Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How To Make A Tee And Jeans Work For You

As a fan of the dressier, the structured and tailored, the eccentric and avant-garde, nothing strikes me as more snooze-inducing or off putting than 'a tee and jeans'. I avoided wearing this classic American Casual pairing for decades. That's why i knew i wanted to share this look with you! This outfit isn't all that exciting, but it demonstrates how you can make a style statement you love in even the most mundane of circumstances.  It's a sign of just how far down my style journey i've traveled that i can now don this outfit and feel utterly myself. What's the key?

I've narrowed it down to two key concepts. Key One: you've got to have the basics nailed. You need great fit and great aesthetic flattery.  As a physically low contrast woman i chose a low contrast clothing pairing. A high contrast woman could wear a white tee with a dark wash denim for her jeans. I look better with some pattern and texture going on, thus a heather grey hoody and slightly distressed or broken in jeans highlight my looks without overpowering. The bootcut lengthens my legline while balancing my hips and saddlebags. And so on.

Especially in this day and age, the variety of basics out there is truly stunning. What's more, the variety of looks tolerated as 'in style' is huge compared to any other time in history! So figure out what makes you look great, get it, and wear it!

At this stage you'll have a flattering base, but chances are it won't feel like a finished 'look'. Time to implement Key Concept Two: think out your accessories strategy. If you're like a lot of gals, pinning a rhinestone brooch onto your Hanes tee will feel a wee bit twee. While some ladies pull this off beautifully, it's not for everyone.  It also overlooks the importance of 'functional accessories' such as purses, belts, shoes, glasses, watches and earrings. You know, the kind of pieces that you wear everyday without thinking about them much. A popular school of thought on these vital wardrobe items is to buy something very basic, in a "go with everything" color so that the piece won't 'clash' no matter what you wear with it.

This strategy does work. The trouble is that while such 'classics' don't detract from your overall look, they don't add anything to it either. And when you're wearing a pared-down casual look like this one, every item has to carry it's weight if you want your personal style to come across. Now i've come around to a different viewpoint on everyday basic accessories. When i was younger and didn't have much money, i would try to get the most low-key, stay-in-the-background purse i could find. I had to use it with every outfit i wore and i didn't want it to strike a sour note. My bag never ruined an outfit, but talk about boring! Frankly, i can't even remember what any of them looked like! Nowadays i have a few different purses, each of which is pretty distinctive. Compare my pictures here which include the Isabella Fiore bag to the ones without. The bag texture, hardware, and those leather covered pyramid studs add a much-appreciated dose of excitement.

 Wearing coordinating accessories in groups will also increase their style quotient. Choose pieces with prominent aesthetic qualities in common to wear together. These qualities will reinforce each other and draw the viewer's eye towards your purpose. The belt, bag, and shoes in this look don't match, but they are all dark brown distressed leather with three dimensional details (perforations, pyramid studs) and two have lots of metal. It is in fact possible to put together a few of these basic accessory groups, perhaps building on pieces you already have. One group could be a dark neutral, one a light neutral, one a bright or rich color. You can of course use these pieces with other accessories as well, but it is nice to have some planned out strategies for hectic or uninspired mornings.

What strategies, guidelines, or tips and tricks have you found useful in wearing a tee and jeans or other ultra-casual looks?  Has this American Classic outfit always been a natural for you, or have you had to struggle with it as much as i have? I await your wisdom with bated breath!

Hoodie: Free People (thrifted)
Tee: Merona Ultimate Tee by Target
Jeans: Levi's curvy fit (discontinued)
Parka: L.L. Bean

Belt: DKNY (thrifted)
Shoes: vintage Ariat
Bag: Isabella Fiore (via T.J.Maxx - a great spot for deep discounts on Italian designer bags)


  1. This is a fun post...I would love to see a lot of different ideas here! My "uniform" is a great pair of jeans, a white T, and a black fitted jacket on top! I have a LOFT white T covered in sequins that I also like to pair these pieces with!

  2. I love this post, Steph. I rely on accessories when wearing this basic "uniform", but being a non-splashy kind of woman, they might consist of: great booties, leather belt with a few details, hoop earrings and a cool purse (love yours!). I don't so bright colors, bold accents or over-sized anything very gracefully. You look very authentic and fabulous.

  3. Gosh I never thought of my basics like this before. I will have to sort through my basics and put together some go to looks and see what I come up with. I like your use of low contrast neutrals. I think you are correct that the details add the interest. You are ever making me think about the 'why's and how's' of fashion.

  4. I'm a high-contrast woman, but as a rule I never wear light-colored tops-- it throws my figure off balance visually. So for me, it's either a black or jewel-toned tee, with dark-wash jeans. The tee is always v-neck or scoop, never a crew. I find lower necklines more flattering on me. And I've learned to avoid boxy tees-- I find it especially important to maintain a feminine look when I'm going casual, otherwise it begins to look sloppy on me.

    I'm trying to avoid sneakers these days (they feel a tad too casual), so shoes are usually black ballerinas or black suede boots. I like to wear simple necklaces and earrings with casual outfits like this-- nothing too sparkly.

    In the winter, a simple solid-colored sweater can be worn as a "tee" with jeans, for a similar look. Also, in the winter, I'm more likely to be wearing a scarf instead of a necklace.

  5. Pam, that is a great suggestion! for a casual leaning lady, taking your tee and jeans and jazzing it up by adding a jacket and or spicing up the tee or jeans - that formula alone could provide a style breakthrough for a lot of people!

    Thank you Patti! "authentic" is a great word for what i'm trying to go for and talk about. It's one thing to look good, quite another to look and feel authentic. Your own formula sounds just right to bring out all of your beautiful features!

    Hi Adrienne! i am glad to hear i make you think! i'll be keeping an eye out for your 'basics'.....they don't get a lotta love on the blogs, but they are vital!

    Ms. M, you make so many thoughtful points here. Especially love wearing a simple sweater as a 'tee' - great way for a casual lady to transition easily to a dressier look!

    Thank you all so much! steph

  6. just another one of your typical GENIUS posts!
    You've given me a lot of thinking to do, as well.
    [I don't own anything recognizable as simply "a tee shirt." ]Heck, why didn't I buy the black and the cream sequin tees today when I had the chance. :D

    You definitely look like your authentic self. My authentic self is dressier (hence never wearing jeans and a tee) and I tend to use accessories to rein the other pieces in.

  7. I don't wear jeans that much and my own coloring is low/medium contrast. I wouldn't feel like me in jeans, a tee, etc. But more than their clothing they design, I always like what Isaac Mizrahi and Ralph Lauren wear. But I don't have their coloring, either. Googled a pic of Lauren and he had on a black tee and distressed leather jacket. Yes! I can wear a black tee! That would feel like me. If I only owned one. And black and medium denim would be medium/low contrast, too. Black isn't "supposed" to look good on me but it does. And just enough edge. I'd want pewter/silver/marcasite accessories. Endlessly searching for greytone shooties/ankle boots that are not too high heeled.

  8. Vildy, that is just brilliant! :) i am also glad that i'm not the only person who takes a certain amount of 'backing and forthing' in order to come up with the, in hindsight, perfectly straightforward solution!

    Thank you for your compliments. it's so very nice to know that there are people out there thinking things i've had a part in sparking!! steph

  9. Until about 10 years ago, I seldom wore jeans, and almost never with an unadorned top. When I did I liked the high contrast of textures, colors and shapes such as a frou-frou white blouse and patent leather yellow flats with scuffed Levi's. I kind of miss those days :).

    I now frequently wear denim and still love the contrast. Today for example, straight-leg Lee jeans paired with a lightly tie-dyed long-sleeved rose tee with embroidery and beading along the neckline, with black loafers. I added a low-veed grey cashmere pullover when it was time to walk Sadie, and felt quite comfortable.

    I like your grey hoodie - particularly the great shape and unexpected 3/4-length sleeves. It adds some structure and interest to the base layers. Great shoes, too - I've been on the hunt for some vintage wing-tips.

  10. Hullo P! that's a nice mini-story of part of your style journey - i always think of you in some sort of ruffled-front poets' blouse whenever i picture you in my mind's eye!

    Also great ideas for spicing up a tee and jeans! that outfit sounds delicious.......yum.

    that hoodie IS great - found by my fairy godmother, i can take no credit! give Sadie a hug from me, steph

  11. Nice! I like that you think of a poet's blouse. I suspect that's the type of style which more closely reflects the REAL me.

    For some reason I always associate lace-up, vintage-look booties with you.