the practical dresser

Photographer: Maya Viliger

How I dress:
Step 1: Occasion
Step 2: Weather
Step 3: Comfort

Most of the time, as I get dressed, I have nothing. No ray of light moment when style icons flit through my head and I immediately think of a mood to channel. I know what I love of course, but a lot of it is deeply ingrained reflex.

So these days, it's whatever jeans I'm feeling that day (slouchier, skinnier), pick a top according to the weather (t-shirt, button-down, pullover), and ballet flats or loafers, or sneakers. My new desert boots have also added a bit of spin.

Bag of choice: my large grey YSL tote or, more so, my navy Longchamp messenger bag - so much to lug around, and all the better if I do it hands-free, since I take trains and buses.

I've neglected most of my other bags for months now. I also feel my desire for a small purse waning slightly (only slightly), because I can see how I'll use it only once, twice a week.

My dresses have also fluttered in my closet, unworn, because jeans just work better for work.

I'm enjoying my practical dressing phase, all thanks to my relaxed dress code for work.

Over time, I have formed my own little set of rules for practical dressing:
  • Buy no-nonsense, low-maintenance fabrics. Hardy materials like cotton and linen and washed silk are fuss-free choices. And they are all luxurious in their own way.
  • Buy good quality accessories that aren't precious. I don't own anything I'm worried about tucking under a chair (so long as it's not a bathroom, and it's dry). Awesome bags and shoes speak volumes - essential if you're a basic dresser.
  • Cut, cut, cut. Important for anyone, but I'm a basic dresser and not playing artfully with layers, so whatever I have on needs to stand on its own. Simple things with maximum impact.
  • If I'm tugging and fiddling even before I leave the house, I change.
  • Wear what I feel like wearing, not what I think I should be wearing. Even if it means I'm wearing the same thing over and over again.
  • Buy what I'll wear on a Tuesday afternoon, not a Saturday night. All the pretty special occasion things just never get worn - a couple of pieces are enough.
  • My friend says I have a siege mentality - I'm happiest when kitted out in things I will be comfortable in if I'm going to be trapped wearing them for the next 36 hours. I think it's something ingrained in me ever since my family and I were stuck in some random airport FOREVER with no luggage because of a missed flight.
  • I get my hair trimmed regularly - good hair is obvious when you dress simply, and it's easier to handle in the mornings.
  • You can skip/shorten the make-up routine if you take care of your skin (eat well, sleep more).
  • Flat shoes over heels. Always.

Picture from turned out


Ammu said…
I totally agree with your comments. I have stopped buying silk clothing after moving to India - it's just too hot to deal with here. As much as I enjoy falling in love with things, it's much more satisfying to buy what you need and will use. So far I have only made one 'mistake' this year - a beautiful metallic bag I never use. Need to find a friend to give it away to!
hannah-rose said…
practical dressing is my mantra, i sometimes feel a bit silly because i wear slightly daggy things all the time - baggy tee shirts over jersey ankle-length skirts and maybe a jumper if its cold-ish. i love your set of rules, they are so similar to my own, but also remind me that i need to get my hair trimmed more often. that is so important.

also flats rule!

yanqin said…
Ammu: I do hate it when things go underused. I prefer to give them away as well, where possible. I also have this pretty sequinned scarf I got my birthday that I never use, it makes me feel bad too. But things like that remind me to stay rational whenever I'm tempted by impractical things.

hannah-rose: I agree, I do feel a little shabby, even rude, sometimes, for looking so casual. But then looking at the girls on Turned Out always make me feel better. We're not alone in loving grey sweatshirts and slouchy t-shirts!
Anonymous said…
Sounds good! Having just read the book by Lucy Siegel' To Die For. Is fashion wearing out the world?' I would also add: the pieces in your wardrobe should also be Fair Trade and Planet-friendly, so perhaps made of organic cotton, hemp, naturally dyied and from companies who implement policies of living wages for their manufacturers. Sounds like a lot of hassle, but after reading this book I realised huge impact my clothes have and I will definitely look hard into my wardrobe and my fashion choices. Regards,domi
Kate said…
I'm exactly the same. Except for the hair trimming, I agree with hannah-rose there. Neat hair makes such a difference.

The past six months or so reading all these inspiring blogs has made such a difference to me. I've given up makeup (except for a smudge of eyeliner or brow pencil) and I obsessively check fabric labels. Your blog has contributed to this greatly, so thankyou.
Lindsay K said…
I love this image. The fish tail braid is very now and yet she looks so comfortable and classic. I need to channel more of this. I agree- I don't like waste. I only buy things that I love that are good quality and that I will use until they are literally falling apart. I really enjoyed reading these rules on practical dressing.
beautiful :)

Elena from
Anonymous said…
I always have more fun when I'm feeling comfortable too! You can always tell if a girl is uncomfortable. Not a good look!
Stephanie said…
lin, you're on to something here. Just before I go to bed I get all these lofty ideas about style concepts for the next day. Then I wake up and it's like, "You know what? It's raining and I have to SPRINT to the bus stop. Let's get real."
Aïssa said…
As much as I love browsing through wonderfully edited blogs and magazines, at the end/start of the day, whenever I dress and shop it's about my reality and feeling good. So your post rings true and hit home.
Pret a Porter P said…
yup I pretty much agree. It's not practical for my lifestyle or climate to wear things that are so precious either.
Fashion Tidbits said…
Really? Flats ALWAYS?! My practical side tells me this is so true but heels are soooooooooooooo purty my dear! ;)
Milly said…
Honestly couldn't agree more. I am a total flats girl and also the rule about if you're fiddling with clothes before leaving the house...CHANGE! I've done that before!
nanashi said…
The Tuesday and not Saturday mentality is a good call. When I see a really dressy and nicely tailored items I forget that I rarely ever will have the occasion to put it to use.

For years whenever I think of getting anything the first question was if it needed to be drycleaned and if it did I usually do not get it. Getting older now I think about having to iron shirts but I still can't give up the nonchalance of the Steven Alan shirts.

Nice write up!
Joy said…
I just love your simple, no nonsense rules that you work by! Love it.
miss sophie said…
i agree with everything! i think one should always get dressed for oneself first, the effortlessness and style will shine through that way.

especially agree with your rule about awesome and well made accessories anchoring the look. a superbly crafted and timeless bag or pair of shoes will always be both the foundation and the elevating factor!
yanqin said…
Domi: That's a good point, but so much harder to carry out. Fairtrade and organic brands are quite hard to find. I suppose I must simply work harder to find such items but I wish my favourite brands would take their own steps to beinb more ethical and green about their production.

Kate: Thanks, I'm really glad to be able to interact with like-minded bloggers and readers as well - it's a great outlet for me, seeing as many of friends don't understand how I feel about clothes.

Lindsay K: I love her hair too; for about two seconds I wanted long hair. I think it's also a matter of appreciating what we already have - something I get obsessed with "better " versions of what I have, when I was pretty happy with it in the first place.

Elena: Glad you agree :)

R A: I agree! The girls I admire, no matter what they are wearing, are ones who look completely at ease.

Stephanie: I have so many of those moments, especially since I like to sleep in.

Aissa: Like what you said on your blog about short shorts, if I can't wear it on the subway or bus, it doesn't make sense to buy it!

Pret a Porter P: I'm so obsessed with the weather when it comes to clothes!

Fashion Tidbits: Really! I don't own any heels, and borrow from my sister if I really need to look for formal, and for job interviews. I had a pair but I gave them to her because I never wore them.

Milly: I do that all the time. I will put something on, have breakfast, and decide to wear something else, for no clear reason.

Nanashi: Thanks! It's something I've always tried to keep in mind, but the actual phrase I took from Lucky magazine! Shld have mentioned that. I hate dry-cleaning things also, and avoid them.

Joy: Thanks!

miss sophie: And good bags are really things you can use for a long long time too, so I can justify spending more on them than I do on other clothing.
LPC said…
In my culture we'd call you a Sturdy Gal. Which has absolutely zero to do with body type, BTW.
Ginta said…
I could sign under everything you said easily! I like things with a twist, I may wear more colors or even prints but basic is the same - with minimal effort to achieve perfection. I need to be able to climb mountains if I want to in whatever I wear.
yanqin said…
LPC: Thanks, I like the sound of that! I'd be happy to have a sturdy body type anyway. Actually, I think I do have a sturdy body type...

Ginta: Exactly! This is why I don't wear dresses as much.
Sherrie Cola said…
Love the fishtail plait.

Popular Posts