Laurie commented, "My favorite post of yours was on the French strict style of dressing. For the last few years I have been working to develop that style for my closet without consciously knowing that it is a style, and where to source it. ...I'd love to see you do an updated post on the subject."
My first thought was, what else is there to say? But Laurie's request intrigued me.
Strict is the term I coined a year ago for a spare, refined subset of the minimalist/classic school, characterized by subtlety, quality and perfect fit. To illustrate, I'm using photos from The Sartorialist.
It is neither eccentric nor androgenous, like this.
And certainly not va-voom, like this. Strict does not apply colour with a broad brush, then tart it up with with a busy necklace.
Nor would strict wear leggings and an oversized sweater like GF glimpsed at the right of the shot.
A women in strict is not without figure; she is simply not centering her presentation on it.
Nor is it tailored, elegant 'jolie madame' clothing, which is more conservative in its classicism.
Then what is it?
Semi-strict, or 'soft-strict'
Not quite strict, but the quality is there, along with the attitude of controlled and conscious harmony.
As I scrolled though The Sartorialist's shots, I thought "Am I ever going to find my example?" I realized this style does not draw the eye in an obvious way. The woman is not dressing to stop traffic or get her photo taken.
Then I thought, ah, finally.
The hallmarks of strict are here: The mixed texture in one garment (transparent and opaque), restrained use of colour (note the little string bracelets), the fine quality, the interesting yet offhand jewelry (pendant peeking from beneath blouse), the femininity that does not trade on overt sexiness, the undone-looking (but beautifully cut) hair, the minimal makeup. Commenters praised her 'simplicity', 'elegance' and 'effortlessness'.
They called her 'adorable but chic' and 'understated but classy' and 'natural but glamourous'. That opposition is the whole point. One commenter said, "the woman's outfit is unremarkable". That person does not have the eye to appreciate strict.
There is glamour to strict, otherwise it is dull, and lands in the classic-safe Eileen Fisher category.
You have to avoid the generic to achieve this look; her blouse is not from Banana Republic.
You can dress casually in strict, like this NYC cyclist.
There may be pattern, but it is not multicoloured, bright or figural. There is a softness but at the same time, a spareness and discipline.
So the café reader is in strict, and the woman in the dress, not.
Strict, Milanese school
Scott Schuman said, "The best of Milan. On a street blinged out on Cavalli and Dolce this super subtle look carried more strength and dignity than any other."
Often the colour is in the accessory– scarf, belt or bag. Strict is not a deliberately austere intellectual look, either; that sort of woman might wear fine leather oxfords with this sweater and skirt.
Examples, designers, sources
European garments are not necessarily strict; there's a boatload of flou frockery in Paris. But most strict clothes are European. This Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti black jersey dress looks simple till you notice the precise seaming and piped neckline. $465 from Net-a-porter, a good international source for strict pieces– but you still have to search.
Aquascutum Yvette fine wool top, ($625 from Net-a-porter) is strict, all right, and delivers another prinicple: less is more.
J. Crew's blackberry duffle coat is a deep, character-laden colour that strict loves. $298.
J. Crew are good for edging into this style although the strict signature of subtle luxury might be a bit diluted.
Bruno Cucinelli cashmere vest, a piece of versatility and longevity, allows me to show that the clothes don't need to be dark. ($1,445 from Saks Fifth Avenue).
100% cashmere fitted kimono coat in a luminous grey; Eric Bompard, €740.
Snug strict: Sheepskin gilet from Brora, £269, worn with gray flannel wide-legged pants, not jeans.
Party strict: Diane von Furstenberg Belia lace wool wrap dress, $385 from Net-a-porter.
Vanessa Bruno chocolate wool jersey pleat-front dress, $430, also Net-a-porter.
Aminaka Wilmont wool and leather jacket with peak detailing at elbows, welt pockets and zip fastening at front. $1,270 at Net-a-porter. Sophisticated, but neither conservative nor eccentric.
Not for everyone
I originally identified strict when looking for the 'magic ingredient' that differentiated some European dressers from North Americans. I was looking for a way of dressing you usually don't see here. We show more avidity for colour and embellishment.
There's nothing 'right' about strict or 'wrong' about colour and pattern; there are many options for adornment. These British girlfriends in their riotous, jumbled patterns appeal to me too.
Writing this post has, however, reconfirmed my fondness for subdued style, perhaps an effect of autumn's approach. Must be the season of the strict.