Modest style: A trend or a shift?

Margaret Howell Spring 2017
Margaret Howell Spring 2017

This recent article in the NY Times on the trend towards modest dressing is one of several over the last year.  The skeptic in me wonders if it’s a natural part of the buying cycle – sheer, short and tight have been in, shopping is declining, time to launch a new trend – loose, covered, and long. So the question is, are we looking at a trend or a fundamental shift?  Let’s consider.

It’s fair to say you will consume what is available, and for those of us not inclined to wear low-waisted, tight pants, sheer tops and short skirts, the last decade has been a challenge.  A change is welcome.  But the change I’m look for is one beyond the buying cycle.  Have we reached the point where we will no longer select clothing through the lens of the male gaze?  And to be fair, it is a perceived understanding of what men find attractive.  Mass media frequently underestimates their discernment often reverting to cliche.  What options have they had?  The infiltration of pornographic images into mainstream media, proliferated by the internet and sadly, the music industry, have inundated all of us with a narrow view on what is attractive.  Fortunately, for the vast majority of women, the level-headed man does not embrace the cliche, though I think it is a particular challenge for young men and boys developing into men to keep a balanced perspective.  It’s said that the formative years are where many of your life-long perspectives develop (guilty as charged – still love the clothes of the ’70s and that’s what I see coming back into play now) and so what the young of today have witnessed in clothes, behaviour and culture in the last decade will inevitably have an impact.

How will we know if it is indeed a shift rather than a trend?  Hard to tell what the future holds.  It’s really up to us to make the first move – to dress for our gaze alone.  To rebalance priorities that focus on our taste and comfort, and for what helps contribute to a reasonable approach to consumption – one that doesn’t jeopardize financial security.  If we can resist the lure of new for the sake of newness, break the compulsion to buy, spend our time on more rewarding (and often simple) pursuits than shopping, then we will be in control of whether it is a trend or a shift.  That’s real power.

Links and resources:

For more on modest dressing

The sublime style of Margaret Howell

A bit of women workwear from Nigel Cabourn

The reliable and affordable classics from Muji


Like a fly on the wall

dressed for work
Photo:  The Sartorialist


I just read The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control and of the many things I learned from the book is that when emotions are at risk of getting out of control, a successful strategy is to picture yourself as a fly on the wall, watching the seen unfold before you.  The vantage point helps you to see what is really going on, taking you (and your ego) out of the picture just enough to view the goings on with dispassion and hopefully more clarity.

That lesson alone is worth the price of admission.  And then I thought, how often women feel they are subject to more intense scrutiny based on their emotional reactions to situations.  In my experience, emotional intensity, or lack thereof, is more of a human quality than a female quality – maybe there is some quantitative evidence that women respond more emotionally to things, but most of what I see is anecdotal.  What if we weren’t subject to gender bias thinking on a whole slew of things?  What if we looked at all kinds of areas of our lives like a fly on the wall?  What might I change?  What would you change?

I’ve been doing more and more of that fly-on-the-wall-thinking, let’s call it FOWT for short.  So from my FOWT perch, one of the areas I’m contemplating is time-wasters.  Things that I do somewhat habitually that take time, cost money,  and don’t add much if any value.  One of them is the myth of variety.  Two areas where variety seems to me anyway, to be a complete waste of time and money is food and clothes.  I like something delicious to eat as much as the next person, but in my case, cooking is simply not my thing.  After decades of trying to prove to myself (and my poor friends and family) that I can cook, I’ve finally thrown in the proverbial towel.  What a relief –  really for everyone.  I leave it know to those  who love to cook, and happily focus my scant talents on a few hors d’oeuvres and what I hope is scintillating conversation.  As for looking after myself, I’ve come to rely on a routine of meals to get me through the day.  An omelette for breakfast every workday morning (mushrooms, leftover potatoes, bacon, cheese when I’m feeling frisky), chopped crunchy vegetables (radish, celery, peppers, snap peas) and cheese or some bit of leftover meat or tuna for lunch, and a steady stream of nuts and greek yogurt as snacks.

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Dinner is more of a hit or miss operation because there are other mouths to contend with.  Eventually, I will routinize that one and have done with the whole damn thing.

The second area is around clothes and specifically work wear.  The outfit above is terrific. She looks great and if that’s what many women consider workwear, it is pretty standard stuff.  In fact, women have been wearing that outfit or versions of it since the 20th century.  But activating my FOWT, that little voice inside my fly-like ear says, that is utterly insensible.  The shoes speak for themselves, and I must admit that beyond the impracticality which is now trite, there is something going on with the fetish around women’s feet that eludes me.  Surely women are not buying and wearing these things because men might notice them – men don’t and most women (if not all) are smart enough to get that.  So she is wearing them for herself – because she can.  Because they are structural phenomenons packaged in pastry-like filigree?  Because your feet and legs ache at the end of the day?  So the FOWT would say, stop it.  Don’t do it.  Stop wasting your money, give your feet/legs a break.  Let the shoe manufacturers adorn our feet with shoes as beautiful and beautifully constructed as men’s shoes.  Which, frankly, make me froth at the mouth – and for a fraction of the cost.

Moving up the outfit, bare-legged or pantyhosed – those legs in February in NYC are freakin cold. How does that make any sense to a fly whose own legs are lovingly wrapped in a furry coat.  We shave off our furry coat so there’s no natural warmth left.  That just makes no sense, besides the fact that if you go the pantyhose route (as most northern women do) the life span is about 3 wears, longer if they’re tights but if you get half a season out of one pair you lead a careful existence.  And then, dear friends, the dress.  And as much as I love dresses, these are for the summer and summer alone.  There are few advantages in gender-based dressing but the one that we can really crow about is the summer dress.  Nothing is better when it’s 32c with a humidex of 45c than the cool delicious pleasure of a cotton sheath.  Yes, men will be truly our equals when they, too, can don a 100% linen, sleeveless dress with sandals (sans socks).  Barring a temperature above 25c, there is absolutely no place for a dress for those of us who are still packing some kind of lunch, and I think that’s most of us.

The point this fly is hoping to make is that we do, in fact, have the freedom to question our choices.  We should take more opportunity to flex our muscles and choose what makes good sense to that fly on the wall.

Simply couldn’t resist another stellar example of women’s workwear on Amelia Earhardt





Men’s basics for women

It’s always reassuring to know you’re not alone, or crazy.  Another indication of sanity came by way of the Times Magazine article on a menswear brand offering a line of menswear for women without any of the accommodations typically made (contouring, needless frills and fancies) in these circumstances.  Think about every piece of classic basics produced by virtually any manufacturer and you’ll know what I’m talking about – white t-shirts with a fraction of the cotton, wider necklines; khakis that are low rise (no!) tapered legs with a little boot cut at the finish (no!) and so it goes.


The menswear line Save Khaki has collaborated with La Garconne to get it right. What does disappoint is the somewhat desultory manner in which these are shown.  Is it really necessary?  Just because you don’t want the uncomfortable and inconvenient shaping of women’s clothes doesn’t mean you’ve given up on life!

Maybe they could be shown with a little more of this vibe from Ponytail Journal (the lovely and talented Lauren Yates).


Not to complain.  All to be done now is hope the trend continues.  And that those of us trending in this direction will refuse to settle for less.


College style



A nice reminder from The Sartorialist that college/university students need not rely solely on leggings and sweatpants for their sartorial choices.  A little style usually helps to lift the spirits and with the Fall semester peaking followed by pre-Christmas exams anything that  gives a hard-working college student a lift is worth it.

Shop your closet and see how good it makes you feel.

Kapital is capital!

Great outfit and I like her paintings!

A very interesting brand featuring multi-age real people in their campaigns.  The women’s clothes are interest though the men’s clothes are even  better.

Checkout the quilted pants he’s wearing.

I would wear these in a heartbeat

I applaud the multi-age approach.  When you know yourself a bit better, which often (not always) comes with age, then you are free to wear what works for you, leaving the stereotypes behind as every great woman should.

A ‘great woman’ approach to jeans.

How do you find things on the interweb?  I discovered Kapital via the very charming Ponytail Journal.



Resources & links


Ponytail Journal





Could these be the best trousers for women?




No let’s examine why.  Consider the averageness (apologies for the non-word) of this young lady – not 5’10 and 110 1bs – more like 5’1 and  110 1bs, in short, she is gloriously average.  The waistband sits at her waist thereby elongating the leg; the pants hang straight from the hip so not gripping the thighs, adding to the elegance of the line; and finally, breaking just at the top of the foot, adds another element to elongate the leg.

Now let’s talk about comfort.  Her shirt stays tucked in because the natural waist leaves enough shirt-tail to be adequately tucked in.  (Imagine how great this would look with a collared shirt!) The benefit is that she is not bothered with constantly retucking her shirt in or hiking her pants up.  In addition, they ably illustrate fit without tightness, and that means liberal movement with what I might call ‘sitting comfort’, meaning, of course, she can likely sit in these pants even after a decent lunch.

I would be inclined to actually hem them for maximum versatility but would be happy with the frayed look for weekends.

I might add that these must be men’s pants from a thrift store.  When I buy men’s pants (or boys) this is how they fit and they are the best-looking and most comfortable pants I own.  My friends complement my pants and try to replicate the look with women’s pants – complete waste of time – go to the men/boy’s department and experience how comfortable they are ALL the time.

The only change I would make to her overall look:  Ditch the cigarette.

Have you ever tried men’s pants?  Would you give it a try?  Love to hear from you.