You're never truly dressed without a smile?
August 13, 2010 7:36 AM   Subscribe

What are the little details that really make one look "put-together"?

I'm compiling a list of wardrobe and personal grooming things that take one from looking merely presentable to being really polished. I'm thinking mostly in terms of women since I am one, but some of these things would likely apply to men and women equally. On a very simplistic level I'm thinking of things like:

+ shined, unscuffed shoes
+ tasteful accessories
+ pressed, unfloppy shirt collars

But I'm also looking for less-obvious things and details.

I think there might have been a similar question somewhere on AskMeFi, but my searching didn't reveal it.
posted by ladybird to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (67 answers total) 144 users marked this as a favorite
Non-frizzy hair!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:38 AM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Undergarments (correctly fitting bra, Spanx, hose, etc) make a big difference in how your clothes lay, hang, drape, etc.
posted by hansbrough at 7:40 AM on August 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

For men, matching belt and shoes, socks of the same color as either your pants or shoes.
posted by electroboy at 7:41 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nicely shaped eye brows.
posted by kiwi-epitome at 7:43 AM on August 13, 2010 [13 favorites]

Good nails - clean, smoothly shaped, not too long, and of course, no chipped polish.
posted by flex at 7:46 AM on August 13, 2010

Creased pants. Even those of us with frizzy hair look sharp with properly-creased pants.
posted by shamash at 7:47 AM on August 13, 2010

Also for men, tie should end at the middle of the belt buckle, shirt seam should line up with pant seam, and vests and suit jackets should always leave the bottom button unbuttoned. Dress shirts should always be worn with collar stays in the collar.

For everyone: don't tuck your top in your underwear, ever. Please. For the love of...
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Neat fingernails (not necessarily polished but clean & not ragged). If you're in a sandal wearing culture & climate same for feet.
posted by pointystick at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2010

Fit is a big one. If your clothes are too big or too small, you look sloppy. Cut and quality matter too... it's a bit hard to describe past "more expensive stuff generally looks better," but in essence that's it. I figured out what looks better on me by going to various stores of various price ranges and trying stuff on. A couple of flatteringly-cut shirts go a long way, and as a bonus, they'll probably last longer.

Also, fashion: a basic understanding of fashion keeps you looking 'current'. There's no need to go all out, but one shouldn't wear baggy shirts now that slim-cut ones are in, for example. (I assume you're mostly referring to the work/professional environment here, as you refer to shiny shoes and pressed collars.)

Hair: a good haircut goes a long way.

Posture: stand up straight, shoulders back, look confident.

For women, light makeup also makes you look older if you're really young, and therefore more "professional."
posted by Xany at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I came in to mention eyebrows and nails.

Skin: a bit of foundation makes a big difference in covering up any minor facial imperfections like zits or uneven skin tone.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2010

I've been helping my lady-friends dress since I was a teenager, so these are the things I usually look for:

Moderately producted hair, if at all (unless it's a mohawk.) I find that unnaturally-still-coif look to be trashy as all-get out.
Subtle scent. There's a reason good perfume isn't meant to be sprayed on.
No wedding/engagement-looking rings on the wedding/engagement ring-finger if you're not engaged/married.

For ladies:
No lipstick on the teeth.
Bra not sticking out (it works for some looks, but not for an elegant one.)
No open toed shoes + closed-toe stockings/tights (there are few exceptions, especially with peep-toe shoes, but this is a huge faux pas if the stockings are nude with an obvious seam.)
No heels so high it's visibly clear you're uncomfortable standing in them/falling over walking in them.
If you like wearing jewelery but want to be subtle, the "take off one piece of jewelery before leaving the house" rule is usually a good idea.
posted by griphus at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2010

And along with eyebrows - noses and ears properly trimmed / plucked / etc..
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:49 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My colleague here at work is about the most put-together person I've ever met, and she's very careful about several things:

1) Her clothes always fit well, not loose but not skin-tight either. No bra straps, slips, etc. peeking out.
2) She never wears sweaters, cardigans or any other item that hangs loosely. It's a tailored jacket that matches the outfit, without exceptions.
3) Her handbag and shoes always match.
4) She gets her hair done regularly, same with her nails. In the summer, she adds toenails to that list too.
5) No big, clunky jewelry. But she's teeny, smaller jewelry fits her physical frame better.
6) Her clothes have no stains, are always pressed, and she almost always wears black.

I hope this helps!
posted by LN at 7:53 AM on August 13, 2010

In addition to the fit of your clothes, the quality of clothes you wear matters. They don't need to be expensive, but they should not be stained, faded, pulled out of shape, pilling, wrinkled, or holey. The most evident example would be the difference between wearing an old plain white tshirt versus the exact same white tshirt that is fresh out-the-package new.
posted by kitkatcathy at 7:58 AM on August 13, 2010

Fit is the single biggest thing; two people could be wearing the exact same clothes and the one on whom they fit better will look infinitely more put-together. And cared-for old clothes that fit really well will always look better than brand-new expensive clothes that don't. This applies to garments, of course, but it applies as well to things like:

- Jewelry. Chains should hang at the right point on your frame and for the necklines you're wearing.
- Shoes. Heel height should suit the hemlines, and the shoes need to fit properly - you should be able to walk, comfortably, in *all* your shoes, even stiletto heels. If you're shuffling in flats or stumbling in stilettos, your awesome outfit won't save you from looking like a mess.
- Bags and accessories. Scale is important; they should never be overwhelming. You should never carry a bag that you can't stand up straight with; you're not a pack mule.
- Underwear. Underwear that fits you and the clothing that goes on top of it might be THE most important thing.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:00 AM on August 13, 2010

Good haircut, clean skin, confidence. Clothes - their color, condition., fit (!), their complementing of hair and skin tone, and body shape. Accessories that accentuate the basic look without overwhelming the senses.
posted by watercarrier at 8:04 AM on August 13, 2010

Basically echoing a lot of wisdom upthread here, but it is worth repeating:

For men (and, I suppose, women too, although I am not one) a well fitted shirt is maybe the most important thing. Fit matters in all things, but shirts show a poor fit very clearly. Also, for men, a well tailored jacket is a huge thing. I cringe every day when I see men in jackets with too-long sleeves, poorly shaped shoulders, too many buttons done up, etc.

For both genders, I think that well made and well tailored clothes make the wearing easy. I know that when I wear a Brioni shirt, it looks good no matter what else is going on.
posted by broadway bill at 8:08 AM on August 13, 2010

If your suit jacket sleeves are so long that your shirt cuffs are completely covered, then the sleeves are too long, and you look like a child in a jacket that is too big.

If your suit pants are piling up in layers around your ankles, they are too long. Having a break is fine, but having several extra inches of fabric is not.

Go to a tailor and spend $20 to fix those problems.
posted by twblalock at 8:22 AM on August 13, 2010

Just a suggestion...Some of the better department stores (Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks, etc) have personal shoppers with whom you can schedule an appointment. Their job (and often career...these are very desirable jobs in fashion retail) is to provide the direct, personalized service of helping you look "put together."

Their specific job is to help you find specific pieces that fit you well and compliment each other. They are often experts at helping you find a few quality things that will be staples in your wardrobe, and things that have multiple pairings across seasons. They can also guide you through the current fashion trends with an eye towards your age, job, and personal style and goals.

30 minutes with an "expert" can save you a lot of time and provide solid tips for when you are shopping on your own.
posted by nickjadlowe at 8:24 AM on August 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

A really sharp haircut will do almost all the work for you, seriously. It's crazy how much of a difference it makes.

Other than that...clothes that are not threadbare wispy cheap cotton or other Target-y disposable fabric, and not wrinkled. And oh! That fit you properly (most cheap clothes don't fit anyone just right), which good properly fitted underwear can help with.

A bag and shoes that aren't scuffed or dirty, and are appropriate to the situation, not too loud, not too shabby.
posted by ifjuly at 8:27 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pantylines. Or rather, a lack of panty lines.

Bra should be approximate to your skin tone to prevent showing through the shirt. Despite the vernacular, very few people are actually white. Wear a black bra under a black shirt though, because white and nude show through. Especially in photographs. (Yes, I have a promotional picture of me wearing a white bra under a black tee. Cringe.)

Bra straps drive me absolutely crazy. I hate seeing them. Hate it.

I get a lot more compliments in tank tops when my underarms are freshly freshly shaven than I do when I've gone even a day without the razor. As someone who is pretty anti-shaving, this chaps my ass a bit, but what can you do? (The answer is, if you aren't going to shave in the US, wear sleeves.)
posted by bilabial at 8:28 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with all the above, particularly keeping an eye on fit (which means a full length mirror is your best friend) and quality, but would add that accessories should never be overlooked. I think as carefully about my jewelry and (if I am wearing it) hose every day as I do about my suit or shoes. It is also important to remember that you present in layers, meaning that

-sometimes you will be dressed to go outside, and that is when coat, bag, and possibly hat will be important

- sometimes you will be inside but more formal, meaning that is when a good jacket, shoes, and sometimes sweater matters and

-sometimes you are a bit less formal, which is when the quality of a blouse and jewelry matters.

Also, once you are assembled, don't fuss with yourself.
posted by bearwife at 8:50 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hair is very important for women. It defines your face and can go very wrong. Regular haircuts, professional color if appropriate, a neat hair style (neatened up periodically during the day as needed).

Neatness in general.

Some accessories (earrings, necklace) can help complete the look. No more than 2 rings (although I disagree that non-engagement or wedding rings on the ring finger is relevant to the "put together" question).
posted by Amizu at 8:51 AM on August 13, 2010

Some of these suggestions have already been made, but..

1) Your bra straps/underwear never show. (Avoid visible panty-lines in skirts and slacks by wearing thong underwear, and also by avoiding any skirts or slacks that are too snug.)

2) tasteful, classic footwear. Avoid high heels over 3.5" - 4". Avoid obviously trendy heel and toe styles because there is a good chance that that fad is already played out and it's better to spend the same amount of money on fewer pairs of excellent quality shoes in a timeless style than to have a walk-in closet full of chunky late-90's heels and Doc Martin clones and faddy shoes that scream 2003.

3) Clean, neat nails with no chipped polish. Clear nail polish is nice, and always looks neat and professional.

4) A hint of tasteful cleavage is okay, but it should never be the main focus. Because you will never be taken seriously if your tits lead your look.

5) Things to be careful of (i.e. a little goes a very long way): Slits in skirts. Large expanses of loud patterns (instead, be colorful, fun and funky with scarves or small accessories). Garish styles, clothes with writing on them or ostentatious logos or insignias. Jewelry...which probably needs its own entry;

6) Jewelry:
a) No more than one (1) ring on each hand.
b) Go easy with long, dangly earrings. Posts and small rings are usually best. And if you have multiple ear piercings, take them out except one or, at maximum, two.
c) Anklets go very tacky fast. Especially when smothered under hose.
d) Facial piercings, with the possible exception of one very tasteful and small nose ring, are a no go.
e) Don't broadcast your religion with your jewelry.

7) Black is a great staple clothing color, but too much black looks severe. Consider navy, charcoal, and dark browns.

8) Smell clean and use (good quality) perfume sparingly if at all. Never smell like cigarettes.

[Caveat: I work in the law field, which may be more conservative than most]
posted by applemeat at 8:52 AM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't chew your fingernails. Even if they are so tough that they can take it.

It's amazing how many adults chew their fingernails.
posted by Leta at 8:53 AM on August 13, 2010

Trousers without beltloops, because they've been tailored to fit perfectly.
posted by mdonley at 8:54 AM on August 13, 2010

Clothing made of fabrics with a better hang, and with proper facing. on the inside. Well done, straight seams. It was actually quite impressive to me to finally move to a city with upscale shopping and feel the straight hems, compared with the rippling and knots that're in the stitches of cheaper clothes.

Beware of thin stretch fabrics. Also beware of cheap lace, pilling and that weird sort of lint-mange that sweaters can get. Only the real wool that's hand washed seems to escape looking like a barbie doll's hair after six years in the paws of a grubby little girl.
posted by Phalene at 8:58 AM on August 13, 2010

Good posture.
posted by fso at 9:02 AM on August 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Not to derail, but I don't understand this "wear only muted colors/black to look put together".

Absolutely not. You can wear bright and beautiful colors and still look classy. Just don't over do it.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:04 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

* Really polished can include necklaces and bracelets. Stores like Forever 21 and H&M have inexpensive things that can help pull outfits together and give you some flair.

* If you work where there are casual Fridays, wear something casual but professional and polished (think well-fitting jeans with button down shirt or polo, etc., not jogging suits). At the school where I teach, we have casual Fridays but often people are called out for wearing Red Sox t-shirts and sweatpants.
posted by dzaz at 9:10 AM on August 13, 2010

For men, matching belt and shoes, socks of the same color as either your pants or shoes.

IANAwell dressed person, but I have been told in no uncertain terms the socks must always match the pants, not the shoes.

Avoid excessively loaded pockets, particularly in jeans: it is much more obvious than you think, often to humorous effect.

Also, do not wear black shoes with blue pants.

(Doc Martins with jeans excepted from last rule, otherwise I would have to go barefoot most of the year)
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:10 AM on August 13, 2010

Clothing that fits properly is the most important one, I think. Clothing that is just a little too big or doesn't fit right makes what could be polished look a little bit more casual, or even sloppy.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:23 AM on August 13, 2010

Some feminine tips I live by: some things are worth spending money on, notably shoes, bags and belts. If you wear expensive shoes with a cheap outfit, the outfit immediately becomes much more classy. To a lesser extent the same holds true with bags and belts. Try to wear natural fibres as often as possible (silk, cotton and wool look and hang better than their artificial counterparts). Definitely take care of your eyebrows and your manicure/pedicure. Avoid the VPL (Visible Panty Line) at all costs--you don't necessarily need to wear a thong; boy shorts in a thin fabric often work too (as long as they're big enough). Wear the right bra for the outfit. You should own a good (by which I mean correctly fitted) strapless bra, as well as a racerback and a halter. One or two bold accessories are better than a bunch of little fussy ones.
posted by Go Banana at 9:25 AM on August 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

For men: make sure you keep your neck hair shaved below your hairline. You will likely need to do this more often than you get your hair cut. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean the rest of the world can't!
posted by Jemstar at 9:36 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

IANAwell dressed person, but I have been told in no uncertain terms the socks must always match the pants, not the shoes.

In part this is cultural -- some groups (national, regional, professional, whatever) think you should match the shoes, others think the pants. If you see a trend toward in your particular context, then the safest option is to copy and fit in.

In more sophisticated sartorial environments, the aesthetically aware realize that it's actually dependent on your body type, and you choose your sock color in order to achieve visually-balanced proportions. i.e.

- if you have a short torso / long legs, match the socks to the shoes.
- if you have a long torso / short legs, match the socks to the pants
- if you're in between, do whatever you like, in fact try off-colour socks e.g. match the socks to your tie, belt or shirt!
posted by randomstriker at 10:22 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd like to include to all the pertinent comments above, that if you're a woman, please, please make sure that your make-up is venue-appropriate and your foundation matches your skin tone.

While few women have flawless skin that doesn't require a minimal amount of cover-up, spending a little extra on a good brand of cosmetics for a basic foundation instead of a do-it-yourself guess under fluorescent lights at a drugstore can do wonders for overall polish. IMHO basic cosmetics include, at a minimum, a light-medium coverage foundation, mascara, and a matte nude or light peach/ pink lipgloss.
posted by Everydayville at 10:25 AM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you like this look, having the length of your pants perfectly matched to the height of your shoes, so that pants stop exactly 1" above the floor. Pants shouldn't be too short (so that the entire shoe is exposed) nor too long (so that they drag on the floor). This one is tricky because if you have shoes of different heights (tall platforms, mid-height heels, and low flats, for example) you need to sort your pants accordingly.
posted by ms.codex at 10:26 AM on August 13, 2010

If you wear glasses, they must be:
- Reasonably modern in style (not grandpa glasses)
- An appropriate size for your face (not oversized hipster glasses)
- Straight! Crooked glasses automatically make you look sloppy.
posted by neushoorn at 11:40 AM on August 13, 2010

If your clothes are too big or too small, you look sloppy. Cut and quality matter too...

Agreed. Most people (particularly men, but increasingly also women) don't realize that getting a garment tailored so that is actually fits is fairly inexpensive and makes a HUGE difference. Clothes off the rack aren't made to fit, and rarely do.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:59 AM on August 13, 2010

A nice watch goes a long way, especially in cases where you are dressed rather casually.

I think something subtle with some interesting design details is perfect.
posted by jykmf at 12:01 PM on August 13, 2010

If you can't walk in a pair of shoes, don't wear them.

Leggings are not pants (with some caveats that only apply to the sorts of people who never need to ask fashion questions on AskMe).

Pant hem length calibrated with shoe heel height. For the most part, pants should come a half-inch off the floor regardless of shoe style.

The drape of a pair of pants should match the shoes you plan to wear with them, and vice versa.

Your socks should never show. Again, there are caveats that only apply if you're the sort of person who already knows how to pull off the 'visible socks' look.

If you are female, forget all that nonsense about "investment pieces" and "timeless classics". While there are some things that will look on-trend for more than a year or so, nothing is truly timeless. Toe and heel shapes/heights change all the time. So do jacket shapes, hemlines, sunglasses coats, and bags. Five years is probably the most wear you can get out of even the most "timeless" items unless you really don't give a shit about your appearance.

Same with haircuts - don't be afraid update as needed.
posted by Sara C. at 12:02 PM on August 13, 2010

Having your clothes tailored (even jeans) goes a long way. Also I think a high quality watch.
posted by bananafish at 12:07 PM on August 13, 2010

Looking at all the replies, I'd also suggest that these things probably vary regionally. As a New Yorker, for instance, I can often tell whether women are locals or out-of-towners based on whether they're wearing foundation. It's not really considered necessary here, especially if you are under 40. On the other hand, if you live in Missouri you can probably rely on the same toe shape and heel height for longer than the five years I suggested above.
posted by Sara C. at 12:08 PM on August 13, 2010

Trousers without beltloops, because they've been tailored to fit perfectly.

Maybe for women, but not for men. Pants without a belt look strange on men.
posted by electroboy at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2010

If you wear glasses, they must be:
- Reasonably modern in style (not grandpa glasses)
- An appropriate size for your face (not oversized hipster glasses)
- Straight! Crooked glasses automatically make you look sloppy.
posted by neushoorn at 2:40 PM on August 13 [+] [!]

This drives me batty. I have a crooked face (rather, one ear sits lower than the other) and so my glasses never look straight, even after the good people at PearlVision have wrenched them around a bit to accomodate my wonky ears.

posted by bilabial at 12:24 PM on August 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Sara C. - Don't mistake asking fashion questions on AskMe for a complete lack of fashion sense, darling.

Anyway, thanks for all the input!
posted by ladybird at 12:39 PM on August 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

I sympathize, bilabial, because I've been wearing glasses for 20+ years and my left ear is noticeably lower than my right. Maybe I should have written that your glasses should be as straight, with respect to your face, as you can get them.

I've benefited from varying who I buy glasses from -- sometimes my eye doctor's office, sometimes a shop like PearlVision or SpecSavers -- because some people are just better at fitting glasses than others (I admit I'm biased toward staff who wear glasses themselves; like a stylist with a good haircut).

Regularly stopping in to have your glasses adjusted is really helpful; months of daily use can warp your glasses without you realizing, which can even be a detriment to your quality of sight.
posted by neushoorn at 12:40 PM on August 13, 2010

Clip any loose threads dangling from your clothes.

Do not sit on a jacket/sweater that you're carrying--no matter how pulled-together the rest of your outfit, a wrinkled jacket makes you look like you just fell out of a hedge.

Look at the back of your hair before you leave the house--it's easy to miss a spot when you're styling it.
posted by corey flood at 1:07 PM on August 13, 2010

griphus: No wedding/engagement-looking rings on the wedding/engagement ring-finger if you're not engaged/married.

I have never heard this before, and I'm curious as to how wearing a ring that looks like it's an engagement ring without being engaged makes you look less put together?

I agree with the glasses comment, and would add that some frames just DO NOT look really need to try on a few different shapes. I have a very wide, round face and I need plastic frames with thick rims- anything else just looks silly.
posted by kro at 1:08 PM on August 13, 2010

I have never heard this before, and I'm curious as to how wearing a ring that looks like it's an engagement ring without being engaged makes you look less put together?

I wouldn't say that it makes one look less put together, but it doesn't really reflect well on someone to wear what people may know is a decoy ring.
posted by thisjax at 1:11 PM on August 13, 2010

If you color your hair, no roots. Unless they're deliberate, and that's part of your look.
If your toes are showing, they have to be done, and done well. Cuticles, not just polish.
Wear something on your lips, even if it's just gloss - it always looks more put-together than wearing nothing, for some reason.
Wear clothes that don't require constant re-adjusting.

When I feel and look like a mess, it's because I've failed at the above. (Except the toes. I make an effort on that one, because that would be just nasty.) And the crooked glasses thing, but like bilabial said, if you have uneven ears sometimes there's nothing to be done.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of excellent advice here already. Just a couple things to add that I haven't seen covered:

• Exposed belt loops on pants, with no belt, looks unfinished.

• Gum chewing always looks sloppy

• I might take flak for this, and I apologize if it seems offensive, but I believe that exposed tattoos rarely assist a "polished" or "put-together" look. I think that in a creative environment or a casual workplace, exceptions can be made, but mostly I think the inked should err on the side of caution and keep 'em covered.

• If you are carrying a bag as part of your ensemble, it needs to be well-organized. You might carry the most expensive tote in the whole world... but the minute you have to fumble through a mess of receipts, candy wrappers, Happy Meal toys, boarding passes and general detritus just to find a pen or a business card, you've already made a bad impression.

• No wearing of anything that makes noise. For example, I love my jingly silver charm bracelet, but I save it for weekends with the family, because when I wear it I sound like a cat with a bell on its collar which does not make for a very refined presentation. See also: corduroy pants that made the swish-swash chafing sound. Shoes that squeak for some reason. Walking in such a way that your heels go "clomp! clomp! clomp!"

• Men are less at risk of this, but women should coordinate their jewelry metals. A big silver cuff with a big gold necklace is visually jarring to people in a way that they can't quite put their finger on.

Usually it's best to either stick with all gold-toned pieces or all silver-toned pieces, with the exception that a watch that has both silver and yellow metal can be worn with anything. It is possible to mix metals successfully, but it takes a good eye and the right pieces.

• This one is definitely just a matter of opinion but I feel that pieces of clothing or accessory that have a large logo element create a less polished look. This isn't just about price point, either... Chanel sunglasses are pricey, but they are often quite the opposite of a refined look. See also: anything by Juicy, Gucci, and Ralph Lauren's "Big Pony" line.
posted by pineapple at 3:05 PM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have never heard this before, and I'm curious as to how wearing a ring that looks like it's an engagement ring without being engaged makes you look less put together?

You want your behavior to match the signals you're giving out by your appearance. Not confusing or alienating people is a big step in being elegant, and you want them to not be confused as to your marital status as much as not have to see you with your shirt tucked into your underpants. Not wearing a certain sort of ring on that finger keeps you from constantly having to explain that no, you're not married/engaged (and, therefore, saying "you are wrong," which people do not like,) or getting "caught" acting flirty by people who will then think you are on the prowl. It's definitely not a 1:1 thing like "stand up straight," but it is important. Unless of course you want to deceive people if, for instance, you want an easy way out of being flirted with.
posted by griphus at 3:39 PM on August 13, 2010

This is anecdotal, and echoes yet contradicts some of the advice given here.

I used to sell high-end estate jewellery, and once upon a time the store owner smelled a big sale I was working on, and wanted to close it. The lovely European lady (a doctor) trying on the $30,000 ring corrected my employer for pressing her with "You'll feel so beautiful in it!" She told my boss "I always feel beautiful. I am not buying the ring for any other reason than I think it looks well ON ME." She went on to say, that in her opinion, North American women spend too much money on THINGS that they think make them look good, and not on making THEMSELVES look good. I looked at her and concluded she was right. She looked calm, rested, confident and glowing. Her skin was lovely, her hair and teeth and nails healthy and clean and groomed, and her bearing was regal. I have no memory of what she was actually wearing, though I do remember that she collected fine quality coral jewellery because the colour was fantastic on her. She was not young or thin or even conventionally attractive. But she certainly had charisma and twenty years later, I remember what she said still.

I suppose that all comes from facials, haircuts and other grooming; exercise and relaxation; security and good food - and whatever it takes to get them. But it also comes from keeping a presence of mind that I haven't seen in many others since, and something else within that you just can't buy or fake. I only remember how "together" she was - not "put-together".


To expand on others' comments about undergarments, a friend of mine who has worked in wardrobe for movies has told me that to give subtle clues to the viewer about the status of a character, the wealthy ones or characters that we're supposed to think well of get garments that control and smooth and tighten; and the others get poorly-fitting underwear and bras that let them bulge and jiggle no matter what the cost or quality of the clothing on top.
posted by peagood at 4:45 PM on August 13, 2010 [19 favorites]

I always notice women with healthy, un-madeup skin. Maybe they are wearing make-up, but there's no telling.

Minimum scent - for men and women.

I notice when someone has too much jewelry on as opposed to the opposite - so maybe it's about restraint?

Roots showing. It's not the end of the world, but it's one of those things that people notice right away.

Still, I think of so many people I have known who follow none of these rules BUT are genuinely happy, thoughtful, polite and engaging people. They have class
that can't be slipped on or "worked" via clothing. They glow, for real. This stands out for me.
posted by marimeko at 6:01 PM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

A few comments here about the horrors of the VPL. I personally think the well fitting visible panty line reads as practical, knowledgeable and cute. The obvious lack of one on a tighter outfit can sometimes read as uncomfortable and trying too hard to impress the other sex. The VPL thong on the other hand is a complete fail.
posted by gillianr at 8:27 PM on August 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm with you, gillianr. I don't get the new obsession with pretending we don't wear underwear (I've had older women with teased hair armed with 200 bobby pins going for my hair pre-wedding events barking about how VPLs are the worst transgression EVER and make them SICK, etc). Obviously I don't want to see the entire outline of someone's bright white bra under a black top or anything, but eradicating VPLs and pretty bra strap peeks here and there to the point you're resorting to thongs even if you don't like them or goofy stickers on your nipples or something seems waaaay over the top to me. I remember when Maggie Gyllenhaal was in that retro girls' class Julia Roberts movie years back and interviewed on Conan promoting it; she was going on about how retro undies were cool and she thought it was sexy to acknowledge that yeah, people wear underwear. It shouldn't come as a shock when occasionally if you're staring at someone's ass you might be able to vaguely tell. /derail
posted by ifjuly at 7:30 AM on August 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

"I personally think the well fitting visible panty line reads as practical, knowledgeable and cute."

"The obvious lack of one on a tighter outfit can sometimes read as uncomfortable and trying too hard to impress the other sex"

I couldn't disagree with these sentiments more, in the context of the question. How is it knowledgeable for one's underwear to show?

There is a reason it's called underwear. It lives underneath, and it has a business function: protect the junk from outerwear and vice versa, or support/protect the breasts.

Sure, it can be used for other social purposes, like looking flirty or sexy... but those aren't an explicit part of a polished, put-together look.

VPL says to the world, "I either forgot to check my rear view before walking out the door, or I don't care if everyone knows, that my trousers/skirt/dress are form-fitting (or ill-fitting) and my underwear is showing."

This isn't a binary "girdle or thong" issue. There are so many seamless, comfortable, discreet options for underwear that VPL can be a thing of the past.

If one just really wants for strangers to see her underwear, that's fine... but I object to the notion that VPL is the natural order of business, and that anyone who works to avoid it is out of touch or uptight or going to extreme lengths to attract men.

Maggie Gyllenhaal seems like a nice person and all, but I'm not likely to start taking real-world fashion tips from a movie star making the late night circuit to promote a film.
posted by pineapple at 10:27 AM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

The undergarment thing, to me, isn't really concern about seeing someone's else's underwear as it is my belief (from personal experience) that it's hard to look and feel relaxed and confident if you're constantly fidgeting with your bra straps and re-arranging your bunched up drawers.
posted by applemeat at 10:34 AM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

The underwear thing is important because the wrong underwear makes you look lumpy. The wrong panties can cut into your buttocks and give you quadributt, for example. You then have a rumpled surface onto which to layer the rest of your clothes, which can undermine your efforts. It's just as bad to layer clothes over cratery, thong-bisected buttocks which would have been better supported by a smooth flat-edged pair of boyshorts.

Anyway. Colour coordination is extremely important and one way to handle it is to wear black with white or grey only, and to put coloured items with other colours. If somebody is wearing a coloured outfit with one or two black items, the black interrupts the continuity, as well as often weighing the outfit down and looking like a placeholder: [insert pants here]. If, instead, you have all colours or else monochrome, you're much closer to a unified effect.

If your accessories all have something in common (as opposed to matching), that pulls things together as well. If I wear beige shoes, I might carry a beige or light brown bag, and have a white hat with a light brown band.

If one item has a pattern, the other item might pick up one of the colours in that pattern. Say, a blue and white striped top with a blue skirt. Or if both items are patterned, each pattern should have at least two colours in common.

However, if you have separates in the same pattern, you might want to keep them separate because both together could be too much of a good thing. The same goes for textures: if there's a heavily textured or taut fabric in one item, don't wear too much of it. A velvet jacket or skirt should be enough velvet for one outfit; denim jeans don't need a denim jacket to go with them.

Also, it's disconcerting to the eye if you are wearing a necklace and earrings at the same time, unless they are all part of a matched set. The eye doesn't know where to look.
posted by tel3path at 2:30 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I personally think the well fitting visible panty line reads as practical, knowledgeable and cute.

And I think that I am seeing your underwear without having been explicitly invited to and that is gauche.
posted by griphus at 2:34 PM on August 14, 2010

Colour coordination is extremely important and one way to handle it is to wear black with white or grey only, and to put coloured items with other colours.

I couldn't disagree more. I think a good balance of brights and neutrals is important. IMO you can wear the basic neutral tones with almost any color, but you want to be really careful with bright colors. Especially wearing multiple bright colors together (but being too monochromatic is also weird).

For instance today I am wearing a navy blue top with a bright print skirt (red, yellow, and pale blue on a charcoal background), and brown shoes. Almost everything I'm wearing is neutral, which allows the reds and yellows of the skirt to shine without clashing with anything else. I would look like a reject from clown college if I wore the skirt with a red top and bright yellow shoes.

Re black: I agree that it can be harder to mix black with other colors, and think that unless you really know what you're doing, it's better to focus on softer neutrals like browns, greys, and blues. But I don't think it's true that you can never mix black and bright color, and think that black and grey or black and white have at least as many pitfalls. They all take a bit of panache to pull off.
posted by Sara C. at 2:55 PM on August 14, 2010

Yeah, and I'm sure your outfit looks great (I can see it from here if I squint), but you could also have avoided looking like a clown by wearing a pale blue or charcoal top.

Plus I never suggested that accessories such as shoes had to match the rest of the outfit - only coordinate with each other (though I bet you could wear yellow shoes with that outfit and look fine).
posted by tel3path at 4:40 PM on August 14, 2010

Pale blue (depending on the shade) and charcoal are neutrals, like navy blue. And like black. And, yes, your shoes and accessories need to coordinate with your clothing.

I still totally disagree that you can't mix black and other colors.
posted by Sara C. at 5:00 PM on August 14, 2010

You can mix black and other colors, but you have to be very intentional about it. I don't like the way I often see it done, which is to stick a black item into the outfit because of the assumption that black goes with everything.

Yes, pale blue is a neutral, and it supports your argument that neutrals go together well. However, I believe my argument still holds, especially considering that a person can still follow my line of thinking and yours at the same time.
posted by tel3path at 5:30 PM on August 14, 2010

I am prone to shiny skin and always feel more put together when I've done a mid-afternoon nose powder, rather than have fluorescent office lights reflecting off my face. (Vain but irrefutable.)
posted by nicoleincanada at 10:19 AM on August 16, 2010

1. Be as physically fit as is reasonably with in your grasp.

2. Be relaxed in all situations.

3. You can get fashion forward clothes in all price ranges, everywhere. Find items you like, on sale ideally, and then, for god sakes, make them fit perfectly.

4. Save money on the clothes, but spend on the accessories. An impressive but not gaudy watch. Tie-clip if its a good one. Expensive belt. Sunglasses. Key chain that dangles form belt loop to front pocket. Unusual, funky shoes are fun to shop for in a big city and can be made to work with any business ensemble or formal occasion. A pair of cool stripey socks that match the pants, not the shoes. Just the right bag/attache. These are all relatively small items that can be worn with a variety of outfits and they express individuality and will be noticed by those you want to impress.

5. When I get out of the shower, I have to consciously avoid putting on the same 4-5 favorite outfits. Instead, I ask myself "How do I feel today?" Am I a laid back California guy that can pull of those billowy linen pants on a hot day? Am I a well put together man in charge who needs to command a little more respect? Am I feeling funky and retro? Once I've settled on a look that matches how I feel, I then try to pick out a shirt or pants that fit the bill and try to match it with things in the closet I haven't worn together. This is my method for feeling confident, fresh, and comfortable when leaving the house.

I don't take "shopping trips" unless I've really changed weight and fit dramatically and need to play catch up. More typically, I am ready to get something that catches my eye when I least expect it. And always, before laying down my card, you need to mentally make a list of three things you own you could always wear with this new purchase.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:53 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

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