In addition to a nice book description here:
- From airport terminals decorated like Starbucks to the popularity of hair dye among teenage boys, one thing is clear: we have entered the Age of Aesthetics. Sensory appeals are everywhere, and they are intensifying, radically changing how Americans live and work.
We expect every strip mall and city block to offer designer coffee, a copy shop with do-it-yourself graphics workstations, and a nail salon for manicures on demand. Every startup, product, or public space calls for an aesthetic touch, which gives us more choices, and more responsibility. By now, we all rely on style to express identity. And aesthetics has become too important to be left to the aesthetes.
In this penetrating, keenly observed book, Virginia Postrel shows that the “look and feel” of people, places, and things are more important than we think. Aesthetic pleasure taps deep human instincts and is essential for creativity and growth. Drawing from fields as diverse as fashion, real estate, politics, design, and economics, Postrel deftly chronicles our culture’s aesthetic imperative and argues persuasively that it is a vital component of a healthy, forward-looking society.
VP is interviewed in the Atlantic here:
- One commentator who has delved into the subject is the libertarian writer and speaker Virginia Postrel. In her new book, The Substance of Style, she contemplates the import of the current aesthetic renaissance and pronounces it a cause for celebration. In part, she suggests, the phenomenon has been made possible by technological advances. Beginning in the 1980s, she explains, companies made great strides in their management and manufacturing processes, enabling the production of a more diverse array of goods without raising costs. And globalization has brought a wide assortment of formerly exotic-seeming styles and products into the mainstream.
More importantly, Postrel suggests, our growing focus on aesthetics indicates that we have reached a point at which, having more than met our basic and not-so-basic needs and wants, our efforts can now be directed toward rendering the abundance of luxuries around us ever more appealing, desirable, and pleasant.
….You emphasize that in terms of style, ours is an age of pluralism, in which there is no such thing as a uniform “correct” style. But you also assert that in recent years design standards have “risen” and “improved.” This would seem to imply an evolution from inferior style choices to those that are more acceptable. You describe, for example, a new social service whereby stylists volunteer to give welfare-to-work women a different look for their upcoming jobs. Isn’t this to some extent a matter of people gradually getting clued in to commonly agreed-upon “correct” standards of taste? [is this the world’s longest question or what?]
When I say standards are rising, what I mostly mean is that whether somebody’s putting themselves together, or putting a restaurant together, or designing a product, much closer attention is being paid to making sure there’s the kind of stylistic harmony and interest that innately gives us pleasure. There’s no one way to achieve that. You can have radically different styles that are all thoughtful and pleasant and interesting. It doesn’t have to mean “pretty” in the classical sense. But I do distinguish between pleasure and meaning with respect to style. Pleasure is primarily biologically ingrained. There are things that inherently appeal to us – like symmetry in faces, certain kinds of lighting, and that sort of thing. Then there’s meaning: do you look “professional” – do you look right for the context? We associate certain things with certain styles. In most workplaces, for example, there’s a kind of formal or informal norm. It may be very prescriptive – like people having to wear uniforms. But these days, even at places where there have traditionally been very prescriptive policies in the past, you see variety. So for example, all nurses used to wear white uniforms. Now they wear scrubs in all different colors and patterns. It’s more personalized – one nurse might be wearing plain blue, while another one might be wearing flowers. It’s also less specific to the job. It’s not just a nurse’s uniform, it’s a medical personnel uniform.
Now, going back to the women moving from welfare to work. What you’re seeing is two different things. First of all, when they get these makeovers, the women just look better. They have better haircuts, they have more flattering makeup. The pleasure aspect is there, because somebody who knows how to design for people has put that intelligence to work. In the same way, when an expert designs a restaurant or a product, he or she can make it look better than an amateur can. The other thing that’s going on is that people are learning to adopt styles of clothing that are appropriate to whatever environment they’re going into. If someone’s going into an office environment the expectations are going to be different than if they’re planning to work at Target. Target’s dress code is that you must wear red. That’s the whole dress code. If you want to wear a full-body, all-but-your-face-hidden Muslim covering you can wear that – as long as it’s red. Their dress code is an example of specifying something that unites the environment, without prescribing so much that people feel that their personal style, or in some cases their personal religious convictions, are compromised….
I need a copy of the book forthwith!