I was in a Walmart store recently and marveled at the array of interesting characters. Not only were the shoppers diverse in age and race, but particularly in the way they dressed.
My cartoon above is a gross exaggeration of the people I saw, but it lampoons something I’ve been noticing lately. People dress poorly. They opt for unflattering tights, frumpy sweats, mismatched items, and ill-fitting outfits.
“Because clothes are freedom — freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to blur the lines between man and woman, old and young, rich and poor. The rise of casual style directly undermined millennia-old rules that dictated noticeable luxury for the rich and functioning work clothes for the poor. Until a little more than a century ago, there were very few ways to disguise your social class. You wore it — literally — on your sleeve. Today, CEOs wear sandals to work and white suburban kids tweak their L.A. Raiders hat a little too far to the side. Compliments of global capitalism, the clothing market is flooded with options to mix-and-match to create a personal style.”
At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, I think we’ve taken this casual thing too far. How we dress says something about how we view ourselves.
Check out this 20 second Seinfeld clip on the subject of sweatpants.
“Go to any public arena — a sports event, a shopping mall, Wal-Mart, you name it — and you realize the standard of dress for men and women, adults and children, has reached a low point in American history. Blue jeans are de rigueur; t-shirts with slogans, some of them billboards of obscenity, assault the eyes; pajama bottoms are worn to the grocery store; restaurant patrons appear at lunch looking as if they had just rolled out of the sack; grown men wear baseball caps while eating steaks at Outback.”
It didn’t use to be this way. There was a time when folks dressed better. As Jeff Minich went on to write:
“Let’s contrast our contemporary ‘style’ with the recent past. Go online, Google ‘baseball games 1930s photos,’ and look at the pictures of the fans. Most are males wearing ties and coats. The women are wearing dresses and hats. Take a look at television shows from the 1950s or at ‘Mad Men,’ and note how stylish people dressed when in public.”
The dust of everyday life
David Arms is an artist, photographer, and former special events coordinator. His “art, style, and living” brand is housed in a beautiful, old barn located in historic Leiper’s Fork near Franklin, Tennessee.
I don’t remember when I first discovered David Arms, but I was impressed by his sense of style, artwork, and elegance. He dresses impeccably and fills his studio and gallery with beautifully curated books, ties, artwork, journals and decorous, aesthetically pleasing items.
As much as I embrace minimalism, I can’t help but admire all the cool things in David Arms’s studio and gallery. Clearly, David Arms is living an artful life.
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” -Picasso
Watch this short, beautifully filmed video about David Arms.
Like the rest of us, David Arms has choices for how he wants to live. If he desired, he could paint all day in his pajamas. But he doesn’t. He sports elegant, colorful ties and tailored vests.
David Arms lives his life with beauty and elegance. He puts serious thought into how he wants to live. As he states in the above video:
“Then I came to a place of realizing that my art is more than a painting, it’s a way of life. It affects all my choices. How I live, what I wear, the things I surround myself with. The books I read. It’s living life intentionally. And my greatest intention is simply to convey one thing: hope.”
What is it you want to convey in your life? Have you thought about it? The way you dress, maintain your home and express yourself says volumes about you. What do you want to project?
We don’t live in a coherent age
In her book At the Corner of East and Now, author Frederica Matthews-Green wrote:
“We don’t live in a coherent age. Walking through the culture is like walking through the surf after a battering storm, stepping through shards of insatiable consumerism, gaudy FunTime noise, self-indulgent weepiness, toilet humor, posturing nihilism. Things keep saying they’re important, but they turn out to be more loud than deep. Stepping around the shards, we begin to wonder if anything might be important, anything might last or … ”
There’s no question that American culture has coarsened over time. We don’t dress as nicely as we used to. Manners and etiquette have declined. People talk past one another.
We are immensely distracted by a lot of superficial, online noise. Cat videos and cartoons. The glowing screens have stolen our attention away from books and meaningful conversation. Convenience and casualness have overtaken elegance and gracefulness.
We often seek the path of least resistance in work and our personal lives. Getting there is more important than how we get there.
We’ve lost a bit of our artfulness.
Even air travel is casual now. Where people once “traveled in style,” fliers now travel in shorts, flip-flops, and pajamas.
Elegance is Refusal
All of my elementary education was in private schools. My father was dissatisfied with the public school I attended. He felt there wasn’t enough emphasis on reading, history, etc. So, he coughed up the dough for a private school.
I remember how different my experience was in private school. All the students were in uniforms and the teachers dressed in business attire. In public school, kids dressed in all manner of outfits and my teachers often dressed casually.
It might be a small thing, but when teachers dress like their students, it sets a casual atmosphere in the classroom. The more formal, business attire my teachers wore in private school elevated the tone set in the classroom.
The uniforms we wore as students had a similar effect. They took the emphasis off fashion statements, so students could concentrate on their studies. They also made us feel more serious and purposeful.
Obviously, clothing does not make the teacher (or student) and there are many fine public schools. But, how we dress does make an impression, and can affect how we feel about ourselves.
The French fashion designer Coco Chanel said:
“Elegance is refusal.”
Refusal to take the path of least resistance. Refusal to settle for mediocrity. Refusal to just get by. Refusal to be lazy. Refusal to dress like a slob.
Chanel also noted:
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
I know, times have changed. The world is moving faster now. I probably sound like an aging romanticist, longing for a simpler time when people dressed nice, maintained impeccable homes, and talked more to one another.
The thing is, I don’t think people are happier now. I think they’re distracted by the noise and rapid pace of life. They don’t think they have time to dress better or live more artfully. However, if they did, I think they’d feel differently about themselves.
In the preface to his novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde famously wrote that “all art is quite useless.” The philosopher and author Roger Scruton disagrees, noting:
“Put usefulness first and you lose it. Put beauty first and what you do will be useful forever. It turns out that nothing is more useful than useless. We see this in traditional architecture, with its decorative details. Ornaments liberate us from the tyranny of the useful and satisfy our need for harmony. In a strange way, they make us feel at home. They remind us that we have more practical needs. We’re not just governed by animal appetites like eating and sleeping. We have spiritual and moral needs, too. And if those needs go unsatisfied, so do we.”
Elegance and beauty
In all the hurly-burly of life, it’s easy to lose sight of two things. Two life enhancements that can elevate your game, your self-image, and your approach to better living. They are:
Elegance and beauty
People who take the time to dress well, maintain beautiful homes and live artfully, stand out. In this fast-paced world of shortcuts and hacks, it’s refreshing to meet refined people who take the time for elegance and beauty.
Embracing elegance and beauty does not require wealth. I’ve met many people of modest incomes whose homes and dress are elegant and refined.
“Elegance is usually confused with superficiality, fashion, lack of depth. This is a serious mistake: human beings need to have elegance in their actions and in their posture because this word is synonymous with good taste, amiability, equilibrium and harmony.” -Paulo Coelho
It’s amazing how some thoughtful beauty and elegance in your home can lift your spirit. For example, my wife is a registered nurse by profession and a gardener by passion.
The flowers, Talavera pottery, statues and outdoor glass art my wife has placed in and around our home, increase the elegance and beauty.
Nourish true virtue
How about you? How are you doing with beauty and elegance in your life? Take a moment to consider how you dress, how you maintain your home, and whether or not you are living artfully.
Being an artist, I have a sensitive eye for beauty, design, and aesthetics. I began to realize, like David Arms, that art can be a way of life. Something to inject into how I dress, maintain my home, express myself and live my life.
“Beauty is the sign of another, higher order. Beholding beauty with the eye of the mind you will be able to nourish true virtue and become the friend of God.” — Plato
I encourage you to embrace beauty and elegance in your own life. Declutter your living space. Get some fresh flowers. Keep things clean, tidy and thoughtfully designed.
Skip the baggy, frumpy sweats when you go out. Put a little more thought into what you wear. You don’t have to break the bank, either. I’ve met thrifters who dress impeccably.
If you’ve forgotten or overlooked the benefits of beauty and elegance in your life, why not embrace them now and craft a more artful life for yourself? Doing so will put a spring in your step, and might inspire others to up their game, too!
(Originally published at JohnPatrickWeiss.com)
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I paint landscapes, draw cartoons and write about life. Thanks for reading!