Writers are, for the most part, a stylishly ho-hum, hunched-over lot, too much hovering over a desk, not much strutting around looking glam. Skinny jeans keep words from flowing; stilettos stifle the ability to go get another handful of Cheetos every time I get stuck on a phrase or waylaid by clunky transitions. Scarves and blingy bangle bracelets get in the way of typing. Yoga pants and sweatshirts are my professional attire – God forbid I have to go to a special event, like Charleston Fashion Week!
Evidently I’m not the only writer whose affinity for words is stronger than her (or his) fashion flare. The fabulous Eudora Welty was all tweed and neutrals – yet she gave us some of the world’s most evocative stories, without one bit of frill.
JK Rowling, bless her muggle heart, hit the red carpet wearing upholstery (perhaps a nod to the literary darling, Scarlett O’Hara?).
Tom Wolfe evidently has not spent his royalty checks on a diversified wardrobe.
And Oscar Wilde had flare alright, but good style? Not so much.
Clearly, I ain’t one to talk. I don’t quite understand fashion — it’s a foreign language to me. Like Calculus. I appreciate good clean lines and classic style; I vote for comfy over trendy any day, and frankly, I think that many of the get-ups I see strutting down the runway could use what every writer loves – a good editor. And who do you turn to for editing advice? Strunk & White, of course. So, in the spirit of Fashion Week, I offer my own makeover of the inimitable “Elements of Style” – E.B. White and Will Strunk’s timeless and flawless guide to good writing, to demonstrate that good prose can, in fact, make a good pose. (And if your wardrobe still suffers, at least your writing might improve.)
Strunk & White’s “Elementary Principles of Composition,” applied to the catwalk:
1. “Choose a suitable design and hold to it.”
“A basic structural design underlies every kind of writing…. A sonnet is built on a 14-line frame…The more clearly the writer perceives the shape, the better the chance of success.” In clothes-speak, I take this to mean find what styles and shapes work on your frame, and stick to it. Just because someone deems absurdly short bubble skirts to be “in” doesn’t mean you should wear one.
2. “Make the paragraph the unit of composition.”
“The paragraph is a convenient unit, it serves all forms of literary work….” This, of course, translates to: Little Black Dress & Good Pair of Black Pants. Will serve all forms of fashion needs.
3. “Use the active voice.”
“The active voice is more direct and vigorous than the passive….’I shall always remember my first trip to Boston,’ is better than, ‘My first trip to Boston shall always be remembered by me.” So, whether in Boston or elsewhere, dress vigorously and directly, don’t hide behind or under slouchy, passive clothes. Make an active statement, be bold, but be you.
4. “Put statements in a positive form.”
“Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language…. As in, ‘She was not very often on time,’ becomes ‘She usually was late.’” And yes, I am usually late because I’m usually dilly-dallying trying to decide between tame, noncommittal outfits that I should just toss. I’m not exactly sure how to dress in a more positive form, but I’m working on it.
5. “Use definite, specific and concrete language.”
“Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract…. As in: ‘A period of unfavorable weather set in’ becomes ‘It rained every day for a week.’” In fashion terms, maybe ditch the vague-ish oversized shirts that now parade as short, short, short dresses. Go on, wear a real dress. Cover one more inch of thigh – it won’t hurt you.
6. “Omit needless words.”
Need we say more? (They would be needless words, no doubt). Over accessorizing is like a run-on sentence or a too-wordy blog post (watch it!). Err on the side of tastefulness. Any fool can put on ridiculously high heels and layer too many trendy layers in that mismatched mode that simply says “trying too hard.” But how many Jackie O’s are there? How many Audrey Hepburns? Edit, dear friend. Edit.
And if you’re feeling a little underdressed, come find me – I’ll be in the yoga paints and sweatshirt, taking notes.