dress up, every day

well dressed

And by “dress up” I’m not talking about formality or fussiness, or being perfectly turned out or overdone. It’s about making a conscious effort to put oneself together.

shown above: leftcoat | necklace | tunic | watch | bag | pants | boots
middle lipstick | fragrance
rightearrings | sweater | scarf | coat | bracelet | bag | jeans | shoes

I’ve never been comfortable hanging out in pajamas all day, even if I have no plans to leave the house. Perhaps it’s compulsiveness but I need to feel ready for whatever might come my way. Dressing up, and by that I mean in street clothes, chosen with the conscious intent of creating a cohesive and hopefully pleasing whole, an outfit if you will, has become a habit of self-care.

We talk a lot about the impression we create with our style, and while that’s important, even more important I believe is the message we send to ourselves by making the effort to dress well. A conscious choice to dress in a way that expresses who we are is affirming. It’s powerful. On a good day it puts us in harmony with our inner selves, projects confidence and integrity and those around us respond well to that. On a bad day, it can be a boost to a frayed self-esteem. It may sound a bit woo-woo, but I do believe that the universe reflects back to us what we project.

There’s no one way to dress well. Lifestyle, budget, preferences, personality will all factor in. But I think there are a few common denominators:

  • Clothes, shoes and accessories don’t need to be new, but they should fit correctly, and be clean and cared for.
  • Nothing should bind, pinch, itch or hurt. It’s hard to feel good about what you’re wearing if you’re physically uncomfortable.
  • Likewise, styles and aesthetics should be emotionally comfortable, and aligned with your values and personality, as well as appropriate for the venue (the parameters of “appropriate” being broader than in the past, but I believe some limits still apply).
  • Dressing well to me also means a certain harmony…the elements of an outfit are balanced and don’t fight with each other. Even “more is more” looks are best when that balance is achieved.

I should add that personally I don’t feel fully dressed without earrings, lipstick and just a hint of fragrance.

I believe that dressing well is a present you can give yourself every day, even with a limited wardrobe or budget. And wear your “good stuff.” As my grandmother used to say, “there’s no point in having nice things if you don’t use them.” Life is short.

How do you define “dressing well?”


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  1. I like the G Bruce Boyer quote about “real style is never right or wrong, it’s a matter of being yourself on purpose”

  2. I definitely agree with dressing every day whatever you are doing. I always put on some make-up even on Pilates days. Although I do confess to hanging around a bit too long in my exercise gear after classes.

  3. I do a lot of my work at home, so a good part of my day is spent in fairly casual clothes, but I make a real effort to be put together these days. There was a time when I couldn’t wait to get out of my “teaching clothes” and into yoga pants. But then I realized that they truly didn’t make me feel my best. And they really weren’t appropriate to run errands. My “non-teaching outfits” now usually look something like this: nice, comfortable, dark wash jeans, a flattering top, a necklace or scarf (I’m really never without one or the other, sometimes both), cute, comfortable flats, a little lip color & always my favorite fragrance (it’s an instant pick me up!).

    I love your reminder about wearing your “good stuff!” I’ve also been trying to use more of my “good” dishes and glasses. So what if one breaks once in a while? At least I have been enjoying them!

  4. I love the outfits you put together. I’m going to get into my closet and pull out everything that is out of season or doesn’t fit and see what is left! Keep reminding us to take care of ourselves and dress up a little bit!

  5. This post has taken you from a blogger I enjoy reading on a regular basis to my idol! I will refer back to this article often, I’m sure, when I need the inspiration to put forth a bit more effort. I admit that I often run out to do errands and think to myself, “well, people will probably assume I just came from the gym”. Yeah. No, I didn’t and I will attempt to be better about this if for no other reason than that I will feel better about myself knowing I am taking the time to care about me!!

  6. I totally agree with everything you say here Susan. I “dress up” every day and wear makeup whenever I leave the house (I like the no makeup look). Take today for example: I woke up feeling somewhat ill, but know that I have to deliver a family member to the airport. Instead of putting on warmups, I took a shower, washed my hair, put on makeup and found something easy, but attractive, to wear–Eileen Fisher black ponte pants, an EF long sleeved tee, a black seed stitched sweater and a cozy knit scarf. And yes, I have pearl earrings on as well. Just getting up and dressed made me feel a lot better!

  7. Thank-you…as always for this post! I am in my early thirties and it seems I am from generation “lounge pants.” Be it track, jogging or the latest craze…yoga (grrrr), I am surrounded by stunning, intelligent, funny women….in pajamas! Bless your heart for helping to gently send a much needed message out <3

  8. Even with the ennui I’ve been experiencing lately around certain aspects of Retail Fashion and with the too-many choices of my closet (in contrast to the simplicity of 7 weeks of carry-on wardrobe), I still want to dress with purpose every day, even if I’m just going to yoga class. Boyfriend jeans, a cashmere v-neck, black oxfords, and my jewelry (watch, gold chain, earrings, and bracelets) — and, like you, perfume and lipstick. I suspect the urge for variety is returning, and the jeans will take on different shapes, and some day I’ll even find myself in a skirt again, or a dress, but meanwhile, these simple, consistent elements help me feel confident to engage with the world.
    A great post — timely! (and a nice complement to what Allyson wrote yesterday at That’s Not My Age).

  9. I couldn’t agree with you more. My office is fairly casual but I make an effort to dress. I feel good about myself and I don’t feel frumpy.

    1. I have a chronic illness that sometimes makes just getting dressed a big production. I have found, tho, that if I spend time “dressing up” (even if that just means putting on makeup), I feel better. Thank you for this timely reminder.

  10. I totally agree. My self esteem would tank if I let myself go. At home, no plans to go out, I always have mascara and lipstick, clean styled hair and nice, casual clothes. I may be wearing my slippers but all I would need is shoes to go out the door.

  11. Great advice… she says while sitting in front of her computer at noon in her bathrobe (it’s a very nice bathrobe). Of course I’m retired, but think that makes it even more important to make an effort everyday. I live in a large condo apartment building, and my rule is I do not leave my apartment even to take out the garbage without being well dressed, even if my clothes are very casual. I cannot tell you what a big difference this makes to the way I feel about myself.

  12. Bonjour ma femme!
    My mother always put herself together in the morning and would never leave the house looking like she’d just left the gym. When my husband and I began our design firm at home, we vowed to never walk around the house as “pyjama bums” – I can’t count the times where deliveries came to the wrong door or a client dropped in unannounced.
    Thanks for the positive and lovely reminder!

  13. I’m a retired person too and it does take quite a change of outlook to cope with how one dresses. When you go to work, you get dressed up every day and then when at home its a great relief to get into those relaxed clothes. It takes a degree of self discipline to put on some nice clothes and lipstick when just staying at home for the day. A thought-provoking post for women of all ages.

  14. I agree, and that sometimes means an expense that is thrilling. but necessary. The other day I reached for my often-worn navy/white marinière, and noticed the navy had gone all faded, not mellow-faded, but sad-faded. So, I have to replace it. I’ve ordered the identical one, and probably no one will know it’s new but me. Still, I will do it, because the tired one made •me• feel tired.

    And YMMV, but a spritz of cologne is a touch I like to retain.

  15. I too believe that it makes me feel better to put some amount of effort into my daily appearance. However, as I read the comments and reflected on them and on my own belief system, it really struck me how privileged we all sound. November is a month to reflect on gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. I guess that my daily thanks will be for the privilege I have to be clean and neatly dressed because so many people in the world simply do not have that choice.

  16. I’ll add another Yes! to the comments above. I don’t even leave our bedroom for the kitchen in the morning without makeup and hair “done”! I worked at home for many years and always looked put together. CAn’t imagine working in pj’s and how that would make me feel i.e. not great!

  17. I’m a huge fan of Eileen Fisher leggings with that little skirt attached. On days I don’t have to teach, but know I have to spend the day grading (which means I have to be super comfortable) I’ll wear that with a cute JCrew sweatshirt or chambray button down or a cashmere sweater – and my favorite faux-pearl necklace which I bought with my first real paycheck years ago. If I have to go out, ballet flats or chelsea boots – It’s all really comfortable – but just pulled together enough so I don’t “accidentally” nap…

  18. I am a bit of a chameleon, however, leaning more and more to an eclectic “look”. Today, Ralph Lauren patterned blue&white jeans, a white tee, a black leather moto jacket (that took me over two-years to find) and my new powder blue with neon peach detail, Nikes! Nikes, on me??? Well, yes. They are fresh, give me an edgy vibe at the office, and are SO COMFORTABLE.

  19. Another recent retiree here, and I’m reassessing my wardrobe needs pretty severely. I’ve never really worked in an office, per se; as an engineer, my “office” was often a big construction site & my “wardrobe” included steel-toed work boots & a hard hat. I spent years living primarily in jeans, by necessity, although *always* with a bit of makeup, jewelry when it was safe & perfume. I’m now rebooting a fairly successful at-home career & find I’m living in jeans, tees & bare feet. But everything fits & is clean & in good condition, my hair’s always clean and styled, make-up on (more than when I was working, actually), perfume, earrings, lots of bracelets, lots of rings . . . and polish on fingers & toes. I use my mother as my inspiration: she would have her morning coffee in her housecoat, then would “do her face” and get dressed for the day: she was always stylishly dressed (but not expensively as she sewed beautifully) & you’d never see her without make-up, earrings, well-styled hair and — always! — perfume. She’d be in despair over my jeans but would undoubtedly approve of the overall effort I make. I’ve found that getting dressed “for real” every day is akin to making my bed every morning: the only time I don’t do both is when I’m sick, so if I skip a day I feel grubby, disorganized & peevish. Good post, btw!

  20. If I can stay in all day, which is rare, I love to shower and get into a cozy pair of flannel PJs with Ugg slippers. And when I’ve been out as usual, I can’t wait to take stuff off and get into my flannel uniform. I’m obviously the exception here, but it doesn’t make me feel bad about myself at all.

  21. I work from home and have a simple rule.. exercise first thing in the morning. You can not stay in sweaty workout clothes all day!

  22. Chère Madame, thank you for sharing this gentle, thoughtful message.

    Years ago, I found a quote from Jacques Worth (House of Worth – Paris 1927). “There was a time when interest in clothes was supposed to be the sign of a silly woman. Today it is the woman of supreme intelligence who is well dressed. There are as many lines of character in your clothes as in the palm of your left hand. It takes intelligence to study and keep yourself so well informed that you can choose the few superlatively good things that you need each season. It takes character to buy nothing else, to forgo charming but unnecessary, unsuitable and inappropriate things …. ”

    For me, a comfortable, well-pulled together ensemble is akin to armour; it enables me to stand and deal with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Clothes and footwear that fit and are suitable to the occasion enable me to focus on the people and event without self-consciousness. Always, there is power in seeing your pulled-together self in the mirror; giving yourself a wink and saying “You’ve got this.”

    Your common denominators for dressing well will be a great help in my ongoing search for style after 50.

  23. Love this post, love all your posts for one reason or another. Love all the comments too.
    When I was at my most stressed and anxious re : juggling work and home and finances, first thing I attended to was prepare myself for the day ahead with a shower, make up including my loveliest lipstick, squirt of Coco to channel sophistication and wear smart stylish clothes with a nice comfortable heel.
    Off I went with a coffee and a big hello to the world. A peak in a mirror prior to leaving and a little ‘you look great, it’ll all be ok’ chant and off I went to face another day. I just felt stronger and braver having groomed myself.
    There is always space for those days in bed in pjs just for myself to recover too.

  24. Loved this post! I’ve gotten so much inspiration from your blog and already bought several of your suggested items and I am well pleased with them. Thank you! I would LOVE to see a basic “wardrobe” of jewelry pieces. Your jewelry is gorgeous and goes so well with your outfits but this is going to have to be a longer term investment for me. Perhaps ideas on which pieces to buy first? I’m a new reader and so happy to have found your blog it’s just wonderful!

  25. Good morning ladies,

    I always go out complete (a natural look makeup, rosewater, and jeans with blazer or sweater, simple jewelry; usually pearl or diamond studs, watch, bracelet, chain.) This always, always begins with a shower, without that, forget it, I don’t leave the house. Even in the winter, one morning the water heater broke and I didn’t discover till the morning, I got in an ice cold shower and washed to go to work. That being said the minute I am home, I strip down to house clothes (sweats, leggings, mans t-shirt, comfy socks and slippers). At home I am always cooking/cleaning/house project or watching a movie, reading a book. All of that must be old clothes comfort, I don’t want to chance getting cleaning chemicals on my nice clothes. The thing about NL is these chicks do yard work or house work in heels! (small ones but still like the short fall boots we see on this site).
    My latest addition to this uniform, red lipstick, must be working, I had a third gentleman make a comment/flirt with me already this morning….. Who would have thought, red lipstick for goodness sake!

      1. Hi Linda,

        Sorry just now saw this post. NL is country abbreviation for Netherlands. Too lazy to type out each time. I guess it isn’t as well known as abbreviation for United States, US:)

  26. I have nothing more to add to this great conversation but want to thank you for this terrific post, Susan. I so agree that the message we send to *ourselves* is the most important.

  27. I also applaud this commitment to investing time/effort into one’s daily “presentation” — no matter what the day may offer. I am retired, and old enough to remember the real “Mad Men” era and the song “Wives and Lovers,” made popular by Jack Jones. It included the lines: ”

    “Day after day there are girls at the office
    And men will always be men
    Don’t send him off with your hair still in curlers
    You may not see him again”


  28. I should add that I always thought that song was one of the MOST annoyingly male-centric views of life! But as a mother of two children under the age of three, I still tried to be sure i didn’t look like a frump in the morning before my husband left for work!!

  29. Don’t we all clean up the house a little when we are having company? Why do we do that? It’s to feel good about ourselves and feel relaxed so we can enjoy the guest.
    Isn’t making yourself feel presentable when we go out in the world the same sentiment?

  30. Much food for thought here! I appreciate that you emphasize how we dress projects a message inwardly not just outwardly, the former perhaps the more important one. I think the accessory of confidence shows, no matter what the occasion (informal or formal) and I refer to the confidence of simply making the effort and not necessarily wearing the latest fashion or best clothes. My children are grown and so I am not wearing many hats to maintain a home and be wife and mother but when I did I remember how I would dress in my OOTD and run errands, come home, lay the outfit on the bed and jewelry on the dresser, put on sweats to do house projects/clean/cook and when I needed to leave again for an appt., pick up children, and before my husband got home, get out of the ‘work clothes.’ It sounds like a lot of work and I remember once saying to myself “put the uniform back on” (-I was tired) but I don’t regret it. I felt put together and I’m happy now remembering it.

  31. Bloggers and their readers seem to live very different lives than the people I encounter. While I feel it is respectful to act and look your best there are times when jeans and jewelry are impractical. In my area most of us are painting, raking leaves, washing windows, filling in holes our dogs have dug and many other messy real life situations. So , yes I have on sweats right now. I have been painting and doing the clean up that follows. When I get home from school, I am a teacher, the first thing I do is put on yoga pants. Job # 1 has ended and on to job #2 which is the above list. I like for my school clothes and going out clothes to look and feel special. As a child I was taught that there were three types of clothes; school/work, church and play/home clothes. This was my dad’s advice and has seemed to work well.