Dressing Up or Dressing Down - pairing levels of refinement in fashion.

When putting together an outfit, it is important that all of the pieces belong to the same story for the outfit to be harmonious within itself. For example, a stunning pair of diamond earrings paired with a satin evening gown and a bejeweled sandal with fine straps all tell the same story. Formal, dressy, high-class, delicate.

By comparison, a pair of flip flops, denim shorts and a cotton t-shirt also combine together to tell a story. But we would not combine these stories, for example, by pairing flip flops with the satin evening gown. Because what separates them is their level of refinement.

Traditionally there have been 3 levels of refinement in fashion but with all the modern changes I believe there are now 4 levels of refinement in our clothing and accessories:

Level 1 - Evening Wear: Think ballgowns and cocktail dresses, designer pantsuits and fur wraps. This is the most refined level of clothing. Beautiful tailoring, fine jewelry, and dressy shoes all fit into this category. This is the clothing you wear to attend a formal wedding or cocktail party, or a black tie event. Think velvet, satin, silk, chiffon, diamonds and fine footwear. Very few women wear this level of refinement on a daily basis but it could include very high-end designer wear as well.

Level 2 - Business & Business Casual: Here we have a range from corporate business wear to what is referred to as business casual. This could include a well-made suit, dress, skirt, dress-pants & sweater or a blouse and capri's. Jewelry could be costume or real but not usually as fine as that of Level 1. Footwear might range from a pair of leather pumps or dressy sandal to a driving moccasin or leather oxford lace-up shoe. Fabrics may include wool or gabardine, fine corduroy, crisp cotton, raw silk, fine knits etc.

Level 3 - Casual Wear - when we think of level three we think of more durable fabrics and hand crafted jewelry and accessories. Cotton t-shirts and jeans or flannel shirts and cargo pants, tennis shoes, hooded sweatshirt, heavy knits, shorts and sturdy sandals or flip flops.

Level 4 -- Work Wear (and work-out wear). This category includes those paint splattered jeans you wear in the garden or the sweats you wear to the gym. It also includes service uniforms and coveralls. Accessories in this category might include a bandana or hard hat, garden clogs or steel-toed work boots etc.

Traditional style rules warn against mixing levels of refinement in the same outfit and there's good reason for that. One may get away with a pairing a silk blouse with a business outfit or dressing up athletic wear to the level of a more casual refinement but typically you would not vary too far from a single story.

But those rules are being broken all the time now. Still, before you can break a rule you need to understand them. In Part 2 we'll talk about some of the ways women are mixing levels of refinement to create interesting outfits and just how and why they are making it work. But for now, when you are putting together any outfit, you will most likely look more put together if you tell just one story with your clothing and accessories.

What level of refinement do you wear most often?


Joan Kosmachuk

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