Fashion vs. Style – Striking Your Perfect Balance of Self-Expression

There’s a big difference between “fashion” and “style.”

Fashion is about clothes and their relationship to the moment in time they’re being presented in. Style is about you and your relationship to yourself.

Fashion is in the clothes. Style is in the wearer.

Fashion moves in cycles based on the collective social mood of the population. Style is an individually distinctive way of putting ourselves together. It’s a unique blend of spirit and substance – your personal identity imposed on, and created through, the physical world of “things.”

It’s a way of capturing something vibrant, making a statement about ourselves by means of clothes. It’s what people really want when they aspire to be “fashionable” (unless of course they’re merely buying something for its value as a status symbol… but even then they’re still making a telling statement about themselves.)

In some circles it’s become the cool, socially acceptable thing to do, to say something like “Oh I don’t care too much about style, fashion, or anything like that. I want people to like me for me. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, and if people don’t like that, then they’re just shallow.”

And you know what? I used to think that too… until I learned some very important lessons about fashion, style, and how we present ourselves in general.

Picture this:

It’s ancient times, and you’re sitting around the camp fire sharing some stories with friends. Suddenly you spot some guy from an unknown tribe coming over to you. He’s rapidly approaching, and you notice he’s wearing mangled animal pelts and carrying a spear in the upright position with a battle-worn look.

What do you do?

Well, he COULD be a friendly, well-intentioned warm-hearted soul who just nearly got his ass handed to him in a showdown with a mountain lion… and now he saw you guys over here and wanted to stop by for some much needed medical attention and food.

Or he COULD be a master hunter and gamesman… so adept at his chosen field of expertise, he has little time to concern himself with such petty matters as personal hygiene and social skills.

But is that what you’d reeeeally think from his first impression?

More than likely, if you saw this man of unknown origin coming at you and your friends like that, you’d instantly snap out of whatever yarn you were spinning and right into “survival mode” – on guard, and ready for a potentially hostile situation. You know, the whole “fight or flight” instinct.

Now imagine the same scenario, except this time the man approaches you and your friends with a smile, with some freshly killed meat in tow. More than enough for the whole group. He opens with:

“Hey guys, did you just see that fight over there? I slaughtered 5 wild boars and got waaaay more meat than I could possibly eat… you guys want some?”

With a few small details, this guy just went from “creepy weirdo” to “most popular guy ever.”

A more updated version of this story might be a guy apporaching you while you’re in the drivers seat of your car. One guy approaches you in fat nerd clothes (loose khakis and a dull plaid shirt) and long, unkept hair with a nervous look and gets close enough to knock on your window before you roll it down and mace him in the eyes. The other guy is slim, fit, and approaches your window wearing a suit and vest by Brooks Brothers, carrying a freshly baked apple pie and says:

“Hi I’m Jason. My friends and I were having some of the most delicious pie & ice cream over there. I saw you looked a little lonely over here by yourself and wanted to come see if you’d like to join us.”

Who are you going to talk to?

The point is, we’re trained instinctually to size people up at a moment’s notice. It’s a survival mechanism and one of the main reasons our ancestors survived so we could be around to enjoy life today.

Bottom line is this:

People don’t have time to “figure you out” !!!

There’s dressing differently because you don’t care, and there’s dressing differently to express yourself. If you care at all about your place in society as a whole, then it’s important to understand the difference.

I’ve come up with a short list of observations about clothes that have helped me think things through better when developing my own style. As a guy, I had no teachers and had to learn all this stuff on my own. So to girls, this list might sound a little obvious… but trust me… to a lot of guys out there, it’s breakthrough stuff:

Greg’s Three Rules For Clothes:

Rule #1. Clothes are seldom worn in isolation – it’s not about the individual shirt you like, but how you wear it WITH something else. It’s not about liking a particular pair of shoes, but knowing WHAT ELSE you are going to wear them with. I recently bought a pair of black/red Ralph Lauren sneakers. Thought they were pretty cool. But I ended up taking them back for a refund. Why? Couldn’t wear them with anything that looked right. When I was little, my mom used to come home with a new shirt for me and say something like “Hey Greg, look at this new shirt I got you today at the store… isn’t it great?” Well, yeah, it’s a good shirt and all, but guess what? I don’t go to school dressed in ONLY a shirt and nothing else. I didn’t have the right clothes to supplement the shirt, so therefore it looked like a piece of crap on me. So before you buy ANYTHING… always make sure you can visualize in your mind at LEAST 3 different ways to wear it with other things you already have or can easily obtain.

Rule #2. Most designer brands REALLY ARE worth the higher price tag. The reason why you pay more for designer brands isn’t so much the vain sense of status and recognition (although those do play a role) as it is more about the particular FIT, QUALITY of materials, CUT of the fabric and overall STYLE of the piece. Once I started to really study this stuff, I realized all the quality material, all the best designs, all the perfect fits, all the most unique pieces came from the bigger names in fashion. Everyone else just copied off of them, oftentimes very poorly (with a few notable exceptions.) Find two or three brand you really identify with and get ONLY their stuff. You’ll spend more on less, but it’s better to have a few great things to wear than a ton of crap.

Rule #3. There’s no excuse for a bad body. Let’s face it – when you’re fat, you get all the worst choices of clothes. Even some of the best stuff out there will look terrible if you’ve got a pear-shaped midsection. Back in the old days when this applied to me, I know firsthand: there’s really no hiding it. You’re not fooling anyone. Bigger sizes will only make you look puffier and you’ll never achieve the slim cut style needed for timeless dictinction. Bottom line is: ya gotta lose the weight, especially if it’s making you unhappy. You can mask those rolls all day but in the end, your options are VERY limited. Clothes are not only about what else they’re worn with, but also what they’re covering. Make sure they’ve covering your real body, and not some temporary distortion. (By the way, that’s how I used to see my fat – not as my “real” self… but more like a temporary distortion that I was eventually going to overcome and forget. Now I’ve done that and moved on.)

Your clothes provide a visual aspect to your own consciousness. Through clothes, we reinvent ourselves every time we get dressed. Our wardrobe is our visual vocabulary, and style is our distinctive pattern of speech – our individual poetry.

Part of style is personal identity: self-awareness and self-knowledge. You can’t have style until you have articulated a “self.” And style requires security – feeling at home in your body, physically and mentally. Of course, like all knowledge, self-knowledge must be updated as you grow and evolve; style takes ongoing self-assessment. We’re all works in progress.

Style is also part personality: spirit, verve, attitude, wit, inventiveness. It demands the desire and confidence to express whatever mood you want. It reflects your own unique complexity as a human being. People want to be “themselves” and be seen as themselves (whatever they choose that to be.)

And in order to work, style has to reflect your BEST self… anything less, and you are dumbing yourself down to those around you and robbing yourself of the benefit of the first impression “size up” …which keeps you from countless priceless interactions with other (presumably) high-value people.

Lastly, style is part fashion. You can dress like an intellectual from the 1800′s or you can dress like an intellectual from the 2000′s, with updated 1800′s accents. The latter will demonstrate style and bravado, while the former will come off as an amusing costume. You can wear whatever you want, but fashion does play an important part in keeping that look authentic to the reality you are actually in.

Style is optimism made visible. Style presumes that you are a person of interest, that the world is a place of interest, that life is worth making the effort for. Most importantly, I think, is your style demonstrates (without words) that YOU are a person of value, worth getting to know. A person who belongs to a tribe other people want to be a part of… or at the very least, a tribe they’d like to stay for awhile and visit.

Style announces to the world that you have taken command of yourself.

Since the dawn of human civilization, we’ve needed fast ways of transmitting information about ourselves without losing authenticity. During those first few seconds of instinctual “sizing up” of a person, there is very little time to make your true mark and prove you are worthwhile, without being pigeon-holed as “just another one of THOSE guys.”

Style, like a perfectly fitting book jacket, evokes the substance within by way of the surface. It makes an authentic visual impression, a memorable mark of identity in a world that otherwise strips you of identity.

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10 Responses to Fashion vs. Style – Striking Your Perfect Balance of Self-Expression

  1. I can’t say I agree with this article for several reasons.

    At one side of the argument, you’re saying we should dress with “style” and “fashion” so that people do not need to figure us out. So we should dress in some way people are already familiar with, so they will already know what kind of person we are. On the other hand, you keep saying things like, “Style is an individually distinctive way of putting ourselves together. It’s a unique blend of spirit and substance – your personal identity imposed on, and created through, the physical world of “things.”. Well, which is it? Do we dress how we like, because we like it, or do we dress in a way which appeals to the public, so they do not need to take time to size us up?

    The two are in conflict, and are irreconcilable. You can’t pander, yet at the same time not pander. If the inner you is represented to society through clothing and fashion you like, then I suppose you just end up lucky. But if not, you’ll have to dress in ways YOU DO NOT LIKE if you wish to have their approval.

    I personally like robes, like the Romans wore. I also like old suits from the 1800s, and the hats. I like carriages, and walking sticks. I never wear this sort of clothing, however, because the ridicule is not worth it. Clothing means little to me anyways, as other pursuits mean much more in the big picture. Just like you said, I’d look like I’m wearing a “costume”. But why? That’s stupid. It’s just clothing covering the body. I personally enjoy diversity.

    I don’t see how looks, clothing, hairstyles, etc., reflects who we are at all, especially if we take “who I am” to be our mental life. I think it’s quite ridiculous that people are “sized up” to begin with, by how we dress. It leads to us all dressing the same, and all of us walking around in a herd.

    If everyone would dress how they liked to dress, and didn’t think of how we dressed in these metaphysical abstract terms, and saying our hairstyles and dress styles define who we “really are”, and all of that, then we’d walk down the street and see people dressed in all kinds of ways, and we wouldn’t find any of it strange at all. It’s only strange to dress unlike the herd, because nobody dares to do it. So, out of fear of social condemnation, we all dress the same. Deep inside there’s many others like me, who wonder why we all dress in a few set styles, and why golfer and polo clothes came to represent intelligence, and blue jeans a plaid shirts came to represent “factory worker”.

    We do get sized up very shallowly based on how we initially appear, but whether it’s ethically sound for us to do so, and even is in our best interest is something worth thinking about. I find this whole concept of “fashion” and stereotypes based on it to be more constricting, than expressions of individuality.

  2. There’s an old saying that goes “you are unique; just like everyone else” (said tongue-in-cheek, of course) :)

    Yes, the problem here is social agreement in some ways. Clothes are not infinitely variable, at least not to the point where they’d still be attractive to the eye (based on proportion ratios, etc) or realistically feasible. Most things have already been tried. Most of what anyone could want already exists out there somewhere or has already existed at some point. You just have to find it. When you find what you like, you can start putting together a “style” that you prefer… and if you choose to update that style with little tweaks, then it can become “fashionable” as well. Which, yes, is a social agreement.

    In some ways its based not just on social preferences but everything we’ve seen before. If the social public becomes very familiar with batman movies where he’s wearing his batman costume, you’re not going to have much luck taking someone out to dinner dressed like batman if you care about how you’re perceived and want to be taken seriously. Before the batman movies, you would’ve been seen differently. It changes.

    Same goes for other types of clothes too.

    >>>Well, which is it? Do we dress how we like, because we like it, or do we dress in a way which appeals to the public, so they do not need to take time to size us up?

    This is assuming the two are always at odds. I made a case in the post that they don’t have to be. The majority of possible looks can be worn in a way that doesn’t come off as “weird” by other people. Then again, all that matters is if you care. If you don’t care about the impression, then by all means wear whatever.

    About being restrictive instead of liberating: In this case, “individual” does not mean “100% unique among a billion trillion people” – what we’re really doing here is identifying other members of our “tribe” – either a tribe we want to be a part of, a tribe we already see ourselves a part of, or a tribe we’d like to visit for awhile. Group identity. Instinct stuff. Evolution stuff. That’s probably why you see it as restrictive, and I can definitely see that. So I guess I should’ve explained group indentity versus personal in the post… (but that really wasn’t the point of the post, to be that super exact)

    And if you truly want to be “unique” (like, for real) and not belong to ANY tribe at all except your own that you created (meaning, one where no one else is a member)… then the whole purpose of the post becomes a personal bad basis anyway. Just ignore it all and do whatever. Don’t seek to align with anything.

    And that’s ok… Just expect more of an uphill battle when dealing with those outside the tribe than would be the case otherwise.

  3. I think this is a good breakdown between the two. It is important to try and have your own unique style that separates you from the rest of the crowd.

  4. According to me fashion is being on top of the latest trends and being most concerned with keeping your look very of-the-moment. Style, on the other hand, is the way an individual can sort through the maze of clothing and make a decision that expresses their personality through their look.

    every person have different there own style/

  5. I wish it was easy to always wear your own style. But if your style is the complete opposite of whats in fashion good luck finding anything. This season seems to be really bad for that. I prefer to mix my style with whats in fashion if at all possible.
    .-= szeny@only for women´s last blog ..4 Common Body Shape Fashion Tips =-.

  6. Tanks this has bin a great help :-)…i have to write a paper for my english class on changing fashion! ugggggg i hate high school! >:(

  7. I’m largely in agreement with your points on Fashion vs. Style.
    I believe that style done well functions within the boundaries established by fashion
    Those boundaries for mens formal and informal wear have not changed much in the last 100 years.
    Casual wear on the other hand changes often.
    If men wish to establish and maintain individual style they should work with the elements of fashion that don’t change as often as the seasons do. Otherwise a gentleman’s style will change with the changing trends which suggests to me that he’s trendy and not necessarily individually stylish.

  8. Very well said!

    Idea is clearly stated. I do agree with you in almost all your point of view.

    I do have some points in me, For me fashion is wearing something you really want. While style is what you need.

    Fashion and Style always come together as they complimented each other.

    fashion is not fashion without style and vice versa. Therefore, showing others your fashion style is somewhat showing others your real self. :)

  9. This is a wonderful distinction between fashion and style. Style is the more personalized footprint that someone expresses through fashion. Thanks!

  10. I really agree with this articles. But the bitter truth behind both fashion and style is, they both can be so costly to keep up. So some people might dress unfashionable not because they don’t care about fashion nor style, but because they can’t afford them. We know that fashion and style needs clothes and some other outfits from head-to-toe. The nicer and more update an outfit is, the more expensive it costs. Not to mention that they all need to be well manufactured to make the wearer looks well put-together as well. It gets harder for people in developing countries where some branded stuffs can be so out of our reach because they costs so much, even a lot more expensive than the one distributed in developed countries. Crazy, isn’t it? Thus, our financial capability barely exceeds the price of the great outfits, except for a tiny percent of people who made it to be governmental elites or successful businessman.
    Therefore, sometimes the fashionability/style of a person really has something to do with her/his financial capability. Let’s say, the richer someone is, the more likely they are fashionable (and the nicer the clothes they wear).
    So, sometimes, no matter how much we love fashion and how sharp our eyes and mind in seeing a person’s fashion, there must be a time when it’s better for us to count on what’s inside themselves.
    But yeah, of course it’s kinda ‘sad’ to see rich people that don’t care about fashion.

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