Elle are currently running a writing competition, called What Style Means To Me. Here is my entry - please let me know what you think before I send it in at the end of this week! Either comment on here, or you can find me on Twitter here. Thanks!
Ah, the eternal mystery: What is style? Never mind war, religion, or the meaning of life; the notion of ‘style’ has bemused people for decades. For many, style is an attitude, a way of life, an abstract concept: can’t quite put your finger on it... just out of reach. As Orson Welles said, ‘Create your own visual style. Let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.’ Style is distinctive, yet mysterious.
For the likes of Oscar Wilde, style meant everything: ‘In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing. Looking good and dressing well is a necessity. Having a purpose in life is not.’ In other words, it’s not about what you do, wear or say, it’s how you do, wear or say it; style conquers substance.
For Coco Chanel, style was an undying force, ‘Fashion passes, style remains’, an idea that fellow French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent echoed: ‘Fashions fade, but style is eternal’. I can’t help but adore this romanticised notion that style will always be elegant and classic. Style never goes out of style, because, by definition, it can never be wrong.
Fashion on the other hand... Well, that’s an entirely different story. Fashion is easily defined, as Edna Woolman Chase, Editor-in-Chief of US Vogue from 1914 to 1954, said, ‘Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess.’ She believed that style is innate; it cannot be taught. Style cannot be purchased, no matter what your budget. It cannot be found in a luxurious boutique on Sloane Street, an undiscovered vintage treasure trove, nor hiding out in the bargain basement of Primark, under a pair of 50p shoes. Style is free and accessible.
To the reigning Queen of style and anarchy Vivienne Westwood, style means being aware of who you really are, and not trying to be someone else. ‘People who make this effort in knowing what suits them - they are individual and stylish’. There’s no use trying to masquerade as something you are not, style should be natural and intuitive, without thought or consideration. It has taken some time, but now, as a curvy, top-heavy, size 12 woman of average height, I have learnt that perhaps I should give the latest trend of jeggings and crop-tops a miss. In experimenting what suits both my shape and my personality, I have developed my own style, which largely consists of floral tea dresses, wide, waist-cinching belts and killer heels.
Fashion can also be about escapism, but escapism is fleeting; you must eventually return to who you really are. Playing dress-up a la Lady Gaga can be fun, spectacular, outrageous even, but it is transparent. Style is being true to yourself and having the confidence to show your personality – no pretense.
The person who best summises what style means to me is Gore Vidal, ‘Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.’ Personally, style is rebellion. It’s not about following the crowd. With fashion, there is a complete lack of choice. You are either ‘on trend’ or ‘so last season.’ Style, on the other hand, is not formulaic, prescriptive or constrictive: there are no rules. This allows for so much creativity, personal freedom and self-expression, because there is no right or wrong. How liberating is that?
So style is about the abandonment of conformity, disregarding trends and restrictions (who knew it could be so deep?!). But I don’t choose style over substance. For me, style is substance. It’s about the form of expression rather than the content of the thought expressed. And yet, as I write this, there is another worshipper of fashion swooning at whatever Victoria Beckham is wearing today, and they will swear that she is the most stylish woman on the planet. Whereas I would have to confess that I think she is the ultimate fashion victim; tip-toeing her children to school in the latest Marc Jacob seven-inch stilettos, barely able to move her legs because her Roland Mouret rip-off DVB pencil-dress is pinching her too tight. But both of us are right, because when it comes to style, there is no wrong.
And so, the debate continues… What is the difference between fashion and style? Giorgio Armani once famously said that the difference is ‘quality’, but I disagree. I could go on to say how this tiresome idea has made his latest collections terribly safe, predictable and commercial… But that’s just not my style.