Monday, 23 August 2010

In Search of Chic

There was a girl in my class in high school. She wasn't the prettiest or the most popular girl ever, but she was one of those girls whose make-up (nicely plucked eyebrows, mascara, a hint of rosy blush, nude lipstick) was always in place, whose hair looked smooth and sophisticated even in gym class, and whose argyle sweaters and knee-lenght skirts always looked appropriate. In one word, she was chic. I got to thinking about chic this past weekend when Chris and I went to see Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. It's not the best of movies, but it looks beautiful. Anna Mouglalis' wardrobe is to die for. She wears mostly black and white, and looks incredibly elegant in every single frame. I could try to argue that it is only a movie. I could try to argue that Audrey Hepburn probably looked really sloppy in real life, or that Marion Cotillard looks chic on the red carpet and only on the red carpet.

There are women who seem cool and effortless in their "I just got out of bed and threw this on" look: Kate Moss, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Then there are women who always look sophisticated and elegant: Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett. Their styles range from edgy to girly and classic, but they are all chic, and it would be too easy to claim their elegance as a by-product of their stardom. We all know that chic women do exist in real life.

Apart from that one girl from high school, I think of my brother's wife, whom I have seen look a bit rough only after she had just given birth. I have seen her in her pyjamas, without a hint of make-up, and there is just something about her that conveys ease and elegance, no matter what she is wearing or whether she is made up or not. A girl I used to work with looked like she had walked straight off a Ralph Lauren photoshoot every single day. There have been times when I have taken the train to the city to go to work in the morning and sat opposite a woman whose sophistication has been so palpable compared to my lack of elegance that I have felt like hiding underground.

It is clearly not about the clothes or the make-up. Lily Allen could be wearing head-to-toe Chanel and she couldn't look chic to save her life. I could be wearing a YSL tuxedo suit and just look like I was dressed like a man. I don't think chic is anything you can adopt. You either have it or you don't. Needless to say, I am one of those who doesn't, and for the most part, I am perfectly okay with it.

I have got to the habit of not wearing much make-up at all, mostly because after an hour of having put some on, I find my eyeshadow creased up, my face shiny, my mascara tainting my lower eyelids. I don't use hair products either, because there is nothing on this planet that could make my hair stay in place. I opt for carefree partly because I don't want to look like I am trying too hard and failing.

As for clothes, it is more or less the same deal. I tend to layer not just because I like layered looks, but also because layering is a good way to hide my inability to pick and choose clothes that work without added effort. I combine prints not just because I like print looks, but partly because I can't do solids in an elegant manner. I am not saying that I don't like my style - I do - but there is something else I could be wearing if I knew how to make it look chic. See, for as long as I can remember, I have dreamt of a capsule wardrobe where everything matches, and I love the idea of simple, clean, elegant menswear-inspired clothing. After seeing the Chanel movie, my gut tells me to get rid of all of my clothes and buy, say, ten pieces that I would wear for the rest of my life.

Maybe it is the fall issues of fashion magazines showing images of restraint and clean lines that have got me thinking about all of this now, or maybe it is the past year of having worn prints, layers and lots of colour. Maybe my inner chic is screaming to get out, but with the lack of confidence, she is forced to hide. I really don't know what makes someone look chic. If it is not the clothes, maybe it is the attitude. Maybe it is just confidence. Maybe it is the desire to strip down to essentials rather than to pile on. Maybe it is all about enough, rather than more.

Long-sleeved tee and trousers: second hand from Fida, bought a year or two ago
Shoes: vintage Pertti Palmroth, bought at a flea market at least 15 (!) years ago
Necklaces: vintage, Lynn's stash


Cynthia said...

Let's just redefine carefree as chic and reclaim the word!

Sal said...

You've described the essence of chic so well, lady. I've never felt it myself, either. I love dressing and style, but it's always an effort. Always.

Those shoes are dynamite!

elle s'ennuie said...

Interesting post, I can relate to much of what you've described here... I am sometimes drawn to these looks, but I don't think I've got the personality for "chic". :)

Charlotte said...

Very thoughtful as usual, Waves. I think one could give ten women the same uniform of, say, a white shirt and a pair of dark denim jeans, and then say, "OK, put this together." Would it be the individuals' ability to accessorize that made some of them chic and some not? Their haircuts? Their shoes? Is chic something that's added, or something that's taken away? It's an ineffable quality, for sure--I think you might have nailed it when you spoke of confidence.

Eyeliah said...

Chic is a tough one, I know I am not but of course I will strive for it regardless. I’ve stopped wearing makeup also, about 3 months back. It feels fabulous but when I take outfit photos these days it makes me look less pulled together which fights against the goal of chic. I think you could pull of the capsule quite well but I worry you would get bored with it. I am so bored already with my lesser amount of clothing.

Jonna Deel said...

I am a details person. I think this can often interrupt the idea of being chic, because chic, to me, means wearing clothes, rather than the clothes wearing you.

If you are comfortable, you don't give what you are wearing a second thought.

When you focus on living and having the time of your life, you forget what you are wearing, which means your clothes become less of "an ensemble" become part of your body. And when you are less conscious of your outfits as decisions, then that quiet confidence finds you, and your personality overcomes what wrap yourself in.

In all reality, chic is just a lofty word for self knowledge through garments...or am I wrong?