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Against Effortlessness


When did we become too cool for effort? It's a common underlining thought I keep coming across as I research style icon after style icon. Originally it could have been a rebellion from the strict fashion rules that pervaded earlier periods--from the requirement of wearing a corset to the need to match your shoes to your purse in the 1950s fashion was often restrictive. However, nowadays the trend isn't so much that it's cool to wear tees and cutoffs, but to act as if you haven't considered your basic wardrobe choices. You can look like you tried, but please don't admit that you actually planned your accessories--such coordination and effort is decidedly uncool.
From Jane Birkin to Debbie Harry, nearly every interview with oft-recognized fashion trend-setters on style leads to them sharing that they never intended to be fashionable--it was quite an accident. Debbie Harry said in an interview with Style, "I would just get dressed like a blind fool and somehow I guess that's how people started thinking that I was fashionable and that I really knew what I was doing. I really don't, you know." Even modern icons like Alexa Chung want to emphasize that it's all about fun and not taking fashion too seriously.
What I take away from the quotes is not a disdain of fashion exactly, but a desire to be read as more casual and effortless. It's cool to not try, you know? To just "accidentally" end up with designer friends, vintage Chanel, and that perfectly winged eyeliner...Sure you can enjoy spending hours browsing racks of secondhand and vintage or even shopping high street brands, but when you roll out of bed you roll through a pile of babydoll dresses and wind up with the perfect pair of abused leather flats and shrunken denim jacket to pair it with quite on accident. It's not to say that I don't think you should be ashamed of chipped nails or casual days when it is too much work to think about a cute outfit--it didn't even bother me in college when students showed up to class in their pajamas (hey, stuff happens). I just don't understand why people deny they are trying; that they do care about how they present themselves to the world.
I wish more people would say they put thought and effort into their outfit, and hey maybe that it was fun? I promise, I'll still think you're cool even if you admit you're putting effort in. I've always liked Dita von Teese's daywear for the precise reason that it looks so intentional--you can tell she's obviously trying (and succeeding). Just look at how excited she gets about trying on Dior; it makes me like her so much more. She knows it is a privilege to wear beautiful clothes and she doesn't seem to take it for granted.

19 comments:

Ali Hval said...

But then the real fun comes when people plan out their outfits so much to look like they didn't try... ah, there are so many inbetweens! Whatever floats ones boat, you know? I personally can't just throw something on--I'm all for coordination and have a pair of socks to match just about everything so I feel nice and balanced, ha! Though I do envy those girls who can look like they "just rolled out of bed" and threw something on but still look trendy, not gonna lie. I suppose every generation is going to try a new way of looking at fashion and creating an outfit.

Anonymous said...

thank you!! this should be an Op Ed in the Times! What's with the necessity to pose, or seem "as if", there must be something else going on in this culture obsessed with creating fronts and facades.

Allie said...

This reminds me of an article I saw in a magazine once on how to do the "no makeup" make up look. You'd assume it just includes concealer, maybe some eyeliner. Nope, it was like fourteen or fifteen different items that went into making someone look like they hadn't tried. That made me sad. I'll be the first to admit: sometimes it takes me half an hour to pick out an outfit. I like looking good, but it's not always easy. You hit the nail on the head with this post! xx

Allie @ callmesassafras.wordpress.com

Angie | Pandaphilia.com said...

i agree. i think looking effortless means that you're not trying too hard and look good in a simple tee and loose fitting jeans. it does not mean sloppy or the feigned surprise when people compliment on an outfit that took some thinking and planning and replying with a "oh i just threw some things on." personally i miss how unapologetically overdone the 1950s gals were.

walking dot photography said...

I agree! I love playing in my closet and if things just came together effortlessly, I'm sure it wouldn't be nearly as fun. :)
xox
giedre
www.walkingdotphotography.com

Eloise August said...

Amen! I don't really have a comment other than that, but well written and good point.

mary van note said...

I'm so into this post!

MarieBayArea said...

Amen!

brigette b said...

This is funny to me, because when I'm complimented on what I'm wearing or how my outfit goes together, I often say "Well it wasn't on accident". I'm totally ready to admit I spend a LOT of time thinking about clothes, and I'm always prepared to have a big giant conversation about style too, if the occasion arises. I never fell into the 'accidentally cool' category, and I don't necessarily "get" that whole angle, either. Isn't it more fun to accept that it's just FUN, and do it how you want to, and that's that? I love those Dita gifs, too!

Natasha said...

I guess people want other people to think their lives are so exciting that they don't have time to think about what they wear :) I work from home, so it's nice get a chance to wear nice clothes, even if I just go to the post office. My boyfriend works from home too, so I decided to put more effort into my at home look too :)

Christina said...

I really agree with you!! How can you not try (a little at least) when you're into fashion, let alone when you're a fashion icon?.. Some women are beautiful without trying and look good without make up on, but you will make your hair and you will spend some time to choose what you're going to wear and of course put some make up on. Since you like clothes and shoes and bags you can't avoid spending time trying to match outfits etc..! On the other side, I prefer that effortless aspect to celebrities that try too much... I like natural looking girls!

Katy said...

What an excellent point.

I think this is part of a wider problem; you always hear of women giving interviews where they insist that any success of their's was purely accidental because they're just a loveable klutz who could threaten no one. Just look at Tina Fey's description of how she ended up on SNL in Bossy Pants.

It's so important that women take credit for their achievements; trying is good and self deprecation is often self-defeating.

http://daintyyetvulgar.wordpress.com/

MintJulep said...

Could not agree more. I have ALWAYS made it a point of trying hard to look my best, except on days when things happen and I just have the time to get into a pair of jeans, sneakers, sweater and drop the kid at school - those days do exist, and I sure hate them and feel I always look shabby and underdone. But it has become even more than uncool, an affront that one tries to look put together, stylish, fashionable, good. An affront. I'm all for affronting others!
http://fashionfauxpas-mintjulep.blogspot.pt

Kristian said...

I've been reading several books on "French" style and the "French Woman" (they are in quotes because I have no clue if this is really how the majority of French style and French women are), and it is interesting because there is a lot of emphasis on... not exactly being effortles looking, but perhaps an outfit looking "unstudied." A lot of emphasis on putting together unexpected combinations and never going for the expected. The funny thing is, this look, the "unstudied" look I think a loto f people call "effortlessly chic" etc. Which is it isn't. Obviously there are whole books about it that seem to indicate taking care of your clothes and choosing them carefully ettc.

I am guilty of telling people they look effortlessly chic, not because trying is unstylish by any means. I think it has a bit to do with how they feel and act in those clothes. It communicates a sense of inate understanding of themselves.

But as you said, there is nothing uncool about looking put-together and as though you are giving effort, so I'll have to rethink some of my syntax and word choices!

kiki kyriazidou said...

I really like to plan my outfits..its like solving a puzzle!It's fun and interesting.
So when somebody comments on them,I love the feeling of appreciation!I don't feel the need to hide the effort I've put on them!
Somebody once told me that you show your confidence in the way you accept a compliment,not in the way you dismiss it!Lovely post!

Justina Kenyon said...

I agree with you Rebecca. I think there is something to be admired when people put effort into what they are wearing and how they present themselves. The most fun thing about cloths is putting the outfit together!

Meg! said...

Love this. Spot on.

Lauren said...

So true! There's this constant contradiction that you should look good, but also you shouldn't care about how you look... how exactly?!

I like to plan my outfit the night before so I can sleep in as much as possible without looking like I've just rolled out of bed and thrown something on (which in reality is not so great...)

x

Jamie Rose said...

Amen. Seriously thank you! I appreciate people who put effort into the way they present themselves to the world. Sure there's the other side of the spectrum where they care way too much about designer labels and whatnot, but as a whole I think more people just don't care and don't want others to think they do. It's really confusing to me how we're supposed to look good but not try. I actively think about what I'm wearing most days. Clothes don't just magically fall on my body in a pleasant fashion.

Anyway, great post!