Friday, February 11, 2005

Careless luxe

Stylist and photographer Kate Schelter says: "I never think something's too precious. I wear this mink coat like a jean jacket; I wear it everywhere." (Photo: Eliot Shepard, New York magazine.)

I like to call this look careless luxe. It's where expensive or formal wear is teamed with casual wear and worn in everyday ways. Some other examples are hoodies worn with tailored suits (huge in New York right now, apparently), cocktail dresses teamed with denim jackets, and big ostentatious jewellery, like pearls, worn with jeans and sneakers. I saw a girl yesterday wearing jeans, a pink jumper, Chuck Taylors, and a three-stranded bracelet of really big pearls.

Careless luxe is not the same as the Sparkly Top trend that refuses to die - it's still in all the chain stores and can be seen, combined with jeans and high heels, on almost all the chicks out on the town on Fridays and Saturdays. Sparkly tops are quite cheap and are designed to 'dress up' jeans rather than themselves being a 'dressy' item. By contrast, careless luxe refuses the entire hierarchy of 'dressed-upness': it refuses the hierarchy of context (fur coats are only meant for formal evening wear) and the hierarchy of value (expensive clothes are only for special occasions).

Schelter can wear her fur as an everyday jacket because she didn't shell out big bucks for it, nor does it have a sentimental history for her. She picked it up cheaply at a Cape Cod estate sale. But careless luxe also has very little in common with vintage clothing. Hardcore vintage collectors operate on a logic that I call "This Old Thing?" They 'rescue' clothes from owners who, unaware of their value, store them balled up in suitcases in the attic. They carefully clean them, store them in pristine condition, and restore them to their 'rightful' place in fashion history. This is the antithesis of the impertinent way that Schelter wears her fur.

But careless luxe is also different from dress-up box chic. Most often seen on arts student types, this where you casually pile on old formal clothes all together, giving an effect of having raided your mum's decaying old clothes from twenty years ago. Old 80s evening pumps; matted, motheaten fake furs like Humphrey B Bear; cheap plastic pearls strung slightly apart, rather than nestling together on the string like more expensive ones are. This is a great look if you can pull it off. But unfortunately, it's often done half-arsed or as a failed attempt at careless luxe. The difference is that the clothes in careless luxe may be old, but they are always of good quality and aren't literally falling apart.

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