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Style As Language, Art & Philosophy

Style, in the fashion sense, is going to be a big topic on this blog and you may wonder why.

Because it is a small change that makes a big difference.

It impacts how you think about yourself and very much influences how others think and act toward you.

Style is everything you do to express yourself through how you look. It is different than fashion, which is the ever changing art form of clothing. A great quote that explains the difference is “Fashion is what you buy. Style is what you do with it.”

When you start thinking about style deeply – and that’s how we like to think about things here at DFL – you’ll start finding a number of frameworks to hang those thoughts on. Advocates of caring about your appearance and making intentional decisions about it are going to use these frameworks.

But there are going to be the haters out there. Those that will contend it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter. Those people will use some of these same frameworks when arguing about it, even if they don’t understand them.

Style as Language

“What you wear says something to people even before you open your mouth.”

“Wearing a suit says you are serious.”

“The kind of watch you wear tells people a lot about you.”

One way of looking at style is as communication. How you look says something.

If you are thinking of style as communication, then once you start breaking down how different parts communicate, you are into linguistics. Linguistics is the study of language. It is the deep dive into how words come to mean what they mean and how one word stubley coveys something different from another word that means the same thing.

Style involves understanding a new language. It isn’t a spoken one, but rather one of fabric, color and texture. It must include an understanding of culture and psychology.

Probably the number one thing you need to decide when you are thinking about style as language is, “What do you want to say.”

You need to have an intentional message behind what you wear. Because you are communicating. With no thought you may be communicating, “I’m a slob.”, “My momma dresses me.”, or “I made my last fashion decisions in 1993.”

Style As Art

Why do designer clothes cost so much?

There are some differences between materials and construction that raise the cost, but not to the level of a Christian Louboutin heels in Paris verses Gianni Bini heels at Dillards in Abilene.

If you are a fashion linguist you might say it is because they communicate prestige. The mere act of wearing a pair of $2000+ shoes shows you are rich, and/or famous.

For people who value humility and thrift, this seems wrong. Ostentatious. But let me ask you another question…

Why does a Picasso cost so much?

In this case the cost of materials doesn’t even figure in. No it is because we value the art of Picasso more than other artists.

Some of this is socially constructed, and some of it is personal taste. There are people who don’t particularly like Picasso, but love Salvador Dali.

Here’s the distinction: Fashion is Art.

Looking at clothing through this filter, wanting to break it down and dive deeply into style means treating it like poetry. As an art form that is doing more than just communicating something factual about you. It is trying to invoke a feeling in the viewer.

Art communicates, but that isn’t why it is art. It invokes feeling and frankly great art does something in your brain that is hard to even express.

Style As Philosophy

I just used the word ostentatious. The dictionary definition is: “characterized by vulgar or pretentious display; designed to impress or attract notice.”

I also said in contrast “people who value humility and thrift”. Both virtues.

It is hard to talk about fashion without someone bringing up moral arguments. Here’s a quick distinction anytime someone uses the word should, they are saying something about values and not about facts.

“You shouldn’t spend that much money on clothes.”

“You shouldn’t care about how you look.”

“You shouldn’t buy from that company because they exploit their workers.”

“You shouldn’t wear that because it shows too much skin.”

With art you talk about value in terms of how it makes you feel, or a person’s willingness to spend money on it. In philosophy you talk about value in terms of its rightness and wrongness.

Style as philosophy talks about the moral aspects of it.

There are the external moral issues. How is the clothing sourced and made? Are the materials sustainable? Are they made from endangered species? Did an animal die to make them? Were workers paid a fair wage and given good conditions to work in?

Then there are the social moral issues. Does wearing something make you better than other people? Are you showing proper respect when you try to dress better than others? Are you stealing someone else’s culture with what you wear?

Then there are the psychological moral issues. Do you think you are a worse human being without fancy clothes? Is you personal worth determined by how you look? Is your body image defining you in a bad way?

We could go on in this vein – and we will in future distinctions – but you can understand now those questions are looking at style philosophically.

So you may be asking, “Ron, which one is it?”

The answer it is all of them. Life isn’t simple. Concepts aren’t one dimensional. To develop your own personal style, you will have to think in all of these terms. Lucky for you I’ll give your distinctions about style in future posts.

Photo by Andrew Worley on Unsplash

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