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Thou Shalt Not Own Any Ugly or Dowdy Clothing


I purchased these daggy clothes from a charity store especially for this shoot (except for the vintage silk crocheted vest) – I was exceptionally pleased to find those supremely sensible sandals! Ugliness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is entirely subjective: one woman’s sartorial treasure is another’s fash trash. But with the irony prevalent today and the endemic fondness for kitsch, you may be forgiven for wondering if ‘ugly’ exists any more. We are not even safe from the decade that style forgot: the 1980s – designers have plundered that era and wrung every hideous nuance out of it, regurgitating it for the dubious pleasure of the Teensies generation.

What are ugly clothes anyway?

Before I wander any further into a denunciation on the taste of modern arbiters of style, let me define exactly what I mean by the Fourth Commandment.

As already stated, notions of ugliness and dowdiness – or to use an antipodean colloquialism, dagginess – are relatively subjective. In regard to personal fashion choices, this refers to garments that make you feel wholly unattractive, as opposed to someone else’s opinion of what is chic.

One of the most famously chic women in history: Wallis Simpson

Why should chic matter?

But why is this important? It is not about vanity or materialism, but rather self-esteem. Self-confidence makes the difference in every walk of life. No one should fade into the background or be otherwise overlooked because of what they wear – because every human being has value. But realistically, people will take you at face value, at least at first. The good news is that you can exercise some control over that by the worth you place on yourself. It is in your hands to be sure that first impression is a good, and lasting one.

Edith Head, the famous Hollywood costume designer said, ‘You can have whatever you want if you dress for it.’ Well, it might take a little more than clothes, but they will give you a running start.

Read on to find out just when ugly happens to good people, what are the Seven Ugly Sins, and how to avoid committing them …

The impeccable Katherine HepburnThe gamine and unpretentious Audrey Hepburn

When does ugly happen?

Who’s had the experience of walking down a street and, catching sight of some pitiable female reflected in a window, thought, ‘My goodness, what is that poor, daggy woman wearing?’ – only to realise on a gasp of horror that it is yourself? That is a personal crash with ugly, and we have all been through it at one time or other in our lives. It is a momentary lapse of the subjective into the objective, and we should all learn from that experience and use it to make our wardrobes smarter. (How ironic that it is this reflection of our unwary selves – this inadvertent glimpse of ‘another’ – that makes us suddenly aware of how others truly see us, and just how much we judge others.)

Often the cause of the offence is badly fitting clothes, garments that don’t flatter one’s figure, or an outfit that is particularly dull and depressing. Sometimes it is a catastrophically Bad Hair Day that prompts that dismay. I believe on a dull winter’s day it is particularly important to wear something cheerful, but, incomprehensibly, it is the season when many seem to wear nothing but black, grey and brown. They become stuck in a fashion rut, which can easily degrade into dagginess.

Don’t own any daggy clothing, and you will never feel daggy.

Once a friend, Ermintrude* (*names have been changed to protect the innocent) exclaimed on an outing with me, ‘I feel so daggy next to you!’ My pragmatic response was this: ‘Don’t own any daggy clothing, and you will never feel daggy.’ Simple as that.

While researching this story, another friend, Griselda*, said to me, ‘sometimes it’s not that individual items of clothing are daggy, it’s how they are combined. Some people just don’t know how to style themselves,’ she finished sadly, shaking her head. This is true, but there are some potholes in the road to stylishness that are easy to avoid and will give you a head start.

Honestly, wouldn’t you rather wear cute leather brogues laced with vintage silk ribbon than sensible (and boring) flats? Did I mention they squeaked too? Ugh.


  1. Wearing clothes that don’t fit
  2. Not paying attention to proportion
  3. Buying poor quality garments
  4. Not dressing appropriately for the occasion
  5. Wearing colours that don’t flatter your complexion
  6. Taking fashion too seriously
  7. Keeping clothes past their wear-by date


Wear clothes that actually fit your body. Too-large or baggy clothing is probably the leading cause of dowdiness, especially when worn tandem in a loose shirt and skirt combination. Too-small clothes will make you simply uncomfortable. Neither of these looks will flatter your figure nor do anything to boost your confidence.


If you wear a loose and flowing top, pair a slim fitting skirt or trousers with it, and vice versa. Use clothing to emphasise the good points of your figure rather than accentuating the bad. Interesting details and strong colours will draw the eye – take advantage of that.

For example, an always-risky fashion choice is a baggy top on a large bust. It drops straight down and obscures your figure – chances are some foolish person will ask you if you are pregnant. (This happened to a friend of mine – her bus driver asked her when her baby was due!) This style of top is akin to a muu-muu, which can rarely claim any pretensions to glamour.

Glamour in 1975: Lauren Hutton at the OscarsSummertime chic: Milla JovovichCate Blanchett rarely puts a foot wrong, on or off the red carpet


Cheap is not chic, and ultimately, it will not make you cheerful either. Good quality clothing made from natural fibres that is cut well is always going to give you an advantage in the style stakes. It also holds its shape and colour better through numerous laundering. There is nothing sadder than badly faded and holey leisurewear, especially cheap garments. Do yourself a favour and throw them out! And pay attention to the garment care label – your clothes will last longer if you launder them properly.  

People inarguably and inevitably do judge by appearances, so put your best shoe forward …


Wear garments to suit the occasion. I am a very firm believer that tracksuits and runners (and all types of exercise gear) belong on the running track, or the gym. That is all. An oft-heard adage is that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, and I agree. People inarguably and inevitably do judge by appearances, so put your best shoe forward – you never know whom you might meet on your way to buying a carton of milk.


If you find your outfits look dull, it’s probably time to introduce some colour. Always make sure the colour nearest your face suits you and brightens your complexion. Black is so popular because it’s slimming and easy, but it doesn’t suit everyone. If it makes you look sallow, try adding a scarf in a hue that suits you, or don’t wear it on top at all.

I have always loved Gwyneth Paltrow’s all-American, Calvin Klein-fuelled minimalist chicNot one to play it safe, Diane Kruger always looks gorgeous and elegant


Have some fun with fashion – it doesn’t all have to be super-serious and office-ready, or completely practical. Even purely corporate looks benefit from interesting details, if only with the addition of a high-fashion scarf or interesting buttons on your shirt. This is where accessories come into their own.


Shabby is NOT chic (who coined that vile appellation?). Take care of your clothes. Beyond simply cleaning them, do mend tears, repair hems and sew buttons back on before you wear them again. A darned hole is infinitely preferable to a hole. I must confess I have been guilty of wearing holey knits because I abhor darning, and I can testify that it does attract unfavourable attention.

… consider this revolutionary alternative: clothes that are attractive and comfortable.

Don’t keep tired worn-out clothes that are past their use-by date merely because they feel comfortable. When old clothes have stretched out of shape from use and many washings, it’s time to bin them. Be ruthless about this. There are only so many daggy old tracksuit pants that you need to keep for when you paint the house. Instead, consider this revolutionary alternative: clothes that are attractive and comfortable.

Please remember, if the garments in question are in such a sorry state then don’t donate them to a charity store – poor people don’t need to look worse, and hipsters and vintage mavens won’t want to buy them. Even op shops have standards.

Now that we’ve identified the hallmarks of dowdy, it’s time to take positive action. Next time you’re standing in front of your closet and wondering what on earth you should wear: Seize the dress! And the day – because you’re worth it. 


Come back next week for the Fifth Fashion Commandment, ‘When in doubt, thou must throw it out’. If you’ve just tuned in, or would like to refresh your memory, click here to review all the Fashion Commandments. 

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