Elegance is defined as being ‘graceful and stylish in appearance or manner’. This is quite a feminine definition, but I firmly believe that elegance can apply equally to men too. (In fact, I stepped into the beautiful Flemings Hotel in Mayfair this week, for a preview of Winser London’s A/W collection, and the man who greeted me simply oozed effortless elegance.) Nevertheless, it certainly describes something that is intangible. And elegance is not just about what you wear, it’s about how you wear it and, even more importantly, how you behave while doing so.
It’s telling that when we talk about elegance, we often cite icons from the past, rather than our contemporaries. Now it’s true, there are incomparable men and women (particularly from the mid twentieth century) who practically embody the word (Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Mason, Katharine Hepburn… I could go on) but there are plenty of modern examples too. Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba are elegant. Mark Ronson has abandoned youthful trendiness for grown-up elegance. Mr Beckham certainly has it. And so do the Duchess of Cambridge, Joanna Lumley, Catherine Deneuve and Aung San Suu Kyi. Jane Fonda certainly has it at the age of 78. Yes, many of these women are older; designer Bruce Oldfield once said that elegance comes with age: women in their 50s, 60s and beyond wear ‘simple good quality clothes… they just get it right’.
But let’s face it, modern life is not exactly conducive to appearing or, for that matter, behaving elegantly. It is all about comfort and convenience. Eating on our sofas in front of the television. Not engaging in meaningful conversation as a result. Table manners are neglected (are there such things as sofa manners?)
Now I’m not suggesting we return to the stiff formality of years gone by. But in these uncertain and divisive times, wouldn’t it be nice to restore a bit of old-school propriety? There are some simple things we can all do to up our elegance stakes. Here are my eleven…
Eleven steps to effortless elegance
- Wear clothes that fit you properly. Without a good fit, you will never achieve elegance
- Get items altered if you need to, to make them fit (modern high street sizing is erratic and inconsistent)
- Keep it simple. Less is always more – particularly when it comes to accessories
- Women: if you can’t walk in high heels, don’t
- Think about ‘polish’ rather than ‘flash’. Covering yourself in designer logos does not suggest elegance – in fact it indicates the opposite
- Remember that clothes that are cheap, look cheap. Buy less, but buy better
- You don’t have to be dressed up to the nines to look elegant. A crisp white shirt and dark jeans often does the trick (for both men and women)
- Make an effort: pay attention to the way you dress (and behave)
- Watch your manners. Going out of your way to make others feel comfortable will ensure that you are, too
- Always be gracious: courteous, kind and pleasant
- Retain an air of mystery. Don’t reveal everything (literally and figuratively).