The Fashionista is in: On Style

This week the style doc prescribes a digestible dose of critical thinking on the perception of style.

Shannon Ryan


It’s a word: five letters. This word is a sign linked to images of bold and daring pieces. It’s a graphic dose of dizzying patterns à la blouse, a flirtatious dress worn beneath a rugged parka and a harem pant fit to repel any sane man. It’s the aura of a woman stepping out of Studio 54 with Andy Warhol on one arm, looking both radiant and coy. To me, that is style. To you, it may not be.

A common misconception about style is that it is a quality one either has or does not. This is a fallacy; the myth has been debunked. Truth is, we all have style. We perceive it instinctively — a sartorial sixth sense so to speak — which is why no two styles are, nor can be, the same.

To you, style may be a pair of high-waisted jeans and a marled knit sweater. To him, style is a resilient bow tie, an immaculately starched button-down and twill trousers. And to her, it is an iconic trenchcoat sheltering an oxblood bodycon with a pair of patent leather pumps to complete the look. To others, however, it’s slipping on a pair of Reeboks and into a hoodie and pounding the pavement like a champion.

After all, style assumes no universal identity. It is more about the character than the clothes; it’s in the wearer.

Style, I suspect, is a subject with endless allure precisely because it is indefinite. In its ambiguity lies its intrigue. Let’s bring it down to an identifiable level and think about how often you see someone wearing a head-to-toe ensemble, piece for piece identical to yours. Ready, go! I’m willing to bet your minds are all drawing a blank at this suggestion, eh?

They should be. All items housed in your closet were hand-selected, purchased, received as gifts or in some other way tailored to you and your interests specifically. That vintage emerald blouse embellished with an eyelet trim adorning your clothes rack is probably not going to be identical to the shoddily designed replica H&M mass produced in ’09 that the girl in your Journalism 1001 lecture dons — fact. And your choice of pairing it with those polished oxfords will kick the mild reminiscence to the curb anyway.

The ways you choose to wear, not wear, pair or not pair clothing pieces may sound trivial, but it is a major component of what comprises your style and an inherent channel of self- expression you may not even be in tune with yet.

Having the mere option to choose makes style a fundamentally democratic expression of self — assuming every person has a unique identity worth sharing. And innately participating in this —because we don’t live in a nudist colony and are required by law to wear clothes — is an easy way to make a mark and distinguish oneself in a world that can otherwise strip people of individuality.

Now, if you’re leisurely sipping these words like a fine wine and are flushed at the idea that you — I’m talking to you, girl perennially clad in corduroys and a stodgy Hanes T-shirt — have style too, do finish the bottle.

My sound advice is to bathe in all your stylish glory and self-consciously begin to appropriate elements of other styles that excite or inspire you. This will help to better cultivate your personal style. Think of our campus as a runway, silently acknowledging and taking note of how others piece items together and what kind of vibe they release. And for the love of all things good on this earth, purchase a pair of skinny jeans — you won’t regret it.