Now that I’m writing about 3 areas of style – fashion, house, and garden – I notice a couple of commonalities. Seems to me in articulating style, of any sort, we need to ask ourselves 2 primary questions.
- What must our style do for our physical selves?
- What effect do we want to create, and for whom?
The answers can be quite multi-faceted, of course. The needs and constraints of the physical self break into smaller and smaller components.
- Clothes: into heel height, strategies for 3 feet of snow, the number of compartments you like in your handbag.
- Gardens, into how much maintenance you’re willing and able to do, do you require shade, light, food, or flowers, as well as will you want play space? Oh yes, and geography. We always live somewhere specific.
- Interiors, into all the use patterns of your life and your family, and again, your geography.
This is the stuff we solve for together, in the blogosphere. Non-dowdy flats that stay on your feet, tops that survive cross-Atlantic flights, plants deer won’t eat, new ways to fix cracks in concrete walkways, we figure it out.
I also find the second question quite fascinating – and less discussed. What effect do we want to create, and for whom? I’ll start with myself, since that’s what I know.
- In fashion, I focused quite intently on the the gaze of the stranger. I used to want to create the effect of nonchalant elegance, intelligence, and a sophisticated but classic aesthetic. Nowadays, I don’t care so much about the nonchalant. I am edging Artsy, it is an effort, and because it’s an honest effort that I make for myself, I don’t mind letting people know.
- In gardens, I’ve realized that out front I want to create the effect of being a pretty good citizen, with pretty good taste, doing a pretty good job of tending her house. I don’t want to make a big show, but I don’t want to let down the side either. In the back yard, the effect is for myself. I want to feel as though I’m miles away from other people, as though civilization can’t interrupt me, and resources for beauty are ample. Tricky, that, in a suburban lot.
- My wishes for interiors have been the hardest to analyze. I think I do not want to create any effect other than serenity, comfort and harmony, for myself and my loved ones. But I know for sure I do not want to see any signs of trying for an effect. Tricky, again.
Of course, the question of effect can be explored more deeply. In order to communicate the complexities of what we’re after, we create typologies, like, The Artsy Cousin, The California Mid-Century Modern Garden (camellias, azaleas, jasmine), The Classic High WASP Family House. Or, drawing from archives other than my own, The Over-30 Parisienne, The English Cottage Garden, The Bohemian Swedish Apartment (where do they get all that bright light, we wonder?!).
And some may feel the effect they are after is purely aesthetic. But I find it very hard to separate aesthetics from feelings, in style. Even a love for red plaid brings other meaning quickly on its heels.
It’s so interesting the way the desired effect changes across domains. What we want in our clothes may not be what we want in our gardens, and may in fact be antithetical to what we want in our houses.
How about you? Do you have a unified approach? Do you show your self in your clothes the same way you do in your house? Or does each variant of your style satisfy different needs?