Can You Be Stylish Without Fashion?

It’s an unspoken rule that every style blog from Mr. Fancy’s It Looks Happenstance But it Cost $5k Blog to Katie’s Christian Cooking and Miniskirt DIY Diary has to sound off on the “style versus fashion” question.

Everyone comes to the same conclusion: That fashion is about acquiring objects of the moment (and usually about means), while style is a more intrinsic, ephemeral representation of taste (which often overlaps with means). But you have to draw the distinction in a corny essay or no one will take you seriously and PR Consulting will never send you press releases about how Rebecca Taylor’s new hat collection for Macy’s was inspired by Coming to America—“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Magic of Zamunda”.

By posing this question in the fashion and style blogging world, we are taking a certain implication for granted: That style comes from knowledge of fashion. Style is posited as the highest level in a ziggurat you reach by climbing a hundred levels of brand and designer names and history, along with consuming a gluttonous monthly diet of magazines and newspaper stories and a kajillion blogs. Once you’ve mastered all that, then, perhaps, you can surpass “merely fashionable” and join the ranks of “stylish” in a ceremony in which you walk down a big aisle lined with those orange pumpkin leaf bags, and a small box which contains a whiff of Diana Vreeland’s ghost is opened, and Prince Andrew kisses you on the head. It’s a really nice ceremony. I’ve been before.

You could replace the time you spend checking more than 15 blogs a week with books and probably read one a week, which sounds pretty damn stylish to me.

And yet, some of the most preternaturally stylish people in the universe don’t seem to give a hoot about fashion. Does Tom Wolfe know why J.W. Anderson just sent halter tops down the men’s runway? Or know that it even happened? Most American political journalists could probably give you a fascinating take on John Galliano’s descent, but they couldn’t tell a Galliano-designed Dior piece from one of Raf Simons’s. You’ll never see Patti Smith at Paris Fashion Week, but Ann Demeulemeester is her go-to. And why do architects always have such great shoes?

So what does a stylish life without fashion media look like? First, you’re cutting out most blogs and magazines you read (though I’d leave The New York Times; it’s called the "Style" section, after all). But it leaves you with wealth of reading material. Like, the entire newspaper. Then there's a giant pile of magazines like The New Yorker and Vanity Fair and The Paris Review and n+1 and The Economist. And, right, books. You could replace the time you spend checking more than 15 blogs a week with books and probably read one a week, which sounds pretty damn stylish to me.

Second, shopping means something entirely different. You’re no longer looking for The Thing or A Thing That Looks Like The Thing, But Not A Lame Knock-Off Of The Thing, because you’ll have only a cursory idea of what was sent down the runway and what everyone wants. You’ll start to see what everyone wants, but by picking up patterns of shapes and design through looking at what’s in stores. And there’s something more intellectually stimulating about that process than the mad dash through Style.com of GQ to put your finger on the trend first.

Unmoored from fashion cues, getting dressed is imbued with a new sense of social and political nuance that we too often miss.

Which is the third big change in the high flying fashion-media-free life of style: what you look at and how changes entirely. Gone are those long hours studying Tumblrs and street style blogs and runway photos, but that doesn’t leave you blind. Architects spend all day thinking about proportion, geometry and practicality; no wonder they dress well. Tom Wolfe wears his white suit to freak out his interview subjects. Made-to-measure French cuff shirts are tools for power jockeying on Wall Street. Gallery girls are infamously well-dressed, and though many may have an interest in fashion that is more studied than the average bear, chances are the only recognizable designer object they’ve got on is a Celine tote. Unmoored from fashion cues, getting dressed is imbued with a new sense of social and political nuance that we too often miss.

This cuts to the whole reason we read fashion media at all. It doesn’t tell us what to do or think—we’re all more sophisticated than that, and there’s a reason everyone who works in Fashion is still trotting out the word “curate” to describe every single thing they do. But if you like something, if you’re truly interested in it, you want to read everything about it. We’re all still teenagers, of course. The trouble is that people who look really great and just talk about fashion end up simply looking really great. There may not be as much to say about fashion as you think, so perhaps it’s time to try saying something else.

Above, you'll find some recommendations on where to start.

Rachel Seville is a writer living in New York who believes in miracles. Read her blog, Pizza Rulez, here and follow her on Twitter here.

  • Taylor

    I love u! Clap clap!

  • Uninvited Editor

    I think the term “ephemeral” is misused here as it relates to style.

  • slow t

    this is one of the best things i’ve ever read on four-pins.

  • Barack Obama

    If your time on this planet revolves around caring about this shit, you should really feel blessed about how good your life is compared to all the shit that´s going on in the world (war, poverty and fugitives) and how many people on this earth who don´t know where their next meal is coming from.

    • James

      get the fuck outta here

  • DWEEB

    Best thing I’ve seen by Rachel on four-pins since I’ve been reading. Thanks for the insight…kudos!

  • Tanya S Davis

    Glorious. Thank you!

  • VERSACEVERSACEVERSACE

    THIS POST TOO LONG YO

  • whttrad

    I agree with slow-t, this is one of the better articles ever posted in this site’s history.

  • MarcoBaleno

    Cheap pseudo intellectual advices have only harmful effects when it comes to awake cultural and art awereness in an audience.