thinking about: elegance and glamour

iceberg roses

Not long ago I was filling out a questionnaire for a very exciting project of sorts I’ll be doing in a few weeks. One of the questions went something like “in five words or less, describe the impression you want to make [with your style]” and the first two words that popped into my head were “casual elegance.” This surprised me a little as I’ve not consciously thought of “elegance” as one of my style attributes. It’s one of those words that like chic, that gets tossed around a lot, and I think I’d associated it with a certain level of formality, and (at times) attitudes of stuffiness, aloofness, and classism. If you look up the definition in Merriam-Webster, the first two entries might bear this out:

a:  refined grace or dignified propriety; urbanity

b:  tasteful richness of design or ornamentation

(The two words, “propriety” and “tasteful” being the loaded ones for me. 🙂 )

But continuing down the third definition,

c :  dignified gracefulness or restrained beauty of style; polish

you get closer to what I’m thinking of with regard to style. (“Gracefulness,” there’s that word again.) When I think of the kind of “elegance” I was trying to describe in that questionnaire, the words graceful, simple, polished, refined are what come to mind.

What appeals most about the concept of elegance is the ideal of elevating the everyday. In today’s uber-casual world, it does feel as though there’s a specialness that’s missing. Efforts to add a touch of elegance can be an acknowledgement of daily life being worth making an appearance for, of being worth paying attention to.

But the word on its own still implies a level of restraint, seriousness and conventionality that doesn’t feel like quite the right fit. While I like the idea of some degree of elegance in my style, it’s not the whole story, at least not most of the time. There needs to be some light-heartedness in there too, no small amount of ease, and a soupçon of cool (I hope).

Paris florist

Maybe the word I was actually looking for was “glamour.” From the Oxford dictionary:

The attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing or special

The difference? Glamour seems to make more allowances for fun, individuality and that occasional “splash of bad taste” that Diana Vreeland championed. Glamour takes itself less seriously, yet when done right, still elevates the ordinary. There’s certainly a place for elegance, but I’ll take my mine leavened with a good bit of glamour, thank you. Now, off to change my answer on that questionnaire. 🙂

What about you, Elegance, Glamour or both?

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39 Comments

  1. Dave
    May 16, 2016 / 4:04 am

    There really isn’t any elegance in jeans, which is what you seem to wear all the time. Just saying.

    • elisabetta
      May 16, 2016 / 5:04 am

      Dave, that is her choice and your opinion. To each his own. Have a lovely day.

    • Susan B
      May 16, 2016 / 5:16 am

      Hi Dave, I suppose the jeans would be considered the “casual” part of the equation. To me, mixing levels of formality adds interest and “grounds” an outfit. But yes, to each their own. 🙂

    • May 16, 2016 / 7:26 am

      Oh I disagree. One can be “elegant,” in a design sense, without being “fancy” in the social context.

    • Catbird Farm
      May 16, 2016 / 8:42 am

      For me elegance is defined in the way one wears something, not in what one wears. Some women could look elegant in a man’s shirt and others might look dowdy in an evening gown.

    • Kari
      May 16, 2016 / 5:45 pm

      I think Dave is just re-affirming the same conclusion Sue seems to have arrived at. A love for glamour more than elegance.

  2. May 16, 2016 / 4:32 am

    Susan. I’ve thought about this so many times. I’m glad you posted about this. For me, it’s “Casmourgance”–a bit of all three. I’ll wear an Hermes scarf–yet my ears will be adorned with dollar-hoop earrings from Walmart. And I have to disagree with Dave. Jeans, although, not elegant, CAN be paired with some elegant, pointy-toed, toe-cleavage bearing, thin heeled shoes, a crisp white shirt and a fitted blazer, bringing those non-elegant jeans (skinny, dark wash, a higher waist to hide the fat from bearing children and personal laziness) to the acme of casual refinement. Let’s not forget the pearls!
    Although at home, I’m the epitome of filthy-stinky-hog-dirty-old-t-and-PJ’s attire, when I’m out and about I make damn sure that I look decent enough so as not to scare passersby away.
    And I do this by always adding a touch of the Jackie O-No that is inside me. Lipstick and eyeliner. Sunglasses and a smile are always a good thing!
    PS. I hope your twitter thingy went well yesterday. I was working Retail Hell and wished I was listening to you instead.

  3. Jannie
    May 16, 2016 / 4:44 am

    Have to go along with Catherine on jeans. Guess I would call me close to glamour as defined. I’m definitely a conservative dresser but also want to look my best. Rarely do I leave the house without some bit of make-up. I love dresses and also love toeless stockings…hide all those veins. Also love beautiful, casual clothes and as Catherine mentioned higher waist on pants!
    Love the looks of Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O. And so as we age just keep up looking good. My mom never forgot her lipstick in all 97 years of her life!!

  4. May 16, 2016 / 4:47 am

    Hi Susan, I think about these a lot especially as I’ve gone into my 50s. Btw, I think jeans can be quite glamorous and elegant paired with the right blouse and accessories. I’m sorry I couldn’t catch your blab yesterday. I had a banquet with the youngest child. ~~Dee

  5. May 16, 2016 / 5:16 am

    I was told once by a commenter that I lacked the elegance that is usually associated with aging gracefully.

    I’m sure Dave would hate what I wear! LOL

    Truly anything or anyone can be elegant depending on their demeanour. To me it speaks to a refined level of quiet confidence and has nothing to do with the clothing at all. Jeans can most certainly be elegant.

    Glamourous is much more forgiving and joyful. Personally I want more joy in my life.

    bisous
    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

    • May 16, 2016 / 9:23 am

      I so agree with this — elegance “speaks to a refined level of quiet confidence and has nothing to do with the clothing at all” — more than so many other adjectives that get used to define style, elegance, I think, comes from the inside. I think it can also be joyful, but in quieter ways,perhaps.

  6. Ellen
    May 16, 2016 / 5:56 am

    What is interesting to me about the question is that I can’t answer it for myself, although I feel as though I have a pretty well defined sense of what I like, and make pretty consistent choices about what I buy. Elegance is not one of the goals for me, however, but confident style is probably part of the equation. It is an interesting thing to think on. Dave is entitled to think as he pleases.

    Several years ago, in the squalid Delta sub-concourse at Salt Lake City (where you transfer on to a 50 passenger secondary airline to get to your final destination), during the madness of the Christmas travel season, I saw, standing in the middle of the chaos as if a spotlight was on him, the most legantly dressed man I had ever seen in real life: tweeds, a waistcoat, pocket watch, fedora…whole nine yards. His wife joined him, in a little French traveling suit, carrying a train case. I thought and thought, and realized it was the writer Gay Talese and his wife Nan, the legendary editor. They were the epitome of “casual elegance”, albeit from an era gone by. I know I will never ever achieve anything like that.

  7. Tessa
    May 16, 2016 / 7:15 am

    Elegance-old money. Glamour-new money. Chic-Young money.

  8. May 16, 2016 / 7:25 am

    Ain’t got no Glamor in me nowhere. But I aim for elegance even in the way my boyfriend jeans tatter. I often settle for polish because, life.

  9. May 16, 2016 / 8:11 am

    I would love to think there’s a smidgen of elegance in my look, although I seriously doubt it. Where it appeals to me is in the other, less-cited part of its definition, used more often in math or science or design when speaking of a solution that is very pleasing in an ingenious simplicity — or simple ingenuity. And I can’t think of anything more elegant than jeans when I search for an example of this in Style or Fashion. That pleasingly simple ingenuity has to be why the pants have been a staple for decade after decade after decade. I’d say the definition might also be exemplified by the French worker’s jacket which surely gives Bill Cunningham’s look an elegance that is grounded in practicality. In fact, I wonder if that practical grounding isn’t essential to elegance at some level. Just thinking, on a Monday, thanks to you, Sue!

    • Catbird Farm
      May 16, 2016 / 8:55 am

      @Frances/Materfamilias – YES! re: the mathematical definition of simplicity. That is the one I always adhere to also! I have a hard time finding anything that is loaded with superfluous elements elegant – it violates the very meaning of the word.

    • May 16, 2016 / 10:09 am

      I agree. There are some timeless designs from peasant and working-class garments, such as the béret and the flat cap. And I love my Duralex tumblers.

    • May 16, 2016 / 9:50 pm

      And this definition of elegance is what I was mulling, too. As a training and workshop facilitator, I have always relied on some “elegant” strategies — the ones that are simple, effective, work every time to engage people and boost the learning, and seem to be so casually and easily presented, and yet, have required a very fine hand as a facilitator to be effective.

      This is exactly the kind of elegance I see in your style! Simple, effective, engaging, seemingly casual and easy, but actually well planned and executed with finesse.

  10. nell
    May 16, 2016 / 9:06 am

    Yes to glamour, always! That’s why Forties’ film noir is my favorite movie genre. I don’t have glamour personally, but love it in others. You’ve often shown a glamour in your photos that hints at old Hollywood.

    But I do disagree with you a little bit on “propriety” in fashion. I’m all for it, personally! To me it implies “discretion”, not baring too much flesh or too much hunger for attention, perhaps. I think the culture in general could benefit from a little propriety, and fashion too…

  11. May 16, 2016 / 9:09 am

    I’ve always loved a touch of elegance to my outfits. It’s just how I’m wired. I struggle with casual. Glamorous…I’d love to incorporate more!

  12. Julie
    May 16, 2016 / 9:21 am

    “Comfortably rumpled elegance”, that’s my style mantra. Although at home, it’s just “comfortably rumpled”.

  13. Amy
    May 16, 2016 / 9:25 am

    Materfamilias, I was thinking along similar lines. An elegant math solution contains no unnecessary steps: it’s pared down; edited. An elegant prose style offers clarity, nothing unnecessary, every word going the distance and contributing to the whole, with an apparent ease and rhythmic flow that conceals the effort. That’s an aesthetic that can be translated to clothing and the making of outfits. To my mind, elegance (in literature, music, architecture, math, cooking, clothing) exudes a kind of restrained complexity that signals depth and meaning. That, to me, is true richness–not the financial or class-related kind. It doesn’t require a big outlay of money; it requires self-knowledge and an eye (these can be cultivated by anyone), maybe an appreciation of balance blended with a love of surprise. I would love to achieve that in my daily dress, in a style idiom that is my own. Thanks for a stimulating post!

    • May 16, 2016 / 9:30 am

      Yes! I have the same association with the word, “elegant,” although I come to it via software architects rather than mathematicians. Lovely comment. Balance and surprise

  14. RoseAG
    May 16, 2016 / 10:27 am

    I am for polished, which doesn’t mean I have a thing for shiny surfaces.
    My choices won’t always be elegant, clever or graceful but they’ll always be deliberate.

  15. bellsonme
    May 16, 2016 / 11:14 am

    In a former life, I worked as a museum curator and spent a lot of time with very beautiful, wealthy women, and even met Diane von Furstenberg once. I learned that you can aim for glamour, polish, and elegance but it really depends on how one carries oneself.

    By the way, DVF wore light slacks and a white button-down shirt, with some kind of sandals. Oh, and her signature giant-link bracelets and one of her own bags. It was mid-summer in a rural setting.

  16. patty blaettler
    May 16, 2016 / 11:19 am

    For me, I prefer ‘refined simplicity’ in both home décor and fashion.

  17. May 16, 2016 / 12:13 pm

    I prefer elegance to glamour because I see elegance as having refined taste, a knowledge of and ease with high quality, and a graciousness to ensure that those who lack this taste and knowledge never have it rubbed in their faces. To me, glamour is all about flash and being eye-catching. Catherine Deneuve, Caroline of Monaco and Helen Mirren are both elegant and glamorous. Paris Hilton and the Kardashians are possibly glamorous with their designer duds, but they lack elegance. Christine Lagarde is always elegant but rarely glamorous.

    • Catbird Farm
      May 16, 2016 / 7:43 pm

      What great examples!

    • Ann
      February 24, 2017 / 6:01 am

      Great clarity.

  18. plutrell
    May 16, 2016 / 12:29 pm

    I never really thought of glamour in this way, but I like it. I think I would lean more on the glamour side, but I have sought to be more elegant for many reasons. It is so interesting how certain words have so many connotations. You have given me somethings to ponder.

  19. Mary Lou Hartman
    May 16, 2016 / 12:39 pm

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. For me, I prefer simple and polished. I just want to look like I put some thought into the image I present and that I am celebrating a wonderful healthy body.

    • Kari
      May 16, 2016 / 5:36 pm

      nice comment!

  20. May 16, 2016 / 12:55 pm

    Living in the mountains away from any city for 100 miles in either direction has changed my views on glamour, elegance, and simplicity. For many years I lived in Boston, after which we gradually became more and more rural. Now that I live across the road from my sister and mother, I have a greater appreciation for understated dressing. Casual wear is the norm most of the time, but my mom and sister both routinely dress for dinner, so I have been doing this, as well. I don’t mean evening gowns and top hats, but we wear something nice and add jewelry that we don’t wear all the time. I like it makes an evening with family and friends seem special. It isn’t glamorous, but does feel elegant!

  21. stinedurfdl
    May 16, 2016 / 4:51 pm

    I think elegance comes from how one carries oneself more so than from what one wears. In the most complimentary way, one word that comes to mind when I think of you is elegance. And it isn’t necessarily related to what you wear, but how I perceive you through your photos and writing. Your elegant, classy, and absolutely glamorous. I definitely lean more towards glamorous with a heavy dose of casual thrown in.
    Debbie
    http://www.fashionfairydust.com

  22. Susan B
    May 16, 2016 / 7:35 pm

    Thanks SO much to all of you for the articulate, well-thought-out comments and great discussion! After pondering this some more, I’ve decided that “elegance” (as in graceful, simple, restrained, without superfluous detail) was indeed what I was going for, but will reserve the option for a little glamour, fun and irreverence now and then. 🙂

  23. Terri G
    May 17, 2016 / 12:49 pm

    Love this post and discussion! It’s all about personal style, presence, and even personal branding. I work with artists, so I can get away with a non-corporate work style. My typical uniform is casual-but-polished jeans, heels or boots, soft top with a jacket or long cardigan, jewelry and a serious bag. I think of my style as “creative professional.” You’ve given me some new things to think about, and I love the idea of incorporating a little more elegance and glamour.

    As for your style, perhaps “casual elegance with a splash of glam” sums it up. 😉

  24. Ann
    February 24, 2017 / 6:08 am

    Susan, I’m reading some of your old threads and just found this one. Love your post above and all the comments. I have made no judgment about my own elegance but, thanks to everyone’s keystrokes above, will continue to ponder that quality and its varying manifestations.

    And as those who know much about fashion, Fashion and style should know — it’s not WHAT you’re wearing, but how you wear it that determines whether it succeeds.

    I continue to adore your blog and the conversations you inspire.

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