Look At Those Clothes!

Musings on style and fashion

“Clothes that really protect you . . . “

  “You know, I love that kind of having these relationships almost like old friends with your clothes, and sometimes you rediscover … a little black dress or something that really protects you, and when you’re tired and you have to go to something, you rediscover it in your wardrobe and you say ‘Oh, thank God,’ and you zip it on and you feel better.”

—Giambattista Valli, designer

Sweet words spoken by a man who clearly loves women and understands one of the key purposes of clothing—to protect us from the elements, visible and otherwise.

As soon as I read Valli’s words (and stopped saying “Awwww …”), I asked myself what garment makes me feel protected. But since I live with a cacophonous collection of style subpersonalities known as The Style Sisters, I can’t name a single garment or even a single color. Doing so would start a tiresome argument, if not a hair-pulling session.

DSC_0035But I can name a couple of qualities that contribute to our sense of  protection as well as our sense of general all-around happiness: soft and unrestricting. None of us likes to feel as if we’re being mugged by our clothes. Stiff, scratchy, tight, requiring us to take care in the way we move—uh-uh. The job of our clothes, once we put them on, is to just sit there and not bother us.

DSC_0083Some of the sisters adore pencil skirts, but even those slender garments must meet the criteria: They can skim, but they cannot squeeze or bind or prevent us from putting our feet up on our desk if we feel like it (and we do; we work in a very casual office where nobody minds).

In fact, we’ve so edited our wardrobe to eliminate the fussy and muggy and non-soft that we now often spend hours in the evening lounging around in the same clothes we wore to work.

I can also mention a couple of types of garments that the sisters do agree are wonderful, just on general principles but especially when we want to feel very comfortable and protected: long oversized or at least drapey hoodies, loose tunics or t-shirts, stretchy leggings, and what we call our soft pants—well-worn-in (easy when you shop almost entirely at thrift stores) cotton sweatpants or other loose soft pants, like the black velours from the Vermont Country Store that The Man in the Plaid Shirt gave us about 40 thousand years ago, give or take a few decades.

As I’ve been writing, The Style Sisters have been murmuring in the background. Seems they agree to disagree on a single garment or color, but they agree that we should show you a few of their “protected” outfits.

The variety of ways in which humans express the same need is amazing, is it not? Please do share your own variety—we’d love to hear about the garment, style, or fabric that best protects you.


The Skinny on Signor Valli

After studying fashion design in his home city of Rome and in London, Valli worked in Rome, Milan, and Paris, where he opened his own atelier in 2005 and showed his first couture collection, to much acclaim, in 2011.

Valli’s clothes, whether ready-to-wear or haute couture, are too fluffy, dressy, and frilly for me. But I do appreciate the beauty, femininity, and grace of his designs. He shows his love and respect for women by designing clothes that flatter and dignify the female form, actually look very comfortably wearable, and manage to be modest (except for a few see-throughs here and there) without being frumpy.

If you follow celebrities (I don’t), you may already know that Amal Alamuddin made her first public appearance as Mrs. George Clooney in a Valli design.

And he has a very classy website.


Categories: Fashion Quote of the Week

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4 replies

  1. My style almost never varies. I love wearing skirts because they are so unrestricting. But I also hate jiggling, so the bottom layer is always tight, light, and stretchy (tights, leggings, close-fitting tops). I feel vulnerable if I stray from my routine.

    In the mid-50s I shared a bedroom with my grandmother (born in 1882). She also had a routine and I remember her layers well–cotton knit under-unit (I don’t know what this was called) an undershirt and baggy pants combined, complete with a long opening in the back (you could not pull this down) and a little pocket on the chest the size of a playing card. She may have sewn this in herself to hold her hearing aid (a thin cord connected it to the ear piece). Next came a loose-fitting corset that hooked on the side and had garters to hold up her stockings. This followed by a full slip, then a pretty,rayon shirtwaste-type dress. On Sunday, she always wore a wonderful hat.


    • So interesting, Helen–Nina also mentioned jiggling! A few years ago, I realized I needed to lose some pounds because suddenly I had a jiggle factor. I was horrified. Do you suppose in some cultures, people actually like to jiggle? If so, I hope a person who likes to jiggle (or likes people who jiggle) will write to share their views with us.

      You mention that you feel vulnerable if you stray from your routine. I imagine most of us feel this change-related vulnerability to some extent. Predictability, after all, boosts our chances of survival; chaotic environments, in which we don’t know what nature or other humans will do next, are the stuff of nightmares. Still, I imagine a predictability continuum along which we place ourselves, some of us needing more and some less, and some of us energized by chaos.

      You remember and describe your gram, Helen, with such intimate and loving detail! I can really see her getting dressed as your little self quietly watches. Seems you both found her dressing routine comforting.


  2. Hey I usually wear clothes that are not very tight, just comfortable. But I got to know some corset makers, and ordered some for myself, and man I feel invulnerable when I am laced into those things. I don’t have any over bust ones, I have two waists and a longer one with cabinet type latches on the front. But the feeling of containment and relaxation at the same time–nothing jiggling or folding, you can be very upright while putting your muscles into an inner slump–it’s very “safe”! Like a battleship. Having an exoskeleton is fun! But I don’t actually wear them terribly often, mostly because it;s hard to tie oneself into it…since I don’t have a maid to do it or a handy style sister.


    • Absolutely fascinating, Nina! I love that idea of “the feeling of containment and relaxation at the same time.” Reminds me of what some of my yoga instructors say: “Relax without losing the structure of the pose.” Also makes me think of swaddling–of how some babies feel calmer and more secure when they’re tightly bound. And I think of knights (and horses) in armor, which I’ve loved to look at and read about since I was a little kid. Wearing so much metal that every inch of your body is covered and you have to be hoisted onto your horse–it’s a concept that’s at once bizarre and completely understandable: Who in this world doesn’t need a suit of some sort of armor? Who doesn’t want to feel invulnerable? And I really do love hearing about the different ways that people translate the concepts of protection and safety and armor and invulnerability. Thanks for writing!


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