The Beauty of a Boring Wardrobe
by Courtney Fingar
When it comes to closets, fifty shades of grey can be the hottest option of all.
I am possibly the least likely fashion blogger ever. Of all the F words one could use to describe me (hey, I meant fun, feisty and fabulous, you potty-mouth), ‘fashionista’ is not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not frumpy by any stretch of the imagination. I care about my appearance, enjoy shopping as much as the next gal and occasionally abuse my credit card at Westfield. I scrub up pretty damn well. I wear the occasional brand name. But I care not a jot about Fashion — capital F — as a concept.
Years ago I had a flatmate who spent long evenings pouring over Vogue, clipping out photos of must-have handbags, and mapping out her weekly wardrobe in a notebook. Before a trip abroad, she would plot out literally every single outfit for each day, down to the accessories. I regarded all this with utter bemusement. I couldn’t fathom investing this amount of time into figuring out what to wear two Tuesdays away, and with which shoes.
I bought my wedding dress off the rack at Reiss, after a hunt that lasted approximately half an hour. I paired it with £30 court shoes from Clarks. I miss out on most of the trends, fashion magazines are written in a foreign language to me, and I wear the same ole clothes on a loop. If you scroll through my Facebook photos you’ll see a few favoured dresses and tops appear again and again; the backgrounds and settings change but the clothes are the constant. There are a few business dresses I’ve worn to chair conferences in dozens of countries over many, many months or years. More often than not, these repeat items are mono chrome or grey. My closet is fifty shades of grey without the nipple clamps.
I do spin the colour wheel when needed: in my role as a globetrotting journalist I present a video series that sometimes takes me on location to tropical locales, in which case you’ll see me sporting bright colours or floral patterns. If I’m chairing a potentially dull conference and need to mix things up, I wear a certain hot-pink dress and flash a lot of leg. My casual wear includes an inordinate amount of red, but that is only because my much-loved American football team has crimson as its signature colour.
For a long time I never really noticed these predilections of mine — too busy actually living life to consider the ramifications of my wardrobe choices — but as so often happens when you have two X chromosomes, others inevitably weighed in with helpful ‘suggestions’ (translation: bitchy critiques) — and not just other women. I would look great if I wore brighter colours, bigger, bolder accessories, or higher heels, etc etc. Maybe I would, but here’s the crux of the matter: would any of that improve my life one iota? Clearly, no. So I cannot see the point. I have a highly entertaining, if complicated life, and a job that I love and have done well in. I am happily married, ironically to an elegant man from the world’s fashion capital, Italy. I have lots of friends and a rambunctious social life. So what’s the upside of jazzing up my wardrobe? What difference would a ‘statement necklace’ make? My clothes look like extras in a black and white film, but I live my life in technicolour. Isn’t that the important part?
Let’s leave aside the obvious and annoying double-standard here. Would anyone comment at all on a high-flying career man’s ‘boring’ wardrobe, or even notice if the same tie showed up at multiple conferences? Let’s also park the issue of why it should matter to anyone else. Let me simply defend the beauty of a boring wardrobe.
For me, the F word that matters is functionality. When it comes to business attire, I’m interested first and foremost in looking appropriate and professional, and representing myself and my company well. I don’t need to make style waves. If the situation calls for a certain kind of look, be that bright and flashy (which works best on video) or subdued and serious, that is what I will go for. I also need a wardrobe that travels well. I get on a plane more weeks than not, so I spend half my life packing. My trips tend to be hectic and any given day could find me traipsing through factories or fields, touring a port in a hardhat, having coffee with the prime minister, presenting at a conference, attending a black-tie dinner, or boogying at a dodgy night-club — sometimes all in the same day. So I need my wardrobe to work for me not the other way around; and I need a highly flexible, adaptable set of clothes. I find it easiest if I wear a lot of black or grey as that way most of my items match each other and can be swapped in and out as needed. A classic-cut black blazer can be paired with a dress for a daytime conference but also worn over a cocktail dress in the evening; it can also work with jeans and a casual blouse for the flight home. Simple gold or silver jewellery goes with almost everything. A pair of stunningly classic diamond earrings given to me by my father-in-law travel with me everywhere. They look perfect with every single outfit imaginable.
I rarely wear a heel higher than an inch or two. I’m the queen of the much-maligned ‘sensible shoe’. I have a cupboard full of black low-heeled and no-heeled boots. And like the good Alabama girl that I am, I grasp any opportunity to wear flip-flops. It is not that I can’t appreciate the appeal of a fabulous shoe, but I regard Manolos as exotic yet useless objects to be gazed at like museum exhibits rather than to be worn or put to any real use. I’m moving around too much to be hobbled by sexy but impractical footwear. Who wants to be the girl squealing, “Oooh, I can’t do that, I’m in heels!”? I am also — full disclosure — a phenomenal klutz with ankles that snap like twigs. My three-year-old niece walks better in her high-heeled faux glass slippers than I do in a modest kitten heel.
In a chaotic lifestyle, I value the consistency and simplicity of my no-frills wardrobe. I’ve heard it said that daring clothes or bold jewellery show personality. I would argue that it is actually, um, personality that shows personality. Dressing interesting and being interesting are not the same thing.
I should specify that I’m not criticising the fashion-focused females among us. Some of my favourite people are fashionistas — including the one who runs this blog. (Fist bump to the editor.) I don’t consider fashion to be frivolous. It can be fun but it can also be a great tool for advancement in life, love and self-confidence. I admire my friends who always bring their fashion A-game.
Neither am I arguing that one has to choose between having a fun life and a fun wardrobe. My most stylish friend — the one I call with fashion emergencies such as “the invitation says ‘Riviera chic’, what does that mean?!” — happens to be among my most entertaining and impressive pals. She flits among countries, runs her own law firm and carries out a long-distance relationship all while being at the forefront of every fashion trend and teetering around in jaw-droppingly gorgeous stilettos. I look on in awe, from the slightly lower vantage point of my ballet flats. But that’s ok, right?
What matters is living your very best life; clothes are merely an accessory to that. Live large, live loud — and do it in the comfort of a grey cardie, that’s my mantra. Can I get that on a t-shirt? A grey one with black font, obviously.
Courtney Fingar is a business journalist based in London. Twitter: @CourtneyFingar