Fashion Style Elegance

Kristina Akhrarova
Black velvet sheath dress and pink satin bow, design created for the perfume Paris, 1983Photograph by Gilles Tapie

I have been debating what to write for a long time because elegance is so subjectively defined, so perhaps it is best to start with what elegance is not. It is not, of course, fashion, it is not even the same thing as style; style is a great quality to have, not least because it denotes a sense of originality, but it also implies self-advertisement and that rather tiresome quality that Americans call pizzazz. Elegance, on the other hand, is a more chaste, reserved self-effacing quality, and I may be mistaken, but I detect a hint of benevolence in it as well.

Elegance is inherently present. The art of putting clothes, jewelry, flowers, objects, pictures, and furniture together is not something that can be simply taught. It comes from within. It is a way of showing respect for yourself and others, it requires acting appropriately in different situations. Thus, I believe one of its main characteristics is a sense of proportion, both literally and figuratively. Exaggeration may well be stylish, but it is seldom elegant. I am at risk of making elegance sound a little dull, but true elegance comes pre-loaded with an ineffable indefinable rightness, that leaves one impressed rather than bored.

The definition of elegance is effortlessness, naturalness, simplicity, brevity, and, when appropriate, wit... After all, when we describe a solution to a problem as elegant, we imply a sense of neatness and rightness.

Elegance is also unhurried. It is about having the confidence not to need to be noticed, and not to shoulder your way to the front... To be elegant is to be recognized by the doorman at the nightclub of life and to be plucked from the back of the throng and ushered past the velvet rope. Above all, true elegance is a part of every aspect of life.

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Dress is a fundamental element of social evolution. It comprises one of the most basic building blocks of inequality. Fashion, likewise, is neither frivolous nor trivial. It matters, has consequences. Dress and fashion have a significant impact on the way people live, define themselves, and operate within their own habitats. It is a game of differentiation, the means by which one ethnic group distinguishes itself from another, one social status and religious affiliation from another. Dress and fashion help identify the foreign, the minority, and the marginal, and can emerge as an influential means by which people challenge their status and reshape their identity within their own societies or on the global stage. In order to understand the complexities of what people wear and why, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, philosophers, semiologists, linguists and many others input their immense expertise. The study of modern civilization fashion along with mass production can derive no assistance from world history before comparatively modern times. In human history fashion is new and its future path is unknown.

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