Style: It's All Yours
A recent conversation triggered some thinking about the distinction between style and fashion. It's a big one. Style is how you present yourself to the world, and good style is forever. Fashion is what the industry is selling this season, and seldom lasts forever. To paraphrase Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, “fashion fades, style is eternal.” Or Edna Woolman Chase: “Fashion can be bought, style one must possess.” And one of our favorites, from William Battie: “Style is when they are running you out of town and you make it look like you are leading the parade.”
Does any of this matter? Yes and no. Fashion is fun, and needs constant renewal to feed style, but in and of itself it is not really significant--though we love it, and we need it, to express our style. Style does matter. Style is a picture of the person wielding it, a picture invented by that person to win the day.
Style is much more than clothes. It is a way of thinking, of walking, of speaking. It is making choices, with confidence, that reflect who you are and what you want and how you project your image to everyone. Your hair, your makeup, your sunglasses, your watches. Your books, your politics, the plays you like, the plays you don’t. Where you live, where you travel. Style is you.
Women of the Lustre cohort were pretty much obliged to invent their personal styles when they entered the workforce. At first, many of us felt we needed to look like men, and act like men, and live like men. For a while, we signaled that by wearing blue suits with oxford cloth shirts and mannish silk ties. It was funky, and it was personal, but it was a failure of imagination. Too derivative. And a lot of those clothes didn't really fit our curves.
So, after we had worked a while, most of us we realized we needed to come out as women. We needed to wear clothes designed for women, and to master heels invented for women, and to carry bags big enough to hold tons of paper but made for women too. That’s when our personal style really emerged--when we wore shocking pink suits to court--and won, or elegant, slouchy silk pantsuits a la Greta Garbo to board meetings, or purple leather to meet with the CEO to talk about hard things. When we created lives in which work was central, and nothing was very balanced, but which we lived our way. When we became confident that there was a place in the working world for us as we were.
We need all that style again, to create the image of who we are now--an image rather like the women we were before we retired. No longer in careers, but living purposefully, reveling in work and play and family. Our personal style has likely changed to reflect the change in our career status, but we are free now to be even bolder in how we express ourselves and how we live. Our style will change retirement. Fashion is sure to catch up, just like it did in the 60s and 70s. But style will lead the way.