Of all the many forms of elegance, we could not forget the most important: clothing. On pavements and catwalks, elegance emerges like a flash of genius. Something to admire, without truly understanding what it stands for. It takes work, not that we should notice; can be learned but never bought. Added to which a certain nonchalance, and the secret to its fascination is unlocked. But how can we make sense of it all?
There is no denying, elegance is a form of beauty quite unlike sexy or spontaneous. Elegance does not look kindly on tangled hair or crumpled clothes, nor bare feet in the sand. Not Brigitte Bardot in full sun with unruly hair, nor the mythical Marilyn, her pleated chiffon dress in full flight.
So who is the ultimate elegant woman? Audrey Hepburn. Radiant, dazzling and yet impossible to decipher. Famous far beyond her capri pants and jewellery, for an allure she would never lose. And elegant man? Yves Saint Laurent, supreme elegance in polo neck or black tie. Or Elvis Presley, with his carefully honed look. Better still, Barack Obama and his willowy frame, his blinding smile and every gest oozing the confidence of a man who knows what he wants. And knows how to impress without ever revealing the tremendous weight on his shoulders. His simple, sharply-cut suits, sometimes open-collared, merely reflect this supreme self-confidence.
In Asia, it’s all about perfect hair and complexion. The body is a blank canvas ready to receive its colours. An intensely vivid splash of colour set against skilfully coordinated neutral tones. They flirt with the geometry of straight lines, through pleats and interlinking triangular shapes on signature Issey Miyake bags. The structure of clothing works like architecture, distancing itself from the body’s contours to form new lines.
In Africa, the colour palette is boldly assembled: a successful balanced cocktail we applaud. Enhanced here and there by touches of gold that illuminate skin tones dark as night.
In the Middle East, long veils waterfall on shrouded forms whose shape we can only imagine, and create an imaginary breeze as they move. Their eyes, outlined in black, reveal all their mystery. In the United States, it’s the pursuit of perfection, a perfection that pervades the slightest detail, a groundhog day of blow-dried hair and perfect manicures.
And finally, in France, a certain childlike simplicity is key, flaunting blue and white sailor stripes and windswept hair, jeans and pea coat, where the sleek cut sets them apart from the rest. Elegance is posture above all: soft, gracious, but always upright. With the stature of a queen or military fighter, samurai or dancer, men and women reveal their majesty through posture.
To resume, a look is created by making the best of what we have. By taming hair, taking care of hands and nails, and making skin glow. Sculpting bodies to erase the passage of time, or resorting to the dexterous skills of a tailor to alter our clothes. Constructing an invisible scaffold to mask many hours of work under a loose fitting jacket. But perfecting wardrobes too by shining shoes and treating handbags with TLC. The secret too is to know when to stop and forgo unnecessary adornments or jewellery. Shine on the red carpet in monochrome, while the starlets sporting see-through bodycon jumpsuits drip with bling. Think Jackie Kennedy, Kate Middleton and the visual power of their sleek silhouette. And finally, knowing what works best for your body type; and leaving the PVC trousers or frayed shorts to somebody else. Maybe it’s a question of age. Once youth’s appetite is quelled, knowing how to be even more discerning, more confident in our choice. Once you know who you are, have found your signature style, stick with it, with some resolve.
But so as to never lose that natural allure, elegance should be enjoyed – and it is this pleasure we need to radiate.
To never lose that natural allure, elegance should be enjoyed; it is this pleasure that we need to radiate!
It is often said that men have it easy in the elegance stakes. A well-cut suit, herringbone shirt and cufflinks. Job done. A vintage watch won’t detract from the overall look. And to really push the boat out, matching laces too. But to stop there would be too easy. Advocates of casual know the drill – true style is only for days off. Yet what is the point, you may well ask, of preening your weekend look if no-one is there to appreciate it? Which is why Dressdown Friday, so popular among modern dandies, has gradually taken off.
Thanks to the current move, men and women are finally on an equal footing faced with wardrobe dilemmas, and equally able to relate to “I have nothing to wear” quandries! Yet all things considered, the art of wearing chinos often boils down to a unique, inexhaustible style: enter the country gent. And unless you happen to own a country mansion, wandering the streets in autumnal shades is the next best thing to simulate a weekend away in the country.
Authentic or not, the country gent has perfected the art of flitting between bucolic haven and supper in the city with surprising ease, simply trading boots for more appropriate footwear. Various mens’ websites offer advice on the subject, such as Bonnegueule.fr, Jamaisvulgaire.com or even Mr Porter, the iconic Instagram page, which offers tips on interior design as well as dress sense, helping men the world over to navigate through an endless array of colours and textures, velvet, tweed and flannel. Accessories are patent and their vintage-look highly prized; watch straps, belts, travel luggage and ankle boots reflect the patina of time.
Dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists flock to trusted brands such as Barbour, Church’s and Weston. Those at the cutting edge err towards De Bonne Facture or APC for the basics, to Bobbies for original boots and moccasins, and favour Hilditch & Key for the odd signature piece to lift an entire wardrobe. True experts revel in vintage, with crease-front pants in elegant check paired with waistcoats, while pocket watches make a surprising reappearance even in the workplace, carried off by young hipsters fond of old-school elegance. Peaky Blinders may have a lot to answer for; our favourite Brummie gangsters, respectably kitted out in country attire, carry off the waistcoat and tweed cap combo with great aplomb. And well enough to resurrect a trend which is only set to grow.