Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pursuit of Style

Source: My Vintage Vogue

Most of us in the vintage scene have a dedication to being as stylish as we can, but the pursuit of style seems to have fallen by the wayside in much of modern society. Yes, most people have at least a passing acquaintance with fashion, but that's not the same thing as style (indeed, in the case of certain fashions, one might conjecture the opposite): In the words of Coco Chanel, "fashions fade; style is eternal".

The inherent style and glamour in a lot of vintage clothing forms part of its appeal to many people. All Chichester looks forward to Goodwood Revival every year, because it gives them an opportunity to put on nice clothes, and see others do the same. But why can't everyone wear nice clothes all the time? Why must skirts and hats and high heels and hairstyles be reserved for special occasions? Why isn't stylishness a mainstream pursuit?

It could certainly be argued that caring about one's appearance is shallow, meaningless. What difference does it make if the average Jane on the street is spilling over the top of her jeans, or wobbling around in an ill-fitting bra under a shapeless tracksuit, or dressed in precisely the most unflattering combination of leggings and midriff tunic? Who am I to judge? Surely inner beauty and intelligence and kindness and integrity are more important than clothes, mere drapery, so what does it matter? Is style really important?

In the greater scheme of things no, style does not matter. It's not going to solve world hunger or win a war. Or is it? During World War II the government recognised the importance of looking good for morale, when they elected to spare from the rigours of fabric rationing both hats and narrow materials such as ribbon and lace, that ladies would still have access to some element of glamour. Of course, it's not possible to know how much difference the availability of half a yard of lace actually had on the country's morale. What is certain is that morale is of great importance: there's a reason for the concerted campaigns on either side designed specifically to target morale, both of troops and of civilians.

Self-presentation and morale are entwined: If you look good, you feel good, and feeling stylish and put-together makes you look even better. You stand straighter, and walk with confidence.

So when the call goes up for a "return to traditional values", let's not make it about the so-called "traditional family values" (what are they, anyway? A submissive wife fetching her husband's slippers while the children are caned if they incorrectly recite their Latin declensions?). Let's advocate a return to Style, to pride in one's appearance, to a world where it's normal for ladies to wear a frock to the supermarket and a hat to the park. Because what we wear is a form of self-expression whether you put thought into it or not, and making an effort with your appearance tells the world at large that you care enough about it to do so.

And the world notices, and respects you in turn. Style garners respect; respect leads to courtesy. Wouldn't we like to live in a more courteous society?

I say - Mr Cameron? I have a solution for your "Broken Britain"...


  1. I think the key thing you have mentioned there is that your clothes make a statement about yourself, regardless of how much thought is put into them. Even the people who declare an interest in clothing is shallow and pointless still made a CHOICE as to what clothes they wear.
    So why not choose outfits that say more than just 'I got dressed', but instead say 'I care about how I present myself to the world'?

  2. Hmm. Coming from my background I would say the illusion of style was everywhere in the past- but many, far from having lovely, well kept shoes (for example) went to work or school in faded hobnails, clogs or bare feet well into the early 50s. It's just no-one ever took photos of them. Likewise there was plenty of shoddy, off the market clothes out there (trust me there was) but it all got worn, fell apart and used as rags. We are left with the 'ideal' and are lucky enough to live where we have the money and freedom to emulate that.

    The point is, we are now very lucky in that we live in a country developed enough for the vast majority of us to eat and dress as we wish. So why not take advantage of it?

    Mind you, I also hear similar arguments from foodies about food, petrol-heads about cars etc' although I choose to wear clothes expressively, I understand that to some, we've 'slipped' because we eat ready meals others because we no longer maintain our own cars...

    I don't attach a lack of effort or value to those who dress scruffily. Many I know DO have more to worry about than clothes. If they live with a lack of effort, that's altogether different.

  3. Well I must say for one, my husband agrees with you! I have just taken several bags of his (usual "normal") clothes to the local charity shop,as he has decided he enjoys wearing his 40s clothes so much he wants to only wear his smart clothes now!! He spent yesterday evening clearing out his wardrobe and has even set aside a 'grooming drawer'!!

  4. I totally agree with you,nobody dresses up anymore! I was just talking about this with my mum the other day when we were watching The Darling Buds of May! People used to dress up with lovely hats and gloves,even just to go travelling. Now people wear trackies, hoodies and Uggs instead! Sadly I can't see David Cameron giving us some free lace to raise the country's morale! Really great blog and fabulous post! XxxX

  5. I vote for Charlotte! Charlotte for President!

  6. I agree that self presentation is key. You also have to dress in what you think looks nice for you. I know, that for me, if I am working from home - I might slob about answering emails in my pj's and rollers for a couple of hrs - but come 11am - i *have* to get dressed in clothes I feel fit to be seen outside.

    I do think that if more people took pride in their appearence - be that full on 1960's mod or a the tracksuit clad - then there might not be so much judging and negativity out there.

  7. I agree, it almost seems as if some people go out of their way to make the worst of themselves nowadays. There was plenty of poverty around when I was young, but everyone made a huge effort when they were going somewhere, even if it was only to the doctor. My grandmother wouldn't have been seen dead the way some women dress now, I mean the whole slobby thing. I didn't realise that some people went outside in their night attire, until my friend's husband, who is a police inspector, informed me of this startling fact! My grandfather was extremely particular about himself too. His hat was shrouded in brown paper and woe betide anyone who disturbed it!

  8. Style and the way people dress may not seem to matter but it makes it nicer for everyone if people make an effort in their clothes. Judging by the smiles I get and the compliments I receive, people appreciate seeing someone dressed in a way that shows they care and that enlivens the scenery. I feel the same way about architecture - why make a building ugly when it can be beautiful and lift the mood of people passing it. Neither clothes nor architecture need to cost any more to be beautiful either - it's all about how you put them together.

    And I think dressing up to go somewhere not only is a mark of whether you care about yourself but also whether you respect the people you're around. Why should the people in the corner shop near your house be considered any less worthy of getting dressed properly than your boss?

  9. I agree with Perdita. I think it is nice to emulate the rich of the past with ease, but I think all this saying "everyone looked so stylish in the past" is a bit of wishful thinking. The rich looked stylish in the past and to be honest, the rich look stylish now.I can get decent clothes from the charity shops and get some amazing finds, but generally nice clothes (especially hats) cost a lot of money.
    It is a very rose-tinted view to say "the pursuit of style seems to have fallen by the wayside in much of modern society." I would in fact argue the complete opposite. Look at how many style blogs there are! They celebrate unique personal style beyond the whims of fashion (vintage or not).

  10. I didn't say everyone looked stylish in the past. I said that looking presentable was a good thing for society to aim for.

    I also didn't say that no-one makes an effort any more - as you rightly point out, it's clear that many do. But a walk down the high street shows me (and I live in a pretty good area) that slovenliness is commonplace, which to me seems a shame.

    xx Charlotte

  11. When my grandparents were young (in the 1930s and 40s), it's a fact they didn't have much at all. But one thing's for sure, they always looked really smart and stylish. I have a few treasured photos of them on a rare holiday or a day out and they look amazing. They took real pride in their appearance which is definitely lacking in today's casual looking society. Style has nothing to do with money. It takes a certain dicipline and effort. Times have certainly changed and not always for the better. At the end of the day, it's up to us as vintage lovers to keep this spirit alive .... 'Keep Britain Tidy' ;) xx

  12. Charlotte asks:

    "Why isn't stylishness a mainstream pursuit?"

    This is a difficult question to answer without waxing apocalyptic, cynical, political and existential.

    I just found your blog and it is a cozy respite in an ugly world. Please keep writing and posting about the beautiful things you are doing and creating and we shall continue to enjoy this loveliness. Thank you.

  13. I totally agree with you! I always put on my best suit if I have an important presentation to give because it makes me feel more confident and comfortable to stand in front of a large group of people, and I really hate doing presentations!

    The Mister and I often sit in town, people watching, and wonder why so many people have abandoned grooming.

    I often get asked how I can afford to dress the way I do, but the truth is I spend a fraction of what my colleagues do on their not very appropriate work attire.

    Really been enjoying your recent posts, and pieces like this one. Makes for very interesting reading and thought provoking. Thank you!


  14. Manner cost nothing and nor does style, self presentation is so important it make you yourself feel better and that shows in how you behave socially.

  15. Thank You for a very interesting post and comments. Cloething and has everything to do with human social/group behaviour for our survival we are still very much dependent on other people/ groups. The not so stylish wear is perhaps the norm these days and that could be an explanation. My point is that we dress to fit in society. I think we are freer to choose though these days in general and thus makes us more anxious because the rules are all wiped out.

  16. being stylish doesn't mean we have to wear expensive clothes. main idea is to be comfortable and have the confident in you. the event is also to determine your fashion... in mind that some wear the latest fashion but is not stylish rather than those who just wear cheap shirts looks more appealing. :)

  17. I love what Perdita said. I am sad when I hear someone equate self-respect with sartorial style (not that you've said so here). I feel that it is a mode of self-expression, as you say, and just as I believe that not everyone chooses to express themselves via visual, audio or literary art, not everyone chooses to express themselves in their clothing choices. You may say that their clothing says something about them whether they put thought into it or not, but have you considered that the clothing of a woman dressed carelessly says nothing about her other than that: she dresses carelessly? You may deduce that her careless fashion choices mean she is slovenly or lazy or has no interest in presenting her best self to the world, but is that really fair of you? And doesn't it veer dangerously close to the realm where people who are overweight are viewed as lazy, people who are tan are viewed as shallow, and people who choose to wear very revealing clothes are viewed as both shallow and "slutty"?

    I understand that you didn't say all this in your post--I am more thinking about past conversations. And I am certainly one person who chooses to express myself via my outfits. But I have to be sensitive to the fact that one of the social gains of women in the last forty years is the right to dress for themselves and to demand fair treatment regardless. No white gloves? Un-styled hair? Untidy nails? Guess what? Still deserving of respect and equable treatment!

    Thank you for your blog. I love reading all of the historical information and especially appreciated your distinction that vintage dressing does not have to connote a love for vintage family values!


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