The truth about effortless style

If effortless style is something you’ve always aspired to, or a new direction for you, buckle in! Today I’m launching a series on effortless style: what it is and isn’t, and tips to help you achieve it.

Effortless style is as much about how we feel as how we look. Three of my favorite outfits that came together effortlessly: in Paris with a navy coat, yellow hoodie with jeans and blazer, and ivory top & pants with long camel sweater blazer.

The appeal of effortless style

But what does it really mean to have “effortless style?” To me, it means some combination of:

  • uncontrived, unfussy, simple
  • comfortable, not constricted
  • in harmony with one’s lifestyle, environment, and personality
  • never sloppy or random
  • put-together without crossing the line into trying too hard.

I’ve been trying to parse why we are so drawn to the idea of effortless style. What I think is at the heart of it is that sense of ease with oneself and confidence that it conveys. Bien dans sa peau. To that end, what looks effortless can vary from person to person.

Just as important, I think, is how we FEEL in our clothing, and experience getting dressed. I’ve often referred to the feeling of wearing “someone else’s clothes,” and when I’m feeling that way, I know I’m not going to look effortless. The same is true when I’ve struggled to put an outfit together and walk out the door feeling frazzled.

The truth is that style, no matter how simple, takes effort. It’s just a question of how much and where we want to invest that effort. We can do the legwork of building a cohesive wardrobe and developing some go-to outfits or formulas. Or we can put in the effort on a impromptu basis as we assemble our outfit each morning. Or a little of both.

Strategizing or scrambling?

Plus options: sweater | jeans | blazer

Budget-friendlier options: jacket | sweater | jeans

If you have a wardrobe full of random items, you may find getting dressed in the morning feels like a mad scramble. Looking and feeling effortless in what we’re wearing often requires taking a disciplined approach to wardrobe building. Look at those people whose style you’d describe as effortless: chances are they seem to stick to the same types of pieces or silhouettes season after season.

My preferred approach for effortless style is to do the legwork of building a cohesive wardrobe. One that suits my lifestyle & body, and expresses my style personality. And I’ve developed some formulas for a signature style. While I’m not reinventing the wheel on a daily basis, I’m able to get dressed in a way that pleases and works for me without a lot of faffing or frustration.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some tips and ideas that I’ve found help to make your style look and feel more effortless. If this is something that interests you, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a post. And check out more of my style tips and ideas at The Style Hub.

How do you define effortless style? Is it one of your style priorities?

Next up: How to build an effortless & chic capsule wardrobe

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  1. Susan you are so right when you say it takes effort some where. For me it’s been figuring out my style personality, but most importantly what works for me, colors and body shape. After that, it’s shopping, not much these days makes the cut. I’ve found even the tiniest details such as where a crew or v neck hits on me, the shape of the neck line, where a shoulder seem is placed or where something hits on my hips/waist makes a difference. Not all v necks and crewnecks are created equal. For example: I like Quince and Naadam crewneck cashmere sweaters but I wear them differently due to the shape of their necklines. By the time time I go through the list of what works and doesn’t I’m exhausted. Effortless can be exhausting! But if I make the right choices then getting ready every day is easier. Like you said a stye uniform is very helpful. And effortless looks and translates different on everyone

  2. Oh, this is going to be good! One of my intentions for 2023 is to work on paring down and developing a more cohesive wardrobe. Love your effortless style and looking forward to following along.

  3. I’ve realized that part of my struggle to put together outfits is just having too many options. I love clothes and while I’m pretty good at finding things I like and that I can wear (until recently with all of the short-length tops making a comeback…), I over-shop. When I had fewer options it was oddly easier to put together outfits. Now it takes longer! I am resolved to slowly start paring down to the choices I love most. Hard for me, because I love most of my clothes, but some of them I wear much less frequently than others…. And I don’t want to be “bored” with too few choices. How do you strike the right balance?

  4. Great topic for a series! Doesn’t everyone want to get dressed easily and out the door? I agree with the other commenters that too many clothes makes it feel overwhelming. Since I started reading your blog last year, I am working towards using more of my best colors and reducing/eliminating black. I have been a thrift shopper most of the last year, which is great for color experimentation. Shoes and bags are hard for me. I understand that they will take a sweater and jeans outfit up to the next level. Most of the time I cannot be bothered. I have one pair of nice suede (La Canadienne) boots that I’m wearing practically every day, and if not that it’s trail hiking shoes. I do like scarves though and have been trying to wear (thrifted) scarves for color and to feel a little more beautiful and put together. Your metallic loafers have a lot of oomph but I don’t know if I could ever go that bold with a shoe, or even a bag. I really lean into the plainer stuff, but it always looks so great on you!
    I’d like to get a nice long necklace this year, and maybe real gold. Used to love fun jewelry and long necklaces. Used to put more thought into dressing and outfits when I was younger than I do now. I’ve almost given up on accessories other than stud earrings, which I love.
    I have some really nice things I’ve found in the past couple of years, but I need to weed the closet once again! I can’t even look at new clothes until I take care of the excesses and get more organized here. I am also trying to give up jeans, but colored jeans are A-OK.

  5. The easiest time I ever had getting dressed was when I was pregnant. I had purchased a handful of items that complemented each other, and with that handful, I made outfits. I agree with other commenters that we often have too many clothes, often a random selection of things that appealed at the time, with no real underlying strategy. I look forward to reading your ideas.

    1. Same here! I had three basic dresses, a couple of loose tops and two pairs of short. So easy to dress up or down. Like so many others, I am trying to pare down the closets ( yes closets, plural). I have way too many clothes, even as I reach for the same several pieces when I dress.

  6. The idea of a wardrobe that doesn’t have us working too hard to feel great in our clothes is wonderful and a really nice goal to work towards. Fun, too. But isn’t it a bummer that we are judged if we look like we have “let ourselves go” by not trying hard enough to keep up our appearance while also being judged if we “try too hard” (like extra effort is a bad thing)? That notion needs to go the way of all the other ridiculous fashion rules our mothers’ generation tried to impose on us. I’m sure you’ll agree that we all get a gold star for trying just as much as we want, not matter what that is.

  7. I have tried so much already, I think I’ll never have a coherend wardrobe. I am hopeless.. Sigh.

  8. Loving these think pieces. You’ve always been a great purveyor, discerner, example, but you’ve also become a great teacher. It’s fun to see outfits and learn from your experience, but I so appreciate your writing, knowledge and insight. You’ve made a big difference in my own path toward personal style and I hope to keep learning from you. Thankyou.

  9. Looking forward to your suggestions. I have been an avid reader for several years and still feel a little timid about weeding out the items that really don’t work for me (black)! maybe too much stuff?

  10. Great topic. I look forward to the continuation of this discussion. I agree that having too many clothes can make it harder to dress effortlessly. You’ve come up with a great template that works for you. I’m working toward one. Except in the warmest part of summer my uniform is jeans (usually colored), a light weight top & and third layer (jacket, vest or sweater). After my color refresh in 2020 I got serious about eliminating black, white, navy & gray (most of my clothes) from my wardrobe. I focused pretty much on color alone and purchased too any items in my good colors that were not particularly good styles for me. Since having a style analysis I’m slowly weeding out all garments that are oversized and/or have dropped shoulders which is about 3/4 of what I’ve purchased in the past couple years. Weeding out, not replacing. There’s very little out there that’s not oversized. And set in sleeves seem to be a thing of the past even in expensive jackets and sweaters. And what fits my style criteria rarely comes in autumn colors. So I will be dealing with less and less and maybe that will turn to my advantage.

  11. I agree with Kristina, it seems a person is judged for trying or lack of. I think trying too hard isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I especially miss the effort people would put in for church, now it’s just come as you are. It was also easier to shop when you could find things that purposefully matched. I enjoyed shopping so much more when I could find a complete outfit. I want to look current, but seems to be a lot of work and more expensive IMHO. Looking forward to Susan’s suggestions and help!

  12. Loved this post and look forward to more of your ideas and advice. Your look and style is always posh, simple and appropriate for any occasion. Thank You!

  13. For once, I got a head start! Started several years ago after retirement winnowing down my wardrobe with the season change “reversed hanger” system and if that hanger didn’t get turned and the item worn this year, 99% sure it won’t next next year;0 My wardrobe is very casual as my volunteer life revolves about camping travel but I always get told I look “put together”. I keep a running list on my phone of items that need replaced in my wardrobe but very much dislike store shopping as always frustrated knowing what I need and not having luck finding. Currently, metallic comfort shoes are on my list but that will be online! My spouse and our friend are taking a three month trip to Europe this year and I think this series will be very helpful so very timely. We start and end the trip with a transatlantic crossing where evening dress is both themed and formal. I will leave that checked suitcase in England to pick up on my return sailing back; otherwise it will be a backpack and carry on suitcase only as we are taking multiple forms of transit and we are all the age that schlepping luggage up and down steps is not easy. So a capsule wardrobe it will be for that part and look forward to your upcoming articles!

  14. Susan, your description of effortless style is spot on for what I would like to achieve when dressing. As I read, I also recognized that it’s what my husband and I are trying to achieve as we decorate/furnish a new (to us) house. When I read your list to my husband, he commented that the list seems a good goal for approaching life. And I realized he was absolutely right!! I will be keeping your words front and center this year as I navigate post-retirement life. Thank you!

  15. I think the key to effortless style is having the right mix of pieces in your closet (or suitcase if you’re traveling). Pieces that fit your personal style in colours that suit you and that mix and match. I look forward to what you have to share on the topic.