Elegance, According to Margrethe Mather

Elegance, According to Margrethe Mather

Many of the concepts I seek to understand in my own approach to getting dressed: style, elegance, glamour, and the like, are difficult to pin down. What makes something elegant? What is style? It's often the case that these concepts are more discernibly felt than they are understood. You know elegance when you perceive it; you intuit style when in the presence of someone who possesses it. 

Still, forces this powerful, forces that undeniably drive our motivations for and attachment to fashion, feel to me worthy of being more fully understood. For this, I often turn to art for perspective because artists have such a firm sense of the things I believe we're seeking when we get dressed: an individual perspective, a sense of personal style, a signature. Within limits, an artist's work is to refine; to add and remove, to include and exclude, until a piece feels right. Until it resonates, personally foremost, which I believe is what makes it resonant to others thereafter. 

Margrethe Mather was an early 20th century photographer whose work exudes to me a very specific elegance. Take some of her work, below. After soaking in her photographs, I found myself wondering about how Ms. Mather approached formulating her next image. How did she choose her subject? Her angle? How did she go about calibrating the light? Out of these seemingly minor decisions, decisions that she appears to treat consequentially, the elegance of her photography arises. 

It strikes me how similar the process of creating a photograph is to the process of building an outfit. Deliberation is required as to what should be included, as well as to what should be left out. Nuance and subtlety make the mundane memorable. And the art of carefully curating image after image (or in the case of our closets piece after piece) makes for a collection that taken together starts to feel truly unique to the creator. Outfit as work of art, wardrobe as body of work, style as signature. 

— Subjects

 Semi-nude, circa 1923

Semi-nude, circa 1923

 Unknown

Unknown

 Lady in White, circa 1917

Lady in White, circa 1917

— Fans

 Fans, 1931

Fans, 1931

 Fan Stripe, 1930

Fan Stripe, 1930

 Fan in Hand, circa 1925

Fan in Hand, circa 1925

— Hands

 Hands B.J., circa 1925

Hands B.J., circa 1925

 Hands B.J., circa 1925

Hands B.J., circa 1925

 Untitled, circa 1925

Untitled, circa 1925

— Patterns

 Clam Shells, 1931

Clam Shells, 1931

 Japanese Combs, 1930

Japanese Combs, 1930

 Untitled, circa 1926

Untitled, circa 1926

All photography by Margrethe Mather.

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