Why pared-back personal style is the ultimate power move

Moments before I attended a black-tie work party this month, my colleague messaged me, full of concern. Her unease was that she looked "too princess-y". I shared her anxiety, replying with my own apprehension over my uncanny resemblance to a puff pastry. Neither of us are the type of women who normally dresses like a Disney character or a choux bun, but there is evidently a rewiring of one’s brain which occurs whenever a black-tie invite is proffered. All semblance of personal style is abandoned in favour of a slavish fidelity to glamour, volume, drama, poof.

It doesn’t even have to be black-tie. Any type of event dressing causes our fashion individuality to go haywire. We abandon what would typically be our sartorial north stars for a one-size-fits all template. Which is why the ultimate power move is not surrendering to this, even if it means a more pared-back approach.

This was most deliciously exemplified recently by the former creative director of JCrew, Jenna Lyons, who, in her new guise as a Real Housewife of New York, rocked up to the season reunion in… jeans. Those unfamiliar with the universe of Real Housewives need only know that denim has never been seen at a reunion. This is a world of sheer panelling, glitter, and jewel-toned satin. This is a Vegas showgirls aesthetic where more is more. Lyons’ (very chic) shirt, tie and jeans combo in amongst this was not just true iconoclasm but unapologetic individuality. In short: a pure power move.

What we wear reflects who we are. It is a shorthand for our personality – even more so in an era preoccupied with personal branding. When my colleague and I fretted about our regal patisserie dresses, it was because our identities felt out of kilter with them. We would not feel ourselves – and this would affect our confidence, as we would be trumpeting an identity to the world that was inaccurate. Do not judge a book by its cover, sure, but when the cover belies the content, it will affect the copy.

Clothes have historically been, of course, not just identifiers of a personal brand but codes for class, money, and status. Despite our nominally classless modern world, these signs still subtly make their presence felt, in whispers if not in enforced regulation. We have seen this through the explosion of the quiet luxury trend, championed by shows like Succession, which found its poster girl in Gwyneth Paltrow, who glided through her ski-accident trial last year in pared-back Loro Piana and Prada, allowing her style to say more than words ever could.

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Jenna Lyons wearing jeans to a fashion event last monthSlaven Vlasic - Getty Images

That’s the thing about the Housewives moment, of course. Lyons was pure quiet luxury in a world in which money screams. Which is why a moment of restrained panache – jeans, no less – at any event in which satin, diamonds and ruffles reign supreme, will not mark you out as a poor relation but almost certainly as a supremely confident power player.

But this goes beyond denoting piles of cash through cashmere. The strength of personal style is that you are not playing a part; relaxed dress only functions as a power move if its in keeping with your own particular aesthetic. Authenticity is key here. Whatever the code of an event might be, it's important to navigate that in a way that makes sense to you. If you prefer a darker, monochromatic palette, do not abandon this for fuchsia and print because you feel you must. If sleek, minimal silhouettes are your bag, why opt for ballgown flounce?

gwyneth paltrow enters the courtroom after a lunch break on thursday, march 23, 2023, in park city, utah paltrow has appeared in court in the utah ski town this week, where she is accused of injuring another skier, leaving him with a concussion and four broken ribs ap photojeff swinger, pool
Gwyneth Paltrow during her ski-accident trial last yearJeff Swinger - Getty Images

This self-same mindset plagued me when I was searching for my wedding dress last year. The ‘shoulds’ of wedding gowns were deafening. This was my opportunity to be a princess, so I should go for the massive train, the dramatic moment, right? But these were the dresses which made me feel as though I was in costume. I wasn’t me. Instead, I opted for an elevated version of what I most like to wear: slim fit, simple, minimal looks. This is exactly the approach one should have to event dressing: you, but just a little jazzier. By doing so on one of the biggest days of my life, I have never felt more confident.

This is why the Jenna Lyons move was so sublime. She saw a room full of sequins and decided to grab a pair of Levi's. This wasn’t a middle-finger to the event – far from it – but proof that dressing up is not the same as playing dress up. Sticking to your signature style may seem safe and maybe even a bit unexciting, but the feeling being yourself induces is megawatt confidence. Ironically, by paying attention to your casing, you best serve your inner self. That is true power.

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