The Half-Dressed Outfit Theory Is The Key To Looking Your Best In 2021

Courtesy of Shopbop

No one wants to get dressed up when it's 25 degrees outside. While putting energy into outfits for Zoom meetings, neighborhood errands, and the occasional socially-distanced outing is undoubtedly good for the psyche, sometimes it feels downright silly to garb up to sit around or have said efforts mostly covered by a coat. That’s where half-dressed outfits come into play — a style theory endorsed by none other than fashion icon Larry David. The look centers around wearing only one nice piece of clothing at a time to avoid looking overdressed.

“You have to be half-dressed,” David said in a 2020 GQ interview. “Half is more.” While David’s rationale is more rooted in the satisfaction that comes from feeble effort, half-dressed outfits serve a greater purpose in 2021. They’re the ultimate go-between when you’re easing into real clothes after months in head-to-toe sweats, craving an outfit that doesn’t feel ridiculous to primarily sit around in at home, or need a functional but stylish combination to wear while doing things in the bitter cold.

Courtesy of Shopbop

“Being half-dressed during the pandemic really means dressing for ease, comfort, and practicality,” Dione Davis, Tibi’s styling director, tells TZR. “My general rule is to always have one structured piece on my body at all times, so I don’t look like I’m going to the gym or bed. That one piece of structure represents the last thread of my sanity that tethers me to my old pre-COVID life,” she explains. For Caroline Maguire, Shopbop’s fashion director, ‘half-dressed’ outfits help her stay on top of her demanding schedule as a working mom of two. “Working from home with two kids is half the battle, so I need a quick look that’s equal parts cozy and elevated," she shares. "I’ve been loving mixing and matching casual-comfy attire with the more ‘dressed’ styles as a part of my wardrobe to keep my looks feeling fresh and new.”

Danielle Williams Eke, 11 Honoré’s design director, has also relied on comfortable looks throughout the pandemic, but thoughtfully so, with fashionable pieces worked into every look, be it for a grocery store run or walk through the neighborhood. “Because of our new normal of working from [and] spending more time at home, and staying local, I think getting ‘half-dressed’ will become the norm,” she explains.

Courtesy of Danielle Williams-Eke

Williams Eke predicts dressed-down outfits normalizing in the workplace, too. “For those offices that haven’t already transitioned to a more casual dress-code, I think going back to the office post-COVID will look more business-casual, thus a perfect place for these ‘half-dressed’ looks.”

If a half-dressed outfit feels like a sartorial failure, Davis points out a silver lining — the approach can actually help define personal style. “As much as I love getting dressed, work-from-home life has made me understand who I am as a person. I’m clearly not a masochist because I can count how many times I’ve worn denim in 2020,” she shares. “The art of half-dressing helps you really exercise your outfit-building muscles. Omitting items that feel strange to wear at home like jewelry and footwear makes you figure out how to fill that void elsewhere — a masterclass in editing.”

Ahead, scroll on to discover nine half-dressed outfits, as recommended by Davis, Maguire, and Williams Eke. Each one perfectly embodies a Larry David-esque level of comfort and finesse worth embracing now, and perhaps, infinitely.

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Courtesy of Shopbop

The Half-Dressed Outfit: A Button-Down + Leggings

For a Zoom meeting for moments where you want to roll out of bed and somehow still appear polished, Davis relies on her “Sluggish Sade” formula. “I roll out of bed, slick my hair back in a long braid, criss-cross tuck a crisp white blouse into capri leggings, and wear a cozy sock, and my alpaca slides around the house,” she explains. Adding, “I also do the no-makeup [look] and a red lip so that no one knows I just rolled out of bed and poured myself a coffee three minutes before the Zoom starts.”

The Half-Dressed Outfit: A Novelty Sweater + Sweatpants

“For video conference calls at work, a novelty knit buttoned up is always a great, quick choice that leaves you feeling pulled together and professional,” Maguire says. “What’s even better is you can pair it with comfy sweatpants on the bottom — I love Reformation’s Boyfriend Sweatpants for a clean and polished look.” Finish this look with thick socks and a few delicate pieces of jewelry.

The Half-Dressed Outfit: A Sweatsuit + Blazer

Williams Eke’s go-to way of dressing up a sweatsuit? With a tailored blazer. Sneakers still totally work with this combo. Or, you can dress it up with a kitten heel, mule, or flat.

The Half-Dressed Outfit: Pajamas + A Blazer

Another comfy outfit you can easily dress up with a blazer, per Davis is pajamas. “It works better with silk pajamas and a structured blazer in an interesting texture like tweed,” she advises, suggesting a ballet flat to finish. “I feel like I’m more in an outfit,” she adds.

The Half-Dressed Outfit: A Dress + Turtleneck + Leggings

Maguire says that for socially distanced outdoor dining layers are key. “With temperatures dropping, it’s essential that your outfit is comfy, chic, and keeps you warm,” the fashion director explains. “I love this Naya Rea Stella Dress — the voluminous raglan puff sleeves are such an elegant touch.” Keep cozy with a fitted turtleneck layered underneath, a pair of fleece-lined tights or ribbed leggings, and a teddy bear coat. Complete the look with lug-sole combat boots — the fashion director suggests ones with feminine detailing, like from Ganni —, a timeless beanie (this Naadam cashmere style is Maguire’s favorite), and leather gloves.

The Half-Dressed Outfit: A Slip Skirt + Sweater + Boots

Williams Eke’s preferred outdoor dining look is a body-skimming slip skirt with a plush sweater and combat boots for an elevated and pragmatic take on comfort. Of course, a heavyweight coat over the top ensures you'll be cozy.

The Half-Dressed Outfit: Joggers + An Oversize Sweater

“If I’m sitting outdoors on questionable sidewalks and stoops, I opt for trousers headed for the wash,” Davis tells TZR of her ideal outdoor hangout look. The style director recommends a black pair of nylon joggers half-tucked into tall shaft boots for a modern take on Princess Diana’s off-duty style. “I call it the ‘Dirty Diana,’” she shares. “I top that off with an oversize sweater or fleece and opera length gloves.” Her pro tip: keep heat packs on hand to combat cold. For a full-on Diana lean, finish with a retro baseball cap, like from Sporty & Rich.

The Half-Dressed Outfit: Satin Pants + A Vintage Tee + Loafers

For a socially-distanced kick-back, Williams Eke suggests a pair of satin pants — her go-to silhouette is a wide-leg, though tailored styles with a slouch work, too. For a low-key offset, the design director suggests a vintage graphic tee with loafers to finish — think of this as your dressier version of sweaters and slippers.

The Half-Dressed Outfit: A Slip Dress + A Heavy Coat

Another refined take on comfort that Davis recommends for outdoor dates is a slip dress with a structured layer. “I call [it] the ‘fifty-fifty Fran,’ which combines the menswear normcore sensibilities of the prolific Fran Lebowitz and charming sexiness of Fran Fine of The Nanny,” she says. “[This look] generally allows for the perfect outfit balance — I like the idea of a sexy slip dress with menswear elements for dates.” Davis urges a cowboy boot as an unexpected finish.