Is Personal Style Thoughtful Anymore?

The basis on which I have developed, like, 60% of my theses this month is a result of re-watching multiple seasons of Sex and the City. Sometimes I sit through the episodes and roll my eyes at the stereotypes that the leading women — our sexually liberated feminists of the early aughts — helped perpetuate. Look no further than the first three qualifiers Carrie offers when describing a suitor: neighborhood of residence, profession, wealth bracket.

Other times, I perk up, impressed by their fearlessness to broach cultural issues that we’re still navigating (see: Samantha forcing a partner to taste his own semen, Miranda’s status as a single mother with a fulltime job, Carrie’s tango with a bi-sexual fling). They get at a lot of important stuff, which I speculate wasn’t largely discussed at their time of airing, but might appear surface among the clouds of those whimsical, escapist outfits — which, by the way, is totally the other thing.

Most recently, I’ve done a deep dive into seasons 2, 3 and 4, which are hands down the most impressive from a style perspective. One might credit the success of the nuances that defined these seasons to Patricia Field, but without Sarah Jessica Parker really getting into character — I mean living and dying by the clothes — they’d never work the way they did. The word that keeps coming up for me is “thoughtful.” Her style, so mangled and fascinating and thrilling to look at and yet simultaneously so alienating (it would never work the same way on you or me), wasn’t just style. It was thoughtful. And I wonder — is this the defining adjective that truly informs personal style?

Think about it for a second. Who are some of your style icons? For me, Chloë Sevigny comes up. Solange Knowles comes up. Various anonymous friends from my own life creep in. So do Katharine Hepburn and Rita Hayworth and certainly Carrie Bradshaw but I don’t admire these women because I want to dress like them, I admire them because they own their style. None are just the sum of their clothes, but it’s a big piece of how they present themselves to the world, and they honor that. For me to emulate the colorful silk scarf tied around the blonde curly locks atop Bradshaw’s head, and then to compliment that scarf with an assemblage of layered gold necklaces — none of which feel like they’re there by accident — is to miss the point.

Here I spend words upon pages trying to break down what the fashion cues of our time say about us. Are we still trend-driven? Does minimalism mean we’ve reached the era of post-style? Does anyone actually have style anymore? Wait! Here’s maximalism! Is that a beacon of hope to answer the former question?

But the thing is, style does not concern itself with a specific moment in time. I think I forgot that for a minute. Sure, it’s informed by subtleties that lean into the zeitgeist, but when Carrie Bradshaw shows up at a janky wedding dress shop in a button down shirt tied into a crop top with a gingham skirt and a matching belt fastened around her bare waist, no one knows if that outfit was determined in 1999 or 2016. And that’s because she lives the look. Like a carefully constructed room inside a beautiful home where everything seems as though it is there with purpose, nothing is superfluous. There’s no room for choice, or an excessive display of options. It just is — you take it if you like it and leave it if you don’t.

That’s style.


Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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