A Pondering of Style

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Last night, as I was trying to drift off into sleep, what makes up our human defined Sense of Style popped into my head and how that word is used and applied to individuals. (This sprouted from my contemplations of purchasing a new dress with white, knee-high cowboy boots like the woman in the picture modelling said dress that I definitely do not need.) The etymology of the word ‘style’ actually brings it back to the Latin ‘stilus’ which pertained to “stake, instrument for writing, manner of writing, mode of expression”, perhaps even from the same source as ‘stick’. If you follow that possibility, it brings you to Old English ‘stician’ “to pierce, stab, transfix, goad,” also “to remain embedded, stay fixed, be fastened,” from Proto-Germanic ‘*stik-‘“pierce, prick, be sharp”. The figurative sense of "to remain permanently in mind" is attested from 1300. But we will stop there.

It is cool that the word style can be derived from the word stick because when you think of style - be it when it comes to fashion, mannerism, writing, art, or wherever - you think of a trait that sticks in your head, that sticks out to you, that is distinctive from the homogenous. Something that pierces or transfixes, that remains embedded in your mind. Most of the time, I think ‘sense of style’ is applied to a way of dressing or adorning ourselves. But that ‘sense of style’ is in the eye of the beholder, is it not?

Take for example, Iris Apfel, fashion icon. Iris was a textile designer for decades with her husband which lead into a contract with the White House spanning nine presidencies, ultimately putting her on the map. I personally adore Iris’ style and way of dressing – I aspire to embody that energy and eclectic-ness if I reach her age – but most people may see her as a crazy old lady that walked into a closet and walked out wearing everything in it. Then there is Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who’s manner of dressing I also adore, but many classify as “homeless” and “bag-lady”.

Then there is a man in Thomasville, whom I love, who wears simple denim overalls with long-sleeve henley shirts and thick tread, round-toe, lace-up plain brown boots – farm boots, if you will. There is nothing spectacularly transfixing about his way of dress, but this man embodies style. He exudes calm, ease, awareness of mind and body in relation to the Earth, balance and a complete understanding of self (or lack there-of). This is a man I once watched meditatively enjoying a sandwich and a tea on a bench downtown as rain fell upon him, unperturbed (taking cover only when the rain became heavy enough to soak the bread of his sandwich). This man is style to me in the early 14th century ‘stile’ “way of life, manner, behavior, conduct”.

Style cannot be defined or applied in a uniform way. Style is creativity and creativity is not simply one way. A writer is creative, an engineer is creative, a scientist is creative, a farmer is creative, a doctor is creative. Style cannot be limited to fashion. Style cannot be confined to writing or painting. Creativity is such a beautiful and varied thing, is it not? Think of that the next time you see a little boy strutting by in his head to toe Nike outfit with high socks he picked out himself or the older woman carefully choosing her organic vegetables in the supermarket wearing her muumuu dress that you feel is actually a nightgown. Or when you read a book that has no breaks in the words or has no words at all. Style cannot be mass-produced, style will not be confined or controlled. That is what makes it “stick” with us, rightly keeping us up at night.

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing + Outreach Coordinator

*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.


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