How would you define style? There is no easy way. You could not for instance write the idiot’s guide to style; yet most of us have a general idea what it is. And yet the very notion of style is a minefield full of contradictions, prejudices, and sheer tom foolery. To give one example in the searing seventies, posh girls (meaning girls whose parents had money) would cut out the designer labels from their expensive clothes before wearing them; a sort of reverse snobbery. Conversely you do not have to have money at all to be stylish. Young men with greasy jeans and a ruffianish hairdo have sailed through style lounges for ages. What about the grey haired man in his seventies who once stood in the middle of town waiting for somebody? He had on bright green cords, a blue shirt, red tie and a yellow jacket. All his topped off or bottomed off with a pair of red shoes. I thankfully did not see his socks. He looked like Harlequin himself but obviously he had the sheer chutzpah to show himself off in the middle of town in the middle of the day dressed like that. I may put that down to the sheer arrogance of the moneyed classes but I could not deny that he looked picturesque.
And it is not all about clothes either. Style is about carriage, it is about the way you walk, the way you smoke a cigarette although you are aware you are deliberately cutting years off your life. This was the sexiness which cigarette advertisers have exploited for years and why even now, the non-occidental world is full of smokers; for they know that even in poverty they could look like the movie stars of yesteryear. Style is about the way you wear your Ray Ban; it is about the way you walk into the Grand Hotel at Brighton. You try not to look like a traveling salesman, or consultant or project manager or events organizer or whatever they call trades people these days.
Style is also about being immensely comfortable in your own skin. Then you could rummage about on the floor in flea markets or browse in Harrods with equal ease. The Queen, God bless her, has immense style. The vulture papers may carp but she does have a grand old time. Whether she eats out of Tupperware boxes or drives a mini with a scarf tied round her head as she used to do in the sixties, she is comfortable in her skin. She does not need designer labels to tell her she has made it. That is the epitome of style.
For me style in all its glory was personified by this one man whom I saw in Colombo in an old colonial pile of an hotel oh, more than half a century ago. The diners were all sitting in the dining room, the men in their white jackets and the women glittering, all paying homage to their soup with such reverence it reminded me of a religious ceremony. The waiters lined the walls and the chandeliers shone their fading empire glamour. The band played old tasteful waltzes. In the foreground was this man. He had on what could only be only described as a dirty white suit. It had grease marks all over it; his shoulders were patched; he had on a white cloth hat and white tennis shoes. And he danced. Oh, how he danced! He was lost to the music, he kept perfect time and he danced with a limp, easy grace. Fred Astaire would be a called a self conscious show off in the presence of this man. He was obviously drunk and danced with not a care in the world. The soup eaters knew style when they saw it, them having had the most expensive education in the world and so the waiters could not throw the man out. He did this performance on just about any night he felt like dancing and when he was not there that venerable old colonial institution lost some of its style and grandeur. I was one of the callow youths who hung around the entrance at that time looking in awe one hand clutching the elbow of the other arm behind my back, at the lights and the expensive looking white people who fussed with their purses and wallets and were whisked away in their pink and green and yellow Cadillacs. But even then I knew when it came to style, this old tramp who slept in the alleyway behind the hotel among the dustbins beat them all in his deportment and sheer devil-may-care style.
The photo above is of my shades sitting on the garden table all by itself one summer afternoon. And I looked and I said to it “baby, you have some style”. You all too, have yourselves some style. Walk around like a million dollars, but with empty pockets. Eat your breakfast out of a Tupperware box, dance the dance in scruffy old shoes!