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How to look dressed up but feel dressed down

How to look dressed up but feel dressed down

In 2019, comfort is a king. Sweatpants are now work-pants. Trainers have seen off your smart shoes. And odds are the last time you wore a tie to the office you were being interviewed. But this creep of weekend-wear into your nine-to-five has had another, unexpected effect. Smart clothes, once stuffy and uncomfortable, have loosened up. Praise be! No longer do we need to feel trussed up or squeezed in just to look put-together. These days you can look dressed up, but feel completely dressed down.

One of the tricks to marrying what used to be mutually exclusive is embracing the blink-and-you-miss-them features that make a massive difference. “Drawstring and elasticated waists are a great place to start,” says Thread stylist, and queen of comfort, Alice Watt. “On trousers made from smarter fabrics – think wool or cotton, rather than polyester – they’ll look just as handsome as your go-to chinos, but they’ll feel so much better.” The unstructured jacket is another easy win. It feels lightweight and less restrictive, but still has smart DNA, so you can pair it with your drawstring trousers for a high-low mix that won’t lead to a note from your boss.

On the other end of the smart-casual spectrum, many styles that have historically been labelled as off-duty are now being reimagined with a more refined feel. “A zip-up sweater is a great example,” Alice says. “If you choose one that’s structured and tailored, it will mimic the look of a jacket but will feel like you’re wearing a hoodie. And as a bonus, you’ll get loads more use out of it than you would your standard work blazer. It isn’t something you’ll just want to wear to the office; you’ll want to wear it to post-work drinks and on the weekends, too.”

Playing with optics in this way can apply to other parts of your look, as long as you pick the right materials. “It’s all about choosing casual pieces in elevated fabrics,” Alice says. “A merino knitted t-shirt looks much smarter than a classic white tee, especially after several wears and washes.”

Tonal dressing is another easy way to fool people into thinking you look more refined when in fact you’re in comfy basics. “Sticking to one colour will really help you look more sophisticated,” Alice says. “It’s a quick way to look smarter when you’re sporting everyday pieces, like a zip-up, a lived-in tee, and a pair of trainers.” And don’t feel like you have to stick exclusively to the same palette of greys and black you wear to the office. Beiges or creams are a fresher way to get the same effect.

Footwear and accessories, too, are a chance to strike a smart-comfortable balance. What’s great about the surge of sportswear in everyday dressing is that many pieces now have a luxe feel to them, whether it’s a leather backpack or trainers. “The right trainers, featuring details like suede panelling or even leather sole, will look more refined than a canvas pair,” Alice says. “And they mean you don’t have to compromise on comfort if you’re heading into an important meeting or out on a date.” Because if you feel comfortable, we guarantee you’ll feel more confident – even if you’re out of your comfort zone.

Words: Allison Pavlick
Photography: Lola & Pani
Styling: Alice Watt
Styling assistant: Toby Standing