What is "Classic" anyway?

I think we can all agree: Classic (and fabulous)!

Angie at You Look Fab had a great post up on Tuesday extolling the versatility of classic pieces. She has a point. Simple classic wardrobe elements can dress up or down, be worked into a variety of styles and bring a timeless, elegant quality to any ensemble.

Photo from here.

The big trick is how to keep classic pieces from looking stodgy. Angie does a great job here, by using color and mixing more updated, trendy pieces with her classic ones.

Last week, in comments on my post recapping my style lessons from 2011, LPC said,

Overall I take away that you are finally relinquishing that “classic” style idea, having found that you require more freedom in silhouette and palette. 

At the time, I agreed with her, and though this is partly true (don’t fence me in!), I still find that classic pieces *speak* to me. When Tabitha at Bourbon & Pearls posted those Hermés riding boots, part of me responded at an almost cellular level. Classic is in my DNA, and to some degree I will always hunger for a look that incorporates classic pieces. I’d love to be able to achieve the kind of “Modern Classic” that Angie frames in her post, sophisticated but lively.

The challenge I mentioned above, keeping classic fresh and modern and avoiding the Spectre of Frumpy Hollow has been particularly vexing for me of late. Being of the short-and-curvy persuasion, two hallmarks of classic style, “structured” and “tailored” seem to be particularly daunting. (Put me in a tweed blazer, and I’m the shorter stunt double for the Earl of Grantham, traipsing through the copse.)  What we (I?) often think of as “classic” seems to work best on the more ectomorphic among us. Am I trying to work “classic” too literally for my body type? (Is there such a thing as Voluptuous Classic?)

Can classics evolve? Do some items that were considered “timeless classics” twenty or even ten years ago now look dated? How much can you tweak a classic before it’s no longer, well, a classic?

The trench, brightened?

Banana Republic pink trench (the navy polka dot one seems to have sold out, unfortunately)

Or a blazer in “Maraschino Cherry”?

J.Crew blazer

A sleeker version of the penny loafer in a teal green?

J.Crew Biella penny loafer

Or perhaps some pearls, but not quite your grand-mére’s demure pearl choker?

Pearl Paradise multicolor necklace

A classic scarf, tied unexpectedly?

Are you drawn to classic styles?  How do you define “classic” and how do you work it into your style without looking dated, frumpy or like Miss Marple? How do you add some “edge” to your classic pieces?

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  1. Debbi@SheAccessorizesWell
    January 19, 2012 / 8:34 pm

    I think I have fought against giving myself a classic label, but it really is what makes me happy. I do like the “twist” version though, like muted cheetah pattern jeans.
    Deja, your style is lovely. I really admire you and your looks.

  2. January 20, 2012 / 5:17 am

    I love classics – shapes and styles evolve throught the years but one thing is CONSTANT- Jackie knew this- you know this- Good Grooming. Without it nothing else matters. x

  3. January 20, 2012 / 6:48 am

    Love all these insightful comments.

    Actually, each style category has its own classics if you think about it. Bohemians have peasant blouses and wide-leg flared pants. Romantics have floral prints, tiered skirts. Rockers have black and studded accessories, leather. Dramatics have asymmetrical pieces. American Classics, like Jackie above, will have pea coats, courdury pants, pearls, gold buttons, modest heeled shoes, structured handbags.

    And further, each woman has HER own classics. A curvier girl may find the wrap dress something she will buy over and over in different incarnations during her life. A gal with narrow shoulders will find her own collection of boatnecks filling her closet.

    My personal classics are denim, boucle, cashmere sweaters, chain embellishments, feminine ballet flats, coin jewelry or motifs. Oh and chiffon blouses. What are yours?

  4. January 20, 2012 / 6:57 am

    @Jill Ann, Try the pants at Coldwater Creek. They have a great cut that comes up higher on the rise and it keeps you nice and smooth if you layer a tee over it, or tuck a shirt. Karen

    Also try Chico’s jeans. They are wonderful for curvier gals looking for realistic rise heights.

  5. Mrs. Jenner
    January 20, 2012 / 2:40 am

    I think a blogger that does curvy – classic so well is “From Me To You.” I think if you emphasize your waist and focus on skirt/dress length it’s very doable. It just has to be what makes you happy in your life. I dress up a lot each day and it drives people I work with a little crazy since I’m a teacher and most teachers think the job entitles them to dress like slobs. It makes me happy to wear super tailored clothes and 4 inch pumps – and my 8th graders like it too. They appreciate that I dress well for them every day. If you haven’t done a style statement yet, this has helped me tremendously. I read the book and got my two words and Lisa Pippus has encouraged me to do a third as the “icing” word to be the word that defines the actual style of my “sophisticated refined” clothes.

  6. January 20, 2012 / 11:02 am

    Spanish women definitely tend to dress classic — there’s more of a sense among nosotras de una cierta edad that clothes are an investment and so wardrobes last a lot longer. That said, most are very stylish, and nearly all are in neutrals.

    It’s the cut of the clothes that makes them modern/timeless — pencil skirts, boots, scarves, etc. are shaped to the body — and please note that the Spanish body tends to be pear-shaped, or “culona.”

    Yesterday I saw an absolutely gorgeous woman in her 60s wearing black trousers, turtleneck and booties, with a charcoal duffel coat. As classic as can be. What made the look modern was her very short silver hair and “architect” glasses. If I’d had my wits about me, I’d have asked to take her picture.

  7. January 20, 2012 / 12:14 pm

    Angie looks fab in her classics – the Banana Republic pink trench, not so good!

  8. January 20, 2012 / 1:38 pm

    Tell Jill ann above to hold on to her high waisted pleated pants. My 20 y.o. daughter is starting to wear them and where the college students go, the rest will follow.

    I think shoulder pads are due for a comeback also.

  9. Terri
    January 20, 2012 / 6:20 am

    To me, a classic is clothing that doesn’t draw immediate attention to itself. Instead, it attracts attention slowly by its quality and simplicity.

    One of my deans is 5′ and she wears simple, classic pieces very well.

  10. Mrs. Jenner
    January 20, 2012 / 7:05 am

    Deja Pseu,

    Here is the link:

    It’s a really popular tumblr/blog (6,000 comments on some posts!!). She does retro a lot so you may have to look at old posts to see more classic style.

    I agree with Karen that there are so many type of “classic.” It doesn’t have to be a blazer. I know you like Eileen Fisher a lot and I think that is very classic. It’s just not preppy classic.

    You recommended the blog “Style and Image Consulting Berlin” and I’ve made a few comments there about my style statement. It does take some time but I think it’s best done in chunks that way you can live with the words that appeal to you and see if they really stick. My words are Sophisticated and Refined. Refined is my “creative edge” word because I like everything as minimalist and streamlined as possible with a very simple color palette. Lisa Pippus has suggested a third word as a way to focus the creative word even more. I think I have chosen “sharp” because it is often used to describe the style of the women I most admire. I have a few dresses that are very refined but have details that are not sharp (ruffle neckline, fuller skirt). I have put those items away and after a month I’ll decide if I want to keep them.


  11. January 20, 2012 / 3:17 pm

    Classics in my wardrobe right now include black brogues (the patent leather might render their classic status questionable, but I think they still count), my grey cashmere tailored coat (somewhat smiilar to the orange one above, not quite so fitted), dark slim jeans, black v-neck pullover, black blazer, scarves. But, as you know, I like to mix it up as well.
    And I do think that new classics get discovered along the way . . . I’d say the denim shirt, as in your earlier post by Karen, is an example, no?

  12. January 20, 2012 / 3:38 pm

    So now I take away that you don’t want to give this “Classic” trope up, you just want to deconstruct it so that at a more granular and specific level you can work within your constraints:). Bwahaha. Clearly I’m back at work. But seriously, I think it’s about taking the term apart and making a longer, more explicative description for yourself. No? Lovely post, thank you for the reference.

  13. January 21, 2012 / 2:20 am

    Yeah, re: that pink Banana Republic trench, it’s an odd length, yuck. I saw it in the store and even though I am short it looked weird on me!

  14. January 21, 2012 / 2:32 am

    @Terri I do like your definition. One thing about classics: clean simple design is often best for we petite women. Too much detail overwhelms us.

  15. January 21, 2012 / 2:34 am

    @karen Great point. I think I lean toward American Classic, but need to incorporate just a little bit of edge too.

  16. January 21, 2012 / 2:38 am

    @Mrs. Jenner Ah, ok thanks. I was in the right place, just needed to sift through to her style section. I wouldn’t describe her as particularly “curvy,” but she does great things with those vintage looks.

  17. January 21, 2012 / 2:40 am

    @Rubiatonta I love the kind of style you describe for your Spanish woman, but have come to realize that look is a bit too severe on me. I need something soft and/or colorful to make it work.

  18. January 21, 2012 / 2:42 am

    @frugalscholar That’s what I’ve been seeing on some of the style blogs as well, including Not Dressed As Lamb. I don’t mind just a little bit of shoulder pad, gives my shoulders some definition and helps clothing drape better, but those exaggerated 80’s shoulders I’ll pass on this time around.

  19. January 21, 2012 / 2:46 am

    @materfamiliasThe denim shirts could certainly achieve classic status. Still love those brogues of yours. jeans and v-neck sweaters will always be classic in my book.

  20. January 21, 2012 / 2:49 am

    @LPC Bwahaha indeed! I *live* to deconstruct! Yes, it’s about dissecting what appeals, and figuring out how to make it work for me. And thank you for all of the grist for the mill you’ve provided these past few years.

  21. January 21, 2012 / 2:51 am

    @karen Don’t know about the length of the pink one, but just went and tried my navy one again, and it’s a length we used to call “car coat” which I like, as it can be worn as a topper as well as outerwear.

  22. January 21, 2012 / 3:16 am

    a trench coat is a trench coat, others are hybrids.

    • January 23, 2012 / 7:01 pm

      So khaki only? Or are you open to other colors, as long as the styling remains classic?

  23. January 21, 2012 / 5:23 pm

    I like “Voluptuous Classic,” and yes, I think it exists. Like to think of that as my style: classic and feminine. Color is a way to update, so is fabric, so is length/fullness of skirt. Black is the color I wear most, but I love the cherry blazer. Because I am short and curvy also, I tend to locate color in the top half of my body and accessories. But the classic pencil skirt, sheath, straight trousers, a-line skirt, with a shaped bluse or soft sweater is one of my favorite choices.

    • January 23, 2012 / 7:03 pm

      Pearl, I’m realizing that pencil skirts are probably my best friends for achieving a classic look. Think my top half still needs work, but maybe the cherry blazer will help…

  24. January 21, 2012 / 8:19 pm

    I’m a big fan of classic chic, too. That sort of Calvin Klein/Ralph Lauren streamlined aesthetic has always appealed to me. Updating it can mean unexpected accessories or colors, or pairing it with a more trendy or funky piece.

    And I think anyone can wear classic styles–you just might have to get them tailored to fit you.

    • January 23, 2012 / 7:07 pm

      Closet Coach, yes those really clean, functional pieces so typical of CK and RL are what I’m most drawn to. They are the most flattering and have the most staying power.

    • January 23, 2012 / 7:08 pm

      Closet Coach, YES! That clean, functional CK/RL aesthetic, what Karen calls American Classic…those are the elements that really have staying power.

  25. coffeeaddict
    January 21, 2012 / 5:38 pm

    I like classic on other women: tall, slender, long -legged creatures with shiny silky hair that move like they’re walking on air 😉
    My wardrobe is made of quality pieces that flirt with classic styles but are always a bit on the edgier, informal syde. I’m drawn to structured skirts, funky details like weird seams, inserts or extra pleats.
    Tops are very frustrating to find, so I prefer plain knits. Nothing stuctured because it makes me look frumpy.

    • January 23, 2012 / 7:05 pm

      coffeeaddict, I’m with you on finding tops challenging. I’ve been sticking with knits lately, but keeping everything super simple and clean with regard to design is key.

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