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Monday, February 9, 2015

The Key To Personal Style Is Knowing Yourself

In an interview on the blog Permanent Style, menswear writer G. Bruce Boyer refers to something I once wrote about in an interview with Keikari blog in Finland. I was asked what my definition of style was to which I responded "Knowing yourself". This sentiment seems to be reiterated by Boyer in the blog post for Permanent Style. In his own words he says:

"My feeling has always been that a man should get to know himself, set his style, and then work at perfecting it. My other feelings about this are that he shouldn’t have to sacrifice comfort to look well dressed and groomed, that simplicity is indeed a virtue (Diana Vreeland famously said that real style is refusal), mixing town and country clothes can be fun, and that a person should dress his age and have a concern for quality (which means I have a veneration for old clothes).

So my experiments take the form of small details: a two-button jacket instead of a three-button perhaps, a bow tie in place of a four-in-hand, a brightly colored scarf or pocket square, maybe a pair of pink socks or cordovan tassel slip-ons. I will probably never try cowboy boots, bowling shirts, tight black jeans, or a knit cap with a pom-pom. Although I shouldn’t say never."

It seems knowing who you are is possibly the most important aspect to being able to adequately convey that message to people who pass you by on the street. Most people would agree that Mahatma Gandhi was not a Western style icon - but in effect his garb that he wore was a reflection of his philosophical beliefs that a man need not have complicated clothes when searching for the truth. His simple round spectacles and the robes of a peasant produces a more lasting style impression on humanity than the traditional tailored suits that he wore as a lawyer in South Africa which is why those images survive and proliferate. He adheres to that basic tenent Boyer states that personal style is knowing oneself. 

Gandhi in peasants robe - a personal style he pursues in search of the truth. Photo Source: Daily Mail
Gandhi as a young lawyer circa 1906

The more you know yourself, the more you can be comfortable with the clothes you do choose and in my experience the most effectively stylish men I have come across often are not limited by one particular design aesthetic. Once you establish who you are you are then able to experiment with different aspects of your attire which can be extensions of that basic tenent of your style. There might be happy you, sombre you, sloppy you, stringent you, conservative you, bohemian you - and yet by staying true to who you are you set yourself an anchor point from which you can sway like the centre point of a pendulum.

When I consider this thought from time to time I fondly recall a story once conveyed to me of when Alexander The Great bumped into Diogenes the Cynic in Corinth. One might imagine how much pomp and ceremony was in Alexander the Great's battle gear and yet when confronted by a man who truly knew himself and whose personal style had lead him to wear very little or nothing at all he was somewhat envious. An excerpt from Wikipedia says that:

"Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to Alexander with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many people coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, "Yes," said Diogenes, "stand a little out of my sun". It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, "But truly, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."

Style is about ascertaining who you are and then wearing what reflects that knowledge of yourself.

So my advice is as I once said in the past - start by ask yourself the question: "Who am I?" and then work that into your wardrobe.

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