The way we look in the world is a matter of belief and intent. We can, if we want, determine our style. But we’ve got to take command. Otherwise the world looks us over, sees our disarray, makes an assessment, and hands us a card. Which we’re stuck with, for much longer than makes any sense at all.
Here’s how I know.
This week on Privilege I posted a picture of myself in a Prada dress, in part because several readers asked me to, in part because it’s a beautiful dress and I liked the way I looked, in part because it seemed only fair. At a certain point, when one writes about personal style, one offers a self-photo as a token of good faith.
As we might suspect of the well-mannered Privilege readers, you were very generous in your comments. Thank you so much. However, there were several people remarking that I didn’t seem like the Sturdy Gal I make myself out to be. It’s true, I felt both Artsy and Grande as I posed. And that’s the crux of the matter.
Let us follow the logical argument. I offer my personal history only as affirmative anecdotal data.
You see, I had no real personal style as a young woman, despite owning beautiful, expensive clothes. I veered from Rei Kawakubo to J. Peterman to Sonia Rykiel. The clothes wore me. I won’t even make the obvious excuse about 80s fashion. Despite financial resources and long blond hair I was never glamorous or stylish. Only Sturdy. Why?
- Low confidence. Combined with high levels of raw emotion, all the more problematic because High WASPs Aren’t Supposed To. But the cause really doesn’t matter. Everyone’s got their own particular perceived constraints to self.
- In the absence of confidence, I felt I had to do An Excellent Job at all times to have value. So Many Excellent Jobs. Hence the birth of Sturdy Gal, rising from a shell she cleaned and opened herself. We’re generally the ones carrying tables, not dancing atop. And we don’t generally get to pose for pictures.
I was a pretty young woman who derived little benefit from her looks.
- When one struggles at the core, the periphery is a source of annoyance only. Pretty is not power. Pretty is not style. Pretty is just where ever your nose happens to sit in relation to your eyes, and how close your weight hews to the cultural norm.
- What one does not own, one cannot profit from.
An executive career finally brought both confidence, and the ability to dress in a way that conveyed exactly what I wanted. (Mind you, after much study. I paid an enormous amount of attention to the cultural and career implications of clothing choices.)
When I was pretty, I could not progress beyond Sturdy, but now even though I am a lot less pretty I occasionally get all the way to Grande Artsy,
It is therefore proven that:
Style is mutable. Style can reflect whatever you choose. Style will portray how you feel about yourself more than anything else. And you will only benefit from your own talents if you stake a claim. Ipso facto we can all have a lot of fun with clothing. If we choose. This is probably not news to you. Just another moment of proving what we hear is true but don’t always trust.
Of course, style isn’t heroism. Aesthetics are not ethics*. Taste is not morality. Nobody has to participate in this project of how we look, not if they don’t want to. But if you do want to engage, remember, you’ve got far more authority than you may know.
Style is a trail of choices. Many limits, illusory. Although I’m still not expecting to dance on tables. Sturdy Gals, even those in pretty dresses, realize they’d just wind up having to clean the heel marks. I like Sturdy, as long as I’m lifting my own tables, and as long as I get to twirl, now and again.