What do fashion legends Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel have in common? Well, I state the obvious but they all designed clothes for women as their careers in the 20th-Century and were purveyors of the elusive but highly coveted element called ‘style’. Principally though, they lauded style’s longevity over fashion’s trend-driven focus. This seems more pertinent than ever for today as our society is obsessed with fast fashion. Trends are relentlessly pursued and changed to capitalize on them. That there is a fine line that straddles the fluid meanings of fashion and style means one is not sure at times whether being stylish is better than being fashionable, or whether being fashionable means being stylish at all. The two terms in colloquial linguistic usage are definitely not synonymous. To be called ‘fashionable’ is a compliment in the right (written or spoken) context. (For instance, when describing a local restaurant, using the word ‘fashionable’ can be interpreted as a claim of ‘style over substance’ and may not be wholly positive.)
Today, fashion is seen as timed and trend-driven; it propounds the idea that women are made to follow certain societal or cultural norms. Style on the other hand, connotes a sense of timelessness and widespread appeal; it transcends boundaries (both physical and abstract) to become revolutionary and lasting.
Delving into the past and looking at fashion, the quintessence of style can be understood and appreciated. Audrey Hepburn descending from a plane looking chic marvellously contends for the timeless appeal of style and its association with an elite species of ‘haute celebrity’. Another female figure epitomic of this quintessence of style is the actress/singer Jane Birkin (ex-girlfriend of French singer and sex icon Serge Gainsbourg), whose name has been immortalised as a highly coveted handbag by Hermes. Whether it be partying with Gainsbourg till the wee hours or taking her young children around the Tuileries in Paris, Birkin appears effortlessly chic; she exudes insouciance in a way that is very British – and very her.
The question of what style is is one which many ask but may never find satisfactory answers to. Getting the balance of being fashionable and stylish right is tricky afterall. For while everyone has a right to express themselves through fashion, what is deemed acceptable in society evolves all the time. Being stylish further requires an understanding of fashion which demands that the woman’s mind, when thinking about clothes, transcends notions of time, space and cultural borders. Ultimately, style is timeless, but will fashion ever be?