Style vs Fashion

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The Rise of Style

In the past couple decades, personal style has become more popular than ever. Instagram accounts, street style blogs, and Etsy pages are now significant peaks in the fashion industry landscape, marking the rise of individual fashion consciousness, as fixation on name brands declines. Let’s discuss this.

Change in the Meaning of Luxury

Depending on your age and proclivities regarding 90s teen rom-coms, you may be familiar with this meditation on agape vs. eros from the 1999 movie 10 Things I Hate About You:

“There’s a difference between like and love, because I like my
Sketchers, but I love my Prada backpack.”

You may also acknowledge it as an epigrammatic summary of ‘90s style. As a young teenager in the late ‘90s, this statement was all too familiar to me. No one at my city public school could afford Prada, but I could easily see the popular kids waxing poetic about the difference between their affection for Tommy Hilfiger and Abercrombie.

Twenty years ago, luxury meant having something that was name-brand, and luxury for high-schoolers meant Sketchers. Now, the height of luxury is personalization. Owning name brands is not nearly as powerful as having an individual, curated style. Even better: wearing rare pieces that no one else will have. In 2014, vintage and handmade clothes are much more intriguing than a cluster of recognized brands in the same outfit.

The Street Style Influence

The rise of street style, publicized by blogs and social media, has changed the fashion industry so much that even the most powerful publications have shifted their focus to the clothes of commoners. The industry cannot ignore the influence of street photographers like the wildly popular Sartorialist, and the fact that photos of attendees taken outside the fashion shows are often more popular than the photos of the runway models inside. Street style is now a fixture in most fashion magazines, which regularly feature street style stars like Miroslava Duma—famous for showing up at shows in killer outfits.

The fashion industry, which has long been considered a realm only for the very rich and elite, is now accessible thanks to social media and street photography. These days, buying a ticket to Coachella will give you as good a chance to make the pages of Vogue as being a movie star. Quickly, personal style has become as significant as fashion.

The Difference Between Fashion and Style

Yves Saint Laurent famously said “Fashion fades, style is eternal.” Whereas fashion is an art that is notoriously difficult to keep up with because trends change seasonally, style is impacted by much longer-lasting factors. Style is affected by religion, politics, culture and subculture, weather, body type, profession, upbringing, I could go on and on and on.

Think about fashion vs. style in comparison to food consumption. You eat every day; you wear clothes every day. There are some days and some occasions when you put more thought to your outfit and meal than you do others. There are some people, cloyingly called “foodies” and “fashionistas” for whom eating and wearing are a special hobby.

We can compare high fashion to 5-star restaurant dishes that show innovation, creativity, and expertise. A plate of soft-boiled quail eggs with a side of liquid nitrogen ice cream will look exquisite and show a great deal of culinary competence, just as so many gowns and suits on the runway look like moving works of art. However, there is something to be said for hot dog vendors, deli owners, and grandma’s kitchen. They may not make particularly progressive dishes, but their food is still delicious and meaningful. Their food may not be fashionable, but it has style. It is unique to them, and it is recognized as something special.

What Goes Into Style

Another difference between fashion and style is that style goes beyond just clothes. President Obama is a great example of someone who isn’t particularly fashionable, but is known for being stylish. Obama notoriously wears one of two suits every day; he’s not exactly innovative with his wardrobe.

However, his style extends beyond the blue and grey suits (and occasional outdated pair of jeans) he sports daily. His style is in his voice, his posture, his choice of words, his haircut, the way he carries himself, the occasional joke he throws into a speech. Style is less technical than fashion because it’s an overall impression.

The style of a writer is called a “voice,” and it extends far beyond adherence to grammar rules and literary formats into something much more personal and visceral, just as clothing style defies fashion trends and accepted color combos to give off an overall effect. Whereas fashion obsesses over perfect proportions and the post-Labor-Day-white controversy, style is an individual choice unique to how a person wants to present themselves and be perceived.

Developing a Personal Style

When developing a personal style, it’s helpful to remember that you already have one. Personal style is equal parts taste and function, and you’ve surely developed taste over time. If you can name a couple favorite movies, bands, and works of art, you have a taste. Function is the less sexy half of style—the part that is dictated by where you work, how you spend your time, your climate, and your comfort threshold. Style is where these two merge.

The rise of street photography blogs and Instagram accounts is great news for those who would like to develop their own style but aren’t really sure where to start. If you find fashion magazines intimidating, perhaps you’ll find style blogs inspiring. Stealing the ideas of someone else and making it work for you is a brilliant way to cultivate your own look.

Take a gander through street style galleries and ask yourself, “What do I like about this, and why?” Do you like the outfit’s mood, colors, proportions, creative styling of sneaker wedges? Would this outfit work on your body, in your city, with your own clothes? Mimicking the outfits of real people out on the sidewalks is much easier than trying to garner style tips from fashion shows. It can help you take risks and experiment with your own look, and confirm your own likes and dislikes.