Clash of the Titans: Style vs. Lifestyle

Eileen Fisher Silk Layering Dress

I’ll admit, when I first saw the dress above online, it didn’t do much for me. But while driving to work a few days ago, I saw a woman wearing it (a woman not much taller than me, I must add), saw the beautiful undulation of the fabric as she strode down the sidewalk, saw how amazing it looked on a body in motion, how it brought an edgy elegance to a pair of ankle jeans and heels. I started thinking, “maybe….”

But as it so often does, reality kicked in shortly thereafter. The reality that 80% of time I spend out of the house is spent at work, sitting at a desk. How would that fabric look after being scrunched in a chair for a few hours? The reality that I have a special needs teenager and two shedding hooligan dogs, and a not-always-who-am-I-kidding-never-pristine house. The reality that I tend to get chilly in air-conditioned interiors, and what would I wear wear over top of this thing?

Yes, reality cramps my sartorial style to a certain degree. “Can I wear it to the office?” If any piece of clothing can’t be incorporated into an office outfit I’m likely to take a pass.  “Can it be washed?” See above re: dogs and child. “Does it easily mix with several other items I already own?” While my Fantasy Self would love to play more with mixing odd items, my Get-Up-And-Go-To-Work Self needs an almost Garanimals-level ease of putting together workday outfits.

But totally capitulating to the utilitarian when it comes to style is also a crashing bore. Our fantasy items speak to us for a reason, and we need to listen to what they’re trying to tell us. Perhaps we’re feeling a deficit of color or glamour or whimsy in our lives, or need more outlets for our creativity. Perhaps we don’t have enough time for social gatherings, and gravitate toward clothing intended for evenings out or special events. Perhaps we dream of travel or retirement or living a different kind of life. (Judging from first round draft picks in my Fantasy Wardrobe, I long to run a small art gallery somewhere on the Rive Gauche. Or maybe Carmel-By-The-Sea.)

Fantasy Wardrobe items may also tap into those places of power within our psyches. A sort of totem animal if you will. I’m drawn to clothing with a bit of movement. While I’m not a ruffles-and-lace kind of gal, clothing that moves in certain ways hits that Feminine+Powerful spot for me. (Boots are another of my Totem Animals.)

I think it’s important to listen to the call of our Fantasy Wardrobe items, not necessarily to purchase and wear in their Fantasy form (though they can sometimes turn out to be smart purchases), but to give us clues about ourselves. Often, we can find ways to incorporate some Fantasy aspects into our Reality wardrobes, whether it be color or movement or a design detail that may turn out to have some special appeal or meaning to us.

What kinds of items are in your Fantasy Wardrobe? How do they differ from the items you normally wear? Have you found ways to incorporate Fantasy into Reality?

All original content property of

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States License.

Stay in touch

Sign up to be notified of new posts and updates from une femme d’un certain âge.

Affiliate links in posts may generate commissions for See my complete disclosure policy here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. My fantasy wardrobe tends to be pricey and lovely versions of what I already have or bold prints and colors that go ill with my short and curvy body. Apparently in my fantasy life I am rich and tall!

  2. What a thought-provoking post. I realise that I was buying clothes for a fantasy life for years. I was living in cold, rainy UK with a wardrobe of sleeveless dresses, sandals and sunglasses.Sleeveless shirts, little cotton cardigans,straw hats – hardly ever worn. Now I live in Italy, and wear these for 8 months of the year. If only I had read the signs earlier !

  3. Silk, in any garment except lingerie, is my fantasy. The fiber is hot in summer (compared to linen), and way too flimsy in winter. It’s only “insulating” if padded. And it accepts stains readily and permanently. I used to lust for, and collect, silk shirts and recently flirted with an Equipment one, which looked great on… but the upkeep and two-week wear season nixed it.

    Cool post, thanks!

  4. Oh, yes. In my dreams, I am in a sunny clime, a city like Charleston, S.C., wearing breezy cotton or linen dresses, sandals, great sunglasses and colorful totes. My clothes are sunny yellow, coral, cool beige and white. Couldn’t be any farther from my real life. I am buying two day dresses for summer, items that are missing from my current wardrobe. Maybe one could be in a sunny shade if I promise to wear it to death.

  5. Insightful in so many ways. I tend to go with my fantasy pieces, but they’re always recycled and at prices I can afford.

    Interestingly enough, I saw a similar layering dress on a woman who looked very stylish when I was out and about yesterday, and I too took notice of its appeal. Serendipity strikes again!

  6. I think I’m finally over that, it took me a while to realise that’s what I had been doing but now clothes have to work for every day and be able to be glammed up, it’s no longer one or the other.

  7. I think I’m finally over that, it took me a while to realise that’s what I had been doing but now clothes have to work for every day and be able to be glammed up, it’s no longer one or the other.

  8. While you are at your art gallery in Carmel, I would be at mine in nearby (but not as tony) Pacific Grove. There’s a gallery there that I loved.

    Reading several blogs (including this one) has helped me mold my wardrobe for my real life. I’m getting much better at doing that. At this point, my fantasy wardrobe would be comfortable, but beautiful and simple. I’m still working on accessories. Most of my life is very casual, but there are dressy occasions that often pop up and they must be addressed.

  9. What an amazing and timely post! I’ve been trying to reconcile runway fashion with my way fashion needs and I think the issue of fantasy clothes goes deeper. So many pices that we see in magazines or in stores have no relationship to real life clothing needs. Who can walk more than 10 feet in 5 inch stilettos, yet so many dresses are shown with these very cruel shoes. The new transparent styles are just plain silly for anyone but a Kardashian. I have come to believe that a big appeal of Eileen Fisher is that they are actually wearable in real life. Like most women I buy too many things that never, never leave my closets and drawers, but Eileen Fisher gets to go out frequently. I’m not in love with the baggy fit and rough textures, but over time I get my money’s worth. My fantasy clothes? Gaberdine riding pants and I don’t even like horses and Manolo Blahnik evening pumps that are even painful when I’m sitting down.

  10. I have enjoyed the challenge of incorporating fantasy pieces, especially hats, into my wardrobe. For me, that means dressing up more for work and going out to dinner and musical performances to get some use out of evening hats and dresses. I think my life has improved since I focused on wearing my ‘fantasy’ pieces more often.

  11. At first I thought that uneven hem was just an EF thing, but as I’ve looked around this Spring I’ve seen quite a bit of it.

    Recently I picked up a sleeveless blouse, probably more a layering item than a stand-alone, with a longer-in-the-back hem for a reasonable price at H&M, and I think it’ll be much worn. It’s a printed polyester and will probably outlast roaches when Armageddon comes – it will launder well, dry quickly and probably never wrinkle. It will top off a lux cotton tank, cover my rear in slim pants and look stylish under a save-me-from-too-much-air-conditioning sweater.

    It would be a waste for me to spend big bucks on something like that EF dress, but for less than $20 I can wear something with a similar style element and then happily jettison it when that curved hem becomes old news next season.

  12. Interesting post! I could go on and on about this but basically I have tended in the past to buy the fantasy pieces more than the real life pieces, and still do though have brought it more into balance off late. They don’t match my lifestyle but sometimes I just shoehorn them in there anyway!!

  13. My put-together friends just look blank when I mention my fantasy wardrobe. So nice to read this from someone who knows what it’s all about! I’ve recently been wondering if I can incorporate some of my fantasy yearnings into my practical life clothing – retired, gardening, playing with small child, lunch with friends. I’m not sure I have what it takes to do that without looking foolish. Your comments have given me a new way to look at what these impulses are telling me. Thanks for a great post.

  14. I find the idea of a fantasy wardrobe fascinating; the alter ego or ideal version of ourselves is one I wonder how to work better into my “real” self. I think I lust after far higher-quality clothing, tailor-made to my measurements, but ones not necessarily different than the clothes I wear now. However, I see that there are pieces I buy but don’t wear often, going instead for the solid colors, the tailored and streamlined. I like wrap dresses, sleek shifts, and feminine blouses of silk or chiffon, and own these things, yet rarely wear them, opting for a turtleneck or crew neck sweater, a tailored button down shirt, a pair of lim trousers and loafers. Time to wear something more feminine, even if only once a week, just to fend off boredom and get some wear of these pieces.

  15. Hmmm…..
    You got me thinking and that’s dangerous. I dream of have a closet full of Chanel jackets to be worn with my jeans. Oh yeah!

  16. I do have some fantasy items in my wardrobe however seem to end up choosing my default jeans or black/navy trousers plus sweater, shirt or T shirt.

  17. I’m in a period of really trying to only buy for my real life. If I can’t imagine wearing it out to dinner in LA, it doesn’t get bought. I no longer buy something for a “what if” occasion, if one happens and I don’t have something to wear, I can find it then.

  18. Right now, I am living my fantasy life in Paris on rue Cherche-Midi so I enjoy looking at the fantasy windows and dreaming. The colours, the shoes, the bags! When I was working, I enjoyed bringing fantasy into the lives of my students with my clothing. Young children notice and respond to colour and vivacity. We may never be tall enough, thin enough or rich enough but we can still enjoy a bit of magic each day.

  19. I feel your pain. I live in a less-than-pristine house with two Shedasaurus Rex doggies – there’s literally a lint brush in every room of my house! Having said that, I know time is running out for me to look as amazing as I can every time I walk out the door – so I do. I wish I had an easier shape to dress and was physically able to wear sky-high heels but my fantasy has always been to be seen as a fashionable woman first and a disabled woman second. I think I’m making progress.
    Don’t wait – wear the dress 😉

    Spashionista (Alicia)

  20. I wear conservative colors to work (lots of black, gray, and white), so on the weekends, I break out my bright colors and patterns. There is not a lot of overlap between the two sections of my closet, with the exception of a couple of shirts. I do notice, though, that on days when I incorporate some color into my outfit, people smile more at me and stop to chat more. I suppose I must look friendlier!

  21. It’s my fantasy that pyjamas become acceptable wear for all occasions – I could don slinky, silky, satin ones for really special nights out.

  22. You are so inside my head with this post! I teach at a private high school and many things I would love to live in are not appropriate for what I do. I have always looked at my posts and thought that my wearable fashion is sooo boring…I love it, but it is not what I would call fashion forward. My fantasy fashion is for a thinner woman and a more casual life…both not my current reality!! Really, enjoyed the honesty of this post!!

  23. It took me years also to dress for the life I live as opposed to the life I would like to live. Anyone else wear a Donna Karan pantsuit while dragging three young boys to the grocery store??? Now the children are on their own, and I am back to work, and while I dress better than my co-workers,
    I think I finally learned my lesson in spending more on nice casual clothes with nice accessories that span my life Sunday through Friday. And I never ever, have the need for dress-up clothes anymore, And that’s a good thing in my book.

  24. I think I was better at incorporating fantasy into my style when I was more actively dating, at least, at points in time.

    Then again, as I reflect on my footwear… you can’t get much “fantasy-er” than that! (If only if only if only I had more occasion to doll up… but I don’t. If I were in Paris, however, that would be a different story.)

  25. I think you hit on the right idea of adding a touch of something different – a fantasy aspect or detail. I normally choose tailored clothing – anything too frou-frou makes me feel out of character. But recently I saw some makeovers in a magazine and one woman was dressed in beautiful feminine, tailored yet curvy dresses with softly curled hair, soft makeup, and heels. I loved the way it looked and decided to go in that direction – maybe a new dress when things go on sale during the summer, grow my hair out a little. Just a touch of something different … Because for the most part I am happy with my clothes. Good post and comments.

  26. High heel pumps. I love the way they look in a certain shape (not necessarily today’s style) and the way they feel for about 15 minutes. But I work in a casual office, I live in a casual town, I like to be comfortable, and I pretty much never wear high heels. I’ve made a small step by buying some mid-height fun shoes – and then promptly fell down wearing them at work! Maybe I just need to take baby steps to solve both those problems!

  27. Chiffon with beads and sequins (in a cold country), high heels (I can’t walk in), evening gown (I have nowhere to wear), hats (that don’t suit me). Fortunately, that still leaves me great boots, cashmere and velvet… even if I only wear it for myself at home.

  28. This is my major sartorial problem. IRL, I teach primary school children (and it’s often Art I’m teaching) and write profesionally from an office at home. I also have offspring, 2 cats and 2 dogs. My fantasy wardrobe consists of simple clothes in luxe fabrics such as silk, velvet and cashmere, and heels I can’t walk in. I have managed some successful translations – so I wear cashmere to work at home (but not to art class) and I wear silk shirts to school when I know I’m not going to get down and dirty. Heels – I’ll never learn. Even when I have somewhere fun to wear them, I can’t bear them for more than an hour or two …

  29. The animal totem idea resonates with me. These days my animal totem/fantasy items are jewelry and shoes.

    The EF top does seem a bit impractical. Silk and pets definitely don’t mix. When I am sewing silk I have to tuck it away pronto when the cats show up for purr and pump time on my lap.

  30. I actually just made a variation of that dress and I have a life similar to yours. Because I made it myself I could choose the fabric (washable sueded rayon that feels and floats divinely) and the color (a charcoal black, hides the black dog hair!). Since I used a pattern I already owned and fabric from my stash, it cost me nothing but time and the price of the pearl snaps I decided to use. I’ve worn it to work and to dinner and loved it. I’m a suburbanite so most of my time is spent in a car and it wrinkled a little but not horribly. The silk might behave a little differently. Sometimes I think it is good to push your sartorial boundaries otherwise how do you grow? If I am doing a new silhouette, I do it in a familiar color and vice versa. I no longer buy the TDF heels since I can barely manage flats without falling over. I’ve simplified my wardrobe but refuse to lose all sense of fun. Everybody has their own line in the sand.

  31. I love when you say: “But totally capitulating to the utilitarian when it comes to style is also a crashing bore.” That’s been me for many years. Now, I’m branching out little by little, buying pieces here and there that don’t belong in the office or at the grocery store. As an over 50 woman, it feels good to try new things—even just a new style. As for my wardrobe fantasy—I would love to find heels that I could walk in around NYC. My feet rebel in more than 2” after 3 or 4 blocks.

  32. I love this post! Wish I were taller and maybe very slightly leaner for my fantasy wardrobe– well, and perhaps even 10 years younger. Oh well. I’m practical by nature so a lot of clothing goes out the window because of my practicality: is it classic; can I launder it; does it travel well; does it layer well and does it pack well. i think my totems will have to be jewelry and shoes also–those and my fabulous silver hair cropped short to accommodate all the cowlicks!