On December 3rd, 2018, Daniel Day-Lewis took a stroll through New York in a khaki Carhartt jacket, a navy flannel, and a caramel-colored pair of utility pants turned up at the cuff. On his head sat black-rimmed glasses and a black fisherman’s hat (referred to by some as the fuckboy beanie), and on his feet were a pair of black suede and leather kiltie boots. A single gold hoop hung from his left ear. Within 24 hours, he’d gone viral.
Vogue, Oyster, Dazed, GQ, Wall Street Journal, thousands of card-carrying members of Instagram and Twitter. Everyone was talking about Daniel’s look, some dubbing him “the new street style king” and “the best dressed man of 2018.” It’s rare that a single outfit causes such an internet stir, especially one so objectively plain, but there it was, plastered across feeds in all its muted glory. In the era of outlandish-outfits-as-Instagram-bait, how did something so khaki sneak its way into the conversation?
On December 6th, before I’d registered the extent of its virality, I posted the look to my own Instagram, opting for the version wherein Daniel is sitting on a bench next to an unidentified water bottle. When I first saw it, I was struck by that fact that his clothes were wearing him — stiffly and securely — and not the other way around, and how, counter to conventional wisdom, it looked great. As someone who has long been drawn to tailored menswear, 60-degree weather and generally stiff clothing, it was bait of the highest degree.
But there is something more significant going on here than menswear, and I think it’s a bellwether of a style movement that feels simultaneously classic and fresh: I call it neo-effortlessness. Compared to effortlessness, neo-effortlessness is less concerned with ease (baggy t-shirts, ripped jeans) and more concerned with utility (thick sweaters, structured pants). Both camps fall under the same anti-try-hard umbrella, but each connotes a distinct ethos: Whereas one is meant to broadcast something about the person subscribing to it (namely that they don’t give a shit), the other broadcasts something about the subscriber’s taste (namely that it’s crisp and unfussy).
There’s Justin Bieber, for example, in his scumbro tie-dye and Hawaiian shirts, and then there’s Daniel Day-Lewis, in his raw denim and quilted outerwear. While I admit to being smitten, conceptually, by the former, my heart truly belongs to the latter. And I think DDL’s style has captured the cultural consciousness to the extent that it has for the same reason: It feels timeless, scaleable and unexpected in it’s careful slowness. Unlike the ephemeral pulse of a hypebeast or a street style star, or the untouchable slouch of a off-duty model, neo-effortlessness is the grandpa you didn’t realize dressed well until you were 22. Or the tailor down the block who’s always wearing a navy blue vest. Or Daniel Day-Lewis consulting a flip-phone on the heels of his retirement announcement.
In the months since his infamous outing, I’ve been keeping my eye on Daniel’s style, and he’s continued to live up to his neo-effortless debut. In raw denim Canadian tuxedos and more sturdy boots than a single man could possibly need, he’s proven, in my mind, the new-but-old allure of dressing smart. And so in honor of his freshly minted crown and my enduring curiosity as to how I can one day be worthy of it, I put together some Daniel-inspired outfits of my own.
As you’ll see below, I haven’t quite earned my neo-effortless stripes yet, but I’m comforted to know that DDL, of all people, wasn’t built in a day.
Photos by Lulu Graham.