On style, sewing and the usefulness of beautiful things

Like many bloggers who sew garments, I sometimes feel that this passion for making clothes is a shallow passion. I see how the idea of a hobby that is focused so much on the outside can be seen as shallow.

In a passage of Les Miserables, the poor and kind Bishop is asked by Madame Magloire, who is in charge with all domestic duties, why he insists on planting flowers on a piece of land where vegetables could be planted. “The beautiful is as useful as the useful”, he replies. “Perhaps more so”.

It can be thus said, that making beautiful things is as useful as making useful things. Yet making beautiful garments, being preoccupied with them and wearing them is often considered the equivalent to having, or being preoccupied with, style.

The beautiful is as useful as the useful”, he replies. Perhaps more so

And what is style?

According to the Oxford dictionary, style is one of the top 1000 most used words in English. We care about style.

It is also defined as the particular manner in which something is done. Style can be observed in painting, writing, music, architecture, language and way of speaking. The numerous definitions of style all seem to indicate a way that is recognisable.

In fashion, it is often called iconic. Who are the era’s most iconic fashion leaders? What do Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, Iris Apfel and Frida Khalo have in common? There may be many other things, but here I’m referring to their personal style, they manner of acting, talking, being thinking. It’t not just clothes. They are symbols, they are objects to communicate ideas.

Many of the most popular style books, talk about “dressing like” and the “clothes you need to look stylish”. But they don’t spend too much time on values and principles.

As a maker, I feel a need to talk about texture, fabric, form, fit, how a garment is cared for and how it ages. This is fun. The idea of having to own a pair of stilettos, a specific type of cocktail dress or a trench, or sunglasses, or purse, just because they are stylish, or in fashion, seems a bit silly. I have nothing against sunglasses or heels. What I am saying is that nobody can prescribe style.

Style is what you choose from all the options out there. Is what you already like. It’s what you feel most comfortable with. No one else can tell you what your style is.




2 thoughts on “On style, sewing and the usefulness of beautiful things”

  1. Interesting post! I’ve always tended to think of fashion as this frivolous thing, which is strange because I think beauty for beauty’s sake, when it comes to art/music/gardening is a really important thing. Why is it that fashion feels shallow when art and music seem important? I’ve wondered lately if it’s not because fashion is usually grouped into the female world- it’s viewed as unimportant because it’s traditionally more feminine to be interested in fashion? I’ve begun rethinking my stance on thinking of style as a shallow thing. In a way, it’s about expressing your uniqueness, and that feels important and even countercultural in a world where we’re becoming increasingly more corporate and homogenized.

    1. I think it could have something to do with fashion being perceived as a predominantly feminine preoccupation. Designers can turn fashion into something closer to art through design, yet the home sewers only make garments…?
      And I think you’re right, expressing individuality, especially when it’s through making, is important.
      Thank you for the thoughtful comment!

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