Thursday, September 8, 2011

Classic Elegant and Sporty Casual

Photo courtesy of Wardrobe Oxygen

 In trying to organize my thoughts about this post,one thought kept popping into my head: "I just hope i can get these ideas across somehow....." With that encouraging beginning, let's jump in, shall we?

After reading the comments to my last post, i want to point out that i never found out 'which style type i am' by reading Emily Cho. I'd take the mutiple choice tests and end up with scores all over the place. Fortunately, 'finding your style personality' isn't the only thing for which Emily Cho's image types are useful.

I used to find my self constantly battling two situations. In one i would dress as expected for the situation, which would make me feel like i was wearing a costume. I'd feel awkward and distracted, like i was undermining myself by being so fake. So next i'd try 'the opposite approach' and dress strictly according to my own aesthetic lights, in which case i'd stick out like a sore thumb and other people would be distracted from me by my appearance. Which would also make me feel like i was undermining myself.

Photo courtesy of RAGS Against The MACHINE
  Terri's Sporty Casual take on blue and yellow uses bright and clear shades of those colors, matte textures, knit fabrics, looser fit and casual accessories.

By understanding Emily Cho's image types i had a better grasp of what other people expected to see in various situations. I was able to choose the characteristics i loved from the various image types - colors, silhouettes, cuts, details, items of clothing - and combine them in outfits that i loved wearing, that felt like me, and that didn't alarm the populace at large. I gave up trying to 'find my type' and instead found out what i loved in each type, what that said about me, and what i wanted to say with those elements. As a bonus, i really increased my range of style expression.

So, may i suggest that you set aside 'finding out what you are' as read the rest of this series, and think about what you want to say with your look.

Emily Cho's six essential image types fall into three pairs - Romantic Feminine and Sexy Alluring, Exotic Dramatic and Arty Offbeat, and Classic Elegant and Sporty Casual. The two types within each pair have certain relationships to each other, and these relationships help you to expand your range once you know which type(s) you naturally feel most comfortable in wearing. Today we'll tackle Classic Elegant and Sporty Casual in order to demonstrate how you can use the pairs to expand your style range.

Photo courtesy of Wardrobe Oxygen
 Allie shows how to do stripes Classic Elegant style. Perfect fit, shiny, tailored accessories, and a silky fire engine red skirt demonstrate that classic is far from boring!

Allie of Wardrobe Oxygen has graciously agreed to let me use her work day outfit photos to illustrate Classic Elegant style, while Terri of RAGS Against The MACHINE is providing our Sporty Casual examples.  The first thing to notice is that Allie wears many fabulous Sporty Casual looks, while Terri creates lovely Classic Elegant ensembles. Ms. Cho's types may be viewed as a person's 'style', but they also (and more so) describe a particular archetypal image - a pure idea of a certain woman, how she dresses, what she is doing, her personality, education, profession, etc. It is completely possible to 'put on' and 'take off' these 'personas' with a change of outfit, hair, and makeup. Both Allie and Terri do a great job of wearing Classic Elegant when it suits their activities (as a professional, as a college teacher) and 'dressing down' to Sporty Casual when on vacation, out at a club, etc.

This reflects the similarities between Classic Elegant and Sporty Casual. Classic Elegant and Sporty Casual styles both favor clean lines, classic pieces (pencil skirts, button down shirts, khakis, penny loafers, pumps, trench coats), solid colors, simple silhouettes, neutrals and primary colors, simple accessories in traditional cuts and materials. Both types favor classic, simple hair in a natural color and texture, as well as minimal, flattering makeup. No green hair or purple glitter eyeshadow for these types!

They also differ in certain respects. Classic Elegant favors sumptuous fabrics like wools, silks, linens. Pure Classic Elegant is also a stickler for perfect fit and quality construction, and will gladly pay more to get that quality. Classic Elegant is not afraid of the 'Dry Clean Only' label, whereas you'll be hard put to find one of these in the pure Sporty Casual wardrobe ('it's not practical'). Classic Elegant is Ann Taylor, Sporty Casual is Land's End.

Photo courtesy of RAGS Against The MACHINE
Terri's Sporty Casual take on stripes shows how casual looks can have tons of style and flattery power..Relaxed fit, knit fabric, and matte texture brown leather accessories keep the look pulled together without being fussy.

From the social aspect or how each type is perceived by people around them, Classic Elegant is seen as 'the boss', as wealthier, educated, formal, authoritative, someone who you should listen to, 'in charge' of themselves and others, capable of mental work, appropriate for business settings, someone who commands respect and honors social norms.  Sporty Casual is seen as (obviously!) more casual, more practical and down to earth, approachable, a 'hands on worker', friendly, easy to talk to, appropriate for family and social settings, 'good with children'.

Again, i'd like to emphasize that these are stereotypes, that may or may not have anything to do with the person inside the clothes. At the same time, people do make judgements based on how a person presents themselves, and if you feel like people misjudge you, that you are wearing a costume when you're dressed up or dressed down, or can't figure out how to dress for your life roles and still feel like you, thinking through some of these concepts can be helpful in resolving these conundrums.

For example, many Sporty Casual ladies aspire to promotion at work. Or need to make a presentation to the city council. Or want to walk their daughter down the aisle at her wedding. The first two situations call for a more authoritative, formal, 'alpha female' who commands respect. The third calls for a formal persona, who also commands respect and honors societal norms and familial bonds. These qualities are projected by the Classic Elegant image type.

Photo courtesy of Wardrobe Oxygen
Classic lesson in how to dress up a basic black dress. Allie adds black patent heeled sandals and a glitzy bracelet to 'dress things up' for a professional vibe while the leather-raffia belt shows off her waist and lends an unexpected 'summery' vibe. Subtle makeup and great hair add polish to this look.

Conversely, a Classic Elegant lady may want to make a good start with the other parents in her son's play group. Or she has volunteered to cook weenies for her daughter's soccer team fundraiser. Or she finally has some vacation time and actually wants to relax.  These situations call for an approachable, down to earth, friendly, and practical (hello weenie splatter!) approach to dressing - the essence of Sporty Casual.

The 'ickiness' of these mis-matches between your image and the situation comes in two flavors - you either dress like you 'should' and feel awkward and distracted by your costume, or you dress like yourself and feel like everyone's staring at you because you stick out like a sore thumb. Neither approach is satisfactory.

Now, as it happens, the Arty Offbeat image type is also seen as friendly, approachable, and practical....but it shares far fewer aesthetic and practical qualities with Classic Elegant than Sporty Casual does. A Classic Elegant woman can ease into a Sporty Casual look by determining the key elements that her style has in common with the Sporty Casual type and building her casual look from there.

Photo courtesy of RAGS Against The MACHINE
Here Terri shows how Sporty Casual can start to merge into Classic Elegant. The matte knit fabric, clean face and natural hair and white tee are all Sporty Casual basics. But the breezy scarf and red leather accessories (more often found in Casual Elegant's bag of tricks) add polish to the look and kick up fashion quotient.

Let's say the Classic Elegant lady feels comfortable in her work uniform of woolen straight skirt, silk crepe shell, cashmere cardigan, pumps and pearls (strand and studs), all in dove greys and camels. She could trade the wool skirt for the same shape in khaki colored cotton, replace the silk shell with a nice quality white cotton tee (classic piece in classic color, so she can make the leap), and a cotton blend cardigan in the same silhouette as her beloved cashmere. To emphasize the 'friendly and approachable' vibe she could pick a cardi in a nice bright yellow or blue. Loafers or driving mocs are casual but 'classic' enough that a person used to always looking perfectly polished won't experience the mortification of wearing running shoes while not actually running. Pearl studs are great for casual looks, nice neat and out of the way - if they're kind of big, just say they're costume ;)

Ideally, by comparing and contrasting her Classic Elegant look with known Sporty Casual interpretations, the Classic Elegant trending type can dress more appropriately for casual occasions while still feeling 'herself'. This can involve using the same pieces but in different ways (as with the pearl studs) or it can be done by carrying through certain style characteristics such as color, silhouette, or outfit formulas (skirt + short sleeve knit + cardigan) while changing up details, pattern/color or fabric. The Sporty Casual type can 'dress up' without feeling like an impostor by using the same method and raiding the Classic Elegant's closet for inspiration and ideas. Again, the mere thought of going from Sporty Casual to Exotic Dramatic (think Frida Kahlo) would give the Sporty Casuals i know an aneurysm! With Classic Elegant, the silhouettes, the way you put looks together, the accessories and color are much more understandable.

Photo courtesy of RAGS Against The MACHINE
 A more classic Sporty Casual take on dress-dressing. Take off the cap and flip flops and add the scarf, belt and pumps from the outfit above and Terri will find herself in Sexy Alluring territory - it's the power of red! DH will be pleased.

Choosing elements from varying image types and blending them into a total look also allows you to present many different sides of yourself at once. I especially enjoy looking at dressing myself from this perspective - i feel it clues people in to who they're dealing with. I also feel that i'm coming across as more of a 'whole person' when i dress with these ideas in mind. Sheila of Ephemera is the past mistress of this pursuit.

I'd also like to point out that Allie and Terri show that even though both Classic Elegant and Sporty Casual are typically thought of as safe, boring, predictable, and unflattering - that isn't so at all! These two image types are the most popular in the US and it's possible to see truly uninspiring interpretations of them all over the country. These two ladies blow those ideas out of the water, not only that but they show you don't have to be sixteen years old, six feet tall and size zero with a fat wallet to do it, either. Check 'em out!!


  1. Wow, Steph - this post is an amazing education, using two of my very favorite people as models! I learned so much about these two style "types" and how they mold, blend and personalize their looks.

    I have experienced the "ickiness" of a mismatch between an outfit and my image, and on those occasions I cannot wait to get home and rip off the offending items. Now I understand why! (Ickiness!)

    Thanks so much for this, it's a treat.

  2. Oh, Steph, I feel very flattered. It was interesting as I read to think about WHY I aspire to this look and feel comfortable as a "classic elegant" style. For so many years, I was poor as a church mouse and yet recognized fine fabrics--silks, wools. I still don't fully have the budget to buy new and make no secret of my thrifting habits. By nature I'm a bit shy and an introvert--and now, I'm realizing that the style may put people off even further. I really like Allie's red skirt!

  3. Patti, i was so happy and relieved to read your comments! Whenever i write these type of posts i fear that readers will find them rambling, difficult to understand, and pointless. But i've found some of these ideas to be really helpful and i want to try to get them out there for other people that may appreciate them too. It's thrilling when i get this kind of feedback!

    Thank you so much!!!!

    Hi Terri! thank you for letting me use your pictures!! Being seen as 'standoffish' is one of the possible pitfalls of the CE image type, but i think you already address this very nicely in your own personal style. first of all, your use of color is great and many of your 'best' (IMO) colors are also very friendly - the citrus ones, for example. Blues (excluding dark navy) are also very 'approachable'.

    Your quirky, fun, very personal accessories also are perfect for drawing people in and giving them an easy and interesting way to start up a conversation.

    Every image type has it's potential pitfalls - i feel that you've addressed this part of the CE 'persona' quite nicely!!

    Happy Friday!! steph

  4. I'm on my 2d readthrough so far. Fit. You've really got me thinking about how the amount of fabric figures into a style.

    The ladies are gorgeous. I bought a mustard yellow straight skirt today and now I'm hankering after a well-fitted French blue chambray shirt a la Allie.

    And poise. They each have a different kind of poise. Having very much to do with fitted vs. skimming/relaxed, I think.

    I still do like clothing as costume, though. Don't mind at all having a phony kind of "rind." Had to go to a new vet yesterday with a doggie emergency. Dog is doing well at home now but I had missed the rabies booster, have an inner city address, am "old". Plus hubby read that they were very, very expensive. I wanted to look understandable to the young women vets. I wanted a benefit-of-the-doubt outfit that said, at the same time, that I had some acquaintance with money but was a little bit savvy perhaps and don't try to sell me unnecessary procedures. I find that some form of casual wear that they might wear or recognize works well with medical people. (years of dealing with son's hemophilia)

    Wore black jean cut pants, my one and only cotton flannel plaid shirt, a sleek microfibre tote (filled with pet records in case I had to further prove I was more responsible than I might seem) picking up the plum color of the plaid, and expensive looking black preppy loafers. I wanted to look like
    a "dog person." :D It went very, very well.

    Am looking forward to the rest of the series. I always get so much out of what you figure out.

  5. You'll notice, btw, that I can't just "be myself" and am thinking all this through while the dog is having bloody diarrhea!

    BTW, do you know the amazing Goffman, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life?

  6. I follow both girls and I really like their style. I'm happy you made such an explicit post on both styles as I feel I 'm close to both of them .The insight you give is very helpful and insiring .I go check the links from your previous post

  7. Vildy i am very relieved to hear that your poochie is feeling better!! Good lord, what an event - though i know from experience that you take a very different approach when you have to deal with a lot of doctors, lots of times, because of chronic medical troubles. i had very severe asthma starting at age 15 - i feel that it's much harder to be the parent in that type of situation than the child. i'm terribly sorry your family had to go through that (although it does sound like you have learned from it whatever you could!)

    i think your idea of dress as 'costume' has some real intersections with Emily Cho - i remember her referring to 'your audience' and making some other noises that fit in with consciously choosing to present yourself in a particular way for a certain effect. I believe her emphasis is on how to do it in an authentic manner.

    Of course i've never heard of Goffman, how do you find all these amazing resources?!?!?! Thank you!!!!

    Thank you angie! it's nice to hear that you find this helps! i'm so excited to see your new bag, it turned out beautifully!!! & i see a bit more of your sweet face peeking out in your photos.......? very mysterious :)

    Happy Sunday (almost)!!!! steph

  8. Coincidentally, Steph

    A wonderful article there - and of course cites Goffman! I was just rereading Dress to Express and she has her various fashion/style types, one of which is Actress. That's me. My authenticity is in being phony. [grin]

  9. Thank you for the article link - coincidentally indeed :) !!!! the author really got a lot of different opinions in there. if i had a long stretch of nothin to do i'd love to read all the comments!

    "My authenticity is in being phony." i love it!!

    have a great day!! steph

  10. Hi Steph, I'm here from YLF and Suz's post. You are brilliant and I love the detail you go into. So much to think about. This is my second time reading and pondering this post. I think I just swallowed it whole the first time. I'm trying to make my classic leanings a little more approachable so this helped a lot. But I also want to consider adopting things I like about each type so that I won't be as easy to pigeonhole! Thanks for writing this!

  11. Claire thank you for reading and commenting! i'm trying to share some of the ideas that really helped me to get a grasp on dressing ane it's really exciting to hear that they help others as well (and that i'm able to get some of these ideas across !!! )

    Welcome! steph