Note that this is in response to, not in reply to, a couple of posts and comments around the blogosphere. Here for example, and here. By which I mean that nobody said style was stupid. But what they did say provoked my own internal dialogue, and that’s what you get here. Let me add that I’m not even measurably distressed that my father finds style posting non-serious. I’m simply inspired to argue persuasively.
We have seen, in recent weeks, several bloggers in the midlife cohort confess to style posting ennui.
I can’t say I feel the same way.
Let’s admit, right up front, that style is not a virtue, Therefore the pursuit of style is not virtuous. Greed and Vanity sit like burnt devil handmaidens on style’s shoulder, while the minor angels of Appropriate and Appealing whisper away on the other side, saving no one’s soul. In fact, any attempted conflation of style with virtue brings us right to chaste maidens and gender-enforced clothing rules. Yikes. We shall avoid all talk of virtuous style.
But is style stupid?
My father has been known to ask why I don’t write about something more serious. It’s not a bad question. After all, I’m the kid who wrote her senior thesis in Comparative Literature on Metaphor and Metonymy: Lists And Catalogues In Epic Poetry. No kidding. I can’t join book groups because I fear I will rush from a friend’s living room in horror of non-rigorous literary discussion. It’s not a bad question.
But I don’t think style is stupid. Consider these three precepts.
1. The choice of what clothes to wear every morning is our most available opportunity to demonstrate an aesthetic. We may not choose to seize the sartorial moment, taking convention instead as the guiding principle. But we could. Imagine your closet. All neutrals? Minimalist. Bright and varied colors? Ornamentalist. Shades of one hue predominate? Conceptual, and focused. What about ruffles? Pleats, gathers, ruching? Levels of ornamentation all, barely less worthy of discussion than ionic vs. doric, Sure, there’s all kind of degraded fashion out there, but McMansions don’t negate Gehry, nor do supermarket novels violate Don DeLillo, Coetze, or Melville.
2. Personal style expresses our social understanding. Our politics. Are you comfortable in tight clothes? In shows of skin? No? What about how pink and green, or Lilly Pulitzer, serves to signal community in the preppy blogging world? Not too far from the Red State/Blue State paradigm, now is it? We wear our social class or aspirations on our actual sleeves. So much signaling going on. Why else logos? Think of pink, and yellow, and rainbow lapel ribbons. And, as I learned on Miss Cavendish via Belle de Ville, suffragettes wore lavender, green and white to promote their cause. Even Lady Sybil of Downton Abbey.
3. Finally, we often dress with an eye toward personal connection. Toward romance and the furthering of sexual engagement. To attract others. For biology, if you will. Believing in Darwin, as I do, I have to think that any prompts to procreation reflect one of the organizing principles of our existence. Not stupid.
Sure style can be pursued stupidly. But so can love, politics, and child-rearing.
And with that, I think I’ll go browse all of your comfortable summer shoe suggestions. Thank you for your intelligent company.