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There’s a great story about socialite Nan Kempner who, after being told she could not enter the chic La Cote Basque in NYC wearing pants, simply stripped them off and entered sporting only her tunic. The idea that a woman could not enter a restaurant in a pair of pants is a bit baffling now and a testament to how our ideas of what is considered elegant and chic are constantly shifting. In our busy modern times it seems appropriate that chicness is now being aligned with comfort and no longer are we required to bind ourselves up in complicated clothing to be seen as well dressed and put together.

As a fan of the more-Tilda-Swinton-less-Meghan-Fox kind of chic, I welcome the addition of what was once considered “casual” attire into a more dressy context (within reason, of course), and pulled together some of my favorite Spring runway looks that embody the idea of modern, laid back elegance.

I am a tomboy through and through and often (ok, always) gravitate towards pants – no matter what the style situation. Thankfully it’s been easier than ever to find great trouser options to dress up or down and loads of inspiration for how to get it right.

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From left: Doo.ri, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Haider Ackermann. Patterns clockwise from top: Louisa Vest, Scarf Front Top, Trousers with Ankle Zipper, Cropped Trousers and Oversized Vest.

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From left: Michael Kors, Doo.ri, Dries Van Noten, 3.1 Phillip Lim. Add a jacket to your chic pants ensemble – try BurdaStyle’s Suit Jacket and Oversized Jacket patterns.

If basic shapes and simple fabrics are just a bit too boring for you, shake up those wide-leg pants and comfy tops by making them in textured fabrics. You can never go wrong with a little sparkle.

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Left to right: Michael Kors, Dries Van Noten. Patterns clockwise from top: Long Sleeve Top, Janina Trousers, and Boyfriend Trousers.

Although this look sort of takes me back to the mid-90’s when it was all the rage to wear baby doll dresses over ripped up jeans, a simple dress paired with slightly flared trousers seems fresh and modern.

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From left: Dries Van Noten, photo courtesy of Shopbop.com. Patterns clockwise from top left: Tunic Dress, Fatina Dress, Flared Trousers and Maxi Dress patterns.

Maxi skirts are still a huge trend for Spring. Shimmering silk or comfy cotton versions with thigh-high slits provide just the right amount of drama, especially when balanced with more conservative or masculine tops and jackets.

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From left: 3.1 Phillip Lim, Jeremy Laing, Phillip Lim and Haider Ackermann.

Full skirts are another great way to balance elegance and comfort, sort of a ball gown feel without all the pomp and circumstance.
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From left: Haider Ackermann and Jil Sander. Patterns from top: Embellished Jacket, Top with Pleats and Long Skirt patterns.

Other ideas for easy chic outfits:

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From left: A simple column dress in a solid color is always a safe (and comfortable) bet – Calvin Klein. One-piece dressing makes life so much easier, and a silk version makes dressing up a breeze – Haider Ackermann. Play around with cool jackets, an interesting cut can make even the most basic of outfits seem instantly stylish – Calvin Klein. A classic button up shirt gets a dose of glamour with paired with a beautiful full-length skirt – Donna Karan.

The inspiration:

When putting together this post, I couldn’t help but notice how many of the outfits reminded me of some of my favorite icons from the 70’s. Angelica Huston, Bianca Jagger, Lauren Hutton….they all added a sort of tomboyishness to their glamour that never made it feel too stuffy or constrained. They always looked incredibly comfortable and easy in the clothes they were wearing, whether it was a plunging Halston gown or a tailored YSL suit.

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So now I want to know, what’s your idea of elegance? Plunging necklines? Sparkly mini-dresses? Tailored pantsuits? What do you consider “dressed up”?

Photos courtesy of Style.com and Shopbop.com.

18 Comments

  • Missing

    May 8, 2013, 05.42 AMby Cleveng Liu

    Dress up yourself was a killer and kept in you heart.women dress up herself become the star in the banquet,and the man can dress up himself become a hero in the movies also. so,why don’t you buy a skinny bootcut jeans.

  • Missing

    Mar 9, 2011, 03.51 AMby Patricia Osborne

    I agree with jenyjenny in regards to fabrics that drape well is elegance. We have lost the art of dressing up for special events which saddens me. You do not have to be uncomfortable to wear elegant clothing.

  • Missing

    Feb 17, 2011, 04.41 PMby kimiquious

    The turquoise dress is giving me some interesting ideas. I’m a more athletic built gal, so obviously if I ever do an interpretation of this it would be a little less revealing, but I love the plunge paired with the thick waistband. Just not so fussy on the itty bitty straps and the half gown thing on the side.

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    Feb 17, 2011, 01.23 PMby sewinl0ve

    This is great! I love that you include the patterns with the desgins. That scarf top is to die for! To me, elegance is unspecific and can’t always be expressed in words. It’s constantly changing. It just is or is not, but when you see elegance you know it. Like when a man or woman walks into a room full of people and everyone turns their head to capture an eyeful of the glamorous ensemble they’re wearing. Elegance stands out in a crowd of the average dressed but is pleasing to the eye and never gaudy.

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    Feb 17, 2011, 12.34 AMby splendarose

    Elegant, elegant and yet more elegance! I love all these pieces. To me, “dressed up” is defined by flowing, rich materials such as silks, wools, chiffon, cashmere, rich knits, drapey material. I love the reemergence of the good old 90’s in these new fashions. What really calls to me style wise is richly flowing fabric done up in real simple patterns. Could be a dress or slacks, depends on how it’s pulled together that counts. If it looks rich, it works.

  • Missing

    Feb 16, 2011, 08.41 AMby Patricia Henderson

    I am short!!! I’m just 5’ 3" and maybe even less now. BUT I still want to look elegant and chic. I doubt whether any of these styles would do that for me, even though I love the way they look. How I translate those styles which look so great on tall figures to my short one?

  • Missing

    Feb 16, 2011, 07.19 AMby kapnoel

    To me, elegance is not the catway. It is the way you dress to express your personality in a flattering way. That is wear clothes that fit well, are good for your figure, have a color that is suits your complexion and somehow also reflect the spirit of the time. Accessories and shoes also play an important role to make your image more coherant. Additionally to that, elegance is the way you carry yourself, your confidence and your glow, your way to say to the world: “this is me”.

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    Feb 15, 2011, 09.49 PMby trixiemcbubble

    this look is exactly what I’m always drawn to and aiming for! simple shapes, in discrete colors and quality materials, never go out of style.. loving that all-black Calvin Klein outfit!

  • Missing

    Feb 15, 2011, 09.19 PMby momof11

    To me elegance does not shout look at me. It does not look sloppy. Plunging necklines are not elegant. Avant garde does not equal elegance. Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Katherine Hepburn all dressed and carried themselves elegantly. None of the runway styles shown are outfits I would ever wear for a special occasion.

    1 Reply
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      Feb 17, 2011, 01.27 PMby sewinl0ve

      Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn were absolutely the icons of elegance.

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    Feb 15, 2011, 08.38 PMby Abuelita2

    I notice that on the runway for 2010 & 2011, there are lots of high necklines but on patterns like Burda & Vogue they are invariably translated into plunging low necklines & same for the usual shopping mall collections. Why is this? I am thin, and after a certain age no longer feel the sight of my ribcage makes the world a better place.

    Beth C

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    Feb 14, 2011, 11.38 AMby Sabrina Wharton-Brown

    My idea of elegance is almost anything from a vintage sewing book, except for those 1920s skirts that didn’t flatter at all! Also Jacquie O’ and Audrey Hepburn’s style.

    True elegance almost always has a waist and is ladylike, i.e. it’s feminine and you can get our of a car without blushing. : )

    Aside from dresscode, I think elegance has a lot to do with attitude and posture.

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    Feb 14, 2011, 09.54 AMby magdamagda

    I feel totally spoilt after seeing this article, the kind of urban floaty elegance in these items makes me dream and dream…:) Haider Ackermann just grabbed my imagination!

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    Feb 12, 2011, 07.30 PMby carottesauvage

    I don’t like tight clothes at all nor short skirt and deep cleavage.I don’t know the equivalent of chavy in the US. Everything outside those parameters could be thought as elegant in my opinion. Discreet fabric prints are fine. Elegance is navy blue and a fabric that is stain repellant, in order to eat fear-fish&chips with style!

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    Feb 12, 2011, 04.17 PMby janul

    I would never wear pants to “dress up” :). I just wear them all the time! When I have a chance to wear something nicer, I always choose a dress or a skirt. That´s just the advantage of being a woman, there are so many possibilities. I don´t like to wear the neckline too low… or the skirt too short – I feel awkward when wearing something very “sexy”. Lately I love chiffons… I would love to make classy dress out of dark chiffon… for me, “dress up” is all about the materials and interesting patterns.

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    Feb 12, 2011, 02.24 AMby momsgotanewhobby

    Some of this is taking me back to the 80’s and 90’s, I just don’t see a lot of women with larger ( average or bigger) breasts and hips wearing this stuff. It’s pretty to look at though.

    1 Reply
    • Missing

      Feb 12, 2011, 03.26 AMby lookingsewgood

      I know. I’m a us size 32 DDD/ UK 32 E or F I think and the idea of not wearing a bra is laughable. I cant even find sleeveless ready made clothing that fits. I cant even find strapless bras that fit. So disheartening!

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    Feb 10, 2011, 08.24 PMby jenyjenny

    To me, elegance is represented by fabrics that drape well. Dressy or dressy-casual, but not jeans or work-out clothes. Too-tight clothes are not elegant.

    BTW, I’ve been avoiding working on a project but after looking at this, I feel motivated, inspired! Thanks!

    • This is a question
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