In On the Art of Femininity, I talk at length about my vision of femininity and what it means to me, as a woman, to apply the essence of the feminine in everyday life. As that post is, at present, overwhelmingly the most liked and viewed post on this (still very new) blog, I thought it would only be fitting to extend the discussion therein by addressing the topic of elegance. To be clear, I do not view elegance as being the sole property of the feminine. (Gentlemen, your elegance makes you that much more desirable.) But, I do see much of what comprises elegance as being born from sensuality, a keen sense of intuition, and dismissiveness. Though, not all. Elegant gestures are assertive. They are brazen, poignant, and often marked by an air of defiance. I see elegance, then, as stemming from a broad spectrum of traits, both traditionally masculine and feminine, and it is the balance of those traits—or the fine-tuning of their application across time and circumstance—that creates an unmistakable and often coveted aura of elegance.
Below are some of my observations on the nature of elegance, including thoughts on how to conduct ourselves elegantly, even when we are feeling less than our best.
Elegance is not what you wear. It’s how you wear it.
I’ll begin by echoing Coco Chanel’s classic sentiment that “elegance is refusal.” It is. And I think hers is one of the more perfect definitions of the term. Elegance is the epitome of refinement, a conscious shunning of superfluity, frivolity, and excess for excess’s sake. Elegance is intelligence. It is precision. It is cunning. It is the ultimate manifestation of self-confidence. Elegance is the refusal of fads. (Because you know who you are, and you understand that you are timeless—so much better than any fad could ever be.) It is the refusal of other people’s drama, other people’s insecurities, and other people’s problems. It is a refusal of that which fades. Elegance is knowing who you are and wearing it well.
Indeed, elegance is only amplified by your wardrobe. It’s not what you’re wearing, but how you are wearing it. True elegance is found in the way you carry yourself. It is in the way you hold your head higher than other people think you ought to. It is in the sway of your hips. It is that glint of knowing in your eyes and the smirk that plays at the edges of your lips. Elegance walks authoritatively. It doesn’t say too much, but it means everything it says. Elegance delivers on all of its promises. It is also that special something that commands the attention of a room as soon as you enter it. It is the artful command of self. Clothing can’t do that.
On a practical note, I see elegance as abiding by all the principles of “fake it till you make it.” Not feeling particularly sexy? Hold your head higher anyway, and put that extra bit of sway in your hips. You’ll start to feel it soon enough. Feeling self-conscious? Try graceful on for size. Play the part. It doesn’t matter where you are—at a concert, at the gym, or in a grocery store. Practice makes perfect. Even if you feel silly at first, it couldn’t possibly feel worse than displaying your self-consciousness on your sleeve. Eventually, these behaviors will become second nature, and you will have succeeded in cultivating your own unique brand of elegance.
Elegance is the best kind of flirt.
It is a subtle flaunting of your strongest traits—and, more importantly, it demonstrates your mastery of their application. Elegance is very smart. That is precisely what makes it such a wonderful flirt. It plays with contrasts. It simultaneously captivates and intimidates, attracts and repels, invites and dismisses. Its aura is imaginatively seductive and tempts us much like a low-hanging fruit. Elegance whispers, “Come to me,” without ever having to say a word.
Elegance keeps its promises.
It’s not just a tease. Elegance is cultivated and derives its greatest allure from what lies underneath. It is not full of empty gestures or tawdry, flirtatious displays. It has substance. It is your best face: your humor, intelligence, playfulness, strength, gentleness, and assertiveness. And it understands its value (your value), which is why it is never cheap.
This point struck me the other day, after having stumbled upon an (incredibly elegant) excerpt from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams:”
Then he saw–she communicated her excitement to him, lavishly, deeply, with kisses that were not a promise but a fulfillment. They aroused in him not hunger demanding renewal but surfeit that would demand more surfeit . . . kisses that were like charity, creating want by holding back nothing at all.
Elegance isn’t afraid to deliver. That is, it is not a superficial sort of refusal. It is not a projection born out of weakness. And its chief aim is not to fulfill its own trivial needs by toying with another person’s sensibilities. That’s cheap. Elegance creates want by being genuine. And it only promises what it can confidently, gracefully, and unabashedly deliver. Without compromising its own integrity.