Often, it seems to me, the ideas of “style” and “formality” are smushed together. Conflated. Which can feel quite deflating, if you want panache without fuss. Or, if heels, hairspray, and tight waists feel out of place, for your body and your social context.
Can we deconstruct? Of course!
Picture The Role Of Propriety, Attraction, And Aesthetics In Style
I can even show you an infographic, having amused myself this weekend designing one.
What the heck did that mean? Let’s do it by the numbers. Some people think in pictures, others in lists. Such is humanity, our glorious wrack of a species.
What The Heck Did She Mean By That? The 8 Phases Of Style
- Start at zero. We stand naked in the bedroom, unable to dress.
- We make a move. We make a mistake. We put our underwear on our heads.
- I exaggerate. Most everyone starts with an outfit which allows us to stay warm enough, and more or less within social norms.
- This is where Style starts, in our relationship to three organizing principles. Let’s say the first is Propriety, historical force of Formality. What is propriety? The High WASP Grail of the Appropriate. Not, “How fancy are you?” but, “How well will you fit in where you’re going?” And this is what is changing in society. People aren’t just dressing down, the expectations in the venues of life are changing, everywhere.
- What about Attraction? It doesn’t overlap with formality, much, except at the limits. Dressing to flatter your figure is one thing, dressing for sexual attraction can push the boundaries of propriety and aesthetics. Dressing for social attraction, on the other hand, for the women in your new book club, or the senior partners in your new law firm, serves propriety well.
- Aesthetics is the art part: color, proportion, pattern, texture, finishes, historical and cultural references. Lots of room to play, and all kinds of resources online to guide us. Paying increased attention to aesthetics will also increase your formal appearance, because you show you’re trying, not just hanging loose.
- Style is, in brief and in sum, the use of clothes for identity satisfaction and social signalling.
- You will express your style in a mix of all three organizing principles. Formality is woven throughout. It used to be driven by propriety, but those who miss it now must find other ways to make an effort. Formality is the design artifact of effort. Red dress optional.
Can Workout Gear Be Stylish, At The Supermarket?
As an example, imagine the woman in yoga pants at the supermarket. I use her, because she could be me. I often shop after working out. How’s my aesthetic? If the colors suit, the pieces proportioned, it’s fine. How’s my attraction? Depends on one’s feeling about middle-aged women in exercise garb, I suppose. But propriety – i.e. the suitability of the garb for the venue? Unless I wait in Pigeon Pose for my peanut butter to finish grinding, I’m off.
Most importantly, I have made no effort. This is the Style people miss. Do you?
The Longing For Formality Across The Blogosphere
If you are still wondering what I’m on about, (which I doubt, because you guys are smart) we can look at what other people have to say. Imogen’s Dress Up program targets exactly this longing for formality. When Janet posts a video of women’s fashions through the last 10 decades, it’s there again, a longing for the dress-up of years past in the comments.
What we see is that the nostalgia for certain types of clothing roots itself in a longing for old-style formality. Ripped boyfriend jeans are “stylish,” but they are in no way “formal.”
What Do You Think?
Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you miss formality? Or do you feel society improves as we let go the rules and constraints? When does the desire for style tip into a longing for decorum?
Finally, if we must “try” for style, how much effort to make it count?