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. January 19, 2012 / 11:28 am

    Even when I was heavy I favoured classic styles, I just love a pared down aesthetic with a minimum of fuss. I think my hair keeps it from looking too tailored, I have boho surfer hair ( some say messy!) which shows the other side of my personality.

  2. January 19, 2012 / 12:34 pm

    I like to mix one classic with other, edgier (or Bohemian) pieces. Cashmere turtle neck with short balloon skirt. Tailored blazer with skinny jeans and cage heels. Trench coat over evening gown. There are also “classics” that don’t scream “Congressional”: leather biker jackets, Converse All Stars, hammered hoop earrings and well-cut jeans are still classic while adding a appropriate dose of youth.

  3. January 19, 2012 / 1:27 pm

    I love the way you expanded on Angie’s (also terrific) post. You do have a classic vibe, but you know your frame and what flatters it – so the softer, colorful blazer is fantastic. It takes time and effort to get to know ourselves, doesn’t it? But well worth it. There’s always room for classic pieces in my closet, too.

  4. January 19, 2012 / 1:59 pm

    I am drawn to classic styles also, but will accessorize with a pop of colour, chunky necklaces or cool boots to modern it up a bit. Sometimes I will play with makeup to have a funky edge.

    Great post!

  5. January 19, 2012 / 2:28 pm

    The problem is that it’s hard to tell what is REALLY classic except in hindsight.

    I mean classic in the sense of stuff you can wear forever–like a Burberry trench or a black crewneck sweater.

  6. January 19, 2012 / 2:32 pm

    I have a Burberry trench coat that is over 20 years old. It’s still a classic that I wear. It is VERY long, a length not being sold these days–and that might date it a bit, but not enough to keep me from wearing it, especially when traveling in winter.

    I share Deja Pseu’s belief that certain classic styles are not that flattering on curvy bodies. I’m tall and curvy and think that my body type is not the best clothes hanger for a number of classic items. I also am beginning to favor knits and softer profiles.

  7. Anonymous
    January 19, 2012 / 2:44 pm

    Classic shoes with thick rubber soles (Thierry Rabotin) Hermes scarves in their new, unusual prints, classic hats (no one else has one on)and a smile…all say current and not frumpy.

  8. January 19, 2012 / 3:43 pm

    I too am sort and curvaceous and can slip into that area of frumpdom if I am not careful.

    I do like the classics but have to be very very careful of that matchy matchy suit thing and anything that accentuates my ample bosom…no crew necks or pockets on top.

    Because of my figure I could easily be a body double for HRH!

  9. January 19, 2012 / 4:05 pm

    You’re killing me with your Frump Hollow and body-double cracks — whether or not we desire to look like Kate Hepburn, does anyone really want to look like Hoffman doing Tootsie?

    Agree with the above that you are already modifying/interpreting many classic pieces to suit your body frame, and you can certainly continue to do more of that.

    Classic has such a range, anyway — sure, hem lengths and silhouettes vary but there’s always a slim skirt (sometimes pegged/narrowed, sometimes straight), always a full or at least A-line skirt, etc. You can pick from waistless, waisted, or Empire dresses. Double-breasted (shudder*) or single breasted, cropped and boxy (shudder redux) or cropped and swing, riding length or finishing at high-hip, nipped or not….

    If you ask me there’s too *much* choice in classic, ha!

    And yes, I own and wear a lot of classic shapes in both neutrals and color-color. Somedays that equates to looking more retro/vintage-inspired, somedays more generic Modern Classic.

    [The generic thing is why I had to do the damn style assessment stuff…now I know to have an outfit-as-a-whole work for me it needs to pass through my Contrarian Classicist, Minimalist Magpie, or Persnickety Bohemian filters!]

    * shudder = how they look on me, not in general

  10. January 19, 2012 / 4:36 pm

    Regardless of how you label your style, I really like how you dress and think that you know how to dress your proportions well. Those gorgeous printed dresses and boots, for example, seem classic to me, although I have a hard time imagining them on Grace, Audrey or Jackie. And the elongated cardigans you wear are also great. To me these looks seem classic in a very, very slightly arty way.

  11. January 19, 2012 / 6:26 pm

    I’d like to see a video on how to wear pocket squares. I use my Hermes as a choker. one knot in the middle and tie the ends in back

  12. January 19, 2012 / 7:06 pm

    I’m deeply drawn to classic, because I grew up with women I loved dressed in them and they in turn dressed me. It doesn’t necessarily freshen a classic to just get it in a bright colour. It has more to do with the hair and accessories. Think of Lauren Hutton in a navy blazer and striped shirt, white jeans. No cerise but does she look good (at least to me.)

    I’ve tried to tweak classics with colour but get tired of the colour if it’s the whole coat- so a scarf or maybe a bag is best for me. And don’t make the pearls too small, but you knew I’d say that 😉

    In my large city I very rarely see women looking dowdy in classics.

  13. Pam @ over50feeling40
    January 19, 2012 / 12:30 pm

    I really like this post, because I am drawn to classic styles. My favorite looks are around jackets with a great fit and usually neutral colors. I always try to update with accessories and look for new ways to wear them…but I love the classics and do not believe they will ever be gone. Great post! I also enjoyed your scarf video…its’s cute!

  14. January 19, 2012 / 8:49 pm

    I have seen many women who do classic well, and a few even who seem trapped in a time warp. Even classics evolve and our eye changes as the world changes. I am drawn to classic pieces, but also to trendier, more artsy pieces as well. I think it is good to find the right balance, and I think you do that well. And those boots, they rocked my world.

  15. January 19, 2012 / 9:36 pm

    I can’t seem to tell the difference between classic and old-fashioned, seriously old-fashioned (late 1800s). My daughter recently approved of a fitted blazer I was considering because it made me look as if I were going caroling, and that’s my style. Dunno quite what to make of that, but I think I like it.

    Also, your scarf instructions are enchanting, as always – the little smiles are cheer-inducing. Thanks again.

  16. kathy peck
    January 19, 2012 / 2:16 pm

    I’ve always worn classic – it just suits me and is what I’m comfortable in. That being said, I don’t think that classic always means very structured. I do find myself shopping more for cardigans rather than blazers, changes like that.

  17. Chicatanyage
    January 19, 2012 / 2:25 pm

    Good question. Have just bought a classic navy coat by Gerard Darel in the sales (may get round to photographing it next week). It is very similar in style to Angie’s however being navy looks more classic. Will have to accessorise it carefully to keep it current.

  18. Gretchen
    January 19, 2012 / 3:32 pm

    I live in classic clothes and find myself wistful that edgier things look silly on me…and I must be the only middle aged person who looks worse in Eileen Fisher clothes. Expand “classic” to include a wrap dress ( which you have), your ponte knit pants ( oh how I envy your ability to wear them), a jaunty scarf or 50, a ramped-up pair of Mary Janes in a new color (your Fleuvogs), and a lovely long cardigan with a well-cut knee-length skirt, and you have your very own classics. For, tell us, how many of these items wouldn’t look just as classically “correct” 10 or 20 years from now? Classic does not equate with frumpy or dull. Unless we slavishly refuse to tweak it or mindlessly believe only a jacket from 1960 counts as classic. To wear those pieces now, without adjustments or adding something new, is what screams dowdy.

  19. Jill Ann
    January 20, 2012 / 12:02 am

    I too am a fan of the classics…I like the classic shapes in different colors & patterns as an alternative. Btw, I did see the Banana Republic polka- dotted trench in the store window this afternoon, and stood there admiring it for a while, until I reminded myself that in no way did I need it! SO cute though. I am trying very hard to avoid the middle- aged frump, which I fear I’ve been displaying far too often in the past 10 years or so. Part of that problem was a post- baby weight issue (SO hard to be stylish when you’re fat!), but now that I’ve finally conquered that,I’m doing some serious rethinking of my wardrobe. Some older clothes which now fit have to go, due to style issues; jackets with big shoulder pads, and lots of pants with tapered legs and pleated fronts! Anybody else having issues with low- rise pants, though? Higher waisted pants really look way better on me, but so many pants seem to be below my navel, which is NOT flattering on me.

  20. January 20, 2012 / 12:27 am

    Great post. I have a few classic pieces, mostly vintage. Always fun to use as a background for accessories!

  21. elena daciuk - fabulous finds
    January 19, 2012 / 6:01 pm

    i absolutely love the classic look…but also need to be careful as i am curvy as well…most of my classic pieces are found in my jackets…and then i try and play them up with more funkier accessories…

    loving the video clip…you’re a natural! =)

  22. metscan
    January 19, 2012 / 6:12 pm

    Classic, with a modern twist. A much used term, but something I like.
    I would not wear an original classic piece of clothing. It would look old, because it would be old.
    IMO, mixing old and new works in interior design ( sometimes ), but I have no desire to experiment the mixing on myself.

  23. January 20, 2012 / 2:21 am

    Thanks for the shout out and kind words, deja I am flattered and humbled. I LOVE your scarf video. Well done!

  24. Susan Tiner
    January 19, 2012 / 6:58 pm

    I relate, being short and curvy and not as trim as I’d like to be. I am drawn to but look silly in structured and tailored clothing.

    One of my favorite things about your blog is that you model ideas for a different twist on classic that works for women like me.

    You are one of the people I totally copy!

  25. January 20, 2012 / 3:10 am

    @Tabitha Good point about the hair. One has to take into account the whole effect and not just the individual components.

  26. January 20, 2012 / 3:11 am

    @SarahBeyond Yes! I think that mixing is key. And you’ve mentioned some of my favorite “Classics With Cool.”

  27. January 20, 2012 / 3:15 am

    @kathy peck Oh yes, I’m a cardigan junkie these days, and have found they’re a great and inexpensive way to experiment with color.

  28. January 20, 2012 / 3:17 am

    @Chicatanyage Your coat sounds like a great investment. Gerard Darel pieces always seem to have a little something extra that pulls them above the ordinary. Looking forward to seeing it!

  29. January 20, 2012 / 3:18 am

    @frugalscholar That’s true too. I’m sure at the time, Jackie’s white pants and trench were probably considered very fashion-forward.

  30. January 20, 2012 / 3:19 am

    @Susan Yes to knits! They’re often easier to wear and more flattering. Your Burberry trench does indeed sound like a classic piece.

  31. January 20, 2012 / 3:24 am

    @Gretchen It’s true, simpler pieces or pieces that don’t follow a trend do tend to age better than those with more distinct (and time-specific) styling. I do think though that there’s a subtle distinction between “classic” and “timeless.” My orange Vogs may be “timeless,” but I’d be hard pressed to call them “classic.”

  32. January 20, 2012 / 3:26 am

    @hostess of the humble bungalow Hostess, I really admire how you’re able to mix up classic pieces with more “artsy” ones. (Thinking of some of your sweaters, especially.) Pockets on top are a special bane of mine, and right now it’s hard to find a top *without* them!!

  33. January 20, 2012 / 3:31 am

    @Vix Vix, agree, I’m still having to be very picky about silhouettes and cuts. Boxy is my nemesis, at least when it comes to flattery. Part of the issue, I think, is that there are so many definitions of “classic.” Or maybe that’s the up side?

  34. January 20, 2012 / 3:58 am

    @Ann Thanks so much, Ann! I do think the longer cardigans, especially, are a classic for *me* whether or not anyone else concurs.

  35. January 20, 2012 / 4:01 am

    @metscan Mette, it seems like you’re equating “classic” and “vintage”? If so, that isn’t what I meant. I can’t wear much vintage either.

  36. January 20, 2012 / 4:03 am

    @cigalechanta thanks for the suggestion! I only have one pocket square, and I’ll be honest, I don’t wear it much because I don’t like anything snug around my neck. But I have some ideas to try with two pocket squared, and will experiment.

  37. January 20, 2012 / 4:05 am

    @Susan Tiner You’re so very kind! I’m still trying to figure out how to work just a bit of structure. (I’m so happy you’re loving your m0851 bag!!!)

  38. January 20, 2012 / 4:09 am

    @Duchesse The women in my family too embraced classic style. Lauren Hutton I think would look good in a flour sack, but yes, it’s all in the styling, and attitude too, not taking it too seriously.

  39. January 20, 2012 / 4:12 am

    @Mardel Balance, yes, that’s so crucial. Like you, I need a little of both the timeless and trendy. Aren’t those boots just insanely gorgeous?

  40. January 20, 2012 / 4:13 am

    @Marsha Glad you enjoyed the scarf video! I had fun doing them, and hope to do more in the future. It sounds like you have a style that consistently pleases you, and that’s what’s most important.

  41. January 20, 2012 / 4:19 am

    @Jill Ann I’ll confess, I grabbed that polka dot trench because it looked SO cute on. I’m still deciding whether to keep it, have a few days. I never tuck anything in, so all but the lowest rises aren’t an issue for me. (In fact, I find waistbands that hit just right below the waist the most comfortable.) But high rises are supposed to be coming back in. Also check out Talbots, they offer their pants in a few different fits and rises.

  42. January 20, 2012 / 4:21 am

    @angie You’re very welcome! I was so inspired by that post. I love your concept of “Modern Classic.” Glad you enjoy the video, thanks!

  43. January 20, 2012 / 4:25 am

    @Mrs. Jenner Do you have a link to her blog? I tried googling it but only came up with a sailing blog. You sound like you’ve figured out your own style definitively, bravo! I keep wanting to do Style Statement, but it requires a commitment of time I haven’t been able to make yet.

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