Autumn fashion is low-key, luxurious and imbued with a decidedly no-fuss attitude. This is the shy woman’s season, says Sarah Macken…
We don’t hear a lot about shyness these days. Our culture – one of selfies and self-promotion – has all but eradicated it. The last decade hasn’t allowed much room for shyness in fashion either – rather, it was about a look-at-me confidence and an outfit to match. With the advent of street style, Instagram and TikTok, fashion has become pitched to the highest volume. It’s all about clothes meant for the camera: conspicuous, brazen, and a logo or two. Clothes loud enough to command attention. Clothes that garner likes. That encourage you to hover for a moment (just), before thumbing to the next picture in your newsfeed. How on earth could shyness prevail in a landscape where the very act of getting dressed has become so performative? There’s been a shift. At Fashion Weeks across Milan, Paris, London and New York, gone were the fizzing colours introduced to ply our neural receptors with dopamine. In their place were simple designs, clean lines, and refined silhouettes. Not loud, or ostentatious. Fundamentally, these were clothes to suit the shy person. She hates a fuss – and she doesn’t want her clothes to make one either.
If this sounds a little dullsville, let me reassure you: these clothes are anything but boring. What is the look? Prada celebrated understated glamour, with muted dresses in striking slim silhouettes, which will be dropping at Brown Thomas this season. At The Row, models were swathed in soft textures and luxurious fabrics like cashmere, silk and wool. Meanwhile, the Loewe woman was reserved in slouchy longline cardigans in slate grey. Elsewhere, subdued black coats were seen at Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney. Gone are the suiting gimmicks: genuinely boardroom-appropriate two-pieces reigned supreme. So low-key were the models at Bottega Veneta that at first glance I thought one had her dry cleaning slung over her shoulder (rather, it was a very good coat). At Tory Burch, excellent knits were tucked, just-so, into pleatfront trousers and accessorised with generous carry-alls, the kind you could actually get your electronic devices into. If the last few seasons have provided a sugar rush, then this is the antithesis. It’s a slow burn that delivers style sans the 4pm slump.
The vibe is about a quiet sense of luxury. The look that’s coming to the fore now leans into minimal dressing and excellently made pieces that whisper rather than shout. “It’s a minimal approach to dressing. It’s simple, plain, no logos, not much print,” explains Karen Redmond of Ecru Studios, a luxury online fashion and lifestyle store. “It’s about the details, incredible craftsmanship, good fabrics and how they make you feel. You’re wearing the clothes, rather than vice versa.” And although the price point is luxury too, the expectation is that you can wear these clothes on repeat for years to come.
Let it be noted, the quiet luxury look extends beyond beige cashmere jumpers. (Although they often get the most airtime.) Choice picks for the season include a simple white cape top paired with loose jeans by Swedish fashion label StyleIn, striking tobacco maxi-dresses and cool co-ords that look like a grown-up, glamorous take on loungewear. A hero piece for autumn is a cardigan-style wool coat in decadent cream from By Malene Birger – the zenith of understated elegance. Another brand to note is Tove. The label, which had its debut show in London this season, champions a refreshing wearability (layer a cream or black turtle-neck sweater under everything if you want to get the look). New to Level 2 at Brown Thomas this season is Esse Studio, a collection that offers simple black or white suiting and elevated, high-quality basics. Then there’s Veronica Di Piante, a young New York brand (founded in autumn 2022) that already counts Charlotte Gainsbourg and Katie Holmes as admirers. Each collection is evergreen and pieces are designed to be carried over each season, building a wardrobe of luxury staples: get it at Net-a-Porter.
Speaking of Net-a-Porter, the online retailer has reported its sunglasses category has grown by over 55 per cent in the last year, and sales were strong even during winter months. The late writer Joan Didion, poster woman for a quiet, cerebral and low-effort kind of style, a pathologically shy figure, was never without hers. (In my first journalism job I was sent on an assignment with a dictaphone and a warning not to be ‘meek’; I always took comfort in how Didion was described as mousy.) Although, it’s not entirely known if she hid behind her tortoiseshells out of shyness – Didion suffered from chronic migraines – they undeniably became her style signature. Didion starred in an eyewear campaign for Céline in 2015, brought to life by Juergen Teller. A pair of faux tortoiseshells by the brand sold at the writer’s estate auction last year for $27,000.
As with shy Joan Didion, what starts as a crutch can become a style signifier. An item that both combats and complements a shy personality type. That gives you a shot of confidence, that makes you feel – to put it in ad copy – like ‘your best self ’. These pieces might become a uniform of sorts, worn each day with precision. Oftentimes, they’re an armour best deployed when navigating the modern world.
For many, the clothes that bolster are black. As Yoji Yamomoto, the ‘poet of black’, famously said: “Above all, black says this: ‘I don’t bother you — don’t bother me!’” THE GLOSS Beauty Editor Sarah Halliwell is a devotee. “I know black is a safe option, but I’ve always loved that black jacket/red lipstick look. I’m not sure if it’s a way of blending in so much as just preferring its low-key-ness, and not wanting to look overdressed. A throwback from my Quaker schooling, perhaps! Now, in my 50s, the confidence (or is it carelessness?) that comes with age often wins out over my natural shyness – I no longer really care what people think of what I’m wearing, let alone what’s ‘in’.” Others have a more practical reason for choosing black. As one barrister says, when you take silk, wearing black for work is a prerequisite: you must be anonymous. It’s an ethos she’s carried with her as she’s progressed into other industries. But where’s the fun, you say? It would be remiss to suggest a reserved personality type precludes an appreciation of beautiful clothes, or that being shy means you dress solely to blend in. Some of the most low-key personalities I know are entirely comfortable whipping out something distinctive, as long as it feels authentic to their persona. Velvet suiting! Power sleeves! Mic-drop dresses!
Choosing certain clothes, or not, isn’t to do with shyness, says Style Editor of THE GLOSS Aislinn Coffey. “I hide behind a great coat, but if it was quiet or loud it wouldn’t bother me as long as I felt it would totally cover up what lies beneath,” she says. Coffey’s favourites run the gamut from a wool Max Mara coat to a Stand Studio snakeskin swing coat, and an oversized cover-up from Acne Studios in a sugary shade of pink. The very reserved spa director at The Shelbourne, Margaret McCallum, leans on a collection of exuberant 1940s coats – think: dagger collars and a Hitchcockian sense of high drama – or a flash of a bold Hermès scarf. It brings something extra to her corporate wardrobe of smart suiting in black, white and navy.
On the flip side, and this is where it becomes fun, there are the chronically self-conscious who lean into a crazy or surprising piece for the novelty factor – and the conversation that it invites. It’s the sartorial equivalent of an ice-breaker. Those pieces that, over that first awkward glass of bubbles, spark a dialogue: “I just adore those earrings, where on earth did you find them?” Big event coming up? A pro-tip is to wear something that has a particular meaning to you – it might lead to an interesting exchange. “Wear a family heirloom,” advises fashion stylist Marie Shortt. “Something vintage, whether it’s a striking pendant or a set of pearls, always stands out. It’s a great conversation starter.” If you’re seeking out costume jewellery, one of the most luxe trends for autumn is a combo of pearls and diamonds, particularly striking when worn with dark, autumnal colours.
The biggest shyness giveaway is often a physiological aspect, like blushing. “Avoid wearing red or pink close to the face, it accentuates rosy cheeks,” says Isabel Gleeson, a colour consultant and stylist. Neutral colours like beige and ecru work to combat this. Traditionally, we’re encouraged to wear red to ignite feelings of power, motivation and energy. However, for those wanting something a bit more low-key, the colour blue is best for evoking a calm sense of confidence and authority. (Sounds just right.)
In the spirit of quiet luxury, I’m researching plain leather crossbody bags for autumn (no logos, of course: too flash). I’ll pair my future buy with a zingy red lip. It’s that twist of something unexpected that truly excites, reminding me of a quote by the milliner Philip Treacy: “People think that people wearing hats are looking for attention,” he once said. “But, in fact, they are often quite shy people who gain their power through wearing hats. Instead of popping a valium, a hat can make you feel better because it sort of takes you away from yourself. It makes you feel good.”