This article was originally published in Lot’s Wife Edition 5: Identity
High schools really get on my tits. Not only are they ghastly breeding grounds for bullying, intolerance, and mindless conformity, they also neglect to teach people the most important lesson of all, how to form their personal identity and exploit it – how, in other words, to create their life-style.
Most people suffer from three common ailments:
1. A lack of self-confidence
2. The belief that they must have multiple social selves to fit in with different groups
3. A feeling that they are not the person they want to be
I am here to tell you that the miracle cure for all these problems is style, and I don’t mean style as in wearing nice clothes, I mean style as in taking the raw material of your identity, the fundamental you, and identifying, organising, and formalising its elements to create your own unique and recognisable language of behaviour. Not only will this bestow upon you massive self-confidence, it will enable you to know precisely what to do, say, wear at any given time, in any situation – to be unapologetically true to yourself. The key to style, then, is knowing exactly who and what you are.
Self-knowledge may seem difficult to come by but it is merely a matter of figuring out what your strongest traits are, then reconciling your glowing opinion of yourself with the terrible things people say about you. You must first discover the principal truths of your character. Are you ultimately optimistic or pessimistic? Retiring or vivacious? Once you have completed this adjectival inventory you must next consider how you appear to others. Perhaps, as in my case, your audience may regard what you see as self-confidence as an excess of vanity and then… do… sorry, where was I? I suddenly saw my reflection.
These two sets of information will allow you to bring your public persona in line with your private personality, to accentuate and perfect your prevailing qualities while disposing of all that is superfluous or distracting. To achieve this you must tailor not only your actions to fit your personal style, but everything else as well: your clothes, movements, diction, even your job – everything that makes you, you. It is also important to release yourself from the desire to copy, compare, and compete.
Not only are these things the worst kind of middle-class vulgarity, they are also both utterly unnecessary and foully dishonest. If you copy someone else’s style then not only are you party to a hoax, which is bad enough, you are saying that who you are isn’t good enough, which is considerably worse. Throughout human history there never has been, and never will be, another person quite like you, and rather than responding to this fact by becoming more like others you should exploit it by becoming more like yourself. And if you feel that someone else has a quality you lack, but which represents something fundamental about you, then you need to realise that you already have it. There is no difference whatsoever between the person you are and the person you want to be. Copying, comparing, and competing with others is irrelevant if you appreciate your individuality.
Consistency and predictability are also key to style. Consistency means that you must present the same face to everyone you meet, to every group into which you are thrust or into which you find yourself thrusting. You should never seek the approval or adoration of others if it will require the destruction of your identity. If your style is truly who you are then you must never be ashamed of it, or change any part of it for anyone else. If you can do this, present a single face to all people, then you will also achieve the state of being predictable. Most people recoil from this idea, but predictability here is just consistency that has been formalised to the point that it is instantly recognisable, so that if someone orders a serving of You they know exactly what they are going to get.
A person with style is truly liberated, because style is freedom. It is freedom from the need to be fashionable, from the need to be competitive, approved of, or successful by anyone’s standards but your own. But it is more than merely freedom from: it is also freedom to. With no concern for what your family, friends, or society tell you is ‘right’, a person with style is free to live life as a celebration of their own singularity, according to their own rules and moral guidelines. This, of course, will make you conspicuous, because honesty and individuality are so rare, but as long as you are sincere in what you are presenting then you will triumph.
Any clearly marked personality is seen as a rebuke those most notably lacking in style, so you may also arouse a certain amount of hostility. But haters gonna hate, and if they are hating on you then at least you’ll know that your style is working. And you won’t care anymore, because you will be confident, fulfilled, and happy. Because style is more than simply knowing who you are; it’s understanding yourself and projecting your personality to everyone you meet – it’s living life honestly according to who you really are and what you really want. And why not? For what other life are you saving yourself?
I must acknowledge that in the writing of this article I owe a great intellectual debt to the work of Quentin Crisp, particularly his book ‘How To Have A Life-Style’ and one-man show ‘An Evening With Quentin Crisp’, as well as ‘Doing It With Style’, the book he co-authored with Donald Carroll.