Style. It’s remarkable how even in an age when we hijack and make lighthearted fun of everything, the word has retained its flair.
Dearly departed singer and fashion icon Prince, in his song “Style,” mentions a list of what it is and isn’t. It is: keeping a promise; loving yourself until everyone else does, too; a second cousin to class; a non-violent march; a man that cries; growing your own food, etc. It is not a logo, he warns.
Style in cities, then, lurks in the unlikeliest places, instead of, like fashion, residing on the high-end retail streets. Let’s seek it out!
Graffiti is mostly illegal, but there is no doubt about how beautiful it can be. Graffiti is closely related to Style, instead of Fashion, because of its untamed urbanite nature and its historical ties to the Hip-Hop culture. With time, when people saw the art in it, they made special legal avenues, where graffiti could become the unheard or ignored voice of the city. But you can and should still seek it out.
For example, when I went to look for the poetry of Baltimore, I found a lot of graffiti concerned with what the city is concerned with – diversity and gentrification, the Black Lives Matter movement, religion, and freedom. One aspect that differentiates Style from Fashion is its concerns with what matters and what doesn’t. Style is old-fashioned enough, modernist enough to take at least some things seriously.
Flea markets tend to be frequented by the stylish, outlandish outsiders of fashion. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, you can find a necklace with a story or someone’s grandmother’s vintage prom dress. Style pays its respects to history and the time it takes to build something. In contrast, frivolous Fashion has the attention span of a moment and hates the generation before most of all.
In London I found Style in Camden Market. Life in ultra-expensive London can be tough, but the flea market is always blissfully unaware. The earth would be a better place if it were one big round Camden. Goblins, goths, monsters, drug addicts, artists, hippies, hipsters, and everyone else in between felt at home there – no surprise that it was favorite spot of Style queen Amy Winehouse.
Writers and, especially, poets are famously and necessarily self-obsessed, but sometimes, when they choose to bestow their blessed persona onto commoners, it looks very stylish indeed.
Spoken word artists I know make their brand – and, so their clothing choices – consistent and interesting. Some choose to reconnect with their roots and, writing about diaspora and displacement, also dress the part. Others are inspired by identity issues and bend or erase gender. There are truly endless possibilities to find Style in poets and their work, because they inspire artful ways of life simply by being and creating.
Is it bad taste to dress up, when you’re showing up for a cause? Hardly. As one Vietnam woman put in her interview, though I’m paraphrasing: “Oh, yes, our generation was different. We actually cared and now no one does. Also, it was a great way to meet guys.”
Laugh all you want, but just because Style cares for masses, doesn’t mean it erases the individual aspects. Sometimes it is the most stylish thing to do – to burn with the desire to change the world for the better, inspiring others. Remember the ancient proverb: everything personal is also political. Dress up for a cause; maybe the movement will get more media exposure. The idea’s not too noble, but it’s realistic.
Established theatre has become more about Fashion than Style – the costumes are well-made and expensive, the decorations newly ordered and atmospheric, actors conventionally fitting to the role.
On the other hand, small student theatre traps the spirit of Style, the forgiving nature of a self-aware artifice. You can easily see through some of its failures and imperfections, but still choose to believe what’s happening on the stage. Those small bohemian theatres in cities house not only grandiose youthful ambitions, but also the extra mile we go to see stylish people as whomever and however they want to be seen.
Now, of course, some have a taste for a different kind of “style.” Where do you find your definition of the word where you live? Is it in pubs and gigs? At contemporary art galleries or in local cafes, where they know how you like your tea? Tell me in the comments.