When you look at pictures of people from decades past, you might have one of these two reactions; people sure knew how to dress back then or people looked ridiculous back then. It doesn’t matter if the pictures are from the 90:s, 80:s, 70:s or older.
That difference, my friends, is the different between style and fashion.
While style – contrary to the old saying – is never truly timeless (just look at how the way clothes are cut differ with every age), there are definitely some timeless qualities that people with style possess.
Nobody can question the style of James Dean, in jeans and a white t-shirt, even though you probably wouldn’t wear that cut of jeans today. That doesn’t matter, the style is timeless.
The same goes for style icons such as Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Humphrey Bogart, Karl Lagerfeldt. Or more contemporary, Ryan Gosling and David Beckham.
Style is something that you have.
You can buy the latest, trendiest, coolest fashion. As long as you have money, you can easily be the most fashionable guy that you know.
All you need is a credit card and an issue of the latest men’s magazine of choice, and they will point out the exact outfits to wear this week and the upcoming weekend.
Style, on the other hand, is much more personal. It’s something that comes from within. It isn’t an answer to the expectations from the people around you. It’s a statement of who you are and how you see yourself. What you like and what you stand for.
“Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess.” – Edna Woolman Chase, editor in chief of Vogue magazine from 1914-1952
I lived for many years in a small town of about eighty thousand people. It was probably the most fashionable place I have ever seen. Everywhere you looked, you saw people that looked like they cane straight out of a fashion magazine.
They were wearing the latest brands, the coolest shoes and the acessories that were most in at the moment.
They flocked to the newest and trendiest bars, cafes and restaurants to the point where most bars and restaurants never survived for more half a year to a year. Crowded the first month, and slowly emptier and emptier until they weren’t fashionable anymore.
Only a handful places survived and thrived in this town year after year. They didn’t survive because they had the best drinks, food or service. They survived because instead of trying to chase after the newest and coolest, they had their own style. When people had tried out that newest and coolest place, they returned.
I think this goes for people as well. If you strive to be fashionable, you have to constantly play catch-up. You need to put a lot of effort into knowing and owning the latest and greatest, because when you don’t have the energy to do so anymore, you will feel empty. And you might be afraid of getting looks of disapproval instead of constant compliments from the people around you.
“Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself.” — Oscar de la Renta
On the other hand, if you develop your own style, you don’t have to play catch-up anymore. You’re not the expectations of others. You’re you. Genuinely you.
The real fashion victims
Fashion is not sustainable. Especially since the arrival of fast fashion, when what is in and out doesn’t just change every season, but with every shipment of cheap, throw-away garments from China.
It’s not sustainable for the ones who are constantly chasing the latest trends, but it is even worse for the real fashion victims – our planet, the climate and those who work in the sweatshops that produce them.
There’s little hard research on how often people generally wear their clothes, but one survey of 2,000 women in the UK found respondents on average wore an item seven times.
Think about it. Seven times. For something that took hundreds of liters of water to grow, many processes to enrich, and a long transport from East Asia to wherever you live.
Fast fashion is not sustainable. Even a garment that was made in the worst possible way, but worn 100 times, is better for the planet, the climate and the workers of the factory than anything that is worn just seven times, no matter how organic and “sustainable” the production methods are.
And even if it costs ten times as much, it’s cheaper per use.
How do I develop my own style?
The easiest way to start digging is to dig where you stand. If your wardrobe is filled with the coolest designer jeans and the latest t-shirts, you are probably a jeans and t-shirt guy, so start there.
The next step is to cancel the subscription for that trendy man’s magazine, and instead direct your attention to other sources.
Look at older magazines, image google, look at art and photography with people of different ages and from different times.
Make a list if you’re so inclined, but keep track of what you like and what you don’t. Then try to figure out what it is about them that you like or don’t like.
Types of garment. Colors. Materials.
Go to a men’s store that cater to timeless style rather than fashion. Try things on, but don’t just look. Also touch and feel the materials.
In what ways does wool, cotton and linen feel different? Which do you like? How does different weave types feel?
Bring a female or gay friend to the store. No, I’m not stereotyping here. Not all women or gay men have a better sense of style than straight men. Most do, though, but that’s beside the point. What matters is that they probably look at other men in a different way than straight guys do.