On style and all its coloured lenses

Fashion month is pretty much through and as I do, as a biannual ritual, I clear out my otherwise much too busy day to abuse my right-arrow key on every. single. shot. for every. single. show. that goes up onto Style.com and more importantly (for what better opportunities are there in the year than the two fashion months) to stalk hundreds upon hundreds of snapshots of the fashion glitterati flitting, striding, posturing, twirling across the lenses of the global street style photographer contingent before slipping into the door or up the stairs into yet another show that I lack access to. Whenever I go through these photographs and gaze upon gauzy frocks, clean, sharp cuts, bauble shoes and stiletto spikes, I look at these women whose forms bear the confections and configurations and try to understand the sort of attitude they’ve distilled and managed to convey through their clothes. From the sharp eclecticism that Yasmin Sewell has perfected to the classic suiting with a twist that Caroline Issa has down pat, I read the common language that is the clothes to get an idea of the woman.

So it comes with surprise when I recently learnt that the way I treat style is not necessarily everybody’s way of approaching style. Some people will have experienced this but some will not. Recently a friend remarked that she loved the way I was dressing. My style was great, she told me with approval, which is always nice to hear. And then she followed it up with ‘It’s very Korean’. ‘Well,’ I thought to myself, ‘it isn’t.’ And before I could tell her as much, another girl piped in saying ‘Oh yes she’s such a cute little stylish Asian’. This struck me because, as far as I know, Bill Cunningham has never said ‘Oh what a great pattern on her trousers. She’s an Asian.’ Now first of all the outfit was very French, which is really the culture that has me in its thrall and second of all it’s interesting the way style on me, the Asian (Chinese btw, from HK, because ‘Asia’ is a continent that encompasses not only innumerably different cultures but a spectrum of skin colours and features such that even just within East Asia, a Chinese person looks different from a Korean who looks different from a Japanese person who all look different from the Nepalese and Indians and Indonesians), is compartmentalised as a separate form of style. At the time, the comment sounded as though style on the non-Asian, white-Westerner is considered ‘real’ style. Style on a non-Westerner is then linked somehow as an indicator or a factor that enhances my race. Further to this occurrence is the time I wore red lipstick and was told that it was ‘very Chinese’. As far as I am aware, red lipstick is most definitely not very Chinese but there is the idea again that adornment, whether it be apparel or beauty, remains affixed to my race. I haven’t been able to think through this conundrum and, other than to decide that my style is mutually exclusive to my race, that taste resides in culturally abstracted ether, I have no conclusion.

I cannot explain why this is, other than to question the nature of style. Is it that ‘good style’, an embracing of western style is, beyond the lenses of the street style glitterati something to be conquered and possessed by people ‘indigenous’ to the west? That the possession of good ‘western’ style by those from outside the west cannot be acknowledged simply for their good style until those indigenous to that style, (i.e. westerners themselves) have achieved the accolade themselves simply because those codes have been constructed by their people?

But then, what is style? Moreover, what is good style? Is good style when an outfit is a fitting rendition of your own personality? Or hitting the right notes when compiling an outfit that tries to present the world the true version of yourself or perhaps some other self that you are trying to be? What even is French style when they wear the numbers of an American baseball uniform and the Stan Smiths of Adidas fame, except for an air and the confidence to seem laissez faire? An attitude of confidence in oneself feigned or actual cannot be confined to skin colour. And why can’t a compliment on style be ‘Oh I love what you’re wearing. It’s such a great version of you.’ The women whom I look up to have cultivated style so indigenous to themselves, they have become their own brand. And that is actually the pinnacle. Because style is, at the end of the day, who you are and who you want to be. It should exist outside the limitations of the colour of your skin and the stereotypes of your culture and people, no?

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