The following excerpt is from pages 15-18 of Theology of Style: Expressing the Unique and Unrepeatable You by Lillian Fallon. Lillian shares the difference between personal style and fashion and explains how she discovered her own style.
The words “fashion” and “style” are almost always used synonymously, and the muddling of these terms confused my own understanding of the purpose of personal style.
Take a moment to think about the term “fashion.” What images come to mind? Now think about “style.” What comes to mind? Most people think of “fashion” and imagine the fast-paced New York lifestyle we see in movies and television. We see luxury designer items made for runways, red carpets, editorial spreads, and the upper echelon. Fashion is an elite universe for the rich and famous (or those trying to be). For many of us, though, the word “style” brings to mind women such as Audrey Hepburn, Jane Birken, and Iris Apfel. That’s the difference right there. When we think about fashion, we think about an industry. When we think about style, we think of a person.
Expression of the Human Person
Fashion is the clothes, whereas style is the wearer. Style is and always has been about the expression of the human person. When we confuse the two, we end up losing the significance of personal style and its universality.
While the fashion industry exists for a select few, style is for everyone. A woman who shops at thrift stores can be more stylish than a woman who shops on Fifth Avenue. Style is significant to the individual and has almost nothing to do with the artistic pursuits of fashion designers. It is internal because it has the power to express visually what we cannot verbally (more on that later). Style has the power to reveal who we are in a way that is unique to ourselves and our clothing. It is an approach, a method, a technique that has been chosen by you to best represent who you are as a person. We can use fashion and designer clothes to express our personal style, but we don’t need them.
Audrey Hepburn Versus Lady Gaga
A great example of the difference between high fashion and style is Audrey Hepburn versus Lady Gaga. Hepburn wasn’t cutting edge or over-the-top with her clothes. She wasn’t fashionable; she was stylish. She is considered a style icon because her spirit came out in the way she carried herself, spoke, and dressed. It was her style that visually communicated how special she was internally. Thus, we love the woman, not just how she dressed. Many women want to emulate the woman Audrey Hepburn by adopting some of her most famous outfits.
In contrast, Lady Gaga’s extreme fashion choices made her stand out in a different way. In the early years of her fame, we anxiously anticipated her insane ensembles on the red carpet— and she rarely disappointed us. Do you remember her meat dress or when she arrived at the Grammy Awards inside of an egg, waiting to hatch? Gaga’s fashion has everything to do with the shock and awe of modern art. Her attire usually expressed an overarching message, rather than who she was internally. What she wore wasn’t meant to be “liked” but to stun the viewer and convey some meaning.
By misconstruing fashion and style, we lose the meaning, purpose, and significance of both. As Catholics, it is especially important to note the significance of personal style because it is a sign of being made in the image of God.
Glorify God through Your Personal Style
Theology of Style: Expressing the Unique and Unrepeatable You helps women understand the power of personal style and unite how they dress with their Catholic Faith through heartfelt anecdotes, humorous stories, and profound insights from St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Finding Your Personal Style
When I decided to quit pursuing trends, my creativity exploded. Without the influence of trends, I was tapping into my imagination like a kid again. Why couldn’t I wear jeans under a dress? Ruffles with camo? Tasseled military coats with leather skirts? My inspiration had been turned on like a faucet and it was spilling out all over my wardrobe. Finally, I was wearing what I wanted to—not what an industry told me to.
St. John Paul II’s wisdom rang through my ears, “The human being is always unique and unrepeatable, somebody thought of and chosen from eternity, some called and identified by his own name.” His words never felt truer to me as I began to express my own identity through personal style. Every bold silhouette, vibrant pattern, or billowing fabric I wore helped me to look in the mirror and realize, “Wow, God did make me.” The external manifestation of my individuality reaffirmed this truth of my unrepeatable identity as a child of God. With every outfit that expressed the unseen beauty of my soul while dignifying my body, I learned to see myself as someone who was so desperately wanted and loved by her Creator.
I began to look at others around me differently. Sitting on the train, I observed my fellow commuters. Laugh-lined faces, slumping postures, phone-scrolling hands, and weary eyes— they too were made in the Image, someone “chosen from eternity … called and identified by name.” While I had spent years recoiling from these people on the cramped train, they were loved by God in ways I could never fathom.
To learn more about fashion and finding your own personal style, make sure to check out the rest of Lillian’s book Theology of Style: Expressing the Unique and Unrepeatable You.