Is Too Much Style a ‘No-No’ in America?

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“Too much style in America is tacky. It’s looked down upon to be too stylish. Europeans, however, appreciate style.”Tom Ford on why he set his sights on Europe during the early days of his career, as told to New York Times’s Lynn Hirschberg.

While Tom Ford is known for his biting statements, I can’t help but agree with him on this one. Ford uttered these words in 1996, but his blunt commentary on American style still rings true today. All too often, I’ve walked into the grocery store, or sat in the doctor’s office wearing any one combination of pumps, a sheer ruffled shirt, and an animal-print skirt only to be looked at as if I’d just descended on Earth from the distant planet of ‘And-Where-Do-You-Think-You’re-Going-Dressed-Like-That’. But consensus is that in Europe, you’re far more likely to encounter someone dressed to the nines at every street corner, and as such, it’s not the least bit surprising or suspect. Mr. Gianni (insert Italian surname of choice here), his toddler son, and even his dog’s sartorial accoutrements are to die for. To be fair, Europe has its share of more conventional dressing individuals, while America is host to many sartorial kings and queens, but that doesn’t make the distinction (or perception thereof) any less true.

Now, why is dressing up so frowned upon in America? Well, for one, people have grown accustomed to dressing in a functional way. Second, Americans have chosen comfort over style, which they’ve seemingly mistaken for drab, humorless, and unimaginative clothing. Naturally, given that fashion thrives on creativity, ingenuity, and change, other designers share Ford’s sentiment. In a recent interview published in the Montreal Gazette, up-and-coming menswear designer Christian L’Enfant Roi was quoted as saying, “Everything has become so utilitarian or practical—people don’t buy clothing for the pure joy of it. Especially not men.” Guilty as charged. Far too often, I’ve caved in and purchased clothing with a utility scheme in mind. “This”, I’ll wear to the office, but I need  “that” to wear to the dog park (I don’t have a dog, would love a pet pig, but you get my drift.)

Perhaps this disparity between American and European style is strictly cultural. Europeans appreciate style while North Americans prefer utility clothing. Point final. Or is that too simple an explanation? Could it be that fast fashion is to blame? With stores like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 popping up right, left, and centre, we’re now afforded more clothing choices than ever before, except that our choices now range between cheap, cheaper, and cheapest. We accumulate lesser quality clothes while Europeans own less, but acquire quality pieces (not to mention family heirlooms). Third, it seems we’ve inherited a culture of appropriateness. Clothes are viewed in terms of how appropriate they are for the occasion or activity rather than for the fun to be had playing dress up. On a recent shopping trip with a former classmate, I snagged a sheer ruffled shirt (I have a penchant for these, if you haven’t already surmised), went up to her and said, “Look what I found!” And what was her response? “Well, I guess you could wear that at the office,” to which I replied, “Well, I’d wear that anywhere, wouldn’t you?” Judging by the baffled look on her face, it’s almost as though the shirt was radioactive and that if I dared wear it outside of the  “appropriate” setting, I would set everyone ablaze. Lastly, perhaps we’re just lazy. This blogger seems to think so and raises a good point regarding our need to embrace tailoring. In any case, a simple walk down memory lane via popular shows like “Mad Men”, which have inspired a 50s sartorial revival of sorts, suggests that our apparent lack of style wasn’t always so. So maybe in the end, it’s got nothing to do with cultural differences between Europeans and Americans now does it? Could it be that we’ve simply lost our way?

Photo: asterix611

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