Ten elegant touches

Iridium fountain pen nib, macro.
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“Elegance is refusal”

— Coco Chanel

We don’t own a big house. We don’t even own a house.

We drive a dinged 2001 Subaru Forester. We’re not snobs about designer labels or owning The Latest Thing.

But I am addicted to elegance, in matters large and small, which is often far more affordable and accessible than one might imagine.

Elegance, for me, is the daily refusal of the ugly, the poorly-made, the falling-apart, the un-dusted table and the dying house plant.

Here are some ways I add it to my life, as you might to yours:

Using a beautiful writing instrument. Whether a fountain pen or felt-tip marker, choose a fun color and make a mark. I love my aluminum Lamy.

Selecting personal stationery. In an era of email blandness, a distinctive way to communicate. Which font is you? What paper color? Which envelope liner? A personalized stamp is an affordable substitute, and paper in a fab rainbow of colors and shapes can easily be found on-line, from places like Paper Source.

A signature fragrance. I love sillage, the delicious trail of scent that follows a man or woman wearing fragrance. I stopped a neighbor last week after happily sniffing hers…turned out to be a Jo Malone number. My late step-mother wore Caleche, a crisp, classic by Hermes invented in 1961, for decades. I recently found a bottle of Grey Flannel for my husband, (created in 1976, the cologne, not him!) and he’s loving it again. Every time he wears it, he remembers the New York Times interview when he wore it. (And got the job.)

A gorgeous handbag, messenger bag or briefcase. So many choices! Mine is a classic creamy beige leather French model. It needn’t be designer, just terrific quality and a style signifier; non-black, non-brown is more interesting. (Consignment shops offer some great picks.)

A stylish wristwatch. Look in flea markets for something with a little panache. Add a lovely grosgrain or colored leather strap. Enough using a cellphone to tell time!

Cloth napkins. Unless you’re still caring for multiple small children, go for it! There are few daily items as casually lovely. Ironing them only takes minutes and the color, texture and patterns they add to your table make every meal a little more charming.

Candles. Lots, everywhere. Votives. A scented candle for the bath and/or bedroom. Tapers at dinner.

Something well-made and well-used. It might be a battered leather jacket or your granny’s quilt or a painted chair someone sat in 200 years ago. We’re only passing through. A memento mori helps.

Quality china, glassware and/or cutlery. It doesn’t have to cost a lot: I’ve been using mismatched heavy silver-plate cutlery, amassed at flea markets, for years. (One of my favorite tabletop sources, on sale, is Anthropologie.) Nothing else feels as good as bone china, has the ping of crystal or the warmth of silver.

Pretty linens. Also find-able through flea markets, Ebay, Etsy and consignment shops, whether linen, silk, crochet, embroidered. A welcoming table, bathroom and bed are respites we all can enjoy.

What adds elegance and style to your life?

31 thoughts on “Ten elegant touches

    1. Thanks! It’s all pretty subjective, of course.

      I LOVE my Lamy, which is only about $40 or so…and have an array of cartridges in red, blue, turquoise and purple. As long as I have cartridges with me, the ink can’t run out in the middle of an interview.

  1. I love my perfume, Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle and I wear it every day, even when I’m just wearing a tee shirt and jeans. It always make me feel more put together, that’s what elegance is to me – just a bit more polished. Even if it just in my head.

  2. Synchronicity! I’m just about to post a… post on how wearing nail varnish makes me feel. Which is to say, pretty damn fantastic.
    I’m a recovering Messie, and my elegant refuge right now is my lovely handmade four-poster day-bed. I go to sleep every night (and day – I’m a narcoleptic) feeling like royalty. It’s such a boost.
    And whenever I go out (unless it’s to the gym or to feed the nags), I wear DKNY Delicious; it’s a light fruity pong and I love it. I may have to change soon though, because my best friend’s new husband bought it for her for Christmas, so now whenever we go out on the town, our fragrances match – weird!

  3. In the past I would probably have agreed with all of those but these days I am more minimalist than elegant. I do go for the pens – fountain, ballpoint, fibretip or whatever it is called, and I like the linens. Some are quite antique/old family stuff, I’d hardly call them heirlooms. If I had to think seriously about elegance, I would say it was about simplicity and that it should come from within, but that’s not the point of your post!

    1. No, I agree with you on this point…In naming ten things, I am not advocating having dozens of everything, but fewer/better quality items. Once you have a truly fab pen or handbag, you’re set! I also like the idea of having less and enjoying what you own, not forever accumulating more. I have a post ready to go up on this issue.

      I love good linens. I often buy antique objects not because they are old, per se, but they are so much better made and great quality of materials and/or workmanship is more affordable than anything new.

  4. I guess I don’t disagree either. i would rather do without than buy something that puts a smell up my nose (I was trying to decide what to write and automatically wrinkled my nose!).

    I did a mini-series on consumerism, slightly before the compromises post that you commented on. I’m busy with a series on journalism right now, as the whole world seems to think it can write, so I thought I would point out why I have a qualification in it…..

    1. I waited many long years in the dark before I could finally afford the only lamp I most wanted, the Tizio, which is a classic design in the MOMA collection. I bought it in 1984 and still use and love it today. I know what I want and I don’t like cheap or ugly compromises. So I’ll make it or tweak it or wait til I can get the real thing.

      Good luck with your notion that trained or experienced journalists have any leg up on the gazillions of “writers” who have become persuaded that tapping a keyboard and hitting “publish” = writing in the sense that a journalist considers it. Everyone thinks writing is easy (isn’t it?) and that quality work is achievable by having a go at it. For some, yes. For most, no.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It made me think about the little touches that make the ordinary special, and your list made me smile. We have used cloth napkins for years and years. I think my children had cloth napkins in their lunchboxes! I would love that pen and think I’ll look for it. I have stationary from Bob Slate in Cambridge, MA, and I think I need that pen before I write another letter!

    1. Yay! I adore the notion of a cloth napkin in a lunch box. I grew up with them, and I think whatever style your own family sets is a significant influence. I’m still using napkins I bought in Paris in 1992…and nothing to throw away!

      Just checked out Bob Slate’s website…lovely! I bought our stationery at Scriptura in New Orleans when there on business in January. There’s nothing nicer than having great paper always at hand as there’s always a note to be written to someone about something.

  6. A bright post for a very dull day here in Chicagoland…
    I too feel that the way you look is the way you feel. I love elegant touches but with a 3 year old in the midst the elegance is in the small things like pens, scarves and lipstick in a bright color.
    Sometimes when I run out of paper napkins, I use cloth with napkin rings…so much fun. This spring I am taken with the bright yellow hues and have put spots of them in my kitchen…dish towels, pot holders and placemats. I actually use bright yellow folded Williams-Sonoma dish towels as placemats which turn out to be very handy with a 3 year old.
    My signature fragrance for spring and summer is Voyage d’Hermes which is actually unisex as well as light and airy. Lovely….

    1. Oooooh, that scent sounds delicious! My summer scent is “O’ de Lancome, an oldie but goodie — very green and fresh. I also love Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet, a citrus-y men’s fragrance from 1902. Whenever I wear it, I wonder what life was like that year.

      Love the dishcloth-as-placemat. I’ve used dishcloths as pillow-covers; there’s one from Crate and Barrel right now that’s white with a gorgeous persimmon stripe in it. That’s our new accent color for the living room and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

      1. It’s amazing how the landscape totally transforms. I grew up in Toronto which really has no spring. I adore NY spring and all the blossoms and blooms we enjoy for a month or more. NYC is a totally different place for a while…You, being a Chicago person, know all about winter!

      2. It’s amazing how the landscape totally transforms. I grew up in Toronto which really has no spring. I adore NY spring and all the blossoms and blooms we enjoy for a month or more. NYC is a totally different place for a while…You, being a Chicago person, know all about winter!

  7. I just bought myself a lovely tea pot and some cups and saucers to go with it. I drink a lot of herbal teas, and it just seemed right to have a beautiful pot to hold it. My sisters came to visit recently, and we had high tea right here at the house. The pot and cups added to the experience.

    I love to have good bread in the house that comes from the local bakery. I also think that the bed should be cozy. We spend a lot of time there, and quality of sleep is essential. So, I have nice organic sheets (not very expensive, but soft) and blankets that are comfortable.

    1. Absolutely! We have two teapots, one white bone china and one hand-made from a craft show. I can’t abide the American habit of dropping a tea bag into a mug…One of my favorite sounds in the world is tea splashing into a cup. So sensual!

      Baguettes are key here, as is great multi-grain…and a bed must be pretty and comfy. It’s where we truly (if we’re lucky) recharge. (so no TV or computers or work material in our bedroom either.) I think home is such a powerful place to get calm and happy.

  8. Just laughing at this one now. Not nastily. But my bed is on the floor (with my nice sheets), and my computer is extremely unergonomically-laced in front of it. You have to be having a joke though with this one now! I’m off to write about more serious things, and not tea bags.

  9. …Selecting personal stationery….. Which font is you?. When I bought my laptop I made sure they set the default font to Bradley Hands ITC not Times New Roman!! Nuh!! My boss once joked that he always knows my work without looking up the ID – Score!!!

    Did I mention I love your new hair??…

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