During the early 20th century, two world wars ravaged Britain, leading to severe shortages and great sacrifices by the people on the home front. The aging estates with their well-worn furnishings and faded fabrics helped to inspire a shabby yet chic decorating style that emphasizes the beauty and character found in imperfection. This type of décor combines elements of the cozy cottage style with influences from the Victorian and French country styles to create a look that's timeless, elegant and rooted in nostalgia.
The shabby elegant style has even found its way into the world of fashion, where fans of the look blend modern couture with vintage or vintage-inspired pieces for a shabby yet chic style. These devotees strive for a style that's classic and pulled together rather than one that's trendy. Mastering this look is all about eschewing what's fashionable today in favor of clothes that look as beautiful now as they will in a decade. Ready to add shabby couture to your wardrobe? Check out these five modern takes on the shabby yet chic look.
The Layered Look
Much of the charm of shabby elegant home décor lies in appreciation for the past, and in finding beauty in imperfection. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in shabby chic furniture, which often comes with many layers of paint that have been applied over the years in various shades and textures. Over time, parts of these furnishings become worn and distressed, allowing the different layers of paint to peak through in places.
Re-create this look by layering your clothes in the same way designers layer coats of paint onto furniture -- with translucent top layers that offer just a glimpse of layers worn below. Combine contrasting textures, colors and fabric of various weights, such as a chiffon skirt worn over a solid silk slip. Try sheer tulle tops in cream or ivory worn over pastel tanks or camisoles. Layer crocheted vests or frilly cardigans over your top or dress, then top off the entire outfit with a delicate silk or cashmere scarf. Pair a vintage cape with a dress made from layers of tulle, gossamer and lace to create an elegant, timeless outfit.
When it comes to shabby style, you can't go wrong with florals. The faded floral-print fabrics so popular in cozy cottage home decor lend themselves well to dresses, blouses, skirts and even shoes. From dusty pink roses to the delicate fleur de lys, floral prints in muted, washed-out shades look feminine and chic, not fussy or overly-polished, particularly when set against crisp white backgrounds.
Beyond printed fabrics, flowers also serve as popular accessories in the shabby elegant style. Look for dresses and tops adorned with tulle or silk flower embellishments, or try adding these floral accents to the toes of a pair of vintage pumps for a timeless, feminine style that's oh-so-chic.
Just like a "shabby chic" home is designed with comfort and function in mind, your clothes should also capture this unstructured, comfortable feel. Lightweight, sheer fabrics move with you, creating an ethereal, romantic look. Skip the form-fitting styles of today in favor of loose flowing blouses and billowing skirts or dresses. Think gypsy skirts and tops, long tunics and peasant shirts with flowing sleeves. Vintage styles can be particularly helpful when it comes to keeping your clothes free-flowing; Seek out classic full-circle skirts that move in an elegant sweeping motion as you walk. The bias-cut dresses popular in the 1920s, '30s and '40s offer an ultra-flattering fit that drapes your body without being skintight for a look that's feminine and stylish.
If you feel the need to add a bit of structure to modernize your look while keeping it loose, try cinching your waist with a simple belt or scarf.
Flirty touches like smocking, ruching or tucking lend a romantic appeal to a simple skirt or dress, allowing them to drape beautifully over the body without clinging to every curve. Choose blouses with delicate ribbon ties at the neckline, or give dresses and cardigans structure by adding a soft ribbon belt tied in a bow.
Ruffled pieces also play an important role in this style, from layers of ruffles on a skirt or dress to simple ruffled details at the sleeves or bodice. Lace detailing at the neckline or sleeves lends a sweet, romantic look that's elegant and feminine.
Look for vintage pieces with lace collars, or skirts adorned with ribbons of organza and lace for the ultimate in shabby, feminine frills.
Soft, Muted Colors
The shabby elegant style originated in Britain during the war years. Unable to buy new clothing or fabric due to rationing, residents had to launder and mend clothes to make them last much longer than they normally would, leading to faded fabrics in washed-out colors.
This muted color scheme characterizes the shabby yet chic style of today, which emphasizes soft colors, neutrals and pastels. Clothes appear as though they've been washed and mended a million times, even if they're brand new. Skip the bold or dark colors and look for fabrics in shades like cream, ivory, white, faded gray and pastels such as robin's egg blue or celadon green for a classic, timeless look.
Mixing and matching patterns is fine too. The muted color scheme that characterizes this style keeps patterns from clashing, so go ahead and pair your stripes and florals, or polka dots and paisley.
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- Waller, Maureen. "London 1945: Life in the Debris of War." John Murray. 2004.