Curating a 'timeless' style
In our efforts to reduce our consumption of clothing and accessories we come across frequently used, albeit vague, terms such as 'timeless', 'basics', 'capsule' etc. These buzzwords are usually accompanied by a useful, copy-and-paste checklist that guarantees you'll alway look in style. Yes, good quality and ethically made clothes are no-brainers, especially as society wakes up to the fashion industry's very literal crimes against humanity. To help navigate our way around fast fashion we might look for one of the increasingly popular eco-descriptors such as 'sustainable'. However, there is something contradictory about certain fashion items being regarded as timeless or sustainable, when the industry itself is by definition, all about change. The very idea that timeless styles exist within fashion is a paradox. Fashion journalist and author, Filep Motwary claims that timelessness is actually entirely separate to the industry,
“Timeless is anything with a strong appeal of its own, a strong voice that breaks through the years passing or even centuries.”
He suggests that pieces defined as timeless actually exist outside of what we call ‘fashion’, so does that just leave us with pieces that are so neutral and so ubiquitous that they pretty much become invisible? In reality, items that are favoured by many end up staying relevant for longer, but are not in fact timeless - this all encompassing description actually refers to styles that have lasted decades rather than a season or two, they have the longevity to survive the fast pace of fashion. The Burberry trench, the Birkin bag, Levi’s 501 and the Max Mara camel coat are often referred to as timeless - but what do these differing items actually have in common? There is no magical timeless recipe, it comes down to a combination of great design, good branding and long-term trend forecasting (with a big ol' sprinkling of luck probably being the main ingredient).
One feature that is notably inherent in pieces that stand the test of time is their ability to be strongly linked to a generation or subculture, which is then adopted by the masses who want to invoke the lifestyle or message that is attached to it - you know, like rock stars and Ray Bans. There is an accompanying feeling that comes with this wave of popularity, it's as if that item had always been in our everyday lives and that it probably always will be. Emotion plays a strong role in the desirability of what becomes (and what doesn’t become) lasting design, and perhaps offers the best answer when it comes to understanding timelessness. Perfect craftsmanship that has been made ethically is always appreciated, and instantly has value beyond the retail price. Pieces that are passed down through generations are treasured by both the giver and receiver. For something to last, it needs to make an impact and create a narrative imbued with emotion. Timeless pieces have often flattered most bodies, conveying us with a sense of empowerment - Chanel released women from the constraints of the 1950s wasp-waists and DVF’s wrap dress was declared the symbol of women’s sexual liberation in the 1970s. It is the emotion invoked by the piece that can carry an idea, and the items that reflect them, through the decades.
Timelessness is not about “what you’re supposed to wear” or prescribing a particular way that we need to present ourselves to the world, as is so often touted. There isn't a checklist. Most importantly, age and gender don’t come into it at all, and creativity certainly shouldn't be discouraged. Ultimately, achieving timelessness should incorporate exactly what you want it to when it comes to style, not what trends or societal norms are insisting you should be wearing. Rather than offering you a checklist of silhouettes and colours, I instead offer you a few questions so that you can work out what it means to you as an individual.
Is there a generation, or decade that resonates with you - through its politics, icons, books or art? What inspires you? Who inspires you?
What do you already own and love? Which fabrics feel like a second skin to you?
What do you want from your clothes, and more specifically, from those who sell them to you?
What do you want your clothes to tell the world about you, if anything?
What do you want your clothes to do for you and how do you need them to function?
What impact will this piece have on you and others?
Can a purchase be of benefit to more than just me, or the company/person selling it?
Whether you want to stand out, be comfortable, express your sexuality (or a combination of all of these!), in order to hit that timeless/classic/essential look, you need to feel something. If you care about a piece, you’ll want it to be timeless, you’ll want to take care of it, to pass it on and it will become a sustainable investment because of that - not because a brand, a seller or a marketing company has told you so. When you are choosing a piece that you want to invest in, ignore trends and marketing, ask yourself what you want and need from it, go with your heart (I'm not writing "that's always in style". I won't do it.)