In last week's post we looked at the 4 levels of refinement: Evening Wear, Business & Business-Casual, Casual, and Work-wear. We also learned that as a general rule, one should choose clothing and accessories from one level of refinement per outfit so that the outfit tells one harmonious story. But what if you wanted to wear your casual jacket with a more refined blouse ? Will it work? It might if you follow a few new rules whenever you want to break the rules.
Blogger Petra is a great example of a creative mixing of refinement levels. In the fabric choice, the jacket and blouse share a similar level of refinement (level 2). The skirt is more casual in fabric & design(level 3) which relates to the casual style of the jacket. The handbag is somewhat neutral (could be considered level 3 or level 2 since clear purses are currently trendy). While not every piece in this outfit is the same level of refinement, there's still a sense that these items relate to one another. What's the overall story of this outfit? Is it harmonious within in itself and with her?
Petra beautifully represents the first rule in breaking the levels of refinement in the same outfit.
1. Stick to adjoining levels.
In general, you can comfortably combine items from adjoining levels of refinement. Level 1’s with level 2’s. level 2’s with level 3’s etc. (as we saw Petra do). Skipping a level risks creating outfits that lack harmony within themselves and ultimately with you. So mixing a level 2 dress with some level 1 jewelry & sandals to take it from day wear to evening wear should work just fine -- mix the same jewelry with your level 4 gardening clothes and it probably won't work.
But, you can even break this number one rule if you adhere to rule number two.
2. Follow a current trend.
Back in the 80's it was "trendy" to wear a sweatshirt and sweatpants as casual wear. Then it wasn't. Now, it sort of is again, although the current Athleisure trend seems just a little more hip and cool than the 80's version (maybe it's the hair?!).
It's pretty common to follow this trend by pairing athletic wear (level 4)with its adjoining level 3 casual wear. Who hasn't worn a pair of tennis shoes with a casual dress or skirt?
But with the current athleisure "trend", it could even be possible to skip a level and pair your level 4 athletic wear with level 2 business-casual for a hip business-casual outfit.
A sporty or creative personality will make it easier for you to own this look. So what other current trends mix levels of refinement? s is repeated in the cut of the pant which is a short trouser style (you could actually imagine these jeans in a more refined fabric). They are also paired with a level 2 (business-casual) shoe -- not as refined as the jacket but not as casual as the denim. The sandals create a bridge between the Level 1 top and the level 3 bottom. The shared color connects the sandals beautifully to the top of the outfit and the casual heel connects it to the casualness of the denim. The overall effect of this outfit is dramatic, interesting and looks intentionally put together. It requires attention to detail and some confidence to push the refinement boundaries with flair.
Now, if you are a fashion trend-setter, you might even be able to get away with more unusual refinement pairings if you follow this third rule.
3. Repeat color, style & refinement levels in your outfit to create a cohesive look.
Imagine if the only level 1 garment in this outfit was the fur coat. By repeating the level 1 refinement with her shoes and clutch, the pairing looks intentional. Were she wearing sneakers and a cross-body bag it could quickly go from stylish to mis-matched. Like she'd grabbed the wrong coat on her way out the door.
In this outfit, the top and jacket are level 1refinement (evening wear) and the pants are a level 3 (casual wear). But the level 1 style is repeated in the cut of the pant which is a short trouser style (you could actually imagine these jeans in a more refined fabric). They are also paired with a level 2 (business-casual) shoe -- not as refined as the jacket but not as casual as the denim. The sandals create a bridge between the Level 1 top and the level 3 bottom. The shared color connects the sandals beautifully to the top of the outfit and the casual heel connects it to the casualness of the denim. The overall effect of this outfit is dramatic, interesting and looks intentionally put together. It require attention to detail and some confidence to push the refinement boundaries with flair.
So, if you are planning to break the rules , be sure you follow one or more of these three rules: Choose adjoining levels, follow a current trend, or repeat color, style & refinement levels to create a cohesive look. Otherwise, you'll risk looking like you got dressed in the dark.
Do you prefer to stay within a single level of refinement when putting together your outfits? Do you find that limiting, or freeing? Do you usually mix up or down a level? Or are you a creative type who likes to mix and match refinement levels as the mood strikes you? What level of refinement rules do you go by?