Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Style vs beauty, round 2

I started this blog in October 2008 with thoughts on style, and Carole Lombard. I'm still thinking about style, especially as it relates to beauty. American culture seems confused about the two--everyone touts having their own style, when mostly they are attempting to achieve some bland bottom shelf of generic beauty.

Julia Roberts? Beautiful.
Chloe Sevigny? Stylish (and irritating as fuck, but there you are).

Growing up I felt like an ugly lump; my middle sister was blonde and radiant and sweet (everything I was not). When my father said I looked attractive, I was pretty sure it was code for "despite your moustache, crooked teeth and surly disposition, you are not entirely disgusting." A family friend even told me, "You look handsome--not pretty. But handsome."

Sexist jerks aside, I had such a passion for style. I couldn't get enough, collecting ESPRIT catalogs and devouring fashion magazines, snipping out photos of outfits that appealed to me and pasting them into little notebooks. My part-time job at the Mission Thrift Store was an addict's dream--I scooped up vintage dresses and a cloisonne brooch and a black wool toreador sweater with rhinestones that I am wearing as I type. I slouched around town in a man's fedora and raggedy brown Keds and was delighted when I was pronounced too seedy to ride in the family car.

I continue to study the stylish. At Sartorialist, which you know about. And here. And here. Oh here too. I absorb the images of Wallis Simpson and Sofia Coppola and (sometimes) Kirsten Dunst, and Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis. None of them classically beautiful, but so powerful and compelling that you can't look away.

Maybe that's the difference. Beauty is, and it is pleasant but it does not invite reflection, where style is elusive and variable, and you may not like it but you can't not look.

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