by Marsha Maurer
When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis redecorated her New York home, she merely freshened rooms with fabrics resembling those she replaced. She maintained a version of her same hair style through much of her adulthood. Katherine Hepburn kept her upswept hairdo as well, using the same homemade rolled-up newspaper curlers from her starlet days her entire life. She wore trademark trousers and turtleneck sweaters for decades. Through the years, style icon Audrey Hepburn chose variations of the classic black sheath. Astonishingly, she also kept her figure. Her fashion designer and friend Hubert de Givenchy never had to modify the mannequin he made for her original fitting in 1954. These women had a sure sense of their own style and adhered to what suited them best. Rabbi Ben Azai uses a garden metaphor: "Women, like roses, should wear only their own colors, and emit no borrowed perfumes."
Advertising's ubiquitous enticements are designed to seduce us into wanting the newest and most current. But the majority of today's "must-haves" will not be right for us. Youth may be a time to try trendy fashions and to explore variety, but ultimately, we will want to identify our own personal style. Examining ourselves with a critical eye or seeking the advice of an objective professional will help to determine looks which are most flattering.
Editing refines our tastes. If we do not look our best in an outfit, we can donate, consign, or recycle it. Rather than crowd a closet with misfits, culling contents to only clothes we love wearing will express ourselves to our self-assured advantage. And think of the time saved when everything in our closet suits us well.
A wardrobe should not be changeless and boring, however. We want clothes to reflect our personal affinities and affections—quirky is okay, even a dash of eccentricity for spice. A lawyer friend defies all guesses about her profession in sweeping circular skirts and jeweled sweaters. She is confident enough to express her own custom style. Once we find our personal vision and express it with flair, we are no longer slaves to the fickle fads of fashion. Benjamin Disraeli remarks, "The originality of a subject is in its treatment." Rules of taste need not be rigid. By trusting instincts, we can design our own distinctive allure. After all, we are defined by our enthusiasms.
What is the appeal of so much vicarious pleasure—spectator sports, television, gossip, celebrity? What is the fascination and entertainment in what everyone else is doing? Instead of watching, listening to, and ruminating about the exploits of others, why not invest as much time and energy in investigating our own interests, developing our own talents, cultivating our own experiences, and creating our own stories? Even less than proficient efforts can make a contribution. As Henry van Dyke points out, "Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best."
On occasions when I have read a book after seeing the movie which it inspired, I am always disappointed. I no longer have the pleasure of imagining characters and scenes in my own mind's eye because the film's images override the mental pictures I may have envisioned myself. I want my own life to be the book I write, not an adapted version of someone else's conceit.
Embracing our own distinctive natures can be challenging. We often go to great lengths to seek approval, to be liked. But Marcus Aurelius invites us to consider, "Does what is praised become better?" When we learn to enjoy our own company, to value our own opinions, we are not desperate for relationships that do not function well, which may even diminish or damage us. Once we can find satisfaction inherent in our own choices without requiring affirmation from others, we are on our way to becoming our original, variegated selves.
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A New Life