Getting Comfortable

comfortable sweatshirts

For a long time, I believed that a little bit of physical discomfort could be beneficial at times: Stiffer, more formal clothing can put you in a focused frame of mind and encourage extended concentration. Some experts recommend dressing up for phone interviews, both because the ritual of dressing can help center you, and because speaking to someone on the phone while wearing business attire makes the interview experience feel more weighty and real. And in the midst of our increasingly comfort-obsessed culture, it saddens me to see that people choose to wear cargo shorts to the opera* and t-shirts to four-star restaurants. Dressing up lends a different energy to our activities, and I enjoy that differentiation.

But I just got back from a short session with a client in which we selected an outfit for a photo shoot. She is a makeup artist who loves helping others look their best for photos, but dies inside every time the lens swings her way. AND she was told to wear an outfit that perfectly encapsulated her personal style. We talked about this challenging request, and agreed that if the mandate had been “semi-formal” or “a blazer and blouse” or anything that provided specific parameters, it would’ve been considerably less daunting. She wanted to look classic, luxe, and approachable, but I also knew that she needed to be comfortable or her anxiety would show through in the photos. We picked a favorite utility jacket, marled white tee, and layered gold necklaces, a combination she’d worn dozens of times in real life. This grouping provided her comfort on several levels: The clothes and accessories weren’t stiff or restricting, it was an outfit she’d worn before that felt reassuringly familiar, and it felt authentic to her personality and style. Sure, she would’ve looked more glamorous in a sequined cocktail dress, but it would’ve made her uncomfortable in so many ways. Not worth the risk or potential trade-off.

I’ve also observed the link between clothing comfort and body comfort. The mild discomfort of suiting and heels, or button-front and pencil skirt can work to focus attention, or it can make the wearer self-conscious and fidgety. This may sound obvious: It’s only natural that comfortable clothes would make our physical selves feel better. But I’m talking on a more abstract, self-image level. For some people, stiff, formal clothing makes them feel like impostors, like their bodies are unwieldy or don’t belong. Discomfort in clothing only serves to amplify the discomfort in body that was lurking just below the surface.

The idea of being “too comfortable” is a fascinating one, really. Policing of comfort is likely linked to the distinctly Western fear of laziness, a state of being that we believe will descend if we spend our entire lives feeling relaxed in our bodies and minds. And while I still believe that dressing for occasions is a rewarding way to set certain events and experiences apart from the everyday, I’m beginning to think that letting people spend more time in their style and body comfort zones could lead to a happier, less anxious population.

What do you think? What does comfort mean to you? Do you feel there’s a difference between clothing comfort and body comfort? Is there such a thing as being too comfortable? What do you think would happen if all dress codes were obliterated worldwide?

*I have witnessed this first-hand. Cross my heart.

Images courtesy Nordstrom – left | right

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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17 Responses to “Getting Comfortable”

  1. Sewing Faille

    There’s a false dichotomy between formal clothing, high fashion, and comfort. The books I’ve read about couture construction techniques always emphasize the amount of thought and effort that goes into making the clothes comfortable for the wearer– they speak of suits which are as comfortable to wear as sweatpants. Plus, several famous fashion designers consistently made clothes that were designed to feel amazing to wear– my favorite, Madeline Vionnet, comes to mind. The general populace would never think or be able to go into a store just to try on the really good stuff, so they’d never know otherwise.

    Is the myth that we should settle for uncomfortable clothes because it’s somehow better or more in tune with fashion just an excuse to get us to put up with cheap, poorly-made stuff? In my tin-foil hat conspiracy moments, I feel like it’s because uncomfortable clothing and shoes is another way to hold women back– for most people, uncomfortable is just uncomfortable, but for some people with medical conditions and disabilities, uncomfortable can be debilitating. And yet, the circumstances in which one is expected to wear uncomfortable clothes are often the ones which are the most high-stakes, such as job interviews.

    My favorite clothes, the ones that make me feel the most powerful, are the ones that feel the best to wear. My favorite example is this evening dress ( ), which is made out of silk velvet and drapes so that it fits me like a glove. It’s lined with silk charmeuse, which feels amazing against my skin. The superhero cape is also a plus!

    • Linda B

      That dress is amazing! What a triumph–I can easily imagine how challenging that was to sew. It is a perfect illustration of what you have written here.

    • crtfly

      What an exquisite dress! The color is so perfect for your skin and hair color. I can imagine you walking into a room of people and stopping everyone in their tracks. With mouths hanging open, they can’t help but stare. You and your dress are that impressive.


  2. Anna

    In my experience, formal doesn’t have to equal uncomfortable. I’ve owned formal clothes that were actually pretty comfortable to wear, and I tended to wear those outfits more frequently than others. However, formal can, and often does, mean discomfort. I don’t object to clothes that are a little stiffer and promote good posture when a bit of extra confidence is needed for a special occasion (at least, that’s how I experience it when the clothes aren’t uncomfortable but aren’t “collapse on the sofa” comfortable either), but actual pain and serious discomfort are a problem. There’s a reason I made the decision to stop wearing heels, even occasionally (spending two hours in a pair of low-to-medium heels set me up for back pain for the rest of the day). Is this a function of the idea that we have to “suffer for beauty”? The assumption that we need to be uncomfortable in order to look good is problematic because it assumes that the only way we (particularly women) can look good and appropriate for given circumstances is to acquiesce to discomfort, even pain. It’s oppressive. I think it’s fine to delineate between formal, casual, etc and dress appropriately given the circumstances, but there should be ways to do that which aren’t oppressive or restrictive.

  3. Linda B

    I would like to add that what feels comfortable on any given day has to line up with something internally–that may be very different from one day to another. Sometimes I feel like I suffer from multiple style disorder, no cohesiveness–but hopefully what each day’s ensemble has in common is that is what is lined up with my mood for the day.

  4. Leslie Le

    If all dress codes were abolished, there would be ANARCHY. Oh my goodness, I can’t even imagine. I’ve dealt with quite a few people in job interviews where I was shocked at what the candidate was wearing. And they thought it was formal enough for an interview! (flip flops, crop tops, and…. NEON MESH SHIRT)

    I feel that dress codes exist for a reason. There is a certain amount of respect involved in dressing “to code.” That said, there are so many comfortable options for dressing “up.” I loved wearing ponte pants and knit shirts to work, with flats. And it really looked like a lot more work than it was! Also, skirts, which most people consider “dressing up,” are SO comfy and easy and make you look like you put in a ton of effort. 😉 Elastic waists are your friend!

  5. Lisa Wong

    The only times I’ve ever felt “too comfortable” involve staying in pajamas, loungewear, or a robe for the better part of a weekend day. If I want to get things done on a Saturday or Sunday, I have to shower and at least put on a bra and a proper pair of pants so I can face humanity haha.

    Otherwise I don’t feel as though there’s such a thing as “too comfortable”; that being said, I work in software (where dressing like Mark Zuckerberg is the norm) and I live in a very casual city (Vancouver, birthplace of Lululemon).

    • crtfly


      That’s so true about weekend wear. Somehow the brain just won’t kick into work mode when the body is sporting loungewear. Odd, isn’t it?


  6. Serenity

    When someone tells me I look comfortable… I change my clothes.

  7. Cynthia Peterson

    I just had a business meeting today after being retired for 7 years. Let me tell you, I tried on every garment I own to try and decide what would make the right impression. I assembled a rather elaborate outfit, then got up this morning and realized the outfit was totally wrong for the weather. I pulled out a favorite dress instead, one I always feel confident in. THAT is comfort. Aced the meeting 😉

  8. Nebraskim

    I’ve thought about this all day. I, too, think that clothing can be comfortable AND fashionable/stylish/work appropriate, etc. Clinton Kelly recently talked about this on his blog when he chatted about his dislike of the wearing of yoga pants as work clothing (unless, of course, you are a yoga instructor). He noted that wearing a little bit of structured clothing is a good thing because wearing stretchy, comfy pants can lull you into complacency about your own level of fitness/fatness. Stretchy forgiving pants can lead to that moment of truth when your jeans no longer zip up.

    When I was working outside my house, I had and still retain, a casual but structured look. I like fitted skirts and crisply ironed collared button front shirts topped with jackets. I will wear knits but more often than not, I prefer woven shirts with collars. I enjoy the crispness and the structure. I enjoy wearing tunics over leggings. If I had to describe my style rubric it would be classic, preppy, collegiate, sporty. I think the retailers that best describe me are Talbots and Banana Republic. It makes me feel more polished and professional. I also wonder about why folks feel uncomfortable in some styles of clothing and I think it comes down to proper or improper fit, to feeling as if the outfit is appropriate to the setting and your general level of confidence. I would feel foolish wearing an ill-fitting, overly big, sloppy outfit to work because it would fall outside my personal style comfort zone, even if it was as comfy as a fleece robe.

    I also struggle with constantly being too cold, so there’s that level of “comfort” as well. I need to be covered to be warm enough, esp. in over air-conditioned offices and restaurant in the summer.

  9. Monica H

    Well, living in a very casual area (Phoenix, AZ, where jeans are pretty much acceptable anywhere), I don’t think it’s possible to be TOO comfortable. With that said, it IS possible to be dressed inappropriately. But, like most aspects of dressing, what constitutes ‘appropriate’ is cultural. If everyone else is wearing cargo shorts at the opera too, does it really take away from the experience?

    Still, I agree with others who’ve said that dressy clothes CAN be comfortable. One of my favorite work outfits is a polyester crepe shirt dress – it looks like a million bucks and feels as comfy as my pajamas. 🙂

    I also find that the comfort of my clothing doesn’t impact my work ethic or my focus on an activity. BUT, I do find that the appropriateness of my clothing is important – I find I will do better when I work from home if I’m wearing my shirt dress than I will wearing my pajamas. 🙂

    I do think there are two areas where our current fashion sensibility does not really allow for comfort in formal dressing. The first is that it’s truly impossible to have an upscale formal look without wearing heels, and generally high ones at that, and these are just NOT comfortable. Oh sure, some are better than others, but they are inherently not designed to be comfortable and will never rival your bedroom slippers. Secondly, men must wear ties and jackets for formal wear, which can be quite uncomfortable, especially in the heat. But, other than those two caveats, comfortable clothing can always be found that is appropriate for the occassion.

  10. contrary kiwi

    I absolutely have to be comfortable in my clothing to be comfortable in my environment, partly because my sensitivity to the cold means that what is perfectly adequate for others is cold fingers, toes and ears for me.

    On the non-practical side, however, I find it’s much the same. My working environment is pretty casual – almost everyone wears a work polo shirt and jeans, or just a nice top and jeans. However, even such a thing as a ‘nice’ top is not normal wear for me, so my work outfits that consist of slim black jeans or corduroys, nice tops and scarves feel slightly alien to me. They’re physically comfortable enough that I don’t usually think about them in the day, but if I worked at an environment that required a suit, the combination of physical discomfort and style disconnect would work to make me feel ill at ease, I think.

    I’m experiencing the style disconnect problem right now, because I’m looking at a wedding dress and other implements and want to be beautiful at my wedding without feeling like I’m playing dressup – or wearing any physically uncomfortable clothes, because my wedding day is the last day I want to have pinched feet or a tight waist! The struggle is real.

  11. Gloria M

    Personally, what makes me feel comfortable is the sense that I’m dressed appropriately for an occasion. I tend to avoid “overdressing” or “trying too hard,” and it has taken me many years to learn the lesson that when in doubt for a social event, I should go a little more formal/dressy than I think is needed, so I don’t end up feeling like a slob. In any case, I agree with the other posters that physical comfort doesn’t always line up neatly along a spectrum of formal/casual clothing. I have a pair of skinny jeans that the saleslady talked me into buying in a size smaller than my regular size. They look terrific, but by afternoon, I am just thinking about how good it will feel to get out of them!

  12. beate @ bahnwaerterhaeuschen

    lots of designs come to my mind in which one can look dressed up and still be comfortable!!! use your imagination!!!

  13. Dust. Wind. Bun.

    I started out with a much longer post (or at least, thoughts to post), but I think I’m going to have to leave it at, I’m really really sick of hearing that yoga pants mean you’ve let yourself go. I’m tired of being told that I have to be uncomfortable to be fit to be seen in public.

    (And if I’m working in my house on the weekend, I seem to be the rare person who actually gets more done if I don’t get dressed to go out – that takes concentration and energy, and then I’ve got less left for doing work.)