The Good Eye

Your new style columnist, alas, is not the world's most stylish woman

The Good Eye

Your new style columnist, alas, is not the world's most stylish woman. That would be Miroslava Duma, or possibly Auntie Mame. Whenever your new style columnist attempts to dress like either of those delightful beings, or Diana Ross or Debbie Harry or Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth, she is thwarted by her hair. To achieve the most basic degree of pilary predictability on her wedding day, your new style columnist had to wear a hairnet for 10 hours straight. In her getting-ready photos, your new style columnist resembles Gladys Ormphby.

That's not to say I don't make an effort. (Cat's out of the bag – I'm your new style columnist.) I just lack the commitment of the truly stylish. I'm an amateur, a dilettante, an enthusiast. I like any style, all styles – who can pick? Plus I have a Ph.D. in English, which means I spent six years crying in pajama pants. If there's anything that ruins your chances of a stylish life, it's too much time spent crying in pajama pants, an experience that leaves you with worry lines and an inflated sense of the quality of Battlestar Galactica

My time in graduate school was not entirely wasted, however. In addition to learning some advanced techniques in retail therapy during those Ph.D. years, I thought and wrote a lot about style as a concept. In any art form, style is what distinguishes one artist from another. Style is specificity. It's the shimmer of vibrato in a singer's voice, the tilt of an actor's chin, that twiddly thing your favorite guitar player does. It's the way the camera moves in Citizen Kane, the way Emily Dickinson punctuates or Gertrude Stein doesn't. It's the way Henry James wore pants.

Most agree that Henry James, the 19th century American writer I blame for my Pajama Years, was terminally repressed. He observed the strictest decorum in his personal affairs, had fearfully impacted bowels, and hated Oscar Wilde and other modern inventions. Nonetheless, toward the end of his life, as Henry James' writing style became ever more elaborate and distinctive, so too did his style of dress. In 1901, according to his contemporary Henry Dwight Sedgwick (grandfather of style icon Edie Sedgwick, incidentally), a typical Jamesian ensemble consisted of "tight check trousers, waistcoat of a violent pattern, coat with short tails like a cock sparrow – none matching; cravat in a magnificent flowery bow." As well as offering a valid argument for inscribing his name next to fellow pimp Ice Cube's on the Goodyear Blimp, James' late sartorial extravagance also testifies to a certain sympathy between style in life and style in art – as if his increasingly florid and labyrinthine sentences were being stuffed along with his buttocks into the tight, checked trousers of style. 

Whether manifesting itself in garments or grammar, vestments or verbosity, style is ultimately nothing more or less than creative living. And Austin is the capital of creative living. Like many, I came to this city at 18 for college and found my spiritual home where the breakfast tacos were cheap and the values of creativity, self-expression, and collaboration were assumed to be of the utmost importance. The breakfast tacos are still affordable; the rent, less so. But the spirit of acceptance and community lives on here, and Austin's habit of encouraging one to be oneself continues to make living here worth the pain of seeing it change, and the effort of preserving its values. Leslie knew that, God rest his thong-wearing soul. 

It is this uniquely Austinish concept of style that inspires the Good Eye. When we speak of a "good eye," we typically mean a discerning one; but a "good eye" can also mean a benevolent person who celebrates the good fortunes of others – an enthusiastic supporter, as it were. This column exists to celebrate and support style, lifestyle, and aesthetic culture in Austin. In the coming weeks, you can expect to see street fashion, profiles of artists of all stripes, tours of local businesses, general musings, and little snapshots of what make this city such a fun and stylish place. And while your new style columnist's coiffure may fail from time to time, her eye, I hope, will not.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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style, Austin style, Gladys Ormphby, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Ice Cube, Henry James, Leslie

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