There are many ways to visually create a more relaxed look. Of course, wearing very casual clothing or athleisure is as relaxed as it gets and one way to go. But I’m talking more about wearing dressier outfits that range from smart casual to formal, and styling them in ways that are carefree and chill, thereby accentuating ease and creating a relaxed vibe.
Some styling strategies are subtle, and others less so. You can use multiple strategies in one outfit. I bet that to some extent you’re using these techniques intuitively. Here are the most popular ones that I suggest to clients, and use in my own outfits. I’ll illustrate some of the strategies with my own wardrobe items.
1. Wear Fluid and Oversized Fits
Wearing roomier fits across tops, bottoms, dresses, skirts and toppers is the most effective way to relax a look in my book. This can mean anything from a fluid fit that stands away from the body in a gentle way, through to all sorts of major slouch and mega volume. Remember that tailored items can showcase fluidity by wearing them in a fluidly tailored fit. Or wearing them with fluid and oversized items. An A-line and flared skirt or dress exudes a more relaxed vibe than a form-fitting pencil skirt or sheath. Flared pants and jeans, wide cuts, barrel legs, boyfriend jeans, joggers, and relaxed straights exude more ease than regular straight legs and skinnies because they are roomier.
Find ways to temper the volume by adding just enough structure to the outfit so that you feel great in your look. Also, I’ve found that wearing roomy items at the RIGHT LENGTH is all important. If I wear a boxy or oversized silhouette too long, it will look and feel like it’s swallowing me up.
Personally, I choose fluidly tailored, fluid or very fluid fits. I seldom wear form-fitting or oversized items. For example, I’ll wear dressy velvet relaxed straight leg and bootcut pants, or wool relaxed straight leg pants with fluid welted knitwear. The roominess of the fits adds a relaxed and practical touch to the dressy fabrics. The navy sweater here does not look fluid on the model but it is in person. I finish off the looks with a white or taupe complement of refined boots and bag, plus my pearls. You can see some of these items on me here, here, and here.
2. Keep Tops Untucked
One of the easiest ways to add a relaxed vibe to an outfit is to wear a fitted, fluid or oversized top UNTUCKED. Of course, the tops have to look good worn over instead of tucked into bottoms, which not all of them do. They need to be the right fit, silhouette and length, and drape in the right way.
Personally, I prefer my fluid and boxy tops on the shorter side when I wear them untucked. Longer and they feel like they weigh me down unless they have a waist welt (or band) that tapers them back to the contour of my body. This hints at a waistline and creates some structure. If I wear a long and oversized shirt untucked, it needs to have an asymmetrical hem to temper the volume.
For example, I prefer to wear this dressy and very boxy off-white polkadot blouse UNTUCKED over my red velvet bootcut pants to create a more relaxed look and some architectural drape. It works well because the camisole and blouse are not too long. I finish off the look with dressy cream boots, chain strap bag, and pearls. An easy and comfy outfit to wear to holiday functions or in dressy settings. To my eye, it’s a casually elegant look.
3. Opt for Dressy Flats, and Low Heels
Dressy flats and low heels denote a sense of ease and look more relaxed than dressy high heels. This is great news for people like me who can’t wear heels higher than an inch and a quarter. For example, when I wear this formal navy lace dress, which is fluid and A-line to start off which in itself creates a more relaxed vibe, I wear it with these dressy patent loafers instead of high heels. I add a dressy red clutch and my huge vintage 1963 Yorkie brooch instead of pearls.
4. Add Casual Footwear
Dressing down a dressy look with casual footwear is an effective way of relaxing it. Like wearing fashion sneakers, flat oxfords and chunky flatform loafers with pantsuits and dresses. Wearing lug-sole boots or combat boots with dressier skirts and dresses works well too. Here are two examples:
Sometimes I wear my burgundy pantsuit with a tee and light blue wingtip oxfords with matching bag. Of course, along with the oxfords, the crossbody bag and tee further ease up the formal suit.
I’ve also worn my formal navy tulle skirt with a boxy white UNTUCKED shirt – which combines styling strategies #1 and #2 – and white boots. The boots, although tailored and refined, are not formal shoes. Here are some pics of the outfit in action.
5. Add a Denim Component
This is an iconic styling strategy that needs little explanation. Dress down dressy tops and toppers with a pair of jeans. Combine a dressy frock, dressy pants, or festive skirt with a denim shirt, denim jacket, or denim vest. Blue and black denim are the most popular, but all colours of denim are fab.
6. Add a Moto or Utility Jacket
If denim jackets aren’t your thing, relax dressier looks by topping them off with a leather or faux leather moto jacket. Olive utility jackets do a good job too. For example, I dressed down my dressy ‘70s denim dress by topping it with a peachy toffee faux leather moto. I wore black fishnet hosiery because my legs were cold and added low-heeled Mary Janes and a dressy citron bag. The denim fabric and A-line silhouette of the dress added a further relaxed vibe. So did the low heels of the dressy shoes.
7. Add Leggings
Solid black leggings have become a staple casual bottom for many people. If you enjoy wearing them, try popping them under skirts, tunics, and dresses. They add a relaxed and practical touch. Leggings can be more comfortable than hosiery, add insulation, and feel like you’re wearing pants instead of a dress or skirt. Wearing clothing with black components helps create a cohesive outfit with black leggings. Here’s a good example.
8. Add Statement Socks to Dressy Footwear
This is an on-trend and in some cases fashion-forward look whereby you add socks to dressy sandals, pumps, slingbacks, Mary Janes, ballet flats, mules, and all sorts of loafers to create a sense of outfit ease and extra comfort. The socks are carefully chosen to match the palette of the outfit, make a statement and pull the look together. The styling strategy is an acquired taste. For example, here a dressy skirt is combined with a very fluid sweater which showcases styling strategy #1. Sporty socks are worn with dressy silver sling-back pumps. This is an extreme version of the strategy because the socks have an athletic integrity which is jarring. You could wear dressier and refined gauzy socks instead.
Here are a few more visuals of the vibe:
The list is by no means exhaustive so feel free to add to it. How do you create a more relaxed look when you’re not wearing very casual clothes? Do these styling strategies resonate with you?