A Man Of Style / A Man Of Fashion

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“In the classical European humanistic tradition, fashion was always thought to be antithetical to good taste. A person blindly following the whims of fashion was without style, whereas a man of style – or a gentleman – used his own power of judgment… fashion in a societal formation always combining two opposite forces. It is a socially acceptable and safe way to distinguish oneself from others and, at the same time, it satisfies the individual’s need for a social adaptation and imitation…in modern society, both style and fashion are functional equivalents to ‘good taste.’”

-Jukka Gronow, Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki (1993)

I stumbled upon this quote in an otherwise dense, but intelligent, article on Kantian and Simmelian notions of fashion as a reactionary socializing force, but thought this quote was perfect to share and discuss here.

Writers here on Men’s Flair, myself included, often like to note the separation between what is classic style and what is fashion, with the later term usually being washed aside as some sort of trite and fleeting version of the former. The assertion here that they both essentially represent a notion of good taste shocked me at first, but the more I thought about it and looked at what Gronow was saying, the more it seemed to make sense in a certain way.

While I, and presumably most people reading this, find the idea that “skirts and slashed leggings are really ‘in’ for men this season” to be utter hogwash, it is amongst a certain set a call to wallets and closets. This drive towards adaptation and imitation is the primary drive here, with individual decision making and ‘style’ taking the back seat, whereas what is discussed here usually orders these drives the reverse way – in modern society, wearing a correctly fitted suit and tie outside of an office of Michelin 3 Star restaurant is usually asking to stand out, not fit in.

But then again, the so-called “fashion-set” is a select group and may stand out through a sense of collective individuality rather than truly individual individuality, however ridiculous that clause may sound. And we, again I am generalizing here, seek to find our collective identity in the company of like-minded, well-turned out rebels, and a projected return to an imaginary glory-days filled with properly rolled lapels and well-waisted boots.

So rather than continue to ramble on, I’ll just ask: What do you think of the above quotation? What do you think of the roles played by fashion and style in our society, past and present? While I would love to think I have all the answers, I don’t, so lets discuss.


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Stephen Pulvirent blogs at thesimplyrefined.blogspot.com. Striving always for elegance and excellence, Stephen believes that whether it be dress, drink or diversion, it should be considered, explored, and enjoyed.

Comments

  1. Kai says:

    I don’t care too much about a sociologist’s thoughts on style and fashion. Dear things should be enjoyed, not intellectually analysed.

  2. Geoff says:

    I think there’s a risk of associating “fashion” with “modern” here. It’s common to suggest that contemporary clothing is “fashion”, whereas older looks are “style”. For me this confuses the issue, the quote above suggests to me that style is more about personal selection and innovation, whereas fashion is more about taking advice from others.
    I think in reality we all look to fashion as the base, after all we read blogs like this one to get ideas. These aren’t our ideas, there suggestions from someone else, and therefore we’re fashion followers. But I think we all try for that little tweak here and there to make a look our own, and that’s style.

  3. I believe there is a big difference between fashion and style. Fashion involves wearing the latest popular attire, merely because it is expensive, or exclusive, or someone in a magazine said it was “in” this season. Style involves understanding which colors, and cuts, and items best fit the complexion, body shape and personality of that individual, regardless of current trends. Blogs like Men’s Flair are helpful because they educate men about why certain practices may be flattering, and why others may not (and the tricky thing about style is that what’s flattering varies from man to man because we are all unique individuals).

  4. Keith says:

    The separation of “fashion” and “style” is arbitrary, and in most cases false.

    When Marlon Brando wore his t-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire and his motorcycle jacket in The Wild One, neither could be said to be “classic menswear” at all, yet today a t-shirt and jeans is often said to be a simple stylish option in casual dress.

    We often look back to old movies and old stars and think they really knew how to dress back then, but in reality they were at least in part influence by fashion.

    For the past 20 years jeans have been worn lower and lower on the hips, now when we see the high-waisted pants they undeniably look strange to us, and have different proportions from what we’re used to. One can’t really argue which is the more flattering cut when we’re so influenced by what we’re used to seeing.

    The main point is; wear what you like, but don’t for a second believe that what you like isn’t influenced by what you’ve seen (i.e. trends and fashion).

  5. Harry says:

    What is fashionable and what is considering good style will both vary over time, albeit with at different speed. The thing I suspect most readers of this blog will strive for is to build a wardobe of classic pieces of style which nevertheless incorporates just enough elements of what is considered fashionable to ensure we do not look as if we deliberately wearing old-fashioned clothing but just smart, classic, well-chosen attire. The debate of what is fashion and what is style can become somewhat academic. Jeans might be one man’s idea of classic, but if they are red and worn with a double-cuffed shirt with a jacket and a pocket square, it is difficult to say what’s what anymore. Just enjoy!