On wearing a uniform

Coco Chanel:
Coco Chanel and a Great Dane.

I’ve realized that the well-dressed people I most admire wear uniforms. Emmanuelle Alt has her black stilettos, jeans, and white shirts. Jeanne Damas is always tucking shirts and sweaters into high-waisted pants. Giorgia Tordini can WORK some menswear, and hence usually does (I’m more than a bit in love with her). Grace only wears black now. Jonathan wears black and white.

Such people have a very specific, recognizable, and definable personal style. This interests me deeply. I think this is what people mean when they say that someone has “great style” — it’s concrete and identifiable; it does not bend to the seasonal whim of sartorial trends.

A uniform is certainly an appealing concept. It is not surprising that the article Matilda Kahl wrote for Harper’s, “Why I Wear the Exact Same Thing to Work Every Day,” sparked such a frenzy of internet interest. We take people who wear uniforms seriously. It appeals to our deep need to feel orderly and distilled in our daily life.

But what does this mean for someone like me, who is neither (a) courageous enough to wear the same thing to work every day nor (b) inherently gifted in the art of choosing and wearing clothes?

Some thoughts about this dilemma and my desire to be uniform:

  1. Name what I like and why. Continue to fall into that visual rabbit hole that is Pinterest (with which I am unabashedly in love). Study well-dressed people. Take note of why I keep pinning the same images and over and over again. It turns out that I am a perennial sucker for a woman in (a) button-down shirt and (b) a classic men’s shoe. Be exceptionally clear about what I like and dislike.
  2. Continue to edit out pieces that do not fit my concept of my uniform. I think I have now successfully accomplished this, as I no longer own any bright colors, flashy prints,
  3. Wear and use what I have. I do not need more things. I have checked off some of the more expensive staples from my wish list this year (silk shirts, cashmere sweaters), and they should ideally last a long time. I am set. Say this to myself and believe it.
  4. Talk to stylish people and glean their wisdom. I like doing this anyway, but I want to do it in a more structured, disciplined way. I am hoping to feature a few of these people here in the weeks and months to come, so stay tuned.

If I had to shape a daily work uniform from what I already own, I think it would be this:

  • Three-quarter-sleeve gray crewneck sweater from J.Crew (similar)
  • Black trousers from Gap, which I had tailored many years ago and now wear once a week (similar)
  • Black blazer from Forever21, which I am super-ashamed to admit, but it’s actually great and I wear it all the time and it was $15 please don’t hate me I haven’t shopped there in years and never will again (similar)
  • Black Everlane loafers, my dream shoe

Here it is! I am proud of how bad this collage is and how decidedly un-cool-lady-blogger it is.

Little Stories bad collage

How about you? Do you ever think about this? What garments would compose your daily uniform?

Closet visit

One of my 2015 resolutions is to simplify my life, particularly my wardrobe. I’m far from declaring that I have achieved a streamlined, minimalist wardrobe, but I think I’ve made progress. It’s a start, at least.

Closet visit
Tapestry by Laura Dillon Rogers.

A physical benefit of attempting a pared-down wardrobe is that we have TINY closets. Simply, there is no space to have an expansive collection of clothes. When we moved in a year ago, I begrudged this seeming limitation and envied women with those luxurious walk-in closets. But now I feel grateful for this small space. It has forced me to become a conscientious and ruthless editor over time.

Closet visit

Closet visit
Shaker dictum calligraphy print, by me.

This is it:

Closet visit

Closet visit

And then I have three drawers (grunders not pictured).

Closet visit

Closet visit
Shirts, transformed by the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (a la Marie Kondo).

My shoes live on a little shelf outside the closet.

Closet visit

The surrounding goals are to (1) discard/donate more, (2) reduce colors, (3) refine what I consider to be my personal style, (4) buy less, and (5) buy better-made clothes when I do buy.

Closet visit
Silk blouse from Everlane.

I still have lots of progress to make, but I am feeling refreshed and inspired with this small start. An added benefit is that my mom and sisters (and some of Grace’s friends) are joining in this goal to simplify our closets, and so I have a good deal of peripheral, personal support. I am thankful for them, and for this year of new beginnings, even if it is starting with something as ordinary as a collection of clothes.

“Through housewifely care a house recovers not so much its originality as its origin. And what a great life it would be if, every morning, every object in the house could be made anew by our hands, could ‘issue’ from our hands. In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh tells him that we should ‘retain something of the original character of a Robinson Crusoe.’ Make and remake everything oneself, make a ‘supplementary gesture’ toward each object, give another facet to the polished reflections, all of which are so many boons the imagination confers upon us by making us aware of the house’s inner growth.”

— The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

Inspiration

Observations on French style

Disclaimers: I have never been to France. I only know a handful of French people. These are merely an amateur’s observations of French style icons, based purely upon photographs and a small amount of reading.

(c) The Sartorialist. Short, tousled hair.
(c) The Sartorialist. Long hair, long legs.

Observation no. 1: Hair is either very long or very short and extremely minimalist.

Essentially, French hair is the opposite of Texas hair. French hair seems to be best when it looks like you have done absolutely nothing to it. Messy is better than structured and coiffed.

Clémence Poésy. Click for source.

Observation no. 2: Color and patterns are used sparingly.

One color seems to be more than enough for one outfit. French women never seem to overdo it. The proverb seems to be: If you’re going to use a pattern or a crazy color, use them carefully; the pattern and the color should never be excessively distracting.

(c) The Sartorialist. Leather + sheer = sexy.

Observation no. 3: Subtle sexiness.

Again, we find the opposite of American sexiness (BOOBS! In your face!) in the way that the French woman seems to project how alluring she is. French women don’t show a lot of skin, but when they do, they really know how to do it tastefully, playing up their best assets (e.g., a short skirt if you have great legs, an exposed collarbone if that’s your angle). Sheer also seems to be really big in everyday French fashion right now.

Clémence again, looking a little wild-eyed in Chanel. Click for source.

Observation no. 4: FIT!

If it doesn’t fit your body, don’t wear it. I still have a lot to learn in this department. This is something that Jonathan is always (wisely) preaching to me, too. One of my goals this year is to actually take some of my clothes to a tailor! Gasp. I have never done this before. Few of us, as Jonathan says, are lucky enough to be able to buy clothes that fit straight off the rack. The majority of us should get our clothes tailored. Accordingly, French women seem to inherently understand this principle of fit. Their clothes seem to be made for them.

Juliette Binoche. Click for source.

Observation no. 5: Minimal makeup.

It seems that the French trick to makeup is to always look as if you weren’t wearing any. This was always what my mom told me, too, when I started experimenting with makeup as a young teen. French women never look overdone. French women are also famous for their skincare routines and their seeming acceptance of natural skin tone (e.g., lack of the American urge to be perennially bronzed). And if in doubt, just wear a bold red lip with nothing else on your face.

My conclusion is one word: Natural. French style strikes me as so very natural. Obviously, it takes a lot of time and effort and money and a great eye, but French style presents itself as natural: This is the way my hair and face naturally look; I have done nothing to them. These are the clothes that I just “throw on” when I roll out of bed in the morning. That seems to be the consistent theme of French style, if I had to narrow it down, in my limited observation.

To an American like myself, cultivating this aesthetic will clearly take a lot of work before it comes to me “naturally.” But that’s the idea.

Ways in which I resemble my dog

October
(c) Wei Tchou.

More and more, I find that I take after Pyrrha.

For example, we both:

  • Are wary of strangers.
  • LOVE playing with dogs.
  • Dislike having our routines disrupted.
  • Have sensitive stomachs.
  • Enjoy snuggling on the couch.
  • Adore walks.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We are also still adapting to the presence of the snuggly little baby Laszlo. He is adorable and all, which I think she acknowledges, but he can really be a pain sometimes. But he makes up for all of his crying and all of his antics by falling asleep on my lap in the evening — a joy that Pyrrha will, however, never experience.

In other news, my current obsession: Studying French style. What is the secret? How do all French women look so beautifully and effortlessly stylish all the time? Is it something in the cigarette smoke–filled air?