Strict style: Update and sources

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.

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.


hen 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.

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.


Belle de Ville said…
I love the descriptive word strict for a certain style. I usually lump minimal style, such as early Helmut Lang and Jill Sander into the strict category as well.
IMO strict style requires a perfect figure to pull off, so it's not for me.
I would though like to dress like the older woman in black, with the cane, in another 20 years.
StyleSpy said…
I love the idea (and the look), but I'm never going to be able to give up my bright colors and my big honkin' necklaces. I guess I'm only semi-strict.
materfamilias said…
I love the look, and I think that at times I approach it. But I think right there is an indication I'll never get it right -- I suspect that "strict" dressing emanates from, or reflects, personality, so that commitment to it happens pretty organically. I would have to be repressing too many aspects of myself to carry this off. Love -- and admire! -- it on others though.
LPC said…
Not far off from my style - although I'd be hoping as always for a kinder, gentler strict:). I saw another picture on the Sartorialist lately that I thought encompassed this - all navy, with a white tie at the neck? I think the absence of prints is key.
mette said…
I´m no expert here, but I think that you either have it or you don´t, that effortless style described and seen in the pictures. However, you can learn things. The unfinished `touch ´has always fascinated me in different forms of arts, fashion included.
I love the idea of "non-finito" that distinguishes this from a similar, overperfect American style.

It is certainly not a style that works for everyone, and not all European women dress this way by any means, but there are elements of paring down that are great lessons here, whether one is bourgeoise or boho.

Belle de Ville, I don't think it is so much a matter of a "perfect figure" (which is always socially defined anyway, and not identical in different cultures) but of a relatively straight up-and-down one. One needn't be razor-slim to dress this way - I have seen it on sturdy Northern European women - indeed Jil Sander and co. but it does not work on curvy women with a big bust-waist-hips differential. I'd rather show a bit of décolleté, for one thing.

I do like the simplicity and the deep, subtle colours, but do like a bit more fantasy too.

Hmm, I'd think a cyclist who opts for "strict" would be more of the "cycle-chic" clan, not a wearer of shorts en ville, non?
LaurieAnn said…
Dear Duchess:

You have made my entire week with this post and have given me much to think about while shopping in San Francisco later on this month. This style of dressing works fairly well for me because it works with my quirky hair. My hair always tends to be my standout accessory when I use a subdued palette for clothing with soft lines and minimal, personal jewelry. I am also short, straight up and down but chunky so it suits my body style.

Your posts on "strict style" have helped me refine my personal style in a way that the oodles of style books on the market have not. Now I know much better what I am looking for.

Thank you for saving me some time, lots of $$ from purchasing mistakes and the queasy feeling of not having a "personal style."
Duchesse said…
Belle: Most of the pieces I've shown accommodate a waist that isn't narrow. When older women wear this style, they're in cashmere tunics or fine wool blouses worn untucked. It's a lot friendlier to the mature woman than the Mediterranean babe look some of them still attempt.

Sander and Lang good sources.

lagatta: I've seen a *hint* of décollté in strict, as in deep v-neck sweater or transparent insert- but not deep décollté. Not the best style to make the most of an hourglass but available to the strongly built woman.

Photo of cyclist is in full, hot summer, shorts an option at her age.

materfamilias: They might also be committed to small wardrobes. The clothes are expensive and with a limited palette they do not need too many things.

LPC: I like the 'kinder, gentler' e girl in the big scarf and checked pants. Except my days of checked pants are over!

Style Spy: Big honkin' jewlery would not be even even "semi", but it sure is fun!
Duchesse said…
LaurieAnn: Thank you, I'd be interested in hearing what you find. Love visiting San Francisco but have never had much clothes shopping luck there once my hippie days ended- beyond yoga clothes.
diverchic said…
I love the idea but where does the exuberance go?
Mardel said…
I love the things you post, and the idea of 'strict' as you portray it but I recognize that even though these garments and this style is close to a part of my heart, it is something I admire in others that I would ever be able to emulate.

Still, being in somewhat of a lost confusion of wardrobe reaccomodation, your posts help remind me of my priorities and refine my choices. Thank you.
Jane Winkler said…
I’ve returned to this post several times today, both to check for new comments and re-read the post itself. At age 41, I’m an avid reader of your blog and look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays!
My summer style is definitely strict, but during the winter I find myself veering towards color. Either way, I’m always drawn to “neutral pieces with an edge,” whether in the form of cross-dyed linen, exposed seams, micro-pleats, or a particularly elegant shade of white. I own three pairs of identical, perfectly-fitting deep charcoal trousers. To my mind Bottega Veneta designs some wonderfully innovative “strict” pieces (not that I’m fortunate enough to own any).
I think that “strict style” also provides an antidote if one feels “too old for irony.” I agree that strict style is not cerebral for the sake of being so, it is more like a “sartorial challenge” that takes some intelligence and observation for the viewer to process.
I would love to “go strict” all year around…and I think that finding the right pieces could even compensate for the lack of color during the winter. The problem is the homogeneity and poor quality of affordable clothing, which makes it difficult to “find the right pieces.” I’d be interested to learn of the impact that globalization (e.g., stores like The Gap and Banana Republic) has had on European retail.
Duchesse said…
diverchic: Exuberance in attire is not their value. Maybe the garden?

Mardel: Certainly not for everyone! But it is not unremittingly somber, either. Such a subtle style, sometimes challenged to describe it.

Jane: Wednesdays, too.

How I envy your three pairs of perfect charcoal trousers, I am still searching for one. Bottega does some strict, but also decidedly sexy pieces. Dries Van Noten seems the magic intersection of strict tailoring and tantalizing colour, sort of 'strict on a bender'.
Love this post! Happy to see the images as I tend to be a visual learner. I strive to be this stricter style, and have paired down my wardrobe as I find it much easier to dress with less. I am so happy that you are posting on this subject! Love more of this too in the future. I really want to see more of those wonderful French hair styles, they look effortless and without gels and hairspray. Would you consider a post about hair?
A post about hair would have to integrate those of us with curly or even frizzy (crépu) hair.

By frizzy I mean very tightly curled as in African or even some Mediterranean peoples, not frizzy as in hair that is in bad shape.

I will NOT chemically-straighten or hot-comb my hair. It wrecks it.

By the way, duchesse, I keep laughing about my inner Mediterranean babe. No, I certainly don't dress like Cristina Kirchner (President of Argentina), not to mention the Berlusconian bimbas. But there is a part of me that insists on expressing adult sexuality, à la Anna Magnani. I love her.
Strict I will never be, but I do love the Aminaka Wilmont jacket you pictured!
s. said…
Not sure I have the discipline or the eye to ever "do" strict, but I very much enjoyed reading your post.
Jeannie said…
I recognize myself in each one your "strict style" posts. I should say I identify with my inner self. I learned three new
characteristics about the strict from this post which made me take notice. Softness incorporated with
tranparency, color added through bags and shoes and the price point
I'd most often be looking for can be found at J Crew. Please continue pointing out examples of strict(I do wish it had a different name). It has a following.
Duchesse said…
lordfam: I'll work on that, thanks.

lagatta: Annna Magnani- superb example of a sensuous woman. Italian- though her father was thought to be Egyptian.

Jeannie: The term came from a comment the owner of the sublime textiles boutique Wolff and Decourtis, Victoria Wolff, made to me. She referred to a colourway in one of their pieces as "plus strict". The closest English translation would be "more restrained";
And J. Crew is a much more accessible price point for me, too!

I will write more on strict from time to time.
LaurieAnn said…
I came back to check on the comments here (and of course to read the new post) and am glad to see that I am not alone in wanting to see more of this type of dressing. I agree that Bottega Veneta and Dries Van Noten do a lovely job with this look without being overly minimal. Just wish I could find them and fit in them. Well, finding them would be a good excuse for a shopping trip to Paris and Milan. That's a worthy goal for me.
Duchesse said…
LaurieAnnn: At size 14-16 and pear shaped, I can't fit into Dries either and it's a good thing as I would be beyond broke. But what an education in colour!

When I shop in Paris it's for accessories and sweaters, which some French brands make ample enough for me. I asked my French GF "Where do women my size shop"? She replied, "Germany."
LaurieAnn said…
Duchesse, at only 5' 2" and a size 14-16 my fashion sense far exceeds my ability to participate. But I do love to learn about fashion and I truly love to see women of all sizes and ages dressing beautifully. Dressing well to please oneself, at any price range, is a sign of self-respect.

Thank you for sharing the remarks from your French GF's about shopping in Germany. I've always wondered about that myself and their response gave me a good chuckle.
Anonymous said…
Strict is restraint. That is what you are showing in these pics.

I found the most AMAZING strict Agnona cashmere jacket at the Goodwill! It hadn't been worn and is the most gorgeous strict thing I have ever seen. I wear it and feel wrapped up in luxury.

Some days I feel strict indeed.
Lynda from Florida said…
Duchesse, In your Tuesday, Nov. 3 blog Laurie said, "My favorite post of yours was on the French strict style of dressing". I have looked through your posts and cannot find what she is referring to. Help, please. I loved the post of Nov. 3 for it hit a real core with me so I hope you can expand on it more. Thank you for your great posts...I can't wait to read them.
Duchesse said…
Lynda: The post, "Un Certain regard" was published on Nov. 8, 2008 (a year ago). I have now tagged it "strict" so posts on this topic will be easier to find.

The posts with the most