Let’s talk about good taste.
We know it’s not the same as money. Expensive tastelessness is everywhere. However, finding the inexpensive tasteful can take a little work.
Advanced tasteful in particular. First level, raise-no-eyebrows style, like a plain white toaster, gray tee, or black and white photograph of your kids is pretty easy to come by. Hard to go wrong. But advanced tasteful relies on the elusive click of good design. Something in material, the shape, the color, or all of the above, makes you suck in your breath and say, “Nice.”
These nice goods, when done in a distinctly Anglo-Saxon style, are what my mother calls “good-looking.” As in, “Dear, that’s really good-looking.” To be sure, there are other kinds of good taste than the good-looking. It’s possible to have good taste in the ornate, the gothic, the punk, the hand-crafted, the mid-century. Just not for your garden variety Sturdy Gal. And, luckily for fading family fortunes, one can find the good-looking at good prices. For example, this glass pitcher and glasses from Target. $25.79.
Why is this good-looking? The pitcher’s insouciant lip and rolled base, coupled with practical short-stemmed glasses. Glass. Almost anything looks better in glass. Let’s not even get started on plates. From Finland, in particular.
How about these peridot earrings from Walmart? $49.
Made so by precious and semi-precious metals and stones in a classic circle, set off by dissonant color. Worn by a dark-haired brunette, with a navy dress, or white button front shirt, yes. Worn with careless pastels, perhaps less so. Good-looking low cost items often require constraints where the high-priced goods and their extraordinary materials of construction need none.
My mother would appreciate this cashmere sweater from Bluefly. $73.99. It’s yellow and gray, an unusual color combination, just ‘off ‘enough to avoid bumblebee implications. Stripes are always a cheat sheet for “good-looking.” Close to the body for shape, cabling for texture, buttons up the neckline for whimsy*. Cashmere for, well, cashmere.
What about this cropped twill motorcycle jacket from Old Navy? $39.50.
OK. Confession. My mother just might not call this good-looking. Anything James Dean wore is probably excluded. But I, a generation later, can use the term with impunity. And shall. In gray, we thumb our noses at orthodox black jackets. Without causing any sort of stir. I might wear this with a pair of Converse and dark wash jeans. And pearl studs, just to make clear I haven’t forgotten myself.
Even better if the good-looking supports your values. Witness this stainless lunch carrier from To-Go Wear, $24.95, and their reusable utensils, $11.95.
All these goods share simple but harmonious proportions, authentic materials (authentic gold or authentic stainless, doesn’t matter), a striking but dignified surface, texture or color, and, do not forget, useability. We’re still sturdy, after all. Things should do a good job, just like people.
I’ve mostly avoided the words “good taste,” until now. They are the unspoken creed, a muttered spell of the High WASP secret society. We meet in the ivy-covered cottage out back of the main house. Lord, ivy smells dreadful. At night. With gin. Now, gin, gin smells pretty good. Especially if you find yourself some Junipero.
We used to think we were better than everyone else. But now we know, the good-looking is only good looking. The good itself is something else altogether. And we have to remind ourselves of this every single day.
*The buttons might just take this shirt over the edge into contrived territory. We’d have to see it in person to know.
Carolina pitcher and glasses via Target
Peridot earrings via Walmart
Cullen cashmere Henley via Bluefly
Twill motorcycle jacket via Old Navy
Reusable bamboo utensils via Amazon
Stainless steel lunch carrier via Amazon
There is no monetary or compensatory association for any of these items.