…or Effortless Isn’t Easy.
I was born too late for the Golden Age of Hollywood, at least in theaters. But from an early age, I sought out those local TV stations that ran “old movies” (1930’s-1950’s) regularly, and especially enjoyed those that included dance numbers. I was entranced by the costumes, the grace and glamour. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s and joined performing folk dance groups that I began to understand just how much effort, discipline, precision, strength and control went into these dance numbers. Ginger and Fred made it look effortless, and as I labored to complete a turning leap and land without a giant thud, I got just some sense of how easy this was NOT.
So what does this have to do with style? A lot actually, if you think about it. Just as great dancers work hard for years, sweat and bleed to create a performance that looks effortless, great style rarely happens without effort. As with “chic” I think there is a lot of mis-use of the word “effortless.” I see it used frequently to describe street style looks or other outfits that either are very simple/minimalist, or that have a certain casualness or ease to the cut of the pieces, or have that enviable effect of looking put-together without trying-too-hard. But really, how “effortless” are most of these looks we admire?
Sure, there are those women, one in several thousand perhaps, who have that recessive gene that’s given them an almost flawless eye and sense of style. They’re the ones who wander into a charity shop for the first time and within the first 30 seconds find a Missoni sweater. In their size. For $5. Their closet is your definition of “a charmed life.” But for most of us, it takes more work to hone our style and wardrobes to that point where we can begin to make it look easy. Even for celebrities or street style stars with enviable figures, stylists, and brands paying them to wear fabulous clothing, that Easy Airport Look™ is far from effortless (and the effort may be a team one). In all likelihood even those jeans and simple tee shirt may have been altered to fit just so, the tops of the boots folded down just the right amount to balance the proportions. For those of us without a team of style professionals, it takes not only effort, but trial and error and practice, practice, practice to make it look easy.
Most of the time, “effortless” is an illusion. Trying to create a wardrobe or style that’s actually effortless will either be a frustrating and futile pursuit, or else (if we hew to the literal meaning of the word) will result in a drab mish-mash of pieces without any discernible style. Rather, I’d suggest a goal of creating a “graceful” wardrobe.
I once read somewhere that physical grace is the marriage of strength and control. I think this is a concept that can be applied to our wardrobes as well, and an investment of time and effort on the front end can help us create a cohesive, graceful wardrobe that makes getting dressed and looking put-together-but-not-trying-too-hard if not “effortless,” at least easier.
Wardrobe strength (for most of us) will come from having a foundation of basic, core pieces that fit well, suit our lifestyle, and can adapt to different occasions. I find it helps to stick to neutrals for these foundation pieces, and to simple designs. The idea is that you can build upon these pieces season after season. It may take a while (and some trial and error) to build a strong foundation, but again an initial investment of effort can help save time and anguish later on.
Control as it applies to wardrobes to me means creating cohesion. Do the pieces in your wardrobe work with each other? Like basic dance moves that once mastered can be combined in many variations, a cohesive wardrobe is one that allows most pieces to be worn in multiple combinations. Sticking to certain color families or silhouettes are ways to achieve this, but achieving cohesion sometimes means passing up an otherwise gorgeous item that doesn’t work with anything else in your closet. That doesn’t mean you can’t have the occasional outlier, but too many of these can lead to those nothing-to-wear mornings.
A graceful wardrobe isn’t static, however. Life changes, size changes, seasonal updating and wear-and-tear mean that that some ongoing effort is required to maintain strength and cohesion. But the effort pays off in ease in getting dressed day-to-day, when it really counts. Grace under pressure, and all that. 🙂
Do you have a word or concept that guides your style and wardrobe?