Why Style?

October 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Periodically in discussions of style among its adherents the question arises, why do you care? It seems to me that stylish gents then draft themselves into two camps, thenceforth at war with each other:

The Individualists: Those who claim to dress for themselves. They attire themselves according to their own whims, caring not about the shackles with which society may attempt to imprison their creativity. Every effort they put into their dress is merely to gain some extra pleasure out of look at themselves in the mirror. They ridicule the Crowd Pleasers as lemmings who have no individual sense of style, but instead merely attempt to find what is least offensive to their fellow humans. They smugly ask the Crowd Pleasers if conformity to social norms and the approval of others is so important, would you jump off a bridge if everyone else did too?

The Crowd Pleasers: Those who claim to dress for others. They “dress to impress”, caring to show the world that they are credible and sensible individuals, either for professional or social reasons or both. They may be eccentric in attire in order to gain attention, or conservatively dressed in order to fit into a classy crowd, but in either case their motivations are social. They laugh at the Individualists who wear peak lapels and cufflinks to an entry-level job interview, and smugly ask the Individualists if the only importance of dress is to please yourself, shouldn’t you wear the same getup when lounging around alone at home as for an evening on the town?

This seems to me a false dichotomy. As with any art (allow me this simile, hack artist though I may be), my satisfaction from stylistic dressing derives from presenting my own aesthetic and having it appreciated by others. It is the interaction of these two things that is valuable. If I wore things that I didn’t myself find beautiful and received praise from others, I would feel a liar and a fake. If I wore things that I loved that others found distasteful, I’d feel misunderstood and out of place.

Humans are social animals. There is very little that we enjoy on our own that we don’t enjoy even more when we find a shared interest with other members of our species. Without an audience and community, a carefully curated wardrobe would have little value to me, just as I would rather walk through a museum accompanied by a fellow art lover, or watch a funny movie with someone who shares my sense of humor.

But if I had no intrinsic appreciation of clothing, I wouldn’t care whether that audience gave me a standing ovation or booed me off the stage. It doesn’t matter how gorgeous the woman is and how intense her interest in ballet, I still have no interest in either going to one or learning how to perform it for her myself. As a musician, I don’t cover songs I don’t like, even if requested, but if I’m singing a song I love, I’d rather sing it while someone is listening.

Since people generally have a linear understanding of causality (x = a*y + b*z) , this sort of explanation may seem like a copout. But in fact there are all sorts of natural situations where the marginal value of one thing (a given clothing item) depends on the value of another thing (social appreciation of said item), and vice versa. For instance, the area of a rectangle, which is equal to length*width. Adding to the length of the rectangle adds to the area only as much as the rectangle is wide, and likewise vice versa. Hence there is no contradiction in saying that I derive satisfaction from dressing for myself, and even more when that is appreciated by others as well.

Find clothing that you love, and find a community to share it with. We’ll all be better off for it.



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