It is apparently a truth that when I am asked the meaning of my words, I take on an intentionally sonorous tone of voice; I gesticulate slowly and I become irritatingly professorial.
Someone considerably senior in years recently asked me exactly what I meant by indefatigable. I was sufficiently shocked that a person of age, education and experience was indebted to me for an explanation of a pretty ordinary word in the jolly old English language. I was also asked by a friend, in close confidence, what the meaning of a certain girl’s words were; my knowledge of feminine vocabulary is scant and so, though I tried, I was able to offer little comfort. However, my most Mammoth of ‘meaning’ tasks came last week when someone asked me exactly what I understood style to mean.
Normally armed with a portmanteau load of explanations and pithy clarifications, I was alarmingly devoid of an appropriate knee jerk response; a sign perhaps that I haven’t the foggiest idea what it actually means. Or perhaps, I thought, it is something that requires quiet contemplation and a little devotion of time and thought. Earnestly, I formulated ideas and theories and established a central pillar of belief that the true meaning of style is resourcefulness.
It’s rather like one of those fables, teaching the value of utility through a poor old man making bread or the performance of the quite impossible art of alchemy. With every resource and consultant in the world, a man can effectively purchase ‘style’. The greatest tailors and cobblers are at his command to manufacture the most splendid creations that come to their imaginations. But is he necessarily a stylish man? Arguably not.
His admiration of style and his embracement of it is certainly a mark of taste but, as my wizened grandfather told me, style does not belong to everyone. He likened it to art in the sense that true artists actually belong to a minority; a small and rather elite group who cannot help but create art. Their entire being is devoted towards its creation, every moment of their lives affected by an inner compunction to display their flair. Despite this undeniable faculty, the greatest of artistic assets, as far as he was concerned, was not talent but patience and a willingness to learn.
These are definite qualities of the true style man; for one who can take fashion rags and form elegance exhibits certain patience: patience perhaps with his own bank account, patience in relation to the meagre surroundings, and patience for the inadequacy of the high street store.
I do not possess sufficient patience in this regard; I am notorious for my exasperation and intolerance. Having said that, I am awfully willing to learn; from the input and influence of others and from my own mistakes. Breathtakingly broadly-speaking, I am more likely to become excited about innovation and utility rather than what I call ‘painting by numbers.’
This is perhaps a rather undeserved title for what is actually real sartorial awareness; interest in style brings tens of thousands of readers to these columns every week and if there was no need for the sharing of knowledge, my words would be valueless. However, given a few basic materials, an artist can produce magic – the same can be said of a true ‘style’ man.
This is not to say that there isn’t value in knowing where to purchase the best shoes, or who makes the finest looking jackets; far from it. Having style is about choosing the right garments; it is about the right cut of trousers and the ‘best department stores.’ There is no discredit in adapting without invention, and there is a rare and undervalued excellence in assembling knowledge and using it effectively.
Nevertheless, to me, the chap with every resource in the world, with merely the finest clothiers money can buy, possesses only a nodding acquaintance with style. There is no intimacy in the relationship. There is certainly no disgrace in his approach and there should be no automatic condemnation simply because he is able to afford what others cannot. After all, every artful style creator would wish for the clothing budget of an oil tycoon. However, sartorial alchemy has always impressed me considerably more than mere costuming.
When my grandfather was teaching an art class, providing the students with inexpensive gouache paints, one of them plucked up the courage to approach him and tell him it was impossible to paint anything; the paints were quite simply, not good enough. He took the palette from the young imp and inside half an hour painted a splendid landscape in some style to the silent amazement of the watching students, proving, rather smartly, that though some resources may be lacking in quality, or perhaps completely devoid of individual worth, there is still the possibility, with patience and an open and imaginative mind, of producing art from them.