The Art of Dressing Up (and down)


I find that looking good in casual clothes can be a challenge. Anyone can look good when dressing up to go out. You put in a lot of effort and it will show. But the art of casual dressing is all about making it look effortless, and there also has to be a level of comfort as well.

I was reading Vintage: The Art of Dressing Up by Tracy Tolkien the other day and in the 1950s section, Tolkien was discussing how “a hat and gloves were required even for daytime dressiness, along with a careful selection of costume jewellery and, of course, an appropriate hand bag. This fully accessorized, dressed-up look was deemed necessary for shopping or lunching in town, with the more casual ‘shirtwaister’ dress reserved for cooking and housework.’

While I think fashion has no doubt benefited from a relaxing, or disbanding even, of the rules of dressing, such as those above, there is something that appeals to me about particular standards being expected, and in many cases I think if you want to make an effort at dressing up, then rules do make thing easier. It gives you boundaries and guidelines.

Women’s lives are now far removed from what they were in the 1950s. Maybe a contemporary working mother doesn’t have time to make a ‘careful selection of costume jewellery’ so that she’s looking her best while doing the shopping at the supermarket on her way home from work.

But I think we can also overestimate how difficult it is to dress well and the benefits of it. A colleague at work was telling me how while she was living in France she was struck by the considerable difference between how the French dress, compared to New Zealanders. The French always manage to look well put together and effortlessly chic. She said a lot of it had to do with being well groomed, which I admit takes time. But the kind of simple, well-cut, basic style the French tend to favour wouldn’t be that difficult once you had set your wardrobe up.

It’s that planning of a wardrobe that is the key, I think. Knowing that you’ve got clothes that mix and match with one another, knowing what cuts and colours suit you, and being aware of the gaps in your wardrobe when you go shopping, as we tend to buy the same thing over and over  – I have many many dresses in my wardrobe, but only one pair of pants. I always end up looking at the same things when I go shopping.

I’m hoping that by doing some careful planning of what kind of look I want to achieve – I will post some of the contemporary and classic women inspiring that look soon – and examining what it is in my current wardrobe that I want to keep wearing and what things I need to add to it, I will create a wardrobe that I actually wear and that enables me to if not always look perfectly polished, at least casually chic.

The art of dressing is something that has been lost in NZ culture; it’s something that’s not particularly valued. It may be part of our tall-poppy syndrome, where no one wants to look too good  or too different for fear of standing out and attracting attention.

But feeling good in what you wear can make you feel more confident and just simply better about yourself and your day, and that’s got to be a good thing.



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3 responses to “The Art of Dressing Up (and down)

  1. Christel

    I remember the French guy I dated in Chch saying he was shocked when he first turned up at Lincoln Uni and saw people wandering around in jandals, stubbies and wifebeaters! Obviously quite an extreme example. He was always incredibly well dressed, though also used to iron his underwear so I think there were some other underlying personality traits contributing to his dress standard.

    Loving the blog Ing, was wondering just this morning if you were going to have another post today!

  2. Oh, thank you! Yeah, it’s pretty time-consuming to post a lot, but am trying to make it a regular-ish thing.

    Yeah, Lincoln is probably not our finest example, but NZ is definitely on the extreme casual side of dressing. I always notice it when I come back from overseas – that and the crappy cars on the road here!

  3. thetinkerbella

    This is a great post, and I’m so impressed you’re keeping it up!

    You’ve highlighted one of the issues of my life here. I went shopping the other day specifically to fill a gap in my wardrobe – pants. I came home with a skirt, a top and some new underwear. Oops!

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