Whenever I think about fashion or style, I always recall a particular moment from my high school days. Back then (and even now) I wasn’t exactly the most “well dressed” nor the most fashion-informed, and in all honesty, I never really thought that much about it. Despite this, it always seemed like people liked what I wore, even when all I wore were jeans, polos, and t-shirts. On one occasion, after having received a compliment about a particularly normal outfit of mine, my friend, who, like me, was wearing a polo and jeans, said in a rather exasperated tone, “We’re wearing the same thing! No one ever says anything about my clothes.”
At the time, I never really made much of it. The compliments were nice, but I didn’t necessarily know why I was getting them. I mean, yeah, we were wearing the same thing. It’s not like there was a lot of thought that went into putting together the outfits that I wore: I just wore them because I liked how they looked on me, it was easy to put on, and it wasn’t too expensive. Perhaps there’s something to be learned here.
Style and fashion are things that elude many people. But before I can qualify that, I just want to waylay an important misconception about what I mean when I say fashion. When I talk about style and fashion, I’m not talking about the current style or fashion, not the stuff you see on models in magazines and on mannequins in stores. When I talk about fashion, I’m merely referring to one’s ability to dress and groom oneself well. I really could care less about what sort of pant is “totally now” or if the faux-hawk is making a comeback.
The notion that fashion is something that you can buy or mimic is probably what messes up a lot of people. Quite a few people fall prey to the belief that what looks good on a lot of people looks good on everyone. Even more just end up going to their nearest store to pick out outfits that most resemble the pictures of the beautiful models they see in ads, or the celebrities they see on T.V.
People who have real style don’t have it because of their ability to judge what’s in and what’s not: they have it because they have an eye for aesthetic. I say this with a caveat: you can’t think of the idea of aesthetic as tied to some particular image of beauty. In truth, such a thing doesn’t exist. Everybody has unique characteristics. Every article of clothing has a unique look. What separates a stylish person from a not-so-stylish person is real awareness of this notion, their ability to look good merely being the result of an ability to groom and dress themselves according to the aesthetic which most suits them. Some people look great in stripes. Others can really pull off the skinny-jean. I myself prefer extremely plain shirts. I know a guy that specializes in comic book graphic tees. I know a girl that looks good dressed like a boy.
In a lot of ways, fashion is heavily influenced by one’s state of mind: style is all about knowing yourself and your own body. Certainly what you wear matters, but how you wear it as well as how comfortable you feel in it are important portions of your look. You can tell the difference between someone who knew what they were doing when they dressed themselves and someone who didn’t, even when those people are wearing the same thing. When people look at each other, they don’t just see clothes or bodies, they see the whole picture: subtle features like attitude and comfort have more presence in our perceptual field than anyone really realizes. When I get complimented for my polo and jeans combination, its not because I’m wearing something fantastic, it’s because I choose clothes that I feel good in, clothes that really embody the attitude that I inhabit.
I can’t really say much beyond this; I’m not exactly a fashion guru. Perhaps I will do more research and thinking so that I can revisit the topic when I have something more general and philosophical to say on the subject.