The Way of Beauty Oscar de la Renta and Beauty

Everyone has a theory about style—in fashion and hairdos, in the arts, in one’s manner with others and in one’s approach to life.

In fashion, style connotes a particular way of dressing.  Originally, stylus was an instrument for writing.  Styles in fashion come and go and change with the season: the unisex, the gothic, the hippie and the preppie, the androgynous “non-obvious girl,” the “anything goes” style. 

Oscar de la Renta, the couturier who died on October 20th, was famous not just for his style but for the beauty of his style.  He designed dresses for Presidents’ wives, socialites, and celebrities—all well-connected women.  With other couturiers like Hubert de Givenchy and Oleg Cassini, Oscar de la Renta designed elegant fashions not simply for elegant women but also for women who wished to look elegant.  He made them glow from within and feel beautiful. His signature fabric was tulle netting made from silk or satin, his colors, vibrant.  In 1980, The New York Times Magazine offered a possible motto for the couturier: ‘living well is still the best revenge.’ 

In the October 23rd issue of the New York Times, the following was written of Mr. de la Renta:  “He believed in hard work and the importance of appearance.  He believed in beauty, not for beauty’s sake, but because he understood that elevating the outside could help elevate the inside; that confidence could be donned with a garment” (Vanessa Friedman, “The Rewards of Patience”). 

Two observations may be made:  First, Mr. de la Renta saw his beautiful designs as a metaphor.  They were meant as external signs of one’s inner beauty. He understood that beauty, though external in one sense, penetrated to the innermost part of a woman so that she would feel interiorly beautiful.  The second, related to the first: The dress he designed for a particular woman was intended as a confidence-builder.

Building Confidence in Others through Praise

Mr. de la Renta is himself a metaphor.  He made women happy by lifting up their spirits and exalting them with beautiful garments, garments which awakened the beauty from within.  His gift is ours when we praise others for a fine meal, for a job well done, for a fine grade on a test.  It’s not difficult to find reasons to praise others.  Doing so boosts their confidence and makes them feel greater than they are. Confidence-building challenges anti-social behavior.

It is a mark of largesse when we seek to praise others for work well done.  Many adults have received little praise and encouragement from their own youth.  Most young people grow into adulthood without having developed a strong self-image.  One of America’s most gifted American entertainers, Judy Garland, grew up with a poor self-image, first at home and then at MGM.  She lacked the glamour of Lana Turner or Elizabeth Taylor.  They were stars; she was only a singer.   Psychologically, she was battered, bruised, and humiliated because she lacked sex appeal.  Fred Astaire and others considered her the best entertainer of the century.  Her audience agreed. 

Cicero, Lincoln, Hemingway

Confidence and self-esteem are closely related. “Confidence,” Cicero once wrote, “is the feeling by which the mind embarks in great and honorable courses with a sure hope and trust in itself.”  “It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels worthy of himself,” wrote Abraham Lincoln. More often than not, both of these qualities are linked to poise.  Perhaps Earnest Hemingway said it most succinctly:  Poise is grace under pressure.”

How does a person acquire confidence, self-esteem, and poise?  We give these qualities to others, especially when they are children.  Usually, they grow up to feel beautiful on the inside.  And beauty produces loving men and women, each with his or her own style.  Oscar de la Renta believed in the importance of appearance and of lifting up the outside to elevate the inside.  If confidence could be donned with a garment, how much more so with sincere praise.

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