The Non-Designer Elegant Woman

Recently, I've been inspired by the non-designer elegant woman. Somehow I choose now to reflect who I am and my current place in society more accurately with the things I put on my back. This is just how I define my own personal brand of elegance and elegant style. Read about the inspiration behind that.

Perhaps, if you're reading this, you would know by now that it is not necessary to have deep pockets to look elegant. You can look decently chic with a little bit of effort and savvy.

I've also written about how important it is to make effort in your grooming, to present your best self to the world, even it is just going to the supermarket. I'm not saying you have to dress like you're going to a fashion event, but you dress appropriately, looking clean and neat and pretty.


Grooming is still the foundation of looking elegant

Contrary to what many people believe, I belong to the slightly lazy camp.

I mean I don't look like I have just gotten out of bed, but I wouldn't say I feel fully confident, if I met a friend on the street. You know those times, you just wished you looked a bit better? That usually occurs after you bumped into an ex-boss or somebody you preferred to have had impressed.

I have natural silky hair which means I don't really need to comb it and my hair is mostly in a half pony tail (unless I'm going for ballet class). Up to a few months ago, I only wore tinted moisturizer with eyeliner.

I think part of my easy casual grooming style is due to the type of work I do. I teach just a couple of hours a week, and work on projects hidden away behind a computer. My meetings are in clinics or coffeeshops. If I were a corporate woman or worked in fashion (as I had been before briefly), my grooming style would have been up several notches.

However, as the years roll along, I made more of an effort. And it does pay off for my personal self-esteem and respect. I also remember all those lucky times when I'm glad I looked decent!

Quality Items A Priority Over Designer

Since I've written about all of these before...about how to dress and how to choose quality, I'll just quickly summarize for our new readers.

Many women with elegant styles do carry designer items, but you DO NOT have to carry designer items to be elegant.

In the past, purchasing items from high end designers pretty much guaranteed good design and high quality. Now it is not the case. There are many designer items that are gaudy, trashy and ugly. Some poorly made, even if it is from Italy. My new pair of sunglasses has its double "C" logo falling off several times. I sent it in twice for repair and I have given up since.

You have to make a little bit of effort to learn how to discern quality and also to cultivate taste.

There's also the cliché saying of "Less is more" and to "buy the highest quality you can afford". (I mean, I wrote about these two sayings myself in the pages of elegantwoman.org)

I half-believe in the above principles. Is less really more? I tend to ask myself especially when I'm holding two bags that I want during the Great Mall Sale.

What does it mean "how much I can afford?". I'm not even sure what I can afford. I just know that if I splurge on something, I have to give up something else (Maybe prolong my haircuts, or skip those Italian coffees).

But that's what really cool. It is something you learn with life. And it is a choice that only you can make for yourself!

I try to convince myself to buy one quality item instead of five cheaper quality-compromised items. But the variety and affordability is just so tempting! I fell into that temptation many times.

Well I still do, but over time, I sorta learn the hard way. For instance, right now I dance ballet for fitness, and one of my favorite things to shop for are ballet tights and skirts.

My Ballet Skirt Story


I started out buying cheaper quality tights and cheaper ballet skirts. Why not? I can get so many more for my dollar! I bought 80% cheaper items, and 20% nice, quality stuff.

Over time, I've realized that I started reaching out for my higher quality items. I now could tell the significant difference in quality and comfort. And as for the skirt design, because I had a few nice ones, I could tell the difference in what great (careful) design and the precision in the way the skirts are made. And to be honest, the difference in prices were just a couple of bucks. So it is not simply about whether they are designer or not.

(Here are some pictures (right) are of some of my favorite ballet skirts.) :)

That being said, that applies to all my clothes now. In Japan, there were really beautiful simple elegant designs for very affordable prices in Uniqlo. And I'm sure in every country, there are some stores that sells lovely things that are of a decent quality for affordable prices. You just have to do your own research and discover them yourself.

And these are not designer items at all.

When I mention "designer" - it refers to the high end market. Mass market items, though they are also heavily branded, are not what I'm referring to here.


Elegant Principles of Style


What about designer items?

If you can afford it, and you really love a certain luxury brand...why not?

To curate your own style of elegance is really your choice and an expression of who you are. There isn't just one right way to be elegant.

There are still elegant principles to live by. Here are some of them:

  • The item should not be too loud and gaudy.
  • No logos or small logos or discreet logos
  • Some people from the old school traditional elegance believe there shouldn't be any logos at all. To which I feel makes life difficult because not all of us have access to items with non-logos.

  • No glaring, loud, attention-seeking colors.
  • Unless it is tastefully coordinated.

  • Classic styles preferred.
  • Actually, as long as the item is not too "fashionable" (i.e. too 'high-fashion' - because it will quickly go out of style), it should be fine. Classics which never go out of style are deemed safer choices.

  • Check fit and proportion, quality of material and how well it is made.
  • Ideally, nothing you wear screams poor quality or badly made.

    When buying a purse or bag, be careful to consider the proportion of the bag relative to your body.

    If they are clothes, check the fit and quality.

    Choosing Your Brand of Elegance

    When I was a lot younger, I remember purchasing a beautiful designer handbag with my paycheck, and getting a designer haircut and color.

    Since then, for the next 5 years or so, I set aside a yearly budget to buy nice luxury items. It could be a nice jacket, dress, bag, shoes, wallet etc. Of course, I mixed this with cheaper items.

    I liked the elegant style and so I dressed that way. I carefully crafted my style and I liked looking like a lady.

    Fast forward to now, and I'm different. I wouldn't go so far to say that I no longer dress like a lady or am interested in elegant styles, but I dress quite differently now. I still have my favorite sleeveless dresses and nice bags (sold some though), and I still do dress like I used to from time to time, just a little more casual.

    Why? What is the difference?

    Maybe you could say, I have a deeper understanding of myself? Or maybe, my personal elegant style has evolved.

    Maybe it simply reflects the company I now keep. It is not better or worse, just different.

    My Current Elegant Inspiration: Non Designer

    I made a couple of good friends the past couple of years. They are very different from my elegantly elite friends (whom I still see). I'm not sure whether it is the passing of age, but these closer friends have inspired me greatly...causing me to alter my beliefs that have influenced my preferences.

    I can't fully express what our friendships mean and how they have inspired me in words, but I'll try to briefly.

    My Non-Designer Elegant Friends

    I feel inspired by my girlfriend ER. She is Japanese and highly-educated, working for one of the top banks in the world. Every time we meet, she is beautifully dressed, but she gives me the impression that she's not in love with her clothes. Her bag is from a departmental store. She can more than afford to buy luxury items and be dressed from head to toe in them but she's not interested in designer items or shopping. Instead, she's a simple person, honest and real. She can speak and write in both English and French, and pursues ballet passionately after work hours. She has lived and worked all around the world in London, Tokyo, Canada and Singapore. She is calm and culture-savvy and exudes a quiet confidence. Yet, she is down to earth and openly shares with me her wishes and struggles, and she makes everyone feels like she's just like everyone else.

    Then there's AI, who is American-Philippine. She is highly intelligent, smart, socially savvy and a wonderful conversationalist. She reads heavily and questions normalcy. She might be a little out there but she thinks for herself. And that, to me, that is a very attractive and inspirational quality. To me, she is naturally gorgeous, and wears little make up. She always "wants to look like herself". She doesn't have a huge wardrobe of clothes, shoes and bags. She has the standard classic styles and she looks great. In fact, I always see her in the same things. Same watch and bag for years before a change. Then it will be the same for the next few years. Sometimes I think she wears too much black. But that's really nothing, she is all in all, amazing and inspiring.

    Another person that inspires me is RN. At work, he is reliable and honest. He is professional and systematic. He also minds his own business and has one manner with everyone. He doesn't care about status and is true to himself.

    He literally wears his things to pieces, not to the point where he looks like he might be begging on the street, but up to the point when it fades. Or if they are shoes or bags, to the point when it is broken or looks shabby. Yet, he makes an effort to look good, clean, shaven, hair cut in order not to look messy. He doesn't go for trends or styles, but keeps them classic and manly. He is not from the corporate world, and so he doesn't bother to have anything look like he is. Every time, he wears something out, it is thrown away and then replaced. He doesn't bother about brands as well, as long as it looks good and feels comfortable. This quality is simple, classic and it means no waste. I feel that in this world of excess, to have this approach of things is exceptionally elegant. It got me intrigued to thinking about this philosophically...perhaps that is how we're meant to consume materials.

    I know two other male friends just like that too. And one is from the start-up world.

    Being Myself

    In my recent travels to Japan, I'm also inspired by how the Japanese women dress. Very classic and elegant, yet most of their things are not designer...well at least from what it looks like, and for those women who captured my attention.

    In a way, in terms of my elegant style.... I actually prefer to go non-designer and slightly casual! I also like my things and what I wear to reflect my current status in life, status meaning where I fit in and where I serve in society.

    I don't really go around looking glamorous or take pictures of luxury things because that's not who I am and not how I live. At least not for now, though I'm not sure if I want to live that way in the future too.

    I really enjoy reading, dancing and working on my projects. I also enjoy talking to people with interesting experiences, or are living in a way or experiencing life that I will never experience. If I don't meet them, I'll at least try to read about them. A recent book I was surprised I enjoyed was "American Sniper ".

    However, I'd like to think that if I ever had to go for a glamorous elegant event, I can up my game appropriately. The important part is the know-how.

    In fact, recently, I went to a charity ball and my friend tried to get me to lie about the designer of my dress. (These Tatler photographers like to approach you for a picture then get your name and the designer of your dress ...to publish on their society pages). I decided against it and just told them the truth and revealed my high street brand. I felt a little cheesed by my friend though, because why did she ask me to do that? Anyway, the funny thing is that the photographer only wanted my photo but not hers (even though I tried to get him to take hers.)

    But for now, I actually prefer buying non-luxury non-designer goods. I still like quality items. I now really like the 'elegant non-designer look' (haha!). But it is also true that I like to save my money for things like lessons and workshops.


    Here I am wearing and carrying non-designer items shopping for ballet shoes.

    My current brand of elegance is still the same...it just is reflected differently now. With my continual pursuit of my own brand of elegance - books, creative pursuits, meaningful work, meaningful experiences ... I feel I'm growing more comfortable in my own skin and I can meet anyone from all walks of life and be...just me. :)

    Thanks for reading! Have a great week everyone, and see you on Instagram @elegantwomanorg!

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