Encore: Comfort Is The New Black

As promised, some oldies but goodies from the une femme archives…
Young Coco Chanel, Chanel chapeau

Comfort has become non-negotiable for me. I will no longer wear anything that binds, itches, constricts, or needs constant adjustment. And if it requires shapewear or a special bra….mais non. When it comes to (capitalF)Fashion, “comfort” is a concept that is often met with snorts of derision. Fashion seems at times to expect suspension of bodily needs, or almost a denial that we have living, feeling bodies at all. “Comfort” conjures up images of baggy, shapeless clothes and frumpy wearers. I’m calling “nonsense” on that notion.

Last week I mentioned that I rarely follow what’s going on with designer collections or fashion weeks anymore, as taken literally the clothes seem to have little relevance to my life or needs. And so much of it just looks so darned uncomfortable. I’m glad it isn’t just me. In her last column for the New York Times, veteran fashion writer Kathy Horyn talks about the disconnect between what (most) designers have been sending down the runways the last decade and the clothes most of us want to (or can) wear day in and day out.

Who has the will — never mind the time and the money — to wear high fashion, at least as it has been conceived over the past decade, as something extreme, or “special,” in retail jargon?

While for most of us, it’s no particular revelation that “fashionable” and “well-dressed” are not necessarily synonymous, it’s interesting to hear someone who is writing from an insider’s perspective acknowledge this openly. This is something I’ve wondered for quite some time now: who is actually wearing most of this stuff, aside from overdressed characters in Gossip Girl, celebrities on red carpets, fashion editors and the occasional well-connected size 0 style blogger? It’s not just the prices of designer getups but also the contrived-ness of them that often has me scratching my head. Beautiful, theatrical, sometimes even awe-inspiring, yes…but in the category of “ready-to-wear,” who is ready to wear this and to where?

Spring RTW

Bluemarine and Fendi, both Spring 2014 RTW. Source: Style.com

I’m not saying there’s no value in creations like these, but is there really a large demographic out there who would think of any of these pieces (or lower-priced knockoff versions) as something to wear in their daily lives? Even though most of us are probably looking for beautiful styles that are also practical and chic, Horyn acknowledges that “practical” is a hard sell when it comes to fashion but…

On the other hand, this idea is not so far from something Coco Chanel offered when she arrived in New York, in March 1931. Asked by a reporter to define the fashionable woman, Chanel said, “She dresses well but not remarkably. . . . She disobeys fashion.” Then, perhaps thinking of her rival Elsa Schiaparelli, Chanel added, “But she is not eccentric. I hate eccentricity.” So she was extolling understatement and ease, yes, but also suggesting these choices reflected virtues like self-control and seriousness.

When Horyn talks about the women she knows, fashion-conscious women with busy lives living in “an almost boyish uniform of slim cut trousers, pullovers and flat shoes…” I think of the kind of French chic that has become almost mythical. Simple, functional, (and yes, comfortable) yet with a soupçon of flair, panache.

I noted that even my French sisters had begun to ditch their adored stilettos for low heels. That was quite a concession for them, I thought. Something must be up, because those women don’t do anything on a whim.

I should note that even in Paris I’ve rarely spotted women on the street in “stilettos;” sensible and walkable shoes dominate the landscape, even on the most well-dressed. Perhaps she’s referring to the march of editors and hangers-on from their limos and taxis to the tents. 😉 Few of us outside of that rarefied fashion world would probably consider ourselves “slaves to fashion” or feel compelled to wear 4″ heels out to run errands, but why is there often such a divide in our minds between stylish and comfortable? To fashion-minded, words like “practical” and “comfortable” have often been regarded as anathema. Fashion is supposed to be “aspirational,” to rise above the mundane. And perhaps being inaccessible to 99% of women is one way to achieve that. But fashion is about business after all, the business of selling clothes. And with seemingly so much focus on creating clothes that most people can’t or won’t wear, I’m surprised that many designer lines haven’t folded. (Perhaps the branded makeup, perfume and accessory sales are keeping them afloat? Perhaps the collections are loss leaders to sell lipstick?)

Vince

Outfits from “lifestyle” brand Vince . Other than the shoes, these look pretty comfortable.

When it comes to clothing, Horyn acknowledges that “the desire to be comfortable is profound” and cites brands like Vince that are doing quite well with an emphasis on comfortable, simple styles. She notes that things do seem to be changing among designers, citing especially Phoebe Philo of Céline, and her collection of soft, loose pieces (and those wacky fur-lined Birkenstocks) that shocked everyone not that long ago.

For me, that collection captured something rare in today’s world of anxious, self-created stars — and that is a woman of indeterminate age who knows what she likes and has shrugged off what she no longer has any use for, and maybe never did. If that sounds rather limited, that’s the point.

I love that last bit especially, and thinking about limited or “well-edited” as the Fashion people would say, as a good thing, a way to cast off what doesn’t serve us and focus on what does. I do wonder how Horyn would have written up the Fall 2014 RTW collections, which did seem to offer more down-to-earth styles (if not prices) from many designers. Even though most of us will never wear designer clothing, the styles shown on runways are often harbingers of what will be available to us within a few months, and I hope that the winds and whims of fashion continue to point in a more comfortable direction.

Related: article on Phoebe Philo here. Take away quote: “Increasingly, comfort is the ultimate commodification of luxury.”

Luxury should be comfortable, yes, but stylish comfort shouldn’t have to be a luxury.

Where are you on the comfort continuum? Do you sometimes sacrifice comfort for style? Which are your favorite brands that provide stylish yet comfortable clothing?

MORE STYLISH COMFORT:

Everlane // Eileen Fisher // Splendid // Covered Perfectly // Velvet // Adea // Karina Dresses // Vince

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15 Comments

  1. July 2, 2014 / 5:24 am

    I almost never sacrifice comfort for style anymore. In my youth, I suffered plenty enough : >

  2. Ellen
    July 2, 2014 / 5:34 am

    Vince is a favorite of mine, and frequently available at discount retailers like Nordstroms Rack and TJMaxx.
    I’ve noticed that when I travel to cities where people walk everywhere, such as NYC, San Francisco, London, Paris, etc, the style on the street is as Hornyn describes. I’ve been impressed in Europe by the shoes: not only on the streets, but in the shops, there are always shoes of sensible height. Only in fashion spreads and Sex in the City do people totter aroung on stillettos for block after block, or cocktail wear for the office.

  3. July 2, 2014 / 7:07 am

    I have one pair of heels. I just purchased them. They are nude. They are 3″. They are open toe. I ordered several heels to try on but anything over 3″ killed me. Plus, I realize I rarely have the need for heels in northern New England where the ground is either muddy from rain or snowy. As for clothes, I used to dress beautifully, accessorize beautifully and shop well. But I lived in cities, traveled for work and felt the need to be chic. For the past ten years I’ve dressed comfortably, usually in slacks, flat shoes or ballet slipper. Summer allows for shorts & sandals as I work for a television network dedicated to recreation and the outside lifestyle. I’m lucky. If I had to go back to suits, heels & pearls, I’d be pretty unhappy and very uncomfortable.

  4. July 2, 2014 / 8:20 am

    Comfort is key. I will never wear four inch heels or buy anything too tight.
    I would also advise that comfort is not wearing sloppy clothes either, there are many great pieces that look good.

  5. July 2, 2014 / 9:52 am

    I always go for comfort. There is no need for an either/or decision for fashion Vs comfort – you can have both! It just takes a little longer to find the right clothing items. Thank you for this post – I’m so tired of the silliness from so called fashion experts.

  6. July 2, 2014 / 12:10 pm

    This is such a great post so well thought out and so well written. At 50 I am definitely for comfort and practicality, I cannot bear to be cold or get blisters or spend time and money in the dry cleaners …I think I have finally stopped buying aspirational clothing and instead try to look reasonably dressed for the life I actually have ! Bx

  7. July 2, 2014 / 3:09 pm

    Excellent post! Since foot surgery, I have to wear flats…but all of the fun flats and comfort shoes on the market have made it really easy. I think this is the reason I hardly ever wear dresses…I do not feel comfortable in them. Lately, I do not wear that many skirts. Comfort did seem to rise up the ladder as I got more and more on the other side of 50. Yet, I feel more like myself with my current style than I think I ever have!

  8. Gretchen
    July 2, 2014 / 3:37 pm

    I loved this the first time you posted, and just as much now. While I love this style of dressing, I do wish there were more options for really beautiful trousers. Flats, shirts, pullovers are easy to find, and good skirts and dresses too. But trousers seem either to be pencil thin, way too full, or far too staid. I want Katharine Hepburn pants and have searched for years. Oh, to be able to sew….

    • une femme
      July 3, 2014 / 8:24 pm

      Gretchen, I’ve been very happy with these lightweight wool trousers from Vince: http://bit.ly/1pNDaaD

      They seem to hit the right balance for me between slouchy and tailored.

  9. Susan
    July 2, 2014 / 3:46 pm

    I agree, this is a great post. However one must be careful in bridging the comfort gap. The photos you posted of the Vince model are lovely. She is quite young, thin and has a fabulous haircut. Sometimes on us older gals, this look is tricky to pull off. I will keep trying..

  10. July 3, 2014 / 2:21 am

    I do wear heels, pencil skirts and even shapewear and still consider my clothes as being comfortable. Of course I don’t wear 12cm stilettos 😉

    I like the Vince looks but consider them as “casual” and would wear them with heels like the model.

    Great post!
    Annette | Lady of Style

  11. July 3, 2014 / 5:02 am

    I always go for comfort. If an outfit isn’t comfortable, it’s no longer a part of my wardrobe. There are lots of ways to be comfortable and yet still have style and flair. I have never been a fan of shapewear, it’s torture and I’d rather disguise my muffin top than try and squeeze it into Spanx! I think the styles you show every day are testimony to the fact that one can wear fashionable AND comfortable clothes. Great post and very relevant in today’s culture!

  12. Karen
    July 5, 2014 / 3:09 pm

    I think painful clothing is warranted sometimes. In certain cases, it’s just “worth it” to me to endure a little discomfort for a few hours. Otherwise in the day to day, I can’t have the distractions of generally uncomfortable clothing. Comfort reigns for chasing kids around and running errands.

  13. July 7, 2014 / 2:33 pm

    If your clothes don’t feel comfortable, you won’t have fun, but I like looking pretty too; finding the right balance is key. Where I live, it seems like many women “comme un certain age” give up. They get the 50+ haircut, go for drab neutrals and extremely ugly sensible shoes– I don’t want to join that club.

  14. Bomm
    August 18, 2014 / 7:49 am

    A little late to reply but you might add Sympli, Comfy, and Porto to your list of brands that are easy to wear while having have interesting cuts or details. i wear a lot of EF, too and can intermix these brands. To me, the runway looks you show above seem as comfortable as the “comfort” brands (if undergarments were added!). I just think they would be less flattering to many femmes d’une certain age. I, at least, now look better — more vibrant and confident– in clothes that have easy movement than in the more structured and stylized clothes I used to love.

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