Casual Wear & The New Soft Structure

The New Soft Structure-Step Out and Step Up

Our society grows more casual by the year; my grandmother routinely wore a skirt suit to go shopping in "the city," while women my age wear their yoga pants to Target. This relaxing into casual manners-as long as we still have manners!-and casual wear isn't all bad. It's easier to concentrate on work and life without the constraint of pantyhose and neckties, just as it is comforting to blow into your best friend's house and grab a drink from the fridge rather than practice your formal manners there. As the pressures of everyday life loom, comfy clothing and easy social expectations give back some of the mental bandwidth consumed by the minutia of the modern world. Living through lockdowns and quarantines and long-term work-from-home only spoiled us. We went from simply relaxed to sewn-into-pajamas comfy! Returning to the office became all about work leisure wear and finding the most forgiving knits possible!

Now, there seems to be a turning. Lots of people want to step up their look but are facing the conundrum of wanting ease and comfort while also wanting to look a little sharper, better, more polished. No one wants to go backwards, comfort-wise, but they are also feeling that style has left them behind. Here, we're going to talk about a new-to-us idea in fashion: soft structure. This is the same idea that brought us leisure suits, though that particular garment is now the butt of many jokes! We can thank the leisure suit for the contemporary concept of constructing traditional garments of newer, more comfortable fabric in slightly relaxed styles. It's a blazer, but it's made of knit, the armscye (the proper term for the arm-hole) is slightly larger and comfier, and there are no shoulder pads. That is soft structure. When you wear this new kind of blazer, you certainly look business-like and polished, but you feel completely at your ease.

What to Look For

If you have begun feeling a bit tired of your clothing and are eager to step up your outfit game, here are some pieces to look for:

* Knit blazers

* Structured cardigans

* No-iron shirts with lots of stretch

* "Dress pants" made of knit or performance fabric

* Jeans in an easier silhouette than you usually wear

* Jeans and skirts featuring partial or hidden elastic waistbands

* Denim with lots of stretch (AKA Jeggings )

* Dressy sneakers

* Wedge or block-heeled women's dress shoes

Many of these pieces can mix with leggings or joggers, tunics, or knitwear dresses to create fully pre-lockdown business casual looks, but with all the comfort you have become accustomed to. Especially if you have become nostalgic for looking polished or are missing that touch of elegance, adding items like those listed above to your wardrobe can help you turn your sartorial ship around.

How to Wear It

Let's say you want to wear jeans with a button-up, and you'd like to class up your look with stylish shoes, at least one standout accessory, and top it all with a blazer for structure and polish. Full disclosure, this is my go-to look whenever weather permits, but here I am going to help you see how to do this while maximizing your comfort as you showcase your style. Try starting with boyfriend jeans instead of skinny jeans. Boyfriend jeans feature a comfortable, easy cut, are often mid-rise so there is no binding at the waist, and look darling rolled to ankle-height to showcase cute shoes! Choose a button-up with lots of stretch to the fabric, and make sure to go with something no-iron-it's just easier. A plain color is good, but a gingham or floral is great! I love smoking slippers, but a ballet flat or easy moccasin would look terrific with the outfit we're building, so go for whatever you find the most comfortable and stylish. Add a soft blazer, such as one made from knitwear or fleece, or perhaps a structured cardigan; look for something with a detail, whether that is lapels or pockets or a standout fiber. You want your cardigan to look like part of your ensemble, not a quick topper that made an appearance because it's chilly out. A standout accessory here might be a statement necklace, a terrific scarf worn around your neck, as a pocket square, or even tied around your ponytail or wrist, or a fabulous bag. It doesn't matter if your bag is practical canvas or heirloom-quality leather, as long as it complements your ensemble and carries what you need. We've just walked through a classic everyday womenswear look, but have tweaked each piece for maximum comfort. You absolutely do not have to give up the comfort you love for a stepped-up appearance that will help you look and feel your best.

Wear What You Love, With Forethought

The most important thing clothing does, after its basic function of putting something between our bodies and the elements, is help us feel good about who we are and how we present ourselves. We at Lands' End aren't big on "should" and "shouldn't" and we're not going to do that here. If you hate jeans with elastic waists, skip 'em! If you plan on only wearing T-shirts for the rest of your days, check ours out--they are great! At the same time, definitely do think about what you are wearing and whether it is helping you feel good about how you present yourself. Comfort is paramount, and still, you don't have to sacrifice your aesthetic to it. You can step out and step up in complete comfort. Let us help you.


Related Articles