The concept of good taste is connected to affluence and is seen as a uniform experience with occasional regional specialities. Some wealthy women shop in megamalls, while others choose small neighborhood stores for fashionable clothing. But almost all of them like wearing a tiny black dress, carrying a Chanel handbag, and having lunch with their besties to work out broken hurts.
Cassandra, one of my closest friends, came to San Francisco to study fashion at the Academy of Art University at 79 New Montgomery St. She drove up in a beautiful blue vintage Mercedes, while most of her mates arrived in white Teslas. While Cassandra wore boyish jackets without bras under them, sparkley Miu Miu flats, oversized glasses, and wacky lipstick, others chose all-black leather outfits and Chanel bags. Cassandra always carried a spinner suitcase full of blueprints and fabrics. The two of us became best friends at Britex Fabrics on 117 Post St., while she was picking out glittery feathers for Rafael, her Palo Alto's bungalow parrot. Well, in San Francisco, people usually own small white dogs and hang out at someone's beige expanse in Pacific Heights.
The other mates are virtually speechless about Cassandra's unique sense of style. It extends beyond her attire and living quarters to how she presents herself and even her direct yet endearing conversational manner. One time, I witnessed two grown-up women who were some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the Bay Area giggling while playing dress-up in her wardrobe. In an instant, they appeared to be two nerdy schoolmates invited to the popular girl's house. It reminds us what makes Cassandra’s taste stand out.
We live in a world dominated by algorithms — by data collection that steers us toward a limited set of products and designers who pay for the privilege of appearing first in our searches. Therefore, our taste has become more homogeneous and absolutely limited. It is not uncommon for Instagram ads to look like magazine spreads, while TikTok advertising often features the same humorous or shocking content as non-sponsored content. It is rare for shoppers in their 20s and 30s to consider that they might like something because it is unusual or because their trained eye notices something that no one else does.
Cassandra is in her 30s, and her home appears to have come from a universe without algorithms. It doesn't matter if you want to be like her or mimic her every move; what matters is she loves it! It is here that she expresses her individual obsessions and expressions. Her mindset is one of connoisseurship. It's about accepting that you may eventually have different interests based on your evolving taste. And, Cassandra's path led her to Porto in Portugal, where she took beach pictures of Rafael.
No particular chunk is emphasized, but rather the story of how those who read, study, or just happen to be interested in Williams-Sonoma's pieces end up purchasing everything in a quest for their personal aesthetic. What makes this intriguing is less how much material there is and more what it implies about the central character. Modern consumerism contrasts with all of this. Due to the automation of direct-to-consumer products, some people (and their manicured, rounded edges) may have never made these decisions. Therefore, there is little motivation to live differently from others.
Meanwhile, a rebellion is also bubbling up against classic influencers. The influencing movement in the fashion industry began as a side project of fashion blogging, where young women offered a perspective on fashion that wasn't available in Vogue or Harper's Bazaar. Once fashion brands realized this, they rewarded bloggers with bags, front-row seats, and lavish gifts. Women learned they could charge tens of thousands of dollars per social media post after gifting took over. An influencer's goal was to appear as cool and carefree as possible so women would know exactly what they didn't have. Aspirational lifestyle took its place. Initially appearing as a fun alternative, it gradually became homogeneous.
At this point, many appear to be fashion victims, slinking away in agony. The content on social media doesn't provide a sense that you're inside of a world someone else is letting you into. In an attempt to protect cognitive liberty, TikTok is experimenting with letting users turn off their algorithms, a move that many are hailing as a step forward in protecting our fundamental right to privacy and thought freedom from digital data intrusion.
We tend to think of poor taste when we think of symbols that are disconnected from their functions and meanings, where instead of expressing that, "I do this thing," something gaudy says, "I have this thing!" This is an attitude rather than an attempt to live inside an idealized lifestyle. Wear and use — and therefore love — your things rather than treating them like museum pieces. It serves you, not the other way around!