Style over fashion.
The art of looking good lies in having a good look.
That starts with having a look.
There lies the difference between fashion and style.
It isn’t possible to possess a look when you allow the high street or the catwalk to dictate what you wear.
A look comes from knowing who you are and what you are.
A look is about rejecting Primark and Prada.
A look is about the films you love, the music you can’t stop listening to and the people you have placed on a pedestal. It’s about looking backwards or inwards for inspiration. A look isn’t “the” look…it’s YOUR look. It’s your haircut, it’s your iPod playlists, it’s your shoes, it’s the cut of the cloth, it’s free from outsider influence.
It’s virtually impossible to be unique but having a look isn’t about being unique…it’s just about being you-nique.
A look can free you from spending valuable time thinking about what to wear or worrying about whether you are “in” or “on”…more often than not a look is neither.
Style is different from fashion.
Style is better than fashion.
When I first saw this photograph of my mother I was struck dumb. I didn’t know anything about clothes or fashion (I still don’t…certainly I’m not Anna Wintour) but I knew that she looked good, that what she was wearing was saying something about who she was and that if we were to take this outfit and put it on a girl today that that girl would look good too.
My mother is the girl on the right…she is probably 16 years old so it is 1965. At the time she was the height of fashion. She was a Mod. She was part of that first wave of teenagers who had disposable income. She bought clothes and she bought clothes that said something about who she was; young, energetic, rebellious and full of disdain for what had gone before. What elevates what she is wearing from just being fashion to being stylish is the fact that the look has lasted. Like the best records the best clothes never date. No bell bottoms here…clean lines, attention to detail, sharp and something just a little bit different; not in a look at me way, but enough to make you look anyway.
Fast forward a couple of years and very little has changed…
She is on the right again. A year or two have passed but it is unmistakably the same girl. The hair is different. The coat is different (a parka has replaced the duffle). Trousers instead of a skirt. But the look is the same. Again you could take any girl off the high street and put her in these exact clothes and she would look great…she wouldn’t look like she was wearing fancy dress, she would look “cool” (whatever the hell that means) and she would look different enough for you to take a second look without ever making you think “…bit weird”.
Move forward another 12-18 months and mother dear looks like this…
This time she is on the left. Everything is different again but she still has that same “look”. Fashion has moved on in the time since the first photograph but that sense of style, the confidence that comes from knowing who she is and what she is about means that she doesn’t look like a victim of fashion. She’s got the look.
A look at the two men in the photograph (my dad is the one sitting with his arm draped around my mums shoulder) highlights the difference between fashion and style again…fitted suit jackets, button down shirts, hanky in the pocket. Perhaps only the hairstyles would date these two cats! But in terms of what they are wearing? I don’t think so.
At the time that each of these photographs were taken anyone with their finger on the pulse would have been able to look at my mother and determine a number of things about her; the music she was listening to, the people she was inspired by, the places she would go to on a Friday night and whether she was friend or foe. People who paid no attention to style would have looked at her and thought she looked “smart”…although her skirts may have been a bit short for the more conservative and polite elements of Glasgow.
During adolescence what we all want is to be part of something. To be accepted. At the time we make a great deal of noise about wanting to be “ourselves” or to be “different” but the truth is very different. What we really want is to be the same. When we sometimes find ourselves incapable of being “the same” because of finance or acne then we turn to the other outsiders in order to create our own inside. Goths, punks, Mods, rockers, skinheads…any number of youth subcultures are all just attempts to create a place where we feel like we belong.
What all of those groups have in common is that entry is determined by the clothes on your back…the look. This is brilliantly highlighted in Shane Meadows “This is England”. When young Shaun stumbles across a gang of local skinheads in an underpass he is, at first, welcomed with warmth but as soon as the groups attention turn to his clothes he quickly feels ostracized. The wrong trousers means he can’t really belong. He doesn’t have “the look”. When he does have the right trousers, shoes, shirt and haircut he is welcomed fully into the gang and finds the family he has been searching for.
The hope is that we grow out of that sense of outsiderdom and that friends, family, work and collecting stamps will become more important than what we wear. The truth is though that, despite the best efforts of Stephen Gough, we all have (want to) wear clothes and we are very aware of the fact that people make judgements based on those clothes. I also think that no matter how trivial or frivolous it appears to us and no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise that the clothes we wear have a big impact on our perception of ourselves. It’s more important than the six pack we crave or the size zero we want to be…those things are just different ways of looking good. But looking good can be achieved by having a good look…which is not dependent on a six pack or an impossibly narrow waist.
People who follow fashion waste an enormous amount of time and energy every day deciding what to wear (or even who to wear). Wardrobes full of clothes that can only ever be worn once. Clothes that in six months time will see you marked out as old fashioned. Fashion always comes with a best before date. Style never goes off…it’s permanent.