What does “dressing well” even mean?

What does it mean to be "well-dressed?"

 I thought it was best to start with this question because, well,….people. And different people have different standards and different definitions for the same concepts. Take for example my kids. When I tell them to clean their rooms, what they hear is “Pull your comforter to the top of your bed in any haphazard way. The End.” Everything else gets ignored, including my admonition that THAT is NOT cleaning.  So you see why I thought it a good place to start this conversation by being clear about what I think it means to be well dressed. Because we can have a conversation about being “well dressed,” but if every time I say the phrase “well-dressed,”  you hear “expensive, pretentious, trying too hard,” or any other words that I don’t mean,  we are going to get off to rough start. And we don’t want that, do we? I also thought this would be a good place to state the obvious… these are my opinions. Albeit tasteful, refined and elegant opinions, they are still opinions.  :-) So off we go….  

1. “Appropriate” 

And by “appropriate” I mean for the occasion AND for your age. I can already hear big sighs and see some eye rolls, but stick with me here. I’ll start with occasion. I don’t find that too many people are overdressed anymore, its quite the opposite. I find that pajamas and lounge/gym clothes have become the norm in many  public places…especially the airport.  Call me old fashioned or mean names, but I don’t  fancy letting every person who passes me on the street see me in pjs/lounge clothes.  I don’t know everybody like that and I’m not trying to be so familiar with the public at large. Maybe this is because I am an introvert or maybe its because I have standards. Who knows? 

But before we go any further, I feel the need for yet another clarification. I don’t mean overdressed in the way that someone merely put forth effort and looks put together. I don’t mean “overdressed”in the way some people use the phrase as a passive aggressive comment meant to make someone else feel uncomfortable. What is "overdressed" for me may not be "overdressed" for others. I mean, we all saw Downton Abbey and while that was 100 years ago, I feel quite comfortable in stating that even in the same time and place, the Grantham dinner dress code looks a bit different than the Elizabeth Reagan dinner dress code. There are different standards in different families and cultures. So while I have had my fair share of "being overdressed" accusations, there was a period in my life where every piece of clothing I owned would have garnered many stares of pity sitting at the dinner table with Granthams.  A good sundress can only take you so far, no matter how cute it is.  I’m talking about overdressed in the way that one would show up to their kids school theater production dressed to host the Tony’s. Ok, so now that we understand that “overdressed” is actually dressed for a different event than the one they are currently attending, we can move on.

Appropriate, also means acknowledging age as well. No, I’m not trying to “hold women down,” if you want to wear belly shirts well into your 50’s, go with God. It is not something I find appropriate. But then again, I never wore them even when I was in my 20’s when it would have been totally age appropriate. It was never my style. And that, after all, is the point of this post.. to define, by Elizabeth Reagan standards, what style and being well-dressed means. There are some things that women should not wear past 40. The End. We don’t have to like it anymore than we like changing hormones and decreasing collagen levels, but its just a part of life. 

2.Dressing well means choosing clothes that serve you, not make you serve them

I love beautiful clothes as much as the next person but if they are so delicate that they keep me pinned to my chair or afraid to to breathe too hard lest I mess it up then they aren’t going to work for me. This idea was in large part responsible for the birth of this line. I have spent a good portion of my life on the sidelines. I was too afraid to get sweaty or messy to enjoy myself. And one day I realized that time was marching on, whether I liked it or not. And I had a choice. I could start living the life I wanted and stop waiting for other people to show up or things to change or I could make it happen myself. I chose to make it happen myself.  Which means no more sitting on the sidelines. And for women who want to look good while building their dream lives, we need clothes that accomodate our drive, not inhibit it.  I shouldn’t be so worried about messing up my clothes or sweating through them that I am afraid to do the things I love. And I also don’t think this should relegate me to a life lived in gym clothes.  I realized that Marc Jacobs is even more genius than I gave him credit for when I read this quote of his, “Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them.” And the choir said, “Amen.”  No more standing on the sidelines. Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play. And I am going to look good doing it.  Which leads to our next point….

“Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them.”  -Marc Jacobs 


3. Clothes should reflect your tastes and preferences… 

 …Not what you think you should be wearing or what your neighbor says you should be wearing. And while we all have yoga pant and hoodie days, I believe that those should be kept to a minimum. Trust me, I have been down that road and it just made me feel worse. Dressing the way I want affects my mood and self image. And even if your taste is super comfy clothes there IS a way to achieve that without giving up and just wearing pjs every day (which admittedly has taken hold since the whole world has basically been put on house arrest. That and mask mandates have seriously compromised my standards as of late. But I digress.) Being a stay at home mom didn’t mean that I had to be relegated to tees and stretch pants forever. But I didn’t realize that. I thought since I was “just staying at home” there was no need to dress the way I wanted.  I could have dressed nicely without feeling like I was going overboard while “just staying at home.”  (I hope everyone can pick up on the sarcasm that is dripping in that statement as I believe “just staying at home” to be one of the hardest jobs out there. I know, I did it for many years.)  But many times, being a SAHM or being retired, we don’t think we should get dressed up because there is no occasion. Do we need an occasion to brush our teeth? I hope not, even with the protection of the masks these days, that is not a course I would recommend. Do we need an occasion to put on deodorant, shower, brush our hair, etc? Part of being well dressed is seeing it as self care. The way we present ourselves to the world is what people see. How we dress informs others as to what they believe about us.. and we are in control of that. This ties into the idea that many of us were taught as girls and as Tom Ford so succinctly stated when he said “Dressing well is a form of good manners.” Yes. Just yes.  Slap it high, Tom!  Good manners respect the occasion and the people in attendance. Dressing well means being your best. And while there will be exceptions to the rule, being my personal best is the standard I strive for everyday. But again, there are moments, days and periods in our lives when doing our best looks a lot different than other times. Take for example when we are sick. Just getting out of bed can be an olympian task and being in your pjs all day may be the best you can do. Some periods, say, after you bring a new baby home lasts a little longer. Until you hit your stride, looking like you stepped out of band box isn’t within your grasp (unless you’re Kate Middleton. That woman was made to shine. Can I get an “Amen?”) Or after a breakup/divorce/loss/just crappy time in general, your mind can be elsewhere and there are other areas that need the attention. We get it. But having said that, sometimes dressing well despite feeling like poo helps you feel a little better. I know, I’ve been there. And you have too if you’re being honest. Because when you’re down and out what is the first thing your girls get you to do?? Change your clothes and take you out. :-) This isn’t rocket science. And it isn’t about being a snob. It isn’t about judging someone else who has different standards than you. Its about being your personal best. And respecting others who are trying to do their personal best, even if that looks different from you. 

4.Taking the “War” out of wardrobe

 Being well-dressed also means not having to pencil in time blocks on my calendar to figure out what to wear.  I believe my closet should be a coherent representation of my personality, style and tastes so that much of my closet can be mixed and matched without much effort. I don’t want a lot of pieces that were designed for one outfit only. I believe in classic staples like I believe in a good glass of sweet tea on a hot day and fried chicken on Sundays.  Getting dressed and looking good should be easy. Like any relationship, it shouldn’t take a war-like effort to make things happen. This applies to getting dressed too. 


 So, for those of you who love a closet full of staples, to make dressing easy and make all your pieces versatile; for those of you who love accessories to spice up the aforementioned staples and add variety to your wardrobe; for those of you who love timeless elegant design in new colors and prints ( and the old classics); for those of you who value being effortlessly chic (NOT TRENDY), for those of you who agree that dressing well is, indeed, a form of good manners and you enjoy giving your personal best, then this is the place for you.  Glad to meet you. Get ready to have some fun! 



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