demand both more restraint and more, I don’t know, distance or something, coolness, perhaps, than I can generally muster.
    I’d love to know more about the etymology of the word, in French as much as in English — the quick scramble of a Google serach I did after reading your post puts its entry into English at 1856 as a noun that denoted “style, artistic skill” with possible roots in a German word lineage related to skill, order, arrangement (but also possibly to the French word “chicane” — chicanery). If any of your readers have a fuller knowledge of the word’s usage in French or English, I’m keen to know more.

  15. Amelie
    July 15, 2015 / 6:25 am

    Very nicely done! I strongly agree that chic must be authentic, your style MUST be your own.

  16. KPL
    July 15, 2015 / 6:37 am

    So well articulated.

  17. Jill
    July 15, 2015 / 6:39 am

    You nailed it! Nothing to add, you said it all!

  18. nell
    July 15, 2015 / 6:52 am

    So agree with you– would never be able to put it as well!

    Frances/ Materfamiias seems to describe my relationship to the concept of chic. I’m not sure I ever quite aim at or hit it, but know and admire it in others.

    Whatever it is that I present to the world, is more random, less elevated and more influenced by other factors, I’m guessing. At least I have some sort of cohesive “style”, for what that’s worth. The 1953 woman who heads up your column has chic, by the boatload. Love her and the room she’s in!

  19. stylecrone
    July 15, 2015 / 7:05 am

    Well thought out and perfectly stated.

  20. July 15, 2015 / 7:18 am

    Thank you for this post. I’ve always subscribed to the belief that chic is when you enter a room and the people in it see your confidence and personality. The clothes/accessories you wear only enhance – never overshadow you. I think that comes with maturity and knowing that being unique is better than being one of the herd.

    The younger crowd, with the ratty cut offs and branded tees are finding their way. You have to experiment with extremes before defining your style.

  21. Mary
    July 15, 2015 / 7:42 am

    Excellent post! You add clarity. Agree with your points and the comments.
    marywyatt

  22. sybes1
    July 15, 2015 / 8:11 am

    Great post! Although I’d missed the You Do You phrase (how did that happen!) I certainly have experienced the concept. I think of chic as elegance and sophistication. your definition is really comprehensive, and I like it!

  23. July 15, 2015 / 8:48 am

    It is a beautiful photograph and she could walk down the street dressed that way 60 years later and not look as if she was in costume, and I imagine those low-heeled pumps being made of very soft leather and comfy to walk in. However, I do wish she’d lose the cigarette.

    • Marcia
      July 16, 2015 / 9:49 am

      YES to losing the cigarette. Smoking isn’t chic any more. Maybe it never was.

      • une femme
        July 16, 2015 / 10:07 am

        Agreed!

  24. Cathy D.
    July 15, 2015 / 9:14 am

    This post is one of the many reasons I love your blog. The photograph you selected perfectly captures French chic… timeless simplicity with a kick. “Nail art” (art???) makes me cringe. Thank you for making my day a little bit happier and more interesting.

  25. Debbie Williams
    July 15, 2015 / 9:17 am

    BRAVO!!! You got it!

  26. Linda
    July 15, 2015 / 9:22 am

    YOU are chic. To me, your style embodies the term and fits each of your listed qualifications. That’s why I’m your fan! 🙂

  27. Anne Catherine
    July 15, 2015 / 10:12 am

    Loved this post, especially the elegant definition. Have always thought of ‘chic’ as coherence, in that the whole look is coherent in speaking a single, fluently-expressed message. Something to admire and to enjoy working at….

  28. Marylou
    July 15, 2015 / 10:15 am

    You captured the chic issue very well! “Anything goes” is NOT chic.

  29. Patrish
    July 15, 2015 / 10:27 am

    Elegant and understated…

  30. Lynn Bert
    July 15, 2015 / 11:54 am

    I wonder whether chic is in fact a description of a type of person’s physical appearance, rather than a style. I like your descriptions. However, if the picture showed an older woman, a bit chubby/round, not so thin, of a different ethnicity or coloring, in that same outfit, same pose and same cigarette, whether anyone would think that other version is chic? I suppose most people will say no. Chic may never be achieved by some people, like myself. But everything else you described can be done, maybe?

    Just my two cents.

  31. KarenLA
    July 15, 2015 / 12:15 pm

    To dress or not to dress…that is really the question. Do you remember the book Dress for Success? Well, some of the examples of fashion may be outdated, but the book was based on testing and the outcomes are still true today. Wear a jacket, it adds power and credibility.Dress well and you get respect. It transcends what the marketers are pushing. My husband and I learned long ago, if you dress well while traveling, you get better service. Chic is not dead, neither is elegance or good taste.

  32. July 15, 2015 / 12:29 pm

    Amen! Concept very well-captured. I feel your pain re: some of what is defined as “chic” in contemporary terms (and it is not – no, not at all).

  33. Cris
    July 15, 2015 / 2:22 pm

    Great post. Your observations are astute!

  34. amidprivilege
    July 15, 2015 / 4:17 pm

    Until this moment I had never actually thought about “chic,” per se. As your post provokes me to think about it, my first reaction is that I’ve always assumed it was out of my “wheelhouse,” another phrase you’ve used that I like. As a result, I can’t answer your question, but, clearly it is a good one.

  35. Duchesse
    July 15, 2015 / 4:32 pm

    Pseu, you need a circumflex in the last word of the phrase “chacun à son goût. Like that little detail, chic is in the details, which may involve adding or subtracting- often, given the North American tendency toward display, subtracting. Otherwise, we are left with “gout”, which is generally unpleasant 😉

    I know two women. Both are the same size, both are lovely. One is chic, the other is not. Woman #2 looks entirely presentable and pretty; Woman #1, though, has deep chic, even in jeans and that Hanes tee. There is some ineffable quality that I am not convinced can be copied.

    • KarenLA
      July 15, 2015 / 5:50 pm

      I agree with you Duchnesse. I think you have to be born chic. It’s innate. Not sure you can learn it. You either have it or you don’t. However, I do think you can learn to dress well, in whatever lifestyle you choose.

    • une femme
      July 15, 2015 / 6:15 pm

      Fixed.

      And even if we can’t achieve that “deep chic,” I think we can learn from it and use it to refine our own style. 🙂

      • Kikeli
        May 6, 2016 / 6:14 pm

        As an aside, traditional spelling has been reformed in French and “gout” is in fact now correct; the new rules were adopted in 1990 and apparently largely ignored until recently. They are now taught in French schools (a recent development). One of the new rules is that the “accent circonflexe” is no longer required on the letters “u” or “i” unless it serves to distinguish between otherwise identical words (mur, wall, and mûr, ripe, as examples). So in fact you were not wrong but yes, it looks weird to me, educated under the old system an eon ago, and hurts my eyes.

        Details:

        https://fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rectifications_orthographiques_du_fran%C3%A7ais_en_1990

        (The disease gout in French is “la goutte” so there is no confusion from skipping the accent.)

  36. Babette
    July 15, 2015 / 10:11 pm

    Well said! Agree with everything all your observations. Love, love, love your blog. One of my top five visited sites.

  37. glendakstyle
    July 15, 2015 / 10:25 pm

    I agree. Chic is completely over used. I think it stems from lack of descriptive vocabulary. Most just repeat what they’ve read or heard from others without regard to what the word implies. Chic, in my opinion, implies some sort of minimalism. When I refer to someone as chic, I’m often impressed with their ability to stand out without screaming. Their look comes together in such a way that it isn’t pushy, but has such an ease to it. I often think of Babe Paley when the word chic is discussed. Great post!

  38. Nicole
    July 15, 2015 / 11:09 pm

    Well-presented! The only other thing I can think of as I picture a women who is dressed tres chic is confident, as if every item of clothing and accessory is chosen with care for that cohesive whole that you mentioned, and then it’s on to the business of living, that joie de vivre, and no fussing over the outfit once it’s done!

    • Nicole
      July 15, 2015 / 11:48 pm

      ***couldn’t decide on singular woman or women and I didn’t catch the error before posting! pardonnez moi, s’il vous plait. C’est une femme! 😉

  39. Linda Robertson
    July 16, 2015 / 4:17 am

    This blog should be made into a poster to hand in a dressing room or closet. Hooray for your sharp eyes
    LSR

  40. July 16, 2015 / 8:16 am

    Very well said, Madame. A member of my family is twenty-four and puts together outfits that are très chic: slim lines but not skin-tight; one dramatic piece of jewelry, not six or seven; one bright color per outfit, otherwise neutral shades. No doubt she’s learned some of this from her lovely mama, a boutique manager, who also looks très chic at thirty years older. Moi, I’m still working to excavate and dispose of all the frump in my closet. Thanks for providing us with so many good examples of chic, workable outfits for mature women.

  41. Marianne
    July 16, 2015 / 8:59 am

    For me chic is putting in the extra effort. Stepping out of the flip flops and into a wedge, adding the jewelry. Sporting the jaunty straw hat and the nice lip color. I think a warm smile is always chic as well.

  42. July 17, 2015 / 5:04 am

    My definition of chic is similar to yours. When I started my blog “chic” was hardly every used. Now I agree it has become a bit overdone. I think it is because a lot of people want to jump on the “french bandwagon” without really knowing what constitutes the truly french concept of being “soignee” or well-groomed, bien soigné, très bien coiffé, chic etc.

  43. July 17, 2015 / 9:02 am

    Agree the word ‘chic’ is overused but I still like and use it. And I do try to look chic/simple/effortless – probably best to just stop looking at Pinterest!

  44. CatbirdFarm
    July 17, 2015 / 2:09 pm

    Sue, you clearly put some thought into your multi-point definition of “chic” and IMHO all are right on the money. Lots of good points in the comments too, like the suggestion that “chic” is not attainable by all but rather inborn (and the rest of us can only watch and take notes). But the best comment by far (from @Trice) is

    “Chic is a package and some people just don’t know how to pack.” oh my god I laughed so hard at that one – and it is so true!

  45. Barbara
    July 17, 2015 / 5:02 pm

    Chic is Timeless

  46. July 19, 2015 / 4:48 am

    So eloquently written and perfectly described. You’ve articulated how I would define ‘chic’ in a way I would’ve struggled to. And balanced it with what ‘chic’ isn’t. giving this post a ‘yin and yang’ feel which I appreciate. Certain words become so overused (and I admit I sometimes fall victim to this) don’t they? Fashionista is one, guru is another. It’s starting to happen with ‘authentic’, I feel. They get bandied about, lose their true meaning because people don’t understand where they come from and the context of them and then the poor words get worn out to the point where no one wants to use them.

  47. tish868
    July 19, 2015 / 9:30 am

    This is an absolutely fascinating conversation. I honestly think there is a little bit of magic in real chic, sort of the same way there is in charisma. Sometimes I find it hard to define, but I think you’ve done a brilliant job of dissecting it here. xo

    • une femme
      July 19, 2015 / 9:58 am

      Tish, I think you are right about “magic”, which is another reason I get irked seeing the word chic used so randomly. 🙂

  48. texasaggiemom
    July 19, 2015 / 1:19 pm

    I work on the campus of a large public university, where the level of informality has reached an alarming low. Professors are teaching summer classes in shorts, academic advisors are wearing jeans daily (not just on Fridays with university logo wear, which was the policy for years) and administrative staff are wearing what I construe as “play clothes” to the office – capris and flip flops, casual shorts (not dressy “city shorts”) etc. It is increasingly more difficult to find the wardrobe middle ground that doesn’t alienate my students or colleagues, while remaining true to my passion for classic, timeless style. I feel like being truly chic will always be out of my league, but this post is an excellent guide and I’ll be using these criteria to evaluate future purchases and outfits. Thank you for articulating this so clearly, and for continuing to be a beacon of style and chic in this casual world we inhabit!

  49. Marguerite
    July 22, 2015 / 1:10 pm

    Femme, beautifully articulated, as usual! To me, the basis of chic is confidence, attention to detail as well as simplicity, and being well groomed, always.

  50. jewelrydiva
    July 25, 2015 / 5:49 pm

    Kudos on the nail art and cutoffs comment.Can’t stand either one!!! As I get older, I am gravitating to more black and white, never having it on with small children and white dogs and cats as a young mom!!!! Real, good jewelry is always chic as long as it is not overdone and out of scale to the person. Don’t let the jewelry wear you – command and own it. I still love my florals in the summer – too hot for black in Atlanta – but am toning down a bit. So glad I have found you, reading Tish and talking about her friend, Susan, so I’m now a devoted follower. May I copy your chic is/is not and post it to my business facebook page, with credit to you, of course. Would never do it without permission as this is your blog. Love Love Love it! I know that I will copy it out and print it and frame it in my jewelry store. Many thanks for your exceptional description.

    • une femme
      July 25, 2015 / 5:54 pm

      Hi Jewelrydiva, so glad you liked it and yes, please feel free to share. 🙂

  51. Tamra
    July 28, 2015 / 8:24 am

    I think you nailed it.

  52. June 4, 2017 / 10:10 am

    Bravo!
    I see many well heeled stylish women but very few are truly chic. It’s part attitude and part restraint…and I think there’s a mystique that comes into play.
    It most certainly is not shorts with the pockets hanging down!

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