How to dress clothes down and up?
(Chicago, IL, USA)
Talbot's Seasonless Wool Trousers
Julie, one of the lovely students in my recent online style program, has worked out the set of words she wants to use to represent her style. They are: Confident, Approachable and Versatile. She asks:
"One of my style words is Versatile -- being able to wear the clothing for different types of occasion -- but I'm getting stuck. I'm so used to having a casual wardrobe, a business wardrobe (which has dwindled), and a fancy wardrobe, that I can't come up with ways to dress up my casual stuff and dress down my business and fancy stuff.
Can you give me suggestions on how to dress up and dress down items (appropriate for a 60 yr old -- my Google searches are finding things for the 20-somethings)? I'm betting it has something to do with accessories, but really need some guidance."
Jane's answer...Julie gave me this specific item of clothing to work with (see picture above):
Talbot's Seasonless Wool Trousers (a smart and comfortable wool, nylon, spandex mix) that she has in navy and black and has been wearing for business with a matching jacket and a shell underneath. I suspect something similar to this combination:
Understanding levels of dress
Julie's right to think that accessories have a lot to do with making an outfit more formal or more casual. However, that's not quite the complete picture. It's about understanding what makes both accessories and
clothing more dressy or more casual.
Clothing and accessories are typically seen as more formal and dressier
- Are more structured, fitted, and tailored
- Are great quality, for example, quality fabrics, quality construction, well made, refined
- Cover more skin. For example, shoes that cover toes, panty hose with skirts, upper arms covered, not too much cleavage on show (except perhaps for evening wear)
- Have more classic design lines
- Have no exaggerated, trendy styling details
Items are seen as more casual
- Clothing has less structure
- Clothing has more stretch, such as sportswear
- Shoes are chunkier
- Fabric is coarser
- More skin is exposed
Here are some examples for dressing down the navy suit pants
These pants are tailored so they will always create smarter casual outfits (as opposed to relaxed casual). However, do you see that by pairing them with more and more relaxed, more casual clothes and accessories that they create outfits suitable for various lower levels of dressing?
And here's an example of dressing the pants up for a semi-formal or cocktail-style event:
Here I've added a quality lace top, nice jewellery, dressy sandals and a sparkly evening bag.