Style and the Elegant Person

GQ has just named Johnny Depp as one of the world’s most stylish men.

Because he is. There, I said it.

WHAT?

I imagine shock, indignation and outrage amongst my gentle readers as their sensibilities, finely tuned to detect elegance in all things, rebel.

And there dear readers, we have the crux of the matter. We are concerned with the search for an everyday elegance here at Easy and Elegant Life. Elegance and style are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Style can exist without elegance, whereas elegance is always stylish.

Then there is the mathematical principle of elegance: the simplest solution is the most elegant. Q.E.D. To become a more elegant dresser, do the math.

Cary Grant pared down his look from faultlessly matched patterns to the solid suit, white shirt and silk satin tie of his later years.

(Images of Cary Grant via: Dr. Macro. Click on each to go to the original. Used without permission to illustrate my point. Notice, too, how he hid his lack of front tooth later on by changing his smile. Elegance is restraint.)

It is, of course, entirely possible to be sophisticated, chic and stylish without being at all elegant. I’m not sure I would call Edward, the Duke of Windsor, elegant. I would call him a terribly sophisticated dresser.

The Duke of Windsor as pictured in "Vogue" magazine, via "A Suitable Wardrobe."

Here, in an interview with Jim Moore of GQ Magazine, Tom Ford gets right to the point in a couple of ways. Although he produces plaid suits, sportscoats and trousers, you won’t see him in them. His suits are dark, his shirts are white (and unbuttoned to the sixth button from what I can tell.) Like Grant, he wants nothing to detract from his face. Which, like Grant again, is always tanned. The most relevant parts of the video for this discussion begin around the fourth minute. (I ran across the video at Alastair 1958. A blog I plan to link to. Nicely done!)

So, to sum up, this weekend you may be very stylishly dressed and I hope you are. If you want to up the elegance quotient, the easiest way to do so is to start with a high contrast palette and play down pattern matching. To up the glamour factor, play with colour and pattern. Somewhere between the two extremes you’ll find yourself in glen plaid with a plain shirt and dark tie, or a houndstooth skirt and black turtle(roll)neck sweater.

How do you know which is the right look for you? This week try this experiment. Two days of the week (not consecutive) strive for high elegance — your best cut clothing, a simple palette, very put together. On the other two days, go for a more stylish look matching patterns, adding some colour and visual interest. Which days garnered more compliments and second glances? Go that route for Friday and carry the look into evening.

I’m interested to hear how it goes. Leave comments throughout the week if you take up the challenge.

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19 Responses to Style and the Elegant Person

  1. But…he is just always so dirty! Blech!

  2. Turling says:

    Perhaps, it is safe to say that elegance, as well as beauty, is in the eye of the beholder?

  3. That’s just it Turling. I think style may be in the eye of the beholder; there may be an empirical elegance. Depp compared with Grant.

  4. Pingback: Logos kai Apokalupsis » No Way Johnny Depp Most Stylish

  5. Paul says:

    25 Most Stylish Men! . . . . Mr. E belongs on the front cover!

  6. Square with Flair says:

    I would not remotely consider Depp elegant. I hate the stringy hair, sparse facial hair, tattoos and dog tag with Che Guevara. I highly doubt the maître d’ will give him the best table. Actually they might not even let him in! And I am sure they will want to search him at customs. This is not to say I don’t think he is talented. The magazine cover demonstrates why I stopped buying GQ 25 years ago. You are right about high contrast and plain. Simplest is the most elegant. Often true for women as well. For evening, a black velvet clutch ($50.00 from a vintage store) is more elegant than a $50,000 Hermes croc bag. There are a lot of nouveaux riches who don’t seem to understand this. I get the most compliments when I wear a fresh, clean white shirt. I don’t know why, but women seem to love them. And for shoes, nothing is more elegant than a perfectly plain high quality classic shoe, my favourites are Church’s monk straps. Such classic things make overdesigned trends look gauche and strained. Look to the 1960s films with Audrey and Cary, like “Charade,” and it is obvious that simplicity allows a person to be themselves, be comfortable, and not draw attention to themselves like someone crying out for attention. In a way, such discretion is like speaking with confidence and calm. Shouting is not necessary.
    Square with Flair

  7. SwF, “In a way, such discretion is like speaking with confidence and calm. Shouting is not necessary.” I wish I’d written that! And you’re right, Depp is not what I would consider elegant. Talented and stylish, yes. Elegant, no.

    Paul, thanks for the vote of confidence. I’ve never really been considered stylish, but I hope one day to master everyday elegance. That’s what this journey is all about!

  8. David V says:

    True. Depp has his own style. But I can’t see how it could be considered “stylish”.

  9. David V, style vrs fashion. I think that he plays with colour, texture and proportion well. He is far too bohemian for my tastes, but I do believe that he is stylish in his way. Not refined, not elegant, but stylish. Perhaps I am using the wrong adjective. Would we all agree on fashionable? He certainly seems to set styles.

  10. Paula says:

    The dog tag is problematic for me. A murderer? Really? A bit like wearing a T-shirt with a vulgar message or promoting violence and calling the wearer stylish. I can’t give anyone a pass who wears this image.

    A dog tag with authentic military ID information would be much more stylish–not to mention authentic and impressive–in my opinion.

  11. Anonymous English Female says:

    Excellent post, most thought provoking. You’re right about Johnny Depp – wonderfully stylish; elegant? – not so much. DoW too – glamorous, interesting, inspiring, humorous, but he can’t be put in the same sartorial category as Cary Grant. ‘Style can exist without elegance, whereas elegance is always stylish.’ – made me think of ADG, can’t think why…

  12. Anon, ‘Cause ADG is one of the very few to successfully synthesize the two. I couldn’t pull off that wrist regalia… .

    Paula, somehow I don’t think that the military would be much interested in our man Depp. A POW bracelet would be a nice touch though.

  13. Michael says:

    Tom Ford interview……sorry, but YUCK!! Hard to sit through it, but I did. I could not find anything worthwhile in all five minutes said by that over confident, over groomed and over exposed narcisist.

  14. Hello Michael, I seem to have really opened up a can of worms here. The parts of the interview that I found myself agreeing with are in the last minute or so. A blazer, suit, good shoes, watch, perfect tuxedo will take you anywhere. And I liked his suggestion to buy vintage if you are unable to afford something elegant and new. In my interpretation, Mr. Ford is saying “try.”

  15. Erik says:

    Thanks for responding on my site. I have left a reply, but in essence, I do think we are closer than I once thought. And, I need to think about Dandyism more.

    Keep up the great, and thoughtful, work.

  16. Michael says:

    Got it – and I do understand what you are saying. I think that this was a classic example of someone having something to say, but because of the way that he delivered it – and the awful way that Tom Ford consistently presents himself – it was (in my opinion) easy to dismiss as being worthless. Thanks for responding to my original comment. I truly enjoy reading your blog!

  17. Winston says:

    Johnny Depp is handsome, and is blessed with looks that he can take in any direction, much like Paul Newman. I think he chooses disheveled much of the time because that’s what’s currently young and hip.

    When he chooses, he can be elegant in his own way, like here:
    http://www.blacktieguide.com/Supplemental/Hollywood.htm
    (near the bottom–search on “rule bender” if you are in a rush)

    However, as the saying goes, “Commies aren’t cool,” and his choice of Che dogtag can best best understood as “misguided.” I believe he’s just tapping into our modern zeitgeist. Neither he nor the young people who wear Che paraphernalia are aware of the evil that Che Guevara was responsible for, and do not know that he personally carried out hundreds of executions, oversaw thousands, and, through the malicious Communist ideology he helped to spread, was responsible for tens of thousands more.

    But somehow, because Che Guevara was a leftist, he gets a pass. Why are we so willing to overlook the roughly one hundred million civilian casualties inflicted by various Communist regimes in the twentieth century?
    http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/COM.ART.HTM
    http://www.amazon.com/Black-Book-Communism-Crimes-Repression/dp/0674076087

    Sorry to have gone so far off topic. Johnny Depp is very stylish, but seldom elegant. I think our friend the Duke was also very stylish, and elegant when he chose to be (have you seen pictures of him in white or black tie? Amazing!).

    I hate to be the contrarian voice here, but ADG is about the worst-dressed men’s fashion blogger out there. Only Richard at WASP 101 consistently outdoes him in looking bad. True, ADG has his moments when he looks great, but those moments are, in my opinion, few and far between.

  18. Thank you Winston for an insightful comment. Leftists get no pass from E&EL, either. Especially after my brief stint at Arms Control.

    I’ve got to disagree about ADG. I think he has great style and goes above and beyond the average Joe most days. He knows the rules and sometimes makes his own.

    Good point, I forget about the evening clothes that the Duke carried off beautifully. I think of him as the first of the “casuals.”

  19. Paula says:

    Many thanks to Winston for speaking clearly about leftist/progressive murderer Che Guevara. GQ needs to be held to account here as well–letters to the editor are in order. The bigger question is, why are the young people who wear his image wearing it? Do they wear Hitler T-shirts and jewelry too? Perhaps some nifty Sadaam baseball caps? This is disgusting, and I wouldn’t pay two cents for GQ.

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