Jan 11, 2012
Everyone has a theory about style. In fashion, style connotes a particular way of dressing, a stretch from its original meaning – stylus as an instrument for writing. Styles come and go: the unisex, the gothic, the hippie and the preppie, the androgynous, the anti-style or the ‘anything goes’ style. Then there is the classic look. Haute couturiers like Hubert de Givenchy and Oleg Cassini designed elegant fashions for elegant women, Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, “first lady of fashion.” They wore un-adorned, graceful lines that enhanced the feminine figure. In a gown or dress, suit or slacks, they preferred the simplicity of elegance – simplex munditiis. Though attractive, they played it down, and, through the years, their style has become classic and always in season.
Most art forms cultivate style. Without it, there is no artistic expression. Italian music sings; German music favors counterpoint. Mozart had it all. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Ginevra de’ Benci, serene in their pose, contrast with the anguished portraits of Edvard Munch. Calm is to Japanese what symmetry is to Palladian architecture. Oscar Wilde’s prose is as spare as William Faulkner’s is complex. As an editor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis frowned on using adjectives. Strong nouns and verbs were what she favored. Her editorial style matched her style in dress, simplex munditiis.
Oscar Wilde had it right: “One’s style is one’s own signature.” But what is the style of one’s signature? Most public schools no longer teach cursive writing, whether the traditional Palmer or Zaner-Bloser or method. Many young people rarely use a pen, least of all, a fountain pen. Years ago, those educated in Catholic schools were trained in the art of beautiful penmanship. After a semester’s practicing circles and slants with a fine point pen, they took an exam in the subject and were graded according to the standards of either method. Though slightly different in the formation of letters, these methods stress the circular and right-ward slanted motion. A beautiful penmanship exemplifies the meaning of calligraphy, beautiful writing. A handwritten note or letter usually contains warmer and more personal messages than the typed word or email.