Why I’m Done With Dressing Down

My mother used to tell me that one should always buy clothes that make one look “dressed.” I didn’t get what she meant. How was I not “dressed” in my worn-out Dr. Martens boots and oversized men’s parka that hid most of my body? I was 15 years old, a Vogue subscriber and firm believer that being fashionable equaled breaking my mother’s boring style rules. It took me years to understand that by “looking dressed,” she did not simply mean “not being naked.”

Jack McCollough, after the recent Proenza Schouler show, told Cathy Horyn that Proenza’s new collection was “anti-ease”: “We were sick of everyone talking about ‘ease’ in fashion. I mean, get out of your pajamas!” My mother doesn’t know Mr. McCollough, but I’m sure the two would get along very well.

For many seasons, appearing dressy was the biggest faux pas in fashion. Looking like you didn’t care was the new dressing up. It probably all started with the coat-over-shoulder-look, also known as the armless-fashion-editor-move. From there, things got messy. People started knotting their jackets’ sleeves around their waists. Handbag handles became useless as bags were crammed under armpits. Jeans looked like they had scarcely survived a violent encounter with a bulldozer. With Vetements arriving on the fashion stage, your postman suddenly looked chicer than your Parisian grandma, and an ill-fitting flower dress that initially was meant to end up in the bin (as Demna Gvasalia told me himself!) became the bestseller of the season.

The rise of don’t-care-gear surely also had something to do with the reality of our busy lives. While a polished exterior indicates that one spent at least an hour getting ready, dressing down makes you look like you are too occupied with actually important things. The irony in this is that looking sloppy can, in fact, be very time-consuming.

I know this because I’ve tried it. I wore T-shirts under and XL shirts over slip dresses. I pulled ripped jeans over fishnets. I spent mornings carefully disheveling my hair. I tried a heavy-metal logo-print hoodie with extra-long sleeves even though I hate heavy-metal music. I wore my boyfriend’s jeans. I bought a fake Nirvana tee on eBay, ignoring the fact that I was born the year Kurt Cobain died. I spent an entire day at Paris Fashion Week with one side of my blazer sliding down my shoulder. It had taken me 15 minutes to securely drape it that way and annoyed me for 10 hours straight. I observed the other people outside the shows: everyone was so extraordinarily slouchy in their oversized puffer jackets, sweatshirts worn under slip dresses and heavy hiking boots peeking out from under tulle skirts. People looked cool, wild and definitely not dressed. But whenever I tried to copy them, I felt like a walking question mark.

It was that day in Paris, when my painfully arranged blazer kept on going its own ways, that I realized that I was done. Done with trying so hard only to end up looking like I’d failed tragically. Done with looking like I didn’t care, because I do. I like to iron my shirts, I like to wear a coat that actually fits. I recently discovered long leather gloves! Have you tried gloves? The truth is that I’m the opposite of relaxed. I don’t own one piece of leisure wear. I’d rather sit on my couch naked than in a pair of sweatpants. All I ever buy is occasion wear – dramatic earrings, flashy high heels, suit pants, silk midi dresses – which I then end up wearing to the dentist because I don’t have that many occasions in my life. But why not make life the occasion?

I once forgot my handbag in a store, recently lost my credit card and was stopped by the police because I was riding my bike on the wrong side of the street. Why would I want to look messy? My life is already messy enough. Should fashion not be an armor for all these situations in which you feel like you’re losing control of everything? While I am far from being put together, I at least want to look like it.

Follow Berlin-babe Claire on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Go check out her website C’est Clairette, too. Photos by Marlen Mueller.

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  • Anne Dyer

    I really love this article and am really trying to figure out how I can swing a swing coat while at the park in LA with my toddler where no one wears anything but drop crotch sweatpants and top knots.

    • ESW

      Toddlers are hard on fashion. I always end up carrying my son’s coat/backpack/stick that doesn’t match my outfit. and forget heels! And nice jewelry!

  • I’m totally with you. Dressing well is a form of good manners! x


  • Katie Lucchesi

    Yassssssss this speaks to me. It’s so healthy to realize you’re not too cool for anything, especially the things that make you feel the most authentically you. I’m a big fan of just because it’s Tuesday outfits.

  • Natalalaa

    Claire <3 Her Blog alone is a reason to learn german! (I am German, lucky me…)

  • YES! Finally! I feel so vindicated! For years I’ve been described as always being “dressed up”, that even my jeans were “dressy, nice jeans” and I never understood why that it was considered odd to dress that way. I always felt good when I wore my favorite dress or my new trench coat but automatically felt like I was abnormal when people would point out that I was – in their mind – overdressed because I wasn’t wearing an oversized sweatshirt or baggy jeans. This article makes me so happy!

    • Aydan

      I love it too! And it strikes me as weird that others don’t!! 😉

  • Senka

    Love, love, love this!! I find my self dressing up to work almost every day, recently. Granted, I work a government job, and it demands fairly conservative look, but no one expects silk shirts, satin pleated midi skirts, velvet or gemstone encrusted heels every day. Yet that’s what I find my self drawn to buy, so that’s what I wear, because that’s what I have. I do own few beloved pairs of jeans, but I haven’t worn them to work one single day this winter and it wasn’t a conscious decision. I just felt more drawn to nicer, prettier and more feminine stuff, or if not that, more “dressed up” stuff. I even started wearing flashy jewelry to dress up potentially drab gray cashmere sweater and black slacks outfit. And it resulted in me liking the idea of mornings and even going to work a little bit more.

  • Sheila T.

    those gloves!!!!!

  • Shauna Greenlee

    “But why not make life the occasion?” I love it! This is so very true.

    • Charlotte

      I need to remember this!!

  • Catalina

    “All I ever buy is occasion wear – dramatic earrings, flashy high heels, suit pants, silk midi dresses – which I then end up wearing to the dentist because I don’t have that many occasions in my life. But why not make life the occasion?”


    • ESW

      My dentist is really handsome so end up dressing up…

  • Mo

    True words and a personal relevance… there is a trend on our everyday scrolling. Like in life. Instagram in particular has a way of shaping the content, but then the content shapes how we post, why we post and what we post. Which coincides, in my preordained opinion, with what you’re stating here. About a trend. About what fashion is to us – what we see and how we give it meaning.

    Being visually bred I understand it to be something like this: 2013 everything was bright, it was poppin’. Pants were skinny and coral was the name of the game. We were boxing out our proportions in clothes, and we were bringing back the color blocking. Geometrically strict, we started pushing back with the color theory, and incomes 2014. When the minimal game was beginning. And Instagram accounts started really uniforming themselves. And most of these accounts did so with their smart phones and its limited lens. (Which is a beautiful challenge) But the iPhone doesn’t capture that banging sweater set and ripped denim against the leafy backdrop of our neighbors curbside hedge and it’s hard to enhance the lines of our wardrobe while trying not to emphasize the number of leaves in the bush behind us. It’s hard when you’re working with a lack of aperture, and so our limitations shape the content and the content enriches the trend.

    So in comes the white wall. The neutral backdrop. Suddenly. 2015 is the year of high contrast because black compliments white. And galleries look a whole lot like coffee shops, marble, denim, legs on plush white sheets, white light… It was at a precipice. So we pushed back again, because God Damn, we’re unique and we will not be defined or anticipated. So here comes the oversized but box-y garments, the sneakers, the slouch, and suddenly the indoors needed to go outdoors.

    On comes 2016 when #GoOutdoors and the hipster (bless them, us, we) is reigning. Perspective means everything to this Instagramer. And suddenly the stark contrast of the manicured black and white is met with softer neutrals, where contrast is seen in texture and INCOMING: The warmth is seeping into every frame. We see dated cars packed with luggage and yesterdays nostalgia, and an influx of travelers being solo. (except that someone took that photo of them on that mountain’s peak) And women in every frame with wind blown hair and even our shadows aren’t allowed to be black. They are edited to be deep blues or greens, as a reaction to the prior, stark contrasting. Just to say farewell to matching neutral sets, to body contour dresses, to looking plucked versus not looking plucked even though you spent all morning plucking. It’s a farewell to well dressed faces with underdressed bodies.

    I imagine 2017 will be the year that candid strikes its pose again, when those photos we see of our younger selves wrapped in the embrace of a loved one are the moments we really want to capture again, when our clothes and our “lifestyle” start to reflect an actual warmth and not so much a Pedicured-Ease. I mean, I hope so. Polaroids were all the rage for good reason.

  • Charlotte

    “My life is already messy enough. Should fashion not be an armor for all these situations in which you feel like you’re losing control of everything? While I am far from being put together, I at least want to look like it.” Most accurate description of how I feel about clothes at the moment! Love C’est Clairette by the way. My German is rusty, but I always take the time to figure out what she wrote!!

  • Suzan

    Yes! More power to dressing the way you feel most comfortable in, whether it’s dressed up or down! I personally like a mix of it and now I think I need to incorporate some long gloves into my wardrobe!

  • Kelsey O’Donnell

    Hear! Hear! I don’t feel good in a t-shirt and cut-off shorts, or hose with runs, or overly clunky boots. But give me a pencil skirt and a tailored silk button-down, I’m on top of the world. And I recently had a similar revelation where I was done pretending that’s not who I am.

  • Gail Leoniak

    As some one who must wear a set of scrubs to work, I always dress well when I am “off” even if I am not leaving the house. That also means wearing jewelry, make-up and perfume. The cat deserves to see attractive things; he is generally pleasant company.
    I am also old enough to have been taught to dress nicely to go to museums (let alone to restaurants or the theatre) and places like the zoo or the botanical garden. My housemate is much younger and doesn’t understand why I am so dressed up in the house.
    I always hated that “effortless” look. I want to be seen as “effort-y”. I want you to know that I felt that either you, or the event (or both) was worth my effort.

    • Clara

      YES! I never understood the appeal of “effortless”. It’s so boring! Why not show that you care? It’s much more interesting to be passionate and to put work into something than just not investing anything into things.

  • A Local Honey

    My 4-year-old daughter’s reaction to my being well-groomed are all of the conviction I need to cease dressing like a broke college student . When your little one gasps at the sight of you or tells you how pretty your hair is, it’s a boost of confidence unlike any other. I find myself trying to impress her frequently – she is my best critic! She would go bananas over that pink gingham? checkered? skirt!

  • BohoEve

    I love this post! I am the same way!

  • Alanis

    Great article! We should never wear things just because they are trendy! People look best in things they feel comfortable in and feel most like themselves. It could be a suit, a dress, or jeans and a tee. I love that we all have different personalities, and can embrace them through our clothes!

  • Mariam Elle Zoghbi

    Yes, I have! Please see my vintage pink satin elbow length gloves. One of the best purchases I’ve made this year.


    • HEART EYES!!! they’re beautiful

      • Jill

        I SO want to see the rest of the outfit.. Those are sexy AF.

        • Mariam Elle Zoghbi

          Still working on the full outfit, trying to find the most impractical moment to wear them

    • Hellbetty666

      Ohhhhhhh myyyyyyy. Those are exquisite.

    • Senka

      Those are stunning.

  • Junglesiren

    Claire is one of my favorite fashion chicks. She, like Leandra, Pandora and a few others, have a real sense of their own THING. I’m not a “dress up” girl (I live at the beach where that’s just weird) but I appreciate Claire’s dressiness.

  • HannaEim

    Yes! I hate when I wear a dress to work (in a law firm, might I add) and people ask why I’m so dressed up. Because I have nice clothes and want to wear them?

    • Aydan

      I wear a dress nearly every day to work! So much so my old coworkers would be shocked when I wore pants…

      • s.o.s ffs

        I worked as a vet tech at a stray cat shelter for years and some co-workers were always telling me I was “dressed up.” Hm, t-shirt, pants, comfy supportive shoes… What was dressy?! I wore “pretty” shirts and jewelry which, in contrast with others dressed in stained and hole-y clothing, looked “nicer.” Low bar, though. *snort*

  • I love this article and it resonates with me so much. I remember all through out my undergrad years people would always ask me “why are you so dressed up?” and this was when I wore nice fitting jeans and regular shirts. Just because I refused to wear baggy sweatpants and my pj tops to campus I was questioned daily.

    naghmeh lesani

  • yk

    Love the sentiment about making life the occasion!

  • Leslie Ortiz

    If you like dressing up don’t ever move to Hawaii. I’m originally from NYC and cannot get this “aloha” thing down. My jeans, button ups and skippies are too dressed up for Hawaii. Everyone wears ‘slippahs’ all the time! Ah I miss the dress up.

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    I relate to this so much! I am ALWAYS the most “dressed” person when I go out. And for years I felt self-conscious about this. People would say, “wow, you’re so dressed up” and I’d think, “I am?” All I had on was a dress or a really nicely cut blazer with a cute top. But now that I’m in my 30’s I wear what makes me feel good and confident. And that is almost always a well put together outfit.

    • Aydan

      Yes yes yes!! Being dressed up def makes me feel more confident too!

  • Jessica Downing

    I’m in college and at least 90% of the girls are dressed in either athletic wear or a sweater/legging combo. Almost everyone wears either athletic shoes and if they’re not, they’re wearing keds/converse/vans/etc. I don’t even consider myself being ‘dressed up’ but feel like i stick out like a sore thumb if wear a patterned blouse, colored blazer, or a shoe with the slightest heel. It doesn’t stop me from ‘dressing up’, but being an Apparel Design & Merchandising major it always kinda bugs me. Even the girls in this program dress down; you’d think people in apparel design might be more into dressing up but that’s 100% not the case.

    • Jessica Downing

      All I really want to do is wear my bright pink blazer and some chunky heeled sandals without getting weird looks, that shouldn’t be too much to ask!

      • People don’t discuss nobody’s on the worst dresses list. You have to matter to be the topic of conversation. When you learn to care less about the pack and their you will do great things. Wear the fucking blazer.

    • Forget those girls. do you. they’ll be paying you as an image consultant when they get their first job 😉

  • Stephanie

    Claire, you are a poet!

  • Rhonda Belcher

    You’d fit right in here in Texas – women here fix their hair & wear makeup for a grocery store trip. Not unusual to see women in dresses everywhere. I’ve always wondered why any woman in her right mind would want to go through life dressed like she’s cleaning out the garage…

  • Jill

    BRING it! I have never been one to really “dress down”. I like my heels, I like my cute tops with some interesting detail, I like a good wrap dress, and I LOVE my vast wardrobe of accessories, many of which swing, bling, or are bursting with color. Normcore horrified me. What was the point?? I’m not a girl who looks to stand out. I have my uniforms, especially now that I’m not 22 again and can’t wear everything I used to. But the accessories are the icing and most of the fun of getting dressed. I used to get asked “why are you so dressed up?” when I’d be wearing a skirt instead of jeans or shorts…now at least the people who know me are used to it. I went to an Oscars party (a few years ago) where one of the people said, “I thought you might show up in a ball gown!” Not quite…but I had fun with my outfit. Let’s bring some effort back!

  • Harling Ross


  • kellymcd

    I’m all for being dressier, yes indeed! However, I’ve noticed that certain clothing makes it easier for me to get around the very pedestrian city of San Francisco. I LOVE heels, I truly do, but I’ve found it much easier to take on the hills of the city when I have sneakers on. And a quickly done top knot is so much easier when its windy! Take pride in getting dressed, but getting too dressy can sometimes have the same affect as the slouchy draped blazer; annoying and difficult to keep up with

    • kellymcd

      Should mention I’m prefer cute sneakers, not a pair of Asics I use for running and the like! Don’t dress like you’re going to the gym unless you’re actually, you know, going to the gym

  • Callahan

    Same-same! I am a walking catastrophe – any carefully disheveled, drapey, or Olsen-esque undone looks rapidly descend into full on “Oh dear god is she feeling well? Should we call someone?” I have to Dress, or at least aim for looking put together, when I walk out of the house – and even that is pretty much guaranteed to look rough by the time I get back. Structured jackets and tailoring at least give me hope of having the appearance of having my shit together!

  • I don’t think that looking ‘dressed up’ (or one could even say… put together..) takes that long. Make sure that all of the clothes that you have at home fit you well, have your hair brushed and a touch of makeup… It won’t take long to look nice.
    Great post, saying what a lot of people won’t!


  • Bridget

    I second guessed myself thinking this was the Dong Xuan Centre here in Berlin – but it is!

    I love this dress well idea, although it will be tough here in Berlin – seems like you can either be super casual or a weird grey wool corporate.

  • Hellbetty666

    I’m so jealous of you people who can do Elegant. It’s one of those looks I just cannot pull off, so I’ve stopped trying. I’m definitely more of a heavy metal hoodie woman.
    That being said, I was out hiking at the weekend (hungover to shit) and a lady said I looked “glamorous”. I was wearing camo combat trousers, a band shirt and a quilted outdoor shirt, plus blue-lensed aviators (for the hangover). I guess “glamour” and “elegance” are in the eye of the beholder?

  • Nicole

    THIS article speaks to me so much. I’m always perusing things that are far too *dressed up* for my retail-worker-cum-art-student lifestyle, but what should stop me from wearing a Zimmermann gown to my lectures if it will get me out of bed in the morning, right? Or at least that’s what I tell myself every time I walk out of one of their stores, mind brimming with outfit ideas that have nowhere to be brought to fruition…

  • Pandora Sykes

    She’s BACK! Claire’s writing and styling is just superlative

  • Yes! I am always the girl in jeans and t-shirt, but I am never ever slouchy. And sometimes I add extra glam just to sit down at the dinner table with my husband and kids. Last Sunday I was at the hills house with the whole family and they were all mocking me for being dressed up to watch the Oscars. Oh come on, ditch your ugly sweatpants for your mirror reflection sake. Your self-esteem will thank you later.

  • Kattigans

    Who makes the shoes?! I’m a sucker for a slip on anything shoe.

  • gwendomouse

    Currently wearing was a pink sequinned calf length skirt. Never knowingly underdressed.

  • Lísa Attensperger

    YES. I do this all the time: on day’s I feel extra crappy, I put on my lipstick and wear an outfit that makes me at least look nice, and you know what, it works! The power of fashion right there. (also never owned sweatpants in my life)

  • Belle

    Fashion should be fun… and if fun for you is dressing up, then you should DRESS UP!

    I’m totally with you about being naked on the couch before investing in sweatpants haha. There is no such thing as fancy or designer sweatpants… they’re still sweatpants!


  • Christina Ecker

    great words 🙂

  • Crap you were born the year Kurt Cobain died?! I was born the year Kurt Cobain died and I’m not writing for Man Repeller!! OMG What am I doing with my life?!!?

    Loved the post by the way and totally agree!

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I like to dress up. When I dress up, I feel better. It bothers me to see people going to nice restaurants, church, etc. looking like they are ready to do yard work or lounge around the house. Love the gloves! I have a pair of purple leather wrist length gloves a friend gave me years ago as a gift, and I still wear them. I call them my “Miss Piggy” gloves.

  • Kasey

    Love this post! People have lost the art of really dressing up


  • I loved this post. I’m not into fussy clothes (different for everyone but I categorise them roughly as anything that requires me to wear a strapless bra or hurts my feet), but I absolutely second the ‘get out of your pajamas’ sentiment. Androgynous minimalism is not my fave and I feel like it’s been inescapable for the past 2 or so years. Enough with loungewear. Let’s have some clothes pls.
    Whiskey Tango Flat White | Life and style in weird short essays

    • Also: ‘I felt like a walking question mark’ is the best summation of that haunting outfit-regret feeling I have ever come across. So true.

  • Caroline

    SO AGREE! Amazing piece

  • Amanda Orlando

    omg I needed this. I relate!

  • Salome Popiashvili

    I think it’s not odd thing to dress well. Now I need some T shirts, to look much more informal, or whatever. But then I thought, being formal it’s my comfort zone, so why should I look like more acceptable, if I fell more put together when I’m in my suit? I can relax in my home, or in spa and It’s absolutely enough.