This is a quote that gets bandied about quite a bit, but I don’t know how many of us have thought about how this idea translates into everyday actions and choices.
But I think it might be:
- Refuse to buy what we’re told are “must-have” items. Elegance is not conforming to the dictates of others – especially when their primary goal is to sell you something, and not to help you be more elegant, more attractive, or more financially secure.
- Refuse to accept the conventional wisdom that you need new clothes constantly, no matter that you already have enough clothes, or that you don’t need to spend more money, or that the environment can’t sustain each of us buying clothes without restraint and planning.
- Refuse to fall prey to the “color of the year”. Or more generally, refuse to believe that you have to own the entire rainbow in your wardrobe in order to not be drab or boring.
- Refuse to be a human billboard of visible logos. I wonder what Chanel would say about the logos on so many products… I scrolled through dozens of photographs of her, and I couldn’t find any in which she was wearing anything with a logo – have you seen any? I’m so curious…
What does it mean to you?
I agree 100%! Sometimes, though, I feel a bit insecure with my collected, classic wardrobe when I go out. The items seem old to me (because they are), but then I remember most people haven't seen my outfit before. You have inspired me to combine my beloved items and add new touches to change them and update them, with out leaving my 'colors' or buying new things. Many thanks.
I could have written this myself! I love my "old" clothes, but in the past I sometimes succumbed to the pressures of the marketplace and usually regretted it. Not always, but usually.
I hate it when an old reliable garment wears out or acquires a stain that cannot be removed. When I assess my closet, I find that I always keep the most simple items, while the trendy or more colorful go more quickly to the consignment shop or to Goodwill.
When Coco Chanel was alive (she died in 1971) not many clothes and accessories had logos. I think she'd be pretty scornful of the blatant advertising we're so used to seeing today.
As in less can indeed be more? Wise words indeed.
On the lighter side, I heard a CC quote the other day referring to Dior's love for florals: Dior doesn't dress women, he upholsters them. :))
Pam @ over50feeling40 says
I think you are right, Janice with your interpretation. Now, I want to go back and scroll through pictures of her and think about this quote. I think another way to say it is that we refuse to be someone we are not….
I've long thought it was refusal of so much detail: too much fussiness via logos, 'pop's of colour, charms dangling off bags and always that extra accessory North American women tend to add. (Chanel did like masses of chains and pearls, but only over the simplest clothes.)
Another comment attributed to her is that "a woman wearing a diamond engagement ring is wearing her price tag on her finger." She loathed them.
I wonder if her loathing of engagement rings pertained to her lack of a marriage offer from Boy Capel, who even went on to marry someone else whilst continuing to enjoy Chanel in the role of his mistress. A visual reminder of what she so longed for yet never had.
I think one of the reasons (aside from sparkle) that diamond engagement rings are popular is that they are hardy–can be worn day and night and are seldom damaged. They are a visible symbol as well. I wear one myself and don't consider it a price tag at all.
I agree about the logos or names…..quite irritating and manipulative.
I always took it as refusal of anything vulgar (this absolutely includes displaying logos, revealing too much all at once, etc…), "following" (in every definition of the word), and not employing common sense (like unnecessarily going into debt, and accepting the tenet that it is okay to be a bit uncomfortable in the name of chic – this from a certain french how-to video). You bring up the most interesting and fun topics, love your blog!
The 'lack of logos' issue in Chanel's hey day may go even deeper. I recall my grandmother telling me that in the 20s and 30s she (a Parisienne) would put aside items she had just bought that season to wear the following year, in order that she did not come across as too brash or too vulgar. Labels were sewn into garments as discreetly as the lead weights in their hems! (I have one of my grandmother's Vionnet jackets from the 30s; its construction is truly astonishing.)
Fly Away Home says
I think you summed it up perfectly, Janice!
Yes, I live in a city (a Los Angeles suburb) where everywhere you look is a person donning extra large font logos emblazoned across shirts, rear ends, and accessories. Sometimes it's head to toe even. I just recently saw a man wearing a belt with an enormous D&G lettered belt buckle. I was giggling inside and wondering: is that belt meant to impress? I actually felt sorry for him.
I do so hate logos. Very unchic. It is difficult these day to find a decent bag without one.
Speaking of logos, it seems all but impossible to find decent eyeglass frames without a logo. (And some of the logos on the frames are absolutely huge relative to the size of the frames.)
Chanel accessories and jewelry are full of logos; in fact, on the jewelry, the logo tends to be the main design element.
The Chanel line became bombarded with logos AFTER Coco. I think she would be mortified to see the line now.
I agree about the Chanel accessories and jewelry especially…..it seems to go against so many of Chanel's quotes and refined elegance. The logos do tend to be the main element and I think often detract from the piece.
I believe she meant "refusal to compromise" to what suits (so to speak!) your own sense of self, style, environment, and comfort. It's about showing your self confidence (even if it's not real) by refusing to clothe yourself for the approval of others. I found this interesting blog that also speaks to this quote and then draws it on a napkin! http://napkindad.com/blog/2012/02/16/elegance-is-refusal-style-lessons-2/
Notice the comments on the site for more opinions on the quote.
Great post, Janice! So thought-provoking!
The Napkin Dad says
Thanks SimplyFy for the share. I was also confused by the quote and drawing it for my blog and having people give their opinions really helped me understand it better.
Melissa Hebbard says
I agree with the above Anonymous posters. Chanel products are plastered with logos and are a magnet to the brand conscious buyers.
I think her 'refusal' is more about refusing to eat and refusing to go for comfort in the quest for elegance!
She certainly didn't refuse a cigarette, which was used by her, and still is used by many women, as a dieting tool. I think her quote is more along the lines of the often quoted, 'There is no ugly women, only lazy ones" by Helena Rubenstein.
I do agree with your ideas about refusal though I would add another one, refusing to follow a 'look' that isn't you, I must say that I love colour and wear gorgeous colourful scarves most days, picking up one of the colours in the scarf in my clothes or shoes. People often comment about how lovely the colours make me look. When I just wear black, I feel drab and often get told I look tired or sick!! I now refuse to follow the standard 'chic' look of beige or black which I don't think is quite 'me'.
I wonder what Coco would think of all of the Chanel logos all over everything?
Melissa: I think you're a bit wrong about the "refusing to go for comfort" when it comes to Chanel. Another rather famous quote of hers is "Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury". I take the "refusal" more in the way that SimplyFy describes: refusal to compromise, but also as the fact that you should choose your style and eliminate the rest. I'm really good at that in interior decoration. I can look at something and find it absolutely lovely, but also recognize that it is not the style I want to create so I "refuse" it. I'm slowly getting there with my clothes style as well.
Ninni, I agree with you. We also have to take into consideration Coco's era and now, it's all relative.
I so agree with you ! My color skin is "Spring" and all the fashion colors this season are "Autumn". No one would fits me ! Conséquences are I will not buy anything. I am waiting for Xmas to buy a new velvet dress in navy blue (if I can find it).
The phrase appears in this recent interesting article: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/cool-fronthot-mess/
You can't blame the poor woman, long dead, for the logos now put on products with her name..
She specifies in that famous interview that "women are always overdressed, and never elegant enough". So indeed that refusal which is so quoted is about refusing to wear too much.
Alison Gunn says
I think elegance is often achieved by saying no to those one or two extra pieces that detract from one's look; refusing to add on something that isn't necessary and doesn't augment the outfit. The urge to gild the lily is best avoided. Simplicity. As someone once said, look in the mirror and take one thing off.
Heather Jones says
I appreciate all the commentary surrounding this quote and love what some have said. I'm choosing to believe this quote has nothing to do with fashion. Refusal to conform, refusal to settle, refusal to quit, refusal to accept the status quo, refusal to accept anything less than what you deserve, refusal to look the other way, refusal to be silent. Those were all qualities of Chanel. That is the quote I'm taking into 2016!
"Elegance is refusal" means that we refuse to compromise on the low quality of materials or behaviors or even on some human characters, who are somewhat uncouth, crude. Being elegant, not only in our appearence, but mainly in our manners, is the more secure way for us to keep in a distance the low quality, no matter how it is expressed.
Janice Riggs says
You phrased this so beautifully! Thanks so much for sharing your way of expressing yourself, and this "oh so essential" piece of wisdom.
Thank you! You are very kind and sweet person.
I'm Silvia from Athens, Greece.