Elements of Style

Some call fashion a frivolity. For others it’s a secular religion—the true companion, not the enemy, of substance. Here are some of our favorite writers and thinkers on the topics of fashion, design, and personal style.

Being perfectly well-dressed gives one a tranquility that no religion can bestow.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve known scores of folks who dress beautifully but who lack style. The clothes are put on top; they don’t come from the root. There’s a difference. I once went out with a guy who dressed like an unmade bed. He didn’t have money, but he had terrific style. . . . Once we went to a very fussy restaurant in Boston. For the occasion he combed his hair. The maître d’ treated him as if he was a visiting dignitary. And he was.
—Carol Edgarian, “Acquired Taste,” W magazine

To achieve style, begin by affecting none.
—E. B. White, The Elements of Style

Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.
—Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible—or from one of our elder poets—in a paragraph of to-day’s newspaper.
—George Eliot, Middlemarch

A lovely dress, soft and gentle in cut, but in color a hard, bright, metallic powder blue.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up

Needle, needle, dip and dart,
Thrusting up and down,
Where’s the man could ease a heart
Like a satin gown?
—Dorothy Parker, “The Satin Dress”

Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.
—Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text

It’s not true I had nothing on. I had the radio on.
—Marilyn Monroe, as quoted in Time magazine

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