Why The Fuss? ‘Effortless’ Style


“Yea, he’s cool” the girls nodded, glancing towards the unkempt, tramp-ish looking gent at the bar; a man so carefully careless in appearance and so studied, that the girls’ following remark (“He’s just so effortlessly stylish”) was a curious hilarity. On another occasion I was asked by a lady friend my opinion of her new boyfriend; an out-of-work actor of fascinating pretension. She particularly wished to know what I thought of his attire; “Don’t you think” she gushed, fanning her flushing face with her fingers “he’s just like, the BEST dressed man ever?!” Acknowledging her ardour, I provided diplomatic mutterings that conveyed a disingenuous approval. My true feeling was more of pity; for the gentleman was merely another example of a style which, once aligned to a greater art of sartoria, is known merely as ‘effortless.’

George Clooney is apparently the archetype of this style. His ‘ability’, according to his rather star struck columnist proponents, is ‘to look like the best dressed man in the world whilst seemingly making no effort at all.’ While Mr Clooney manages, armed with his considerable fortune, to look vaguely presentable at occasions which require a modicum of formality, he can scarcely be considered the best dressed man when he and ‘dressing’ maintain only the slightest of nodding acquaintanceships.

This ‘effortless cool’ has less to do with dressing and a great deal more to do with sexuality; sartorial sexuality, which for much of the Twentieth century, replaced propriety and ornament in female dress, is now the pinnacle of style for a great many men. Clooney is a desirable and attractive man who, apparently, manages to transform seemingly ordinary clothing into style choices of sudden and magnetic genius. The reason why is because Clooney, though outdressed in all styles by more ‘anonymous’ gentleman across the world, is smothered gracelessly in Hollywood’s secret sauce: sex.

‘Effortless’ cool used to be about a lot more than sex. It used to be about the way a gentleman could pair the casual with the more formal, largely for reasons of comfort or practicality, and still achieve elegance; the way he would close his dressing gown and knot the belt; the way he would quickly roll up his trousers when wearing loafers in the summer; the way he would tip back his hat to allow the sunshine to warm his face, or use a tie as a belt when feeling in a jaunty mood. The new ‘effortless’ cool offers no such invention or attractive pragmatism. It is not about ‘effortless’ dressing but simply avoiding dressing; shirts unbuttoned to the chest, contrivance of simplicity, avoiding details and shunning innovation.

The most important thing to note is that it only appears to ‘work’ on men of a certain physical appeal. If you are on the books of Storm, are the tall silver-haired totty of the boardroom, got paid $12 million for your last acting job or tend to make girls weak at the knees with the merest flutter of your eyelashes, you’re laughing; a slovenly ‘style’ will not distract from your other charms. If, like the rest of us, you are not so genetically blessed; feeling rather short, awkwardly made or simply lacking in what might be termed ‘looks that can kill’, there’s precious little of the superficial to recommend. Wandering around in an open white shirt, clumpy shoes and a suit of average aesthetic and ubiquitous style is not likely to make others confuse you with Mr Clooney. Making an effort, for the majority of men, is far more attractive, rewarding and interesting than appearing not to have made an effort at all.


  1. dan said:

    would rather be effortless than trying too hard.

    March 13, 2010
  2. Dan,

    Each to his own. I just happen to believe the modern ‘effortless style’ is absent of any style at all. I am also exasperated that making an effort is stigmatised to the extent that it is uncool. The other issue that is important to bear in mind is your perception of trying; you might look at an outfit and think that it takes the man hours to choose and match things together. For some men, it is utterly natural to craft a look in a matter of minutes that might instigate ironic passing whispers of; ‘Did you see him? Trying too hard!’

    March 14, 2010
  3. I do on occasion see someone on the street who I would have categorised as exhibiting ‘effortless style’. The truth is a lot of effort might have gone into this look. I regularly give presentations and I was gobsmacked when someone once said to me, “I’m so envious of you, your presentations are so natural, you’re so good and it is so obvious that you haven’t rehearsed.” Mmmmmm an effortless presentation?. I would agree that ‘effortless style’ is rarely used to describe a lardy 40 something like myself and I don’t think that effort should be stigmatised but the man should wear the clothes. When the clothes wear the man the battle is lost. This could be the ‘well dressed’ man turning into a caricature or the oldie with the baseball cap. If it works, it works. Surely context has a defining role to play. In many instances clothes are an adornment and the ‘sexual’ person will have to try less hard. I’m all for equal opportunity but lets expose the myth than there is such a thing as equality.

    March 14, 2010
  4. Sophie said:

    I must confess, I have never read this column of yours before – but I, happily, clicked the link from your blog this evening on a whim, and was rewarded with a witty and entertaining read. One would tend to agree that this ‘effortless’ style has sweet FA to do with the clothes and is all about the supple body barely contained within; however, I can’t deny the allure of a man blessed with the ability to pull it off. Excepting George Clooney, for whom I have no especial desire.

    March 14, 2010
  5. Canadian said:

    I believe the term ‘effortless style’ has little to do with the amount of effort that is put into choosing an outfit, and much more to do with how much attention the wearer pays to his outfit once it is put on.

    Those who ooze style tend to put their clothes on and then forget about them, giving them a ‘lived in’ look. Those who are labeled as ‘trying too hard’ tend to fuss too much and are constantly fidgeting and adjusting their clothing.

    March 16, 2010
  6. Jake said:

    I agree with you that ‘effortless’ style is not the same as being well-dressed, but I wouldn’t write off the concept of effortlessness entirely. My suspicion is that most truly well-dressed men are so comfortable with their personal tastes that dressing well (if only by their own standards) comes effortlessly.

    I don’t doubt that reaching this point takes some work. To use Mr Hutchinson’s example – most great presenters have worked hard to hone their skills, but are now able to effortlessly present material with much less preparation.

    It’s generally not hard to spot someone who is experimenting and developing their style, and may not look entirely comfortable with it – but this is a necessary step on the way to someone who has settled in to a style (good or bad) that is so much a part of them that they look totally at home in it.

    I suspect George Clooney is in the latter category. Whether you like or dislike his style is, ultimately, beside the point.

    March 16, 2010
  7. Matt said:

    In spite of your obvious contempt for this manner of dress, I’d like to be able to pull off this ‘effortless style’ in addition to dressing more intentionally. I’ve lost two stone since late last year and find that for the effort these more casual styles, in addition to more formal ones, look much better. Also since none of my old (and ageing) clothes fit any longer I have a good excuse for wardrobe expansion.

    March 23, 2010

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