MANual of Style


Lesson 9: Intro to Casualwear by Shreyas
27 January, 2010, 12:35 am
Filed under: Casualwear | Tags: ,

Welcome to Unit 2! For the next few weeks, we’ll discuss casualwear.

First let’s talk about what we mean when we say “casualwear.” I don’t mean “things you wear in your house by yourself,” that’s loungewear or laundry day. Casualwear is the stuff you wear when you’re out of the house or otherwise seeing people, and no stricter dress code prevails. People have different stances on casualwear; what we consider casualwear might be what you wear when you’re dressing up. That’s cool, as long as you’ve done your closet cleanout from Lesson 4 and you’re not going out in things that are soiled, in disrepair, or otherwise inappropriate.

Casual vs. Work

While we’re talking casual, let’s briefly acknowledge the issue of work clothes. Most professions have an official or de facto dress code, as do some leisure activities such as running, most sports, metalwork, etc. The guidelines for casualwear don’t apply here. Even freelancers have to look somewhat businesslike when conducting meetings with clients. We’ll talk more about work clothes in a different lesson.

The Freedom of Casualwear

Since there are fewer widespread expectations for what to wear in a casual setting, you have a lot of flexibility to express your own style. I encourage you to milk that opportunity for all it’s worth. If you’re experimenting with a new silhouette or color, the least risky way to do it is to incorporate it into an outfit when you’re going out for a coffee with a friend, a walk around town, or whatever. Then, when that job interview or date rolls around, you’ll know whether it’s a good idea or not.

More formal clothes can be dressed down in casual ensembles by pairing them appropriately, too. That expands your potential wardrobe dramatically. You can wear an untucked tux shirt with jeans for a sharp twist on a classic look, or bring out a special pair of trousers to go with a tee shirt. It isn’t usually possible to dress up garments in the same way, though, so I wouldn’t advise trying to revitalize your style with your favorite dinosaur pajama pants. The classic tee-with-blazer look is great, too, but do it carefully: the tee in question is nearly always solid, black, and well-tailored. You can get away with colors and graphics, carefully, but this is one place where you can’t let silhouette slide or the blazer won’t fit right.

Casual vs. Comfortable

The word “comfortable” is the number-one excuse that people use for dressing poorly. “I’d rather be comfortable than fashionable” is a denial based on a false dichotomy; you don’t have to choose just one. As long as your clothes fit right and are made from quality fabrics they will be physically comfortable. This is kind of a big deal, and it’s why you should always try on clothes before you buy them. If they pinch or pull or chafe or sag or itch, either they don’t fit or they’re made of something your skin doesn’t like. Check the garment label and find something different.

Psychologically comfortable is an entirely different thing, and if you’ve got a piece of clothing you look good in, that fits well, and makes you feel psychologically uncomfortable, I think you should wear it. Take it as a challenge. Back when I was into bold patterns, I tried on this white shirt with a big floral print in brown. The colors looked good on me, the fabric was appropriate for the season, and the silhouette made me look great. I was super nervous about it. Still, I bought it anyway, and got a couple of compliments on it when I forced myself to wear it the first couple of times. Success. I don’t mean to suggest that you should buy and wear clothes you don’t like, but you should give clothes a chance if they follow your rules, and really examine your reasons for disliking something. I was just nervous about wearing flowers that big (I mean, really big) on something that clearly wasn’t a Hawaiian shirt. You’ll find the more compliments you get on clothing, the better you’ll feel in it. So, if you’re nervous about trying new clothes, bring honest and supportive friends to cheer you on while you shop (and offer a second opinion when you make missteps).

I think you’ll also find that a lot of your “comfortable” clothes feel that way for psychological reasons. They might have emotional significance, or you might’ve had them for a long time, etc. I used to have a pair of jeans that I loved, long after the cuffs and knees gave way and the belt loops started to tear off. They made me happy but I tripped on them all the time, had cold knees, and didn’t fit right because I couldn’t wear a belt. I think they’re still at my parents’ house somewhere, because I don’t want to throw them away, but I’m not wearing them anytime soon. They don’t make my butt look nice, they don’t keep me warm, and they hinder my motion. Why wear them?

That’s it for now. Thursday, we’ll talk about casual tops.

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