A Reflection on What Style Is

Yes, I know we spent all December and all January being sick, one, the other, or both of us. This didn´t stop the husband from coming home from Football Refereeing Meet with a poisonous influenza. And finally, it got me as well, even though I moved into the spare room, used masses of soap and disinfectant and what not. I´m not quite as ill as he was, though, which is a small comfort.

I was supposed to read Hjalmar Söderberg, to prepare for a touring lecture on Tuesday, by Christer Henriksson (Swedish actor, most known internationally for being one version of Kurt Wallander in Ystad, and an authority on Söderberg), after which I thought I´d write a very learned paper blogpost on Söderberg. Instead, I find myself reading fashion essays by Lars Fr H Svendsen, watching fashion documentaries that I have stacked on our Sony DVD recorder harddrive, and catching up with what´s been going on at New York Fashion Week, mostly via the Sartorialist and his lady, the inimitable Garance Doré

(I am slightly distracted by my husband´s choice of "light reading", which is watching episode after episode of some documentary series about customs control in Dover, narrated by British actor Samuel West, who has the most AMAZING voice ever. I once - on a solitary ramble - attended a concert in Birmingham, at their equally amazing symphony hall. It was Igor Stravinsky´s Biblical Works, part of "Igor-fest", a project where they performed all of Stravinsky´s work during a four-year period. Sadly, since the Biblical Works are rarely performed, the hall was largely empty. It was one of my great musical experiences, and hearing West´s voice always takes me back to that.)

Anyway, yesterday morning I was reading Svendsen´s essay (which is available in English) on Fashion & the Body, and was presented with some thoughts that were new to me. What he is saying is that in late modernity, the creation of an identity of one´s own, is largely a project concerning the body. The body is becoming more central to our understanding of who we are. Some practices, like diet and asceticism, that used to have a spiritual purpose, is now primarily used to shape the body. It´s all about achieving a certain aesthetic ideal. The body has changed places with the consciousness - being a tabula rasa, an empty board, on which anything can be inscribed.

He also points out that the naked body has been depicted through history as if it was clothed. Fashion is actually shaping our idea of what our bodies look like - or are supposed to look like. Of course, the ideal is never entirely founded in reality, and so is out of reach for everybody. Perhaps this is obvious, but you know, I had never made the connection just like that before.

Hours later, I was watching an Italian documentary about Maddalena Sisto, who was a fashion journalist and illustrator (died only 49 years old in 2000). Her drawings, which are what she is most known for, are very fairytale like, very sublime. I think they depict fashion from a bit of a distance, with quite a substantial sense of humour. What got me leaning forward in my chair was when they started talking about how she preferred designers who described the female body in a very constructed, almost armoured way. There it was again: this idea that fashion is a narrative of the body.

Someone also said in this documentary, that from the 90´s, fashion wasn´t changing so much any more, but the body was. What Svendsen is saying is that fashion is now changing at such speed that it has cancelled itself out as a dictator of how to look. All fashions exist at once, there is no one dominating silhouette. And in the film, someone else is saying of Sisto´s figures that they are "a little bit Pinochio, a little bit Gregor Samsa, fighting to keep up with the times, to be attractive, to be rich, to be thin." I can identify with that. Particularly the Gregor Samsa-bit.

Also, I think the street style thing is a logical expression of this. Everyone is his or her own stylist today. Being fashionable is about being creative, more than about having access to the latest thing. It´s not necessarily about being unique, though. If designers are storytellers and interpreters of the times, they are who we go to for a certain kind of story of who we are or can aspire to be. And that is the story we will attempt to clothe ourselves in. That way, the street becomes more interesting than the catwalks. Or at least just as interesting.

And this was the best: a free desktop-theme with Sisto drawings. I immediately got it for myself and the pictures are all from that. My laptop is now smiling as I open it. I really love her drawings. And I don´t think I will ever fall out of love with fashion. It is, after all, an artform that most of us have to dabble in, consciously or not. And in communication with the expression of the body is the personality, one´s preferences, beliefs, perhaps one´s soul (if you believe in it). An outfit is like a short story of who you are and where you are going - or it can be.

I always thought that people who know who they are, what they believe in, and try to live accordingly, can´t help being stylish. Living deliberately will show through in every choice a person makes. And that, to me, is what style is, and that is what I aspire to. (And, to show you what I mean, I present one of the most stylish people I know of. Phil Harding is just... so like I want to be when I grow up.)


  1. "fashion is now changing at such speed that it has cancelled itself out as a dictator of how to look. All fashions exist at once, there is no one dominating silhouette."

    because i'm 4'9" and i have to adjust the style of everything, it's helpful when there's not just a single "look" to strive for.

    "An outfit is like a short story of who you are and where you are going - or it can be."

    i love the idea of fashion as story. i admit when i get a compliment on some piece i'm wearing, i want to tell the story of it: why i chose it, who or where it came from... at moments like that i realize that what i'm wearing is informed by the story of who i am and where i want to be.

    harding looks so _happy_ in those pictures :)

    thought-provoking post. thx!

    1. I was afraid I was being a bit incoherent, but thought I´d post this train of thought anyway.:-)

      Like you, I enjoy the diversity of choice, but sometimes I find it hard, and for no apparent reason. Svendsen has given me some aha-moments, for sure.

      And yes, isn´t JOY the best fashion accessory ever! LOL

  2. I like the notion that living mindfully includes how one adorns oneself. What a fun post, Viktoria! Got me thinking about some things I don't usually read about. So awesome to be introduced to Maddalena Sisto!

    1. Glad you liked it! As long as I can post a picture of a book, you know, I´ll pretty much blog about anything - and sometimes I won´t even bother with that excuse, haha!