Specificity as a Key Element of Style

Specificity as a Key Element of Style

specificity /[spesəˈfisədē]/ noun: the quality of belonging or relating uniquely to a particular subject.

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Here we are, on this journey of breaking down the mythical leviathan that is style into thoughtful bits and pieces we can put words to and understand and practice and hone. I did a spot of online browsing yesterday for some early fall pieces (yikes) and was struck by just how easy it is to buy something, anything really, but how simultaneously hard that makes it to buy the right thing. For me. With all that's out there, it's easier than ever to be unspecific about our clothing. To buy a dress instead of the dress; to settle on the cut; to buy a shade of color that's ever so slightly off. 

The problem with being unspecific is that specificity is a key element of style. Without it, we might have clothes, we might even pull together a great look, but I don't think we'll have style. Across a range of media, from painting and photography to writing and sculpture and fashion, style is found in focused attention lavished on specifics. Take, for example, Diana Vreeland and her quest for the perfect shade of red: 

“All my life I’ve pursued the perfect red. I can never get painters to mix it for me. It’s exactly as if I’d said, 'I want Rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist temple' – they have no idea what I’m talking about. About the best red is to copy the color of a child’s cap in any Renaissance portrait.”

 Diana Vreeland by Horst P. Horst, 1979 courtesy of the Estate of Horst P. Horst/Art + Commerce

Diana Vreeland by Horst P. Horst, 1979 courtesy of the Estate of Horst P. Horst/Art + Commerce

Amen.

So, how does one practice the art of specificity? I'd like to think it starts with restraint. That simple act of holding back when something just doesn't feel right has been so helpful for me. It's trained me to look more closely and question more critically whether something is really for me. Restraint gives me a moment to separate myself from the other forces that act upon my purchasing decisions, whether that's a brand name or a sale or a trend. Slowly, I've developed a way of curating my closet that is more and more firmly rooted in specificity- bringing in only things with very particular, even circumscribed attributes. I don't get it right every time, but I'm in it for the long haul. After all, it takes a lot to get Rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist temple. 

 

Feature image: Francesco Sassetti (1421–1490) and His Son Teodoro by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1488 via The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

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