Pondering this question in my pre-school and elementary years proved challenging, as I attended a private all girls Catholic School and was forced to wear an austere uniform complete with black shoes, long heavy skirts, dark stockings obligatory all seasons, and white button down t-shirts, which I often stained at snack time, or while trying to eat Smarties during class.
Though young, I suspected that style wasn’t to be found in my identical uniforms or in the nuns’ clothing. I knew from my fashionable mother, whose closet was a world of wonders, that style had fluidity and daring qualities beyond the rules that certain colors shouldn’t or couldn’t go together.
My mom’s sleeveless Valentino white dress had male friends drawn in sharp breaths when she entered a room despite the fact that red and pink co-existed in the pattern.
Over the years, I became increasingly aware that style was subjective, a notion that was reinforced whenever I spent time with my 25 first cousins, 24 of them females, who argued for hours over shades of lipsticks and the position of my grandmother’s antique table in her hallway.
“It should it be on the right side, under the Miro’s painting.”
“Blasphemy. It should be placed on the left, beside Grandfather’s portrait.”
I was convinced that style meant being different and arguing a lot, so I wore colored stockings to school, a subversion for which I paid by spending numerous mornings behind the blackboard with a pointy hat and in my hands, a copy of Manzoni’s book I Promessi Sposi.
These punishments only fueled my curiosity for style, and in middle and high school I obsessively read Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Donna Moderna and the occasional Better Homes and Gardens. Not understanding English was irrelevant to my acne covered cheeks and metal mouth. Couches, chairs, high heel shoes and puffy 80’s hair spoke directly through images, not words.
The conversation I saw in fashion magazines took on a different tone when I immigrated to the United States, first to New York City then to Los Angeles, and worked fourteen hour days in Investment Banking. It became imperative that I included comfort with style.
Another transformation happened after having children. I increasingly appreciated creativity in fashion and room décor, especially as I let go of long hair, earrings and cute glass objects on low shelves and replaced them with a few essential but striking furniture pieces, colorful images on the walls of my home, a short haircut and minuscule earrings.
The move to small southern towns meant a new challenge in my quest to understand style. I initially reacted by traveling blindfolded through rural Alabama and Georgia, fearful of losing my sight upon seeing a half-naked overweight man on a bicycle with butt cheeks in clear view. But I got over the initial shock and occasional horrific fashion, and discovered unique styles in the same places and people I had originally feared.
Through my on-going quest, I've come to realize that style is an essential part of everyone’s life, expressed through fashion, living spaces, or simply in the ways in which we handle ourselves in different situations.
My grandmother back in Rome, the one who wrapped me in the Versace blanket and who passed away two years ago, never thought about style until she married my grandfather, a Marquee whose entry hall was bigger than her entire home in the rural outskirts of Rome. Yet, she always told me that we could find style within everyone and everything and that we could and should cultivate it, learn it, share it, and challenge it.
A few times each week, I’ll explore different aspects of style, share interviews, observations, events, tips, high fashion, every day clothing and décor, products, and occasionally food, because I’m Italian after all, and it all goes back to the food.
Coming up, I interview the queen of blogs, a woman who has defined style in her personal and professional life, Heather Armstrong, a.k.a. Dooce. She answers questions about high fashion, burping cloths, cat wigs, stylish dogs, and her own style evolution.
I’ll leave with a question. What is style for you?
Follow Anita Tedaldi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ovolina