Western women’s modern-day dress is made up largely of clothing that would be considered “casual chic.” Western apparel for women has moved far from extremely restrictive clothing such as hoop skirts and corsets. Many of today’s women still aim to dress with style but in clothing made of comfortable fabrics that they can easily move around in to accomplish their day-to-day activities.
Casual chic clothing is informal apparel that allows freedom of movement but in classic or on-trend shapes, styles and fits. Casual chic clothing usually consists of separates and dresses in basic wearable silhouettes. The clothing is functional as well as stylish. For example, footwear consists of sneakers, flats, sandals and boots that are easy to walk in, as opposed to stilettos. Fabrics most often used are jerseys, cotton, wool, silk and linen.
Between the 1930s and 1950s, a designer named Claire McCardell paved the way for American sportswear, which was simple and functional women’s ready-to-wear clothing, which is now considered casual chic. Before this movement, women’s clothing was very structured, with long full skirts, sometimes even with trains, that emphasized a mature, hour-glass shape. McCardell’s pieces–such as coats, suits, dresses, and ski outfits–highlighted more of an athletic body, taking inspiration from men’s clothing. Her most-noted designs included mix-and-match separates, the tent dress and ballet slippers for street wear.
Celebrity “Casual Chic” Icons
Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn are both stars that helped to make the casual chic look popular by eschewing frilly dresses in favor of trousers, capris and flat shoes. Modern-day stars who favor the look include Jennifer Aniston, whose California cool look even carries over to the red carpet, where she stays in simple shapes and neutral colors without a lot of embellishment.
Casual Chic Retailers
Although more relaxed, a casual chic outfit is in no way sloppy, it can actually stay quite polished. Distressed denim, ill-fitting and otherwise urban, grunge or punk-inspired pieces do not make the cut. Banana Republic, J.Crew and Anthropologie are all mainstream American retailers that fill their stores with almost entirely casual chic selections, including not just apparel but also footwear, handbags and jewelry.
When to Wear
Casual chic clothing is appropriate in most informal, professional and even semi-formal occasions. “Weekend wear” is a subset of casual chic clothing and is generally the most informal, usually consisting of a T-shirt, jeans or shorts. In the office, casual chic may refer to pants, knee-length skirts, blouses, unstructured dresses and jackets. For semi-formal occasions, a simple shift or otherwise basic dress would still be considered casual chic. But when too many embellishments are added or the shape becomes more restrictive, it is no longer considered “casual.”
References and ResourcesLibrary.Newschool.edu: Fashion Design History Collection
RandomHistory.com: The History of 20thCentury Women's Clothing