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Style is Poetry in Motion

Movement, grace, and confidence lie at the root of elegance and style. The inner drive, the internal meter and compass which allows one to befriend one’s body and dress it accordingly, with love and respect. When we adorn our physical presence in a way that reflects our inner being, when we dress as a manifestation and reflection of one’s internal world, there is a wholeness and harmony which other observers or passers-by would notice. That congruence—a calm, grounded, and balanced manner of carrying oneself with dignity and grace mixed with clothes that allow your inner being to shine and move outwardly—is what folks notice as style. It isn’t what you wear that matters as much as how you do.

A good reference point for this inner compass of elegance, for our dynamic desire for style, can be confused by the “rules” of old. Some friends of mine declare the replacement of seasonal rules by the necessities of weather for instance. Since our travel is immediate, allowing snow from one moment and tropical heat in the next, lightweight “summer fabrics” may actually evolve to become perennials as our world warms up.

Take the seasons in North America. The first days of fall did not feel like it at all. Same for Old Man Winter, he seemingly will be bested by La Niña in North America. This is, in fact, the height of summer. Indian summer in New Orleans, Louisiana. Way past it in fact, in theory, but not in practice. We dress accordingly, with function in mind plus color, zest, and panache in the soul. Seersucker, linen, cotton, and straw hats still abound here and with good reason. This is an apology for breaking the “rules” and bending the traditional approach to classic American dressing.

I don’t subscribe to rigid notions which dictate when to wear white (not after Labor Day in USA) and the vernal equinox in Europe. The “spirit” of those “rules” was always rooted in function: staying cool or warm depending on the season. Conversely, the “rules” and their sticklers were usually wealthy English nobles for whom work was of no concern, so it was expected of them to use four different sets of clothes in any one day, with the help of a valet of course. Morning dress, lounge suit, possibly a riding jacket or long coat, a dinner jacket, and a smoking jacket. Add a sports jacket if shooting or maybe a sweater for tennis. Perhaps a dressing gown too as mufti at home, you get the picture. With money to burn, clothes for each hour and occasion, and a full-time valet, making rules and sticking to them was rather easy. Now that is unnecessary and uncommon to wear that many sets of clothes in one day. Few of us have a valet (or the time) to properly clean and care for quality shoes and clothes. So we outsource to the dry cleaners but have evolved a different sense of propriety than our ancestors. The ruling classes were in a position to both identify their kind and simultaneously exclude the “others” by virtue of dress codes, subtext, and context. We live in a world where "suits" are derided as boring, conventional, and old. Most people in this world are gasping for relevance in youth culture, celebrity, pop music, and self-anointed credentials such as influencer. We live in a world where those "rules" have been turned upside down and the properly dressed gentleman can be the but of a joke but I have learned to laugh with them. More importantly, I also laugh at myself because style is not that serious: it requires fluidity, spontaneity, and freedom to move.

A top-of-the-mind example for seasonal "rules" was shown by patricians who wore white as a status symbol, denoting wealth to have someone else (the valet) launder your shirts, trousers, shine your shoes, and maintain everything else. Working people who sweat making a living would hardly be able to keep up with this dress code of white shirts and clean jackets, yet it trickled into the middle classes successfully. The upper class (here in America as much as in Britain) have dictated the dress codes, their traditions slowly became “rules” for society in general. Presently, with more fluid socio-political and economic barriers, dress codes have all but fallen by the wayside. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly dealt a severe blow to that world, evidenced by Zoomers in coat, tie, and gym shorts or pajama pants.

So how is this essay purporting to break rules—and which? Maybe none, maybe some. Let us (re)consider a nuanced redefinition of what we call dressing well. As our planet warms up, the summertime has lengthened by about a month compared to a century ago. Climate change wreaked havoc on the lovely autumn season, since summertime has intruded upon that cool transitional space and way overstayed its welcome into its very polar opposite.

I dress seasonally and according to the weather. Paradoxically, the two are conflating where I live. In my city, summer comes early and is the last guest to leave the party—in the Northern hemisphere anyway. I face it accordingly, in light fabrics with rich visual interest regardless of the calendar year.

So cheers to function and style, they can exist together in spite of purist, classicist aficionados of menswear and the majority of the world at large, which is so fond of soft pants and so-called athleisure. A concept that is as nonsensical as the word sounds.

I am part of an endangered species that has refused to yield and will stand as a future reference for those who follow this path because my style is alive, it is not some stagnant concept: it adapts and evolves. That means taking a bend in the road when needed. Happy trails. Keep on moving, enjoying, and smiling.

From New Orleans,

on December 6th, 2021

- Juan P. Bernal

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