As I talk with men, and sometimes with women, about this blog, I often see smiles. Those smiles are sometimes accompanied by comments like, “Well, I wouldn’t have any need of that. I don’t have any sense of style.” Never mind that such an individual could frequently benefit from a little blog like mine (or any of the others out there that address similar topics). No, what really concerns me about those types of comments is the clear fact that such an individual has confused style for fashion.
I see that all too often.
Perhaps I can take a moment in today’s post to describe what I see as the difference between Style and Fashion.
Let’s start with Fashion. According to that great repository of wisdom, the internet, Fashion is defined as “a popular trend, especially in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior.” The emphasis here is on trends. Current trends are considered with the Fashion, or fashionable. Trends that are either too new to be widely adopted or were considered fashionable in times recently past are subsequently considered unfashionable. And, as many of us know, to be considered unfashionable in some circles is to be considered irrelevant.
Contrast that with the concept of style. As we have indicated in this blog in the past, style can be identified as “A way of behaving or approaching situations that is preferred by or characteristic of a person.” This sense of style is somewhat independent of fashion.
For example, earlier in my life, denim jackets were considered a useful and fashionable element of a man’s wardrobe, especially if that man spent a considerable part of his life outdoors and working with his hands. During that period of time, I acquired a denim jacket that was somewhat fashionable.
Immediately I began to adorn it with embroidered patches. The patches came from all sorts of places. I received some as gifts from friends. Others I purchased. Some were specific to the space program or military organizations, while others were reflective of things I enjoyed like racing, entertainment franchises and travel. Putting patches on my jacket immediately made it unfashionable. At least at the beginning.
As time went on, it suddenly became fashionable, in some social circles, to have a patch jacket. At that point, I became quite fashionable.
At least until the jacket began to wear out and become threadbare. After all, embroidered patches were fashionable, but functionable patches are still considered quite unfashionable.
And I couldn’t have cared less.
You see, the idea of a patch jacket for me, or even the material of the jacket involved, was not important to me. I wasn’t trying to be fashionable . I was cultivating a personal sense of style, and that style was characterized in part by making my casual clothing distinctive of me, my interests, and my experiences. The clothing was functional, but it was also a carefully cultivated expression of what was important to me.
And that is style.
Now, there is a definition of style that refers to a sens of sophistication and elegance. Those who have read this blog for any period of time will recognize that I am also an advocate of developing that type of style as well. In that case, the style we are speaking of lends itself to a sense of substance, of appreciation for what I call “time and place conformity.”
Allow me to share an example that serves as something of a case in point. I am a firm believer in the idea that every man should own a tuxedo. But I am not a strong advocate for following trends or the dictates of fashion in the purchase of a tuxedo. Instead, I advocate a classic cut and fit. Lapels that are neither too wide nor too thin, notched instead of peaked. A shirt whose pleats are neither noticeably wide nor outrageously decorated. Pants tailored to fit with a conservative break and neither too full nor to tight. In short, a tuxedo that is likely not fashionable because it is timeless.
This sense of style is what embodies elegance, and it is wholly in step with the cultivation of both a sense of substance and a sense of personal style, because it can be accessorized with touches that come from the man’s personal style. For instance, the cuff links I wear with my tuxedo are very much in keeping with my earlier descriptions of my personal style. Whether I wear the Millenium Falcon ones given me by a student, the Michael Kors ones I bought on a trip to NYC, or any of the ones given me by my wife and children.
Gentlemen, cultivate your personal sense of style. Learn to describe it, champion it, embrace it, and recognize that, while there will be times that the fashion is in step with you, there will be many times when you may be out of step with it.
And your confidence in those moments is what can make you a man of style and substance.