“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?