this, not that

I came across the term "haute casual" while flicking through the new UK Vogue at the bookstore, and it kind of crystalised something in my head; the difference between the special kind of casual reserved for J Crew catalogues and fashion editors at fashion weeks, and normal casual. 

This is "haute casual" -


I aspired to this type of casual for ages (I don't think one is better than the other by the way!) until I realised I was never going to attain it, because heels are out of my vocabulary, among other things. This look is characterised by heels, a small and expensive bag (or none at all), impeccable tailoring, subtly sleek make-up and great hair. Blazers are often draped over the shoulders. Something shiny adorns the fingers and wrists. (There's also Haute Tomboy and Haute Hippie Casual but my brain isn't willing to go there now.)

"Normal casual" is what the rest of us wear. On model types, it still looks like haute casual but if it's on a regular person and not artfully photographed, it's not especially eye-catching. For one, a lot of the oomph is removed once the heels are out of the equation. Also I carry not just one bag, but often two bags because I tote work things plus yoga gear and lunch from home with me.

My admiration for the former has made for some poor shopping and dressing decisions. Because I think I am going to look one way but the reality is different because my lifestyle compels me to make little tweaks that fundamentally shift the look to something else altogether. So keeping these distinctions in mind has helped me be a bit more realistic when I'm shopping or swayed by a great look on Tumblr.

(By the way, who's bored of fashion week street style? The likes of Viviana Volpicella (first pict) used to make clicking through various websites worthwhile but now it feels like a circus to me.)

Pictures from cafe mode via tfs, Vanessa Jackman, zimbio via tfs


Petya K. Grady said…
New reader! Love your blog and agree with all you say in this entry! I must say that the upside of what you just described is that the rise of haute casual has made dressing up quite easy! I used to worry what to wear for a night out! Now I just wear dark skinnies, comfy T and nude slingback heels. Easy!!!

P.S. There was a great article on the evolution of street style blogs in the NYTimes a couple of days ago. Let me know if you want me to forward it to you!
Eileen said…
But you have the height and the legs - something that is an essential for haute casual! I think you can be if you put in the effort but I think you'd rather not, not on normal
Ammu said…
Many street style blogs leave me cold those days, mostly because I don't like contrived looks. The OTT dress, IT bag, statement necklace, etc etc. Having said that, this kind of look - the picture of Lauren Santo Domingo for instance or that earlier picture you posted of Clemence Poesy - appeals to me quite a bit. I like the simplicity, and while I don't wear jeans very often and my handbags are usually bigger, I like the ease of these looks.
jamie-lee said…
I'd never thought of this as haute casual, but I see where you are getting with that remark, and I will admit that I too hope to one day look like this! I think in some respects it has led me to make some bad purchases, but for the most part I hope good! :)
lin said…
Petya K Grady: Hello! Yes, most of these looks are dressed-up by my standards, haha.

I saw that NYT article, it's good!

Eileen: I think the grooming and the heels are things I can't manage, haha. I could wear similar things but the final effect would be something else altogether because the little things I don't think are very "me" would be left out.

Ammu: About street style, I can add the deliberately clashing prints to the mix, haha.

About the pictures I posted, I love the looks too, but even though I can put together something similar there are things I swap for comfort that results in a different effect altogether....for example I never wear make up and I think I definitely look less polished.

jamie-lee: I've figured that this isn't me even though I love the look...I'm just messier (and not in a chic way)!
Ammu said…
P.S. You have always struck me as chic, without really trying!
Nyssa Jayne said…
I was about to mention the NYT article about street style too -- is it really street style when it is actually constructed by brands?

i've kind of got a bit of faith in fashion though, and that perhaps the product placement in street style is a trend that will soon pass. (i doubt the product placement will pass, but i imagine some sort of "indie" street style will surface).
Maria said…
I saw the same article and admittedly, raised my eybrow quite incredulously.

It's my opinion that this is casual dressing, what makes it 'haute' is the quality of the clothes, and the grooming that comes with the outfit.

While its admirable in its chic simplicity, I don't think it's achievable in terms of practical, everyday kind of style.

After all, these are people who dressed up/groomed/prepared for this event and the photographers. To quote someone (I forgot who D:), we're comparing our behind-the-scenes with their highlight reel.
hannah-rose said…
I could not agree more. I sometimes get a little sad about the fact that my boring style would look so lovely on someone tall and willowly and wearing heels. It's definitely the not wearing heels bit that changes everything - haute casual just becomes casual, which treads the fine line into boring. Most of the time I don't care, but it took a long time for me to reach that stage, and I made some weird purchases along the way because I must have been in the wrong headspace, but now I think I'm comfortable with boring casual/normal casual/plain old casual.

And you're right, street style is so staid at the moment. I haven't even been looking, nothing is inspiring me. I used to love seeing what Taylor was wearing but even she is losing some of her spark I think... x
Nomadic D. said…
Love this post and the discussion you've started. And I think you're really onto something. Part of it for sure is the heels and the lack of need to carry anything important (I carry my life around in my bag too), the lack of need to walk anywhere long distance or take the weather into account - I guess it's that these people don't seem to have any sort of real life needs when they're shot like this, just a beautiful 'casual' image in a black hole of a fashion moment. And for us mortals who get dressed in the morning and then run around all day doing a million things, well there's no way our casual is going to look so put together. Also agree with you that the fashion week street style images seem so boring this year, and I think that might just be because we're totally saturated - a side effect of having everything so easily accessible: we're now bored.

So what's the answer? I don't know. But I do thin kit's good to be conscious of all these distinctions and our own personal preferences and realities.

Sorry for the long comment, just think this is really a fascinating subject!
Sue said…
I still view these as lovely chic looks which are perfect for the people shown in their natural fashion habitat. It helps to be blessed with height and the perfect body structure to carry out that kind of look with nonchalance and ease when wearing such simple attire. I however am small and do not have perfect proportions (pear springs to mind) and even if you were to put the same ensemble on me - the whole look would be well "less chic". Hence, some people have it, some people don't but can't hurt for trying. I think you have a natural ease with the clothes you sport and wear them around your lifestyle - that's life and how clothes should be used. I do a school run, I have children with dirty hands - I do practical but I still appreciate a good look when I see one. I too dislike wearing heels these days but having donned a smallish heel in the past few weeks - I can see how it changes your posture and makes you stand tall. And I lug the same grey tatty messenger bag everywhere. That's life. I'm rambling and not making much sense as usual.
Sue said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexandra said…
Agreed. Although I've noticed a lot of editors at NYC fashion week made the switch into flats which was somewhat comforting. I'd so much rather invest in a great of pair of statement flats that will lift my look without sacrificing comfort. I think you can still attain haute casual without heels but my hair and makeup could do with a bit more work!
Anonymous said…
Same issue, different reason: I skew towards the lady-like end of the spectrum. I can NOT pull off messy hair (I look too "absent minded professor"/in need of professional help). This could be a symptom of my age and work environment-in my late 30's).
The first look is really Ralph Lauren (which is where I live most of the time)-I have some version of everything pictured (except for the shoes, which I would never wear). The second look is my problem. The look is out of reach for me-casual but with those little details (on the skirt, shirt and shoes) that make my "want monster" come out with a vengeance.
Pret a Porter P said…
You have a great casual style. My casual style is sort of like Ashley O's: oversizedish whatever chic. I dress according to where I have to go and what I have to do, and the weather and the I'm in flats.

-ps. I have to admit in the 2nd pic that is a pretty cool skirt. And I agree about fashion week being ridiculous. I only regularly check the sartorialist.
Completely agree RE: street style. It all seems so forced now, and everyone is wearing the same thing even though they aren't, if that makes sense. Also how many times am I going to see those Balenciaga space print sweatshirts!

I love all the outfits you chose for this post, always what I aspire to.
Maja H said…
First of all I LOVE the term "Haute Casual" - only Vogue could come up with something as appropriate yet vomit-inducing.

Your thoughts are spot-on - heels, height and skinnyness seem to be key here. For expmple: I love the classic "model off-duty" look, but it never looks quite right on me. I'm just not enough model and it all gets way too much "off-duty" ;)

Don't even get me started on fashion week street style. It was interesting a few years back, but it has become such a parade. I've skipped every single street style post in my blog feed for the last few weeks, and in my utter fashion fatigue I haven't even started my usual fashion week evenings. I'll try to catch up this weekend :)
Joy said…
Everybody looks kind of the same now but I have to say I still think those who can rock it look damn good. I wonder what haute tomboy and haute hippie casual are! Love Maja H's cmnt on how this is such a "Vogue term". Hurts my brain just thinking about it.
petrichore said…
Very good observation! I agree with you re: heels make the look, as well as freely admitting heels do not often work for me with my jobs. (I've been experimenting with low heels; we'll see how this plays out over the next few months.)I've been continuously divesting myself of all clothes that don't work well for my life, and the latest thing on the chopping block are some Frye boots, which are too casual for work and not comfortable enough for the long walking that I do in my non-work time. Thank god for Ebay, the one place I can go to get back a little of my money from these failed experiments!
sanmiguelense said…
Circus is right! Orange ADR and all of the rest of the fashion "personalities" seem so pointless. They are boring in their predictable foolish and costumey outfits. I like the personal styles of the designers. They always look normal AND cool.

My mantra: Dress for the weather and the person you really are! Don't fall into the traps--the multitude of land mines involving clothing decisions! Buy quality. Never be a mutton....
Anonymous said…
If you untuck all three shirts, and swap converse for their shoes, you've definitely got accessible, realistic casual.
Does the "haute" imply the extra effort/discomfort of restrictive styling?
miss sophie said…
i think it's been about almost 5 years since street style officially hit the big time (remember when The Sartorialist was fresh and new?? that seems eons ago...)

i think the first-name editors-as-celebrities thing has gone through the cycle, and lots of people are getting bored.

as for 'haute casual', i always think Sofia Coppola does it really well while totally scoring points for us flats/low-heeled girls. i was also bemused to see A LOT of flats and kitten heels on the Marc Jacobs runway show! there's hope for the rest of us yet!
lin said…
Ammu: Thanks :)

Nyssa Jayne: It does start to feel contrived after a while doesn't it? I feel like street style was a nice break from the trends being pushed to us by magazines but now that magazines are influenced by blogger style and vice versa it all starts to look the same.

I still enjoy seeing clothes outside of a editorial or magazine, but I feel like I have to look harder for an interesting look now.

Maria: Yes, the grooming! And I love that highlight reel metaphor.

hannah-rose: I think you look great, for the record, there's definitely a clear, distinct look you are working, whereas mine definitely calls into a more generic catagory haha.

But that aside, I identify with that "wrong headspace" you speak of! I think we all have those fun out of character buys from time to time, but I think it's a good idea to keep them to a minimum because they end up so neglected which is a shame!

I haven't really been looking at the pictures either, just whatever pops up on other blogs etc, but yes, nothing excites me.

I have to say, I continue enjoy seeing the Paris Vogue girls though, and their deliberate attempt to dress down and keep it low-key. It's obviously meant to distance themselves from the rest of the pack and it works for me at least.

Nomadic D: It's been fun seeing whatever everyone has come up with! You have a point about the saturation, I suppose in a way we've been spoilt.

Sue: Never apologise for rambling!

Anyway, it was realising these looks are not much of my natural habitat that helped me become a better shopper, and I am grateful for it. It's true that you can't really hurt for trying but it can't lead to some expensive/wasteful detours!

Alexandra: I hated the crazy shoe moment right from the start so it is gratifying to see a return to pared down shoes, even if they're still high.

I do still hope for the day I attain that casual but polished air I so admire in people, in comfortable shoes.

Missone: I can't work messy hair in a chic way either, and lady-like is unattainable for me!

All three looks make me want, big time, but I think a sense of "know thyself" has brought me back down to earth over the years..

Pret a Porter P: Thanks! Ashley Olsen does dress down very well...definitely a great role model if you can pull it off!

I like that the Sartorialist is okay with posting one photo at a time.

koko: Yes, what is with those sweatshirts?? I think Susie Bubble actually said she decided not to buy one because she figured it would be all over the blogs...shrewd move.

Maja H: laughed out loud when I read your comment, "appropriate and yet vomit-inducing" - spot on!
I love Vogue and also love laughing at's a strange relationship.

Joy: I agree...I saw a picture of Giovanna Battaglia and she looked great, very much herself.

petrichore: I experimented with a little heel recently too, shall see if anything comes out of it to post about...

sammiguelense: I like Maria Cornejo - best spokesperson for her designs!

editor: Yes, for me it's the styling. I can own the same things but a tweak here and there and it's whole different vibe.

miss sophie: I'm interested in where all this goes the end of the day I like looking at clothes outside of magazines but if street style starts to feel like "editorialised" then it's a bit sad, but you never know where it might go next.

Yes, love Sofia Coppola's style though she still breaks out the heels for evenings, albeit fairly sensible looking ones. I've personally give in to the fact that I feel more appropriate and comfortable in heels for evening as well..
Anna said…
totally agreeing with what you wrote. BUT have you tried swapping the heels for a pointy flat or a great (maybe shiny?) pair of oxfords? i bet these would work just as well as heels. i myself am hoping to get to 'haute tomboy/ haute casual' level one day. but being a poor student doesnt really help..

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