Gint Aras used to believe that rejecting style made him unique. But he grew to learn that style and fashion can be an empowering sign of respect.
In my youth, I was quite skeptical of people who paid much attention to style. When I say style, I don’t mean couture trends or high fashion. Deadheads, goths and punks announce themselves with style, and they do it with more gusto than those who look to fashion magazines to learn what’s currently in. To me, style was nothing more than a uniform, an act of conformity.
As a Catholic boy, I had grown to loathe uniforms. Already in elementary school, I believed the gold shirt and brown trousers infringed upon my personality. It was a mode of control, a method of management no different from any uniform, military or otherwise. Perhaps it did aid our focus: we knew what we would wear in the morning and spent no time thinking it through (even if some of us longed to wear jeans or shorts). The uniform was also an equalizer because school was never a fashion show. All this aside, I never felt that the school had my best interest in mind. They simply wanted pupils to know their place.
By high school, I believed I had formed a satisfactory style: I’d wear the least appropriate thing in an inappropriate way. Punks believe they do this by spiking their hair and putting studs in their faces. But we know punks when we see them sitting clustered and drinking beer in Berlin’s Tiergarten, a dozen dogs passed out among them. Their uniform announces their rejection of societal norms, but they exchange one kind of conformity for another.
I wore gray boat shoes to the homecoming dance of an all-girls school, the kind that taught girls to ask boys out to the dance. My date, a girl with eyes like blue sunflowers, was disgusted by my outfit, but she’d been raised by tragically polite people and said nothing when I picked her up. Of course, she was humiliated at the dance—in fact, I’d learn from her friends that my shoes had insulted her to the core.
I was sincerely shocked to learn this. She knew who I was. She knew how I dressed, that I didn’t own very much clothing. I couldn’t stand neckties, suits, dress shoes (they hurt your feet), all things “acceptable” and “nice”. Yet she had imagined I’d dress in a way respectful to her because, to flip it around, I knew who she was: a girl whose tragic politeness has been imposed by a tyrant father. She asked me out because we were friends, dance partners in a folk-dance group. We had no romantic interest in each other. She was reserved, much more devout in her Catholicism, and she dealt with a lot of anxiety in school where she did not belong to any of the important cliques. I had known all these things quite clearly. My idiotic political statement was more important than this gentle girl’s comfort, and I doubt she has forgiven me to this day.
There is a fine line between the fashion statement and actions that simply announce our immaturity. I began learning this after that homecoming dance, and I’ve been learning it ever since. I don’t feel a man develops his style by learning to pick the appropriate sport coat, or by visiting a skilled tailor to get fitted for a suit. Style comes, first and foremost, when we cultivate our personality, and we do this by realizing what effect our actions have on the society we find ourselves in, not the one we imagine we’d like to join, or the one we delude ourselves into thinking we can fabricate. Our style, in essence, is not an image but an approach to life, and our life is a series of emotions and thoughts that accompany, compliment and influence interactions with others.
If we wish, we can save up to buy expensive clothes and wear them to hip places. But a jerk in a thousand dollar suit is still a jerk, and the suit will never be able cover that up. At the same time, the kind and intelligent man does not disappear or change when he puts on a loathsome Green Bay Packers jersey with a cheesehead to go sit at Lambeau Field. If he has any respect for the feelings of others, for their genuine experience, he will not wear this cheesehead to a funeral. He wears a black suit not because he’s conforming, but because, to steal a term from the Catholics, he stands in communion with them, expressing his unity to the moment, an awareness of the intense grief and love everyone shares. The kind and intelligent man knows that there is a time and a place for him to express his unique style.
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Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Mount Gay Distilleries via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Mount Gay Distilleries.