Reading blog comments in response to recent posts about summer comfort and contemporary style, I noticed that most of you are relieved to be able to wear what feels comfortable to you.
Many of you, however, aren't pleased with a world where people let it all hang out -- literally -- and think that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of casualness.
This got me thinking about what's been lost since the days when men wore hats outside and ladies squeezed themselves into girdles and garter belts. It isn't so much what people wear that has changed (though that's part of it), as much as the way they wear it.
We've lost a sense of sophistication.
Sophistication is defined as "enlightenment or education; cultivated intellectual worldliness; savoir-faire."
It connotes "having, revealing, or proceeding from a great deal of worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture."
What was it that made, say, Marlene Dietrich seem sophisticated -- the knowing glance, the cigarette, or the German accent?
Parenthetically, I watched "Burlesque" last night on DVD, and rarely has a film tried so hard to evoke an air of sophistication and failed so miserably. That said, I was never bored.
Maybe the problem is Christina Aguilera. She's about as sophisticated as....well, Christina Aguilera.
Part of what's missing -- and some of you alluded to this in your comments -- is a lack of role models. We've experienced real cultural losses in the past three or four decades. There are things most men and women no longer know how to do, and dressing elegantly is only one of them.
Hence the ubiquity of the celebrity stylist. But even then, the results look effortful rather than effortless. The clothes are striking, but the result looks only superficially sophisticated to me.
Did the old stars seem sophisticated because we associated them with their on-screen personas (and all that witty dialogue), or is it something else, something on the inside they projected out?
Reader Toby recommended an excellent book to me a few weeks ago, "Elegance: the Seeberger Brothers and the Birth of Fashion Photography," and I recently found it at the library.
It's full of gorgeous photographs taken primarily during the Teens to late Thirties of European high society at leisure. Of course we're going to expect them to look better than the rest of us, but these photographs really capture something special; it's not just the clothes -- it's an attitude.
Can some wise reader please define why these people look so friggin' sophisticated -- if you think they do?
I think sophistication, and sophisticated style, have to do with intelligence, particularly about oneself. It's not so much getting it "right" -- which seems to be what so many celebrities today are obsessed with on the red carpet -- as expressing something unique about yourself. It's knowing who you are and what you're about and expressing it through the language of fashion.
That's why this leaves me utterly cold:
And this evokes delight:
Perhaps actresses today aren't allowed to play fully fleshed-out characters and that's why they seem like paper dolls when they dress up. We don't really know them -- or just the opposite: we know them too well to really care.
Once America became suburban, people spent more times tending their yards and driving their cars than strolling the streets. Private space became more valued than public space, the latter sometimes lacking entirely (i.e, no sidewalks).
We're more likely bump into each other in the snack aisle of the 7-Eleven than dressed up to be seen. We mainly move from one air conditioned space to another with a car trip in between, and there's nowhere to go but the mall. It doesn't really inspire a person to take pains.
Readers, what do you think? What is sophisticated style all about and where can you find it today? Does it still exist in your corner of the world?
Do you consider yourself sophisticated in your style or approach to life?
If you had to blame one thing for the loss of sophistication today, would it be:
1) Reality TV
2) Stretch denim
3) Petticoat Junction