Thursday, September 25, 2008

I've Fallen Victim to the Margarine Fallacy

Today's style tips are brought to you by this pair, my stern high-school principal, Mrs. Crabapple, and my sad-eyed guidance counselor, Mr. Hewitt.
Just kidding. My high-school principal was a good-looking blond guy who played folk songs for us on the guitar at graduation. My guidance counselor really did look a lot like the man on the right.
But the people in the photo are actually Quentin Crisp and Donald Carroll, style experts. No, seriously. And they are both male.
Quentin Crisp was a gay icon in 1970s New York. He rose to fame with his memoir The Naked Civil Servant, and with a one man show, How to Become a Virgin. I know less of Donald Carroll. He was a writer, publisher, and general encourager of Quentin. In 1981 they wrote, Doing it With Style.

The book begins with the premise that:

"Ever since the day our distant ancestors looked up and noticed for the first time that some people were blessed with a certain indefinable quality that set them apart from others, that endowed every act and utterance with a special fascination, we have referred to these people as 'having style.' Whatever they do, they do it 'with style.'"

I'm not sure that is technically, historically correct; ancient tribes may have been slightly more concerned with not being eaten, than with not being eaten, with style. But the book is packed with pithy advice on how to live the life of a stylist, magnifying one's quirks and doing exactly what one pleases.

"Dressing with style is akin to issuing a manifesto; dressing fashionably is like signing a petition."

Sprinkled throughout are little quizzes to make sure you are absorbing the lessons:

"If you are a stylist, you will take off your clothes in front of strangers because:
a) You want them to look at you with desire.
b) You want them to look at you with disgust.
c) You want them to look away.
d) It's hot in here."

I turned to the answer key, and apparently points can be had for all of the choices, but the most for answering d.
Being true to oneself is the guiding principle throughout Doing It With Style, and the authors show us how this can be applied to all areas of life in chapters like Confusing Your Enemies With Style, Being Shady With Style, and Creating a Home With Style:

"It is a good idea to maintain your place at all times in the same state of tidiness or disarray, cleanliness or uncleanliness. Hastily dusting or tidying up for visitors is a form of lying. Besides, it doesn't fool anybody. Being a little bit messy is like being a little bit pregnant, so it's silly to try to hide it. In fact, it's better to go all the way and be comprehensively messy (or manically fastidious) and thereby eliminate the possibility of inconsistency."

There is a reason these two stylists are on my mind today. I've been on the lookout for a perfect vintage leather jacket, and a few weeks ago, I found just what I wanted, except it was neither vintage, nor leather. In fact, to call it pleather would be kind. But so cute. Kind of... slippery, but cute. Today is the first day cold enough to wear it, and as pleased as I am, I can't get this out of my head:

"As far as style is concerned, no one type of material is inherently superior to any other. It is only when one type pretends to be another type that it has consequences for your style. You should never wear anything that pretends to be something it isn't: polyester pretending to be cotton, plastic pretending to be leather, and so forth. To do so is to fall victim to the Margarine Fallacy, which is the curious notion that something is valuable only insofar as it resembles something else. Thus, just as margarine is promoted on the basis of its resemblance to butter, synthetic materials are often judged by how convincingly they imitate 'the real thing.' In fact, they should be judged exactly as people should be judged-- by how convincingly they imitate themselves. And, of course-- by how convincingly they represent you."

Stay tuned. Later Crisp and Carroll weigh in on how to weather the current financial crisis (mine and the country's) with s-t-y-l-e.