There is no Substitute for Elegance

There’s a song in a musical about how you have to have elegance in order to fit in at fancy restaurants; I never could understand the lyrics. Today, especially where I reside in the Pacific Northwest, elegance is considered bourgeois—and the word bourgeois is even too bourgeois.

Once, during a philosophy discussion, I claimed that I like social rules. They put the world in order and have an elegance to them. My professor said that the real reason I like such things as having multiple forks and knowing where to put my napkin and when is because I like to be distinctive. He didn’t go so far as to call me a snob, but that’s what he was insinuating.

I am not a snob, but I do love elegance. I love flowing fabrics, crystal goblets, pearls, and caviar. My favorite designers are Alphonse MuchaErté, and Paul Poiret. If I could put feather accents on the shoulder of every dress and have huge, batwing sleeves on all my coats, I would. Velvet. Silk. Lace. They thrill me.

Of course, I’m a practical person in many ways, so my wardrobe is considerably plainer than any of the prints Erté ever produced. I’ve never worn a turban with a single feather jutting into the heavens. I own no silk bathrobes.

I do, however, own a pair of white, silk palazzo pants; two vintage coats with fur collars; a backless, black velvet, floor-length dress; and a pair of yellow suede heels. This finery could easily lead people to believe that I am completely obsessed with my appearance and have no bearing on the normal world, giving rise to frivolity.

On the contrary, I am not obsessed with my appearance. I care very little for it. That is what makes it so easy to change it. I do care about fun, and it is fun to wear a gigantic, floppy hat out to dinner. It’s fun to shave your head and wear dreamcatchers for earrings. It’s fun when your boyfriend can’t keep his hands off you in your satin jumpsuit despite being so skeptical about it on the hanger. I can be a Greek goddess or Edith Piaf or a ’30s film star just by putting on an outfit or doing my hair a little differently. And then I can go right back to being your typical Seattlite in riding boots, leggings, and a sweater.

However, I would like to state unequivocally that these things are, indeed, frivolous. They are not, however, a frivolity that I intend to take seriously, ever. The real problem of frivolity is when it is taken too seriously. That is how a good time turns into snobbery. And snobbery is merely upper class exclusivism. The rules create order, but being flexible enough to eat a corn dog while wearing elbow-length suede gloves also has its merits. A generous spirit is essential, and you simply must have absolutely as much fun as possible. Elegance and dignity are not the same thing, after all.

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