Monday, December 6, 2021

Personal Style Thoughts: Without Fails ("WOFs")

My Elizabeth Suzann Ella slip dress (mine is navy, not black) is one of my "Without Fails" or "WOFs".

For today's post, I thought I'd talk about some of the things I've learned from Amy Smilovic's Instagram stories about her approach to personal style, shopping, and wardrobe-building. Her style is definitely not the same as mine - it's a lot more fashion-forward, creative, and adventurous by any objective measure - but I believe her way of thinking about these topics can still be extremely inspirational to someone building towards a style that ends up looking quite different from hers. (Oh and keep in mind that my paraphrasing of her personal style concepts throughout this post - in the way I understand them - may not be completely precise and accurate to what she actually means to say.) 

This article does a pretty good job briefly summarizing most of the basics with Smilovic's approach. Smilovic describes her style - embodied in her brand Tibi - as "Creative Pragmatism", with the three elements or "style adjectives" of Chill, Modern, Classic each weighted equally. 

Her Instagram stories over time have given a lot more detail about what each of these style adjectives mean to her. "Chill" is seen in the silhouettes and overall look; it often also incorporates elements of functionality and comfort, including through the use of fabrics that feel good and move and flow well, sometimes in natural fibers or natural fiber blends. "Modern" is often where the fashion-forward design elements come in, and can also include mixing proportions and fabric textures in outfits, or using unexpected materials or details to add tension or irony to the item or look. "Classic" in Smilovic's framework is more difficult for me to pinpoint and articulate because I know she doesn't like things overly classic, it always needs to be balanced out by the other elements. 

To the extent Smilovic's style adjectives apply to me, I'm more Chill, Modern, Classic

That's extra-large font for the "Chill" because I love for things to be comfortable and thus functional, and I sometimes prioritize function over form with that interest in mind; a medium-sized font for the "Classic" because I err on the side of classic and conservative in many of my fashion choices; and I wish I could make the font for "Modern" even smaller because, in the end, that's not really an important style adjective for me. I do appreciate the more "Modern" and unexpected details in the Tibi items I've purchased to date, but overall that's not something I really seek out or need all the time, or in every outfit. Maybe I'd swap out a word like whimsical or fun instead of modern for my personal list? But those terms aren't exactly right for me either.

I haven't really been able to think of my own personal list of core style adjectives yet. Chill or easygoing is definitely one of mine, but I'm honestly not that sure about anything else. 

That's an incredibly long introduction to the main focus of today's post, which isn't even supposed to be about these style adjectives! Instead, what I actually wanted to write about today was Smilovic's approach to shopping and building a wardrobe. That part of her approach focuses on three types of items: (1) "Without Fails" or "WOFs"; (2) "In and Outs" or "IOs"; and (3) "Had to Haves" or "HTHs"

My post today is about "WOFs", so more on that in a bit. For the other two categories in Smilovic's framework, "IOs" are those very on-trend and current items that one is very in the mood for right now, but might want to put on the back burner for a time once the trend cycle has moved on, before maybe eventually bringing them back in once the item feels right for the moment again in a subsequent year or season. If selected correctly, she says IOs will probably not stay in good enough shape to eventually get resold because they still get tons of wear in the time periods when they suit the moment.

"HTHs", meanwhile, are the items one feels an immediate and intense emotional attraction to - possibly in a way that feels irrational - and/or the items one can't get out of their mind after seeing them. Maybe they don't end up getting much wear because they might really push the boundaries of one's personal style comfort zone, but the emotional attachment is also so strong that one won't be interested in reselling them anytime in the near future. 

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In my own experience, I definitely have HTHs, though probably more rarely than Smilovic does. (Naturally, since I'm obviously nowhere near as knowledgeable about fashion and it also isn't part of my day job to stay aware of fashion industry trends, runway shows, etc.) 

See my bright pink limited-edition Longchamp "Miaou" tote for an example of one of my HTHs. I really haven't worn it much at all because my black Longchamp Neo tote is far more practical and less likely to get stained, but I still love that bright pink bag with the cat face. In fact, I loved that Longchamp "Miaou" tote so much I sought it out across several countries, after first encountering it in a Kuala Lumpur department store and deeply regretting not picking it up right then. I was quite sad and surprised I couldn't find it in any of the airport Longchamp boutiques I passed by in the days afterwards. I ended up needing to wait a few weeks before the Longchamp "Miaou" line arrived in US department stores. 

IOs don't really have a place in my approach to shopping, though. I'm simply not adventurous enough about new trends or style elements to often have items that feel strongly associated with and current in a particular season. I also don't have enough storage space in my NYC one-bedroom apartment to cycle items out for a time when they no longer feel of-the-moment!

As for WOFs, they are meant to be foundational pieces within your personal style, the items you reach for again and again and always want to pack when traveling, the items that make you feel like "you" and fully comfortable in your skin. Within Smilovic's framework - which includes a lot of the "modern" and a fair bit of room for experimenting with things that are new, or of-the-moment - WOFs are meant to exert a grounding influence when paired with more unusual or experimental IOs or HTHs. Some WOFs in the Tibi world also happen to be designed with the intention of being four-season or year-round pieces, which Smilovic terms "12 moers" for 12 months of the year. 

For me personally, my WOFs are items I keep reaching for and can't wait to wear again when they're in the laundry hamper. Many of them don't have quite the outfit-building versatility of the items Smilovic would generally consider WOFs - such as a great blazer or pair of trousers - but I love my mainstay items nonetheless, they really do feel like "me" and I'm always sad to put them away when they're out of season. Smilovic has mentioned in one of her stories that dresses are generally not WOFs for her because they can be very "one and done", you don't really need other pieces of clothing to make the look. But many of my current WOFs are dresses.

As you'll see, most of my current WOFs are two or three season items, given NYC weather conditions throughout the year and how fussy I can be about temperatures. (In particular, I hate feeling overheated or constricted during the hot and humid NYC summer, so I never really want to layer anything over my light and floaty summer dresses.) 

I'd say my items that absolutely have WOF status for me right now include the following, all past-season or discontinued items: 

  • (1) Elizabeth Suzann Georgia dress in midweight black linen, both with and without the Asawa black linen belt (spring and summer), this doesn't have much outfit-building versatility since it's not that easy to layer things over the relaxed, wider-cut sleeves and I don't think the casual feel of the dress goes well with tights, but I love wearing this dress as much as possible in the warmer seasons; 
  • (2) Elizabeth Suzann Ella slip dress in navy silk (spring through fall), Smilovic and Tibi consider the heavier silk they use in some of their designs a "12 moer" fabric, I pretty much agree that thicker silk like what Elizabeth Suzann ("ES") used can suit four seasons, once the weather cools down a silk slip dress like this can be layered with tights and a sweater so it acts like a skirt; 
  • (3) Grana silk slip dress in black (spring and summer), another silk slip dress and one I've often layered with a sweater or other top so it's like a skirt, the silk on this is thinner and less substantial than with the ES dress so, strictly speaking, I don't think it's quite as versatile, but I like that the skirt has side slits and is a shorter, more flirty length than on the ES dress; 
  • (4) Brora gauzy polo neck sweater in teal cashmere (fall through early spring), it's my favorite and most versatile cashmere sweater because it's so light, I adore the color and slouchy, relaxed feel and find it suits basically any outfit, the cowl neck makes it warm so that I don't even need a scarf unless it's really cold, but it's also not so constricting that I feel overheated and can't wear it in fall and early spring; and
  • (5) Uniqlo sleeveless shift dress in black (four seasons), this item is a little over 10 years old and I don't have a picture of it and can't find one online, it's a sleeveless shift dress with two patch pockets in front that are a perfect size for holding a cell phone, it can be worn on it's own with sandals in summer and is great to layer under sweaters and over a pair of tights in winter, I've stopped wearing it so often only because the fabric has thinned out a lot over time after many, many washings and I don't think this dress has much wear left in it after a decade. 

Now that Smilovic has inspired me to think more creatively about building outfits, a few more items in my closet could eventually also become WOFs, as I figure out what I like. One top candidate is the Elizabeth Suzann Bel skirt in black silk I couldn't initially figure out what to do with. Now that I'm becoming a bit more open-minded to wearing separates, I can appreciate that a midi-length slip skirt made of thicker silk in a neutral color can be quite versatile. 

Other top candidates for future WOFs could be one or both of my new Toteme Twisted Seam jeans in medium blue (also here, here, and here) and the Tibi Brancusi jeans in indigo (also here). Although I always appreciated the utility of my skinny jeans for cooler temperatures and could never go too long without having at least one pair around - whenever my previous pair wore out I always tried to replace it as a matter of urgency - I didn't really think of them as items I was eager to reach for in the years since I graduated law school. Skinny jeans felt purely utilitarian to me, I appreciated them for the important function they served, but I was attached to mine mostly because I knew how hard it was to find others that fit similarly well off the rack on my short legs. As soon as the weather warmed up each year, I was always thrilled to put my skinny jeans away for the entirety of NYC's long summer. (Because I detest feeling overheated, I don't like the feeling of closely. fitted, stretchy fabrics that cover up a lot of skin in summertime.)

But now that I have some jeans with wider, more relaxed legs, maybe I'll be more open to continuing to wear jeans once the weather warms up. Though if my workplace goes back to its pre-pandemic business-casual - absolutely no blue jeans allowed - dress code, that will put a damper on denim becoming one of my WOFs.

What are the WOFs in your wardrobe? Based on my descriptions above, do any parts of Amy Smilovic's approach to personal style, wardrobe building, and shopping make sense to you? If you've watched any of Amy Smilovic's Instagram stories or Tibi's "Style Class" sessions on Instagram Live  sessions (also posted to YouTube), I'd be thrilled to discuss them with you anytime!

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