(Plus Some Style And Beauty Advice From The Latins And The Renaissance)
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Many people think of personal style, and crafting a personal style for ourselves, as a superficial and shallow endeavor, and put it in the category of things that only narcissistic and self-absorbed people do.
While it might be true that shallow people are often very much interested in their appearance and looks and put a lot of effort into it, this shouldn’t make us throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and turn our backs on the importance of style.
I hope to make a good case for the significance of spending some time in our lives for cultivating a personal sense of dressing in style, and to redeem the bad name that things like nice appearances and good looks were given due to the ongoing war on beauty, perpetrated by mass-media and the post-modern age we live in.
Finding your own style, and choosing what to wear with a mindful inclination towards what’s beautiful, is in fact not a superficial endeavor but a spiritual one.
To dress in style is to pay respect to our souls.
Furthermore, trying to arrange yourself beautifully is completely useless.
Just like, as Oscar Wilde famously said, all art is quite useless.
So let us be ambassadors of beauty, let us walk around like pieces of art and shine a light in every room we enter.
Let’s have an enthusiastic desire to become a bit more useless, for yourself and everybody around you.
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Since there are a lot of great practical fashion tips for men and women out there, this won’t be the venue for more of that.
Instead, we’ll take a more philosophical twist and throw out here a different perspective on how to go about dressing up everyday.
But first, a few words of wisdom from the past.
Some style advice from the Latins
Pay close attention to this:
the latin word habitus means all of these things:
- clothing, way of dressing
- attitude, behavior
- character, personality
- habit, way of doing
Our clothes become our habits, our ways of being.
Our clothes become who we are.
The Romans understood this 2000 years ago.
Also pay attention to this: the st- of the word style, which also has origin from the Latin, indicates a situation of stability, of stasis, of absence of movement (think station, stop, stay, state, statue).
Therefore, style is what, amongst the numerous and often chaotic movements of life, unifies them, brings them together, almost as if it would condense them in one unique trait. In this sense, style is what makes the touch of a great artist recognizable and clearly identifiable, just like a person is identifiable by his way of talking, laughing, smiling, walking and being.
“Le style, c’est l’homme” as someone wise once said.
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SOME STYLE ADVICE FROM THE RENAISSANCE
Baldassare Castiglione, arbiter elegantiae of the Italian Renaissance, a sort of world-class fashion stylist of those times, thought that there was a “regula universalissima” (universal rule) to reach the peak of one’s own beauty.
What’s the rule?
From his own words:
“In every human endeavor, in everything that one says or does, to run away as far as possible, as if it was a very dangerous and lethal rock, from the affettazione“.
By affettazione, he meant attachment to the way one looks, that thing that makes you check yourself out every time you walk by a store window or a mirror, or that makes you check if other people notice you when you enter a room.
What do we obtain when we successfully run away from it?
“And to maybe say a new word, one should put in everything a certain sprezzatura, that will hide the art and that will show that what one does or says, is done or said effortlessly and almost without thinking about it. From this I believe that grace and beauty come from.”
The term sprezzatura indicates an attitude of nonchalant ease about what we are doing, in the sense that, although operating at our best, we don’t take ourselves and our actions too seriously.
So the highest form of beauty of a human being for Castiglione is only achievable by, almost paradoxically, devaluing and detaching ourselves from our beauty, our success, our reputation.
To me, all this sounds exactly like what we know as ease and delight. Incredible.
Castiglione continues, talking to the reader:
“These flaws that I’ve just explained to you subtracts from your grace, because they are born from the attachment (affettazione), which makes you openly reveal to everyone else your excessive desire to be beautiful”.
This means that, from the perspective of the Renaissance, an epoch that gifted us with everlasting beauty, true human external and physical beauty cannot be separated from inner beauty nor achieved without it.
The highest form of external beauty is obtained only when the art is hidden, when it is placed so deep down that it appears natural.
This is the difference between the beauty of an Instagram model type of girl, which is full of this affettazione, almost an obsession with one’s own appearance, and the beauty of a simple girl with a simple dress.
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OUR CLOTHES AS A CELEBRATION
As the Romans noticed many years ago, what you wear is an expression of you in the world, a reflection of your spirit, a business card of your life philosophy.
Your style is the glue that sticks all the pieces of your days and nights together.
Therefore, it should be our duty, especially as Amorati, to hold ourselves to a certain standard in this regard and find for ourselves a way of dressing that best represents our love for life and love for women.
We should put great care in our clothing.
Not with the aim to catch people’s eyes, with a “look at me, look at me, look how cool I am” type of spirit, but with the goal to pay respect to our body and soul, and to celebrate our being here.
To celebrate the present moment. To celebrate her.
Would you change the way you dress each day if you saw it as a means to enhance the beauty of her experience of the moment with you? As a way to celebrate her?
Image this scenario: two big parties, with hundreds of people each, have been thrown in two beautiful identical mansions that are one next the other.
Everything looks the same except this: in the first one people are dressed very casually, in the other one each person is dressed with a very distinctive beautiful style of his or her own.
Which party would you rather be in? Which party will be remembered more in the minds of the participants after a year or so? Which one is more beautiful?
This is true not only for parties but for every other kind of scenario too, from going to buy groceries, to going on a date with a beautiful girl.
The way you dress adds or subtracts to the beauty of the moment, whatever that moment may be. So it should be our responsibility to let it be a delightful addition every day.
Does this mean that we have to dress up in suit and tie each time we step out the door? Of course not. That would not have sprezzatura, an ease about it, like Castiglione suggests.
It just means that we should start developing an awareness, a taste for clothes, a personal style that speaks authentically about who we are and what we represent, like a cohesive soundtrack of our story on earth.
And then, once acquired a distinctive style for ourselves, we should forget about it.
In this way, it will be effortless, full of ease, and, which is ultimately the goal, natural.
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