What Is Style? Part I
It would seem fitting that a website dedicated to understanding what is essential about style would, in the first place, delve into the question: what is style? We kicked things off here with a prelude to the question, but I wanted now to continue the series on this subject with a post that refers to the dictionary’s take on the matter. Ok, ok, maybe that isn't the riveting definition that I hoped would get you to read on, but I have a year of PhD coursework to put to use somewhere, so indulge me on this one.
In its most basic sense, according to Merriam-Webster, style is defined as, “a particular way in which something is done, created, or performed.” Of course, the full definition of style is at once more useful and also more confusing. Style is defined as:
1. a particular way in which something is done, created, or performed:
a distinctive manner of expression
a distinctive manner or custom of behaving or conducting oneself
a particular mode of living
a distinctive quality, form, or type of something
Notice the thematic emphasis on both precision and individuality— style is a particular method, a distinctive way. In this deliberateness, it seems style embodies the reason behind why we do something a certain way. Particularity and distinctiveness reflect a sense of intent: doing something a particular way means you're not doing it any of the other ways you could be. If fashion is what we (in the collective sense) wear, then style is concerned with what the individual is wearing, and perhaps why they're wearing it.
Here’s where things get complicated (and more interesting). Style is also defined as:
2. the state of being popular: fashion
I thought we just concluded not more than 20 words ago that style was about the individual, now we're concluding it's about being popular, i.e. about the collective? If we are confused about what style is, that might be because hidden deep in the very definition of style is a glaring contradiction about its nature. The state of being popular is about others, it’s about the zeitgeist. It’s about a lot of factors that really aren’t particular to you- like fashion, or trends, like must-haves, “it” bags or the shoes of the moment. A distinctive manner of expression is about you. In fact, it can only be about you- that’s what makes it distinctive.
This leaves me wondering: do you think we’ve let the latter definition of style supersede the first four? Stay tuned, we'll slice and dice this question a few different ways over the course of the next couple of weeks.
Feature image is one of my absolute favorites, Daphne Guinness, wearing Alexander McQueen. She arguably makes this an art form. Photo: Getty Images.