One of the benefits of living in a small town is the casual dress code. You can go to work, take in a Zumba class on the way home, and go to dinner at almost any restaurant in yoga pants or jeans and a t-shirt. Excluding proprietary uniforms for Oil Can Henry’s or the wait staff at Jose’s Burrito Palace, women here can toss their structured black suits and rhinestoned evening dresses, and relax. We get to live, work, and go out in public in anything, excluding, possibly, pajama jeans.
A few years ago, I was working at a beautiful high-end boutique in our downtown district. During that time, I met dozens of women who came in to try on a gorgeous item that they rocked, but ultimately didn’t buy. Not because it was too expensive. The lament was always the same. “Where am I going to wear it? I live in workout gear.” Or “I’m a blue jeans woman. If it doesn’t look good with my jeans, it’ll just sit in my closet with all the other things I don’t wear.” And the Big One: “What do you have that will work with my life?”
For many women, the space between polished work outfits and stretch pants with t-shirts is a black hole. They’re at a loss as to how to dress up their casual wardrobes without sacrificing comfort. Our closets are filled with athletic wear and t-shirts emblazoned with “Have you hiked today?”, or jeans that don’t quite fit but were on sale (and we can always cover that scary muffin top with an oversized shirt). We have one “dressy dress,” but it requires full-body Spanx, so we never wear it. Our only jacket is from Bud’s Outdoor Wear because we live in the Pacific Northwest. We wear everything with running shoes. And no matter what we wear, most of it’s black.
The results of living in a place that doesn’t require us to wear anything interesting or unique is that, eventually, even the biggest shopaholic will stop doing so. It’s get easier every day to wear “whatever works.” But the reality is that clothes tell people something about us. They also affect how we feel about ourselves. Spending days, months, or years in boring, nondescript clothing, we risk feeling nondescript and ultimately invisible.
So this is for all the women I’ve met over the years, that repeatedly asked, “What do I wear when the invite says ‘casual dress’?? I don’t even know what that means.” Just for you, here are some fun, affordable options to consider adding to your casual wardrobe. Turns out it is actually possible to look great and be comfortable, at the same time. Who knew?
The perfect little black dress. Classic cut in a solid color, fits like a dream without necessitating full-body compression undergarments, and can be dressed up or down, depending on your accessories. Don’t worry if you only plan to wear it once a year. That’s the whole point. It’s timeless. You can wear it every year until it falls apart because it will look different with every swap out of shoes, handbags, and jewelry. People won’t remember exactly what you wore to last year’s event. They’ll just remember that you looked fabulous.
Great-fitting jeans. No thick denim or cheap, heavy stitching. No tight waistband smushing your belly up and over the top like an overcooked pie. Look for soft denim, with a little stretch that follows your curves and doesn’t require “sucking it in” to zip them up or hopping up and down to pull them up past your thighs. Dark wash, great-fitting jeans are the denim LBD (little black dress). They can be dressed up or down. Plan to spend $40 or more, and take your time to find the perfect fit. They’re out there. But you probably won’t find them in large box stores that also carry auto accessories and ten-pound jars of ketchup.
A denim jacket. Super-hot right now, and looks great over everything from t-shirts to dresses. Look for soft denim, and make sure it hits you at your waist. The longer ones can look dumpy, and the super short ones make you look like a matador (not hot right now).
A man-style watch. Chunky and oversized, they’re a great choice for jewelry minimalists because they make a strong statement on their own. They don’t have to e expensive. They just need a serious cool factor. I have one in a rose gold that I paid $20 for, and I get more compliments on it than I do my diamond Bulova.
Black ankle boots. Whether from Payless or Nordstrom, these add instant sophistication to your jeans. They look great with distressed, dark wash, or boyfriend-style jeans (roll them up and show a little ankle. Very trendy and kinda sexy). Suede or leather, they give any outfit a more “edgy” look, even if you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
Diamond stud earrings. Even faux (yep, as in “CZ” or Swarovski crystals), they’re always the perfect choice. Wear with an oversize, man’s white shirt and jeans. Or with yoga pants and a t-shirt. They add instant class. They don’t need to be mistaken for the real thing, so don’t be afraid to go slightly larger. You’re not trying to fool anybody. It’s a little sparkle next to your face.
Metallic ballet flats. Give your sneakers a break, and wear something a little more elegant. They’re comfortable, and work beautifully with casual outfits. I’ve seen them with jeans and even with yoga pants, and they always look darling. Think Audrey Hepburn. With shimmer.
A bright, fun-colored jacket. Jackets and coats don’t always need to be black. Color in the winter is fun. It’s an amazing pick-me-up. I have a bright coral raincoat with a vivid floral lining that I adore, and it’s eight years old. I wear it all the time and still get compliments on it. These can be found everywhere, from Target to Nordstrom.
Fabulous sunglasses. The right ones can make the most casual outfit look expensive. Look at shape, color, and fit, and buy what you can afford. Women often tell me, “I don’t buy expensive sunglasses because I always lose them.” Trust me. You won’t lose $300 sunglasses. But you can also find them at Macy’s for $40. Don’t be afraid to go big. For those mornings you don’t have time for makeup, a little tinted moisturizer, one gorgeous lipstick, and oversize, killer sunglasses is instant glam.
A black moto jacket. Motorcycle jackets are the “it” jacket this year. Wear yours with everything from jeans, to workout gear, to your perfect little black dress. No matter what you wear it with, you’re telling the world you’re a bit of a bad-ass. And you won’t have to say a word.