Too often the word casual is equated with sloppiness, but being well-dressed does not (and should not) imply formality. The various dress codes exist to ensure that we are properly dressed for each individual occasion because there is not one single look that will work for every aspect of life. The assumption that wearing heels and a suit to work is the only way to look professional and feel confident fails to take into account that every work environment differs. I strongly believe that you should love what you wear everyday and use your clothes to promote the best version of you, not the other way around.
However, I do agree that casual wear has seeped into other dress codes. You should not be attending a business meeting in your pajamas (unless it is over the phone from the comfort of your own home) and your gym clothes should not be the stars of your wardrobe. But both of those categories exist for specific purposes, not for general casual wear. So what exactly falls under the label of casual? Jeans and t-shirts are obvious answers, but cardigans and dresses can also be considered casual. It has less to do with the specific piece and more to do with the look as a whole. A casual outfit is one that is feels relaxed and does not limit the mobility of the wearer. Casual dress is here to stay because it works well for our busy lives.
To remove the negative connotation from the word "casual," we need to add polish to our outfits, not ban all denim and cotton tees. You could run out the door in the torn-up denim that you wear for home improvement projects, a wrinkled tee from a race you ran last summer, and a zip-up sweatshirt. Or you could wear dark wash jeans with a long-sleeve striped tee, a cardigan, and a scarf. The two outfits share similar building blocks and take the same amount of effort to put together. Which one would you rather be wearing when you run into an old friend at the grocery store? We already know that casual wear feels great to wear and with a few tweaks it can look just as amazing.
Last week the New York Times ran a Room for Debate discussion titled "The Casual Couture of the Average American." Six voices discussed the topic from a variety of angles including the belief that casual attire can promote creativity and idea that clothing can change our feelings. I have written a response from the practically stylish perspective so I hope you will join the discussion in the comments and take a moment to vote in the poll at the bottom of this post:
Valentine's Day is next week and whether or not you have big plans, it is a great excuse to wear bright colors in the middle of winter. Even if you are normally color shy, there are light pink sweaters as well as fun accessories to add a pop while still staying in your comfort zone. Below I collected a few of my favorite pieces in Valentine's Day hues:
These pieces are great for showing your holiday spirit at work without being the lady wearing the sweatshirt with musical hearts. Plus, pink and red transition nicely into spring so you'll have plenty of opportunities to wear your Valentine's Day outfit again! Enjoy a color confident week!
I was recently asked whether cropped cardigans could be worn and if so, when they would they be appropriate. The answer to the first question is yes, but the second requires a bit of explaining. Cardigans can (mostly) be separated into one of three category lengths and each length works best with a different silhouette. Here are some tips for determining which cardigan will work best with your outfit:
Works best over a dress with an a-line or full skirt. The bottom of the cardigan will ideally hit at the horizontal seam line between the bodice and the skirt, maintaining the shape of the dress. Although a longer cardigan may look fine with the dress when you are looking straight on in the mirror, if you turn to look at your back you will notice that the proportions are off. The top of the skirt gets smushed down by the cardigan and then poofs out dramatically directly below the cardigan which adds extra fabric (and emphasis) on your rear end instead of highlighting your smaller waist.
These cardigans hit at or around your hips and they are great for keeping the look of long legs. Pair with wide leg or bootcut trousers and straight skirts. (An a-line skirt should follow the same rules as an a-line dress.) You want to avoid a long cardigan with these types of bottoms because they interfere with the line of the leg. The eye starts measuring the length of the leg from the bottom of the cardigan so if you have yours pulled down past your butt, you have not only lost several inches of leg, but added those inches to your torso. That creates a disproportionate body shape.
The long length works well with skinny jeans (and slim cut pants in general), especially when the pants are tucked into riding boots. The pant in boot phenomenon means that there is no exposed hem of the pant to visually bisect the leg. Since riding boots come up fairly high, we see the boot as a continuation of the leg, rather than it marking the end of the leg. This gives a longer leg line to work with which means you can add extra length to your torso without creating a wonky silhouette.
Are you still trying to figure out to wear to the Superbowl party that you are hosting or attending tomorrow? Normally when I sit in front of the television for hours on end, I like to wear my pajamas, but that isn't an option when you are with a big group. So below is an outfit that is comfortable enough to sit in all afternoon, machine washable (for when you spill chili down your front), but still polished enough that you won't grimace when photos from your party start popping up on Facebook.