Elements of Style

If you weren’t born with a talent for great style, you can have the next best thing: common sense.

First Expanded edition in 1959

Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is my common sense bible. Elegant and slim, it is my style rules for life.  E.B. White’s little prescriptive essay, “The Elements of Style” that has been my guide not only for writing, but for fashion, entertaining, decorating, for just about everything.  It is my Magic Eight Ball of answers.  If I face a problem, say, what should I wear to a party where I am nervous about making a good impression? (Don’t try too hard. Wear something you feel beautiful and confident in instead of that designer dress) How should I decorate a table for a few friends over for cocktails?  (Make an ordinary gathering memorable by doing something simple: Put a table outside on the veranda in early summer, serve paletas dipped in rum and light some sparklers for twilight fun.) 

E.B. White’s essay has the answers to all questions. Lets go over just a couple of the rules.

Place yourself in the background.
“…the first piece of advice is this: to achieve style, begin by affecting none — that is, place yourself in the background. A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. As you become proficient in the use of language, your
style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge…”

This is the Zen of style: the less you try, the more successful you’ll be.  It seems that style must begin with kindness, a quick laugh, a large and engaged life, passion, curiosity and intelligence, otherwise you are merely a mannequin .  

The “emerging” is what intrigues me. How do emerge? Do we burst out suddenly like butterflies? Sometimes I wish that were the case; it would be so much simpler but not nearly as fun.  It is a process that changes and refines. Developing your style takes patience.  Cultivate taste through reading, museums and art, travel, and friends we admire.  Let your style develop in context of your experiences in the world. And then there is fashion.

Photos by Erin Gleeson for The Forest Feast

 [Dress] in a way that comes naturally.
Never imitate consciously, but do not worry about being an imitator; take pains instead to admire what is good…”

When I travel, I like to watch other women. Go to the art museums in great cities.  Women at museums are the best. Sit in outdoor cafés, eat your lunch, sip your espresso and watch.

Top: Kinfolk
Bottom: Margaret Howell's uncluttered style

Develop a point of view, a philosophy. I like uncluttered beautiful clothes that move. Elegant and comfortable clothes that I can spend a day in a morning volunteering, lunch with friends, a quick trip to the gym or yoga, an hour or two in my favorite coffee house answering email and writing or reading, a simple dinner at home, an early evening community meeting, and drinks with friends in a trendy local bar or a film fest (Manhattan Shorts is one of my favorites).  I don’t want to change several times a day.  I want to wear clothes that help me feel beautiful, confident, and luxuriously comfortable. This is my point of view, my philosophy.

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