The forging of elegance
In my life I was lucky to know 3 individuals I consider as truly elegant, in terms of the Latin root of the word (legere) which refers to the virtue of selecting the quality of things in life. Although 3 might seem an extremely scarce number in the life of a person´s acquaintances, I believe it is still important that elegance has not yet completely extinguished in our times.
Elegance has become a very stereotypical notion that is often conceptually linked to style, good manners, socialite behaviors, diplomacy, glamour, class, elitism, aesthetics, social distinction, etc. but I would consider all these aspects as secondary, complementary, and not necessarily substantial when compared to the more vital importance of the term “elegance”, especially because elegance is ultimately a symbol that reminds us how all individuals have the chance of refining their perception of quality by adopting courageously a set of principles of life. Whenever aristocracies were a symbol of the maximum personality an individual could achieve in life, also elegance was their natural duty and divine right.
Elegance is something that ought to be present since we awake in the morning until we go to bed at night, and even when at bed. It is not something that only ought to be reserved for social gatherings, elitist parties, or when following rigorous protocols of etiquette, but is an attitude that demands above all the individual to choose (legere) in every single situation the fairest outcome, even if such outcome goes against the personal interests of the selfsame person. This chance is always available to everyone, regardless of their wealth, social status or family background. Contrarily to money or power, elegance is an attribute that once gained can´t be lost; you take it with you wherever you go, just like the forms of your handwriting. But if we do not compromise with what this chance of elegance entails for the true development of our personality, then we shall have no alternative than adopting the most diverse surrogate modes of elegance, just like the difference between a real rose and an artificial one made of plastic. Ironically, artificial roses are often much more expensive than the natural ones you can cultivate by yourself.
The common denominator I´ve found out in these 3 elegant individuals is that the choices they formerly took in life were far from being comfortable and demanded from them a lot of self-sacrifice, hard work and renunciation of many profitable socioeconomic or political commitments. In two of these cases that I´ve known, these choices implied even long-term conflict with the values of their families. But in parallel to this quest for personal freedom emerged progressively in these individuals a very exquisite taste for things in general, and this taste can be said to have been “distilled” by adopting a life that is unique, genuine, unrepeatable and authentic. The spontaneous acquisition of this taste is rarely encouraged in many modern educational institutions, and I would even dare to affirm that such genuine taste is in essence the symbol of their selfsame lives. It is impossible to gain this taste without a life formerly defined by courage and by a heroic undertaking of life. Consequently, these individuals are definitely not that kind of socialites that chose a wine, a book, a clothing or a piece of music because it is expensive or has acquired prestige in the wealthy strata of a given society, but rather because such elements “fit” and express the typical quality of their former life choices.
Another common denominator I´ve found in these elegant types is that they combine that extremely strange mix of humbleness, kindness, combativeness and pride that is like that delicate combination of fragility and hardness that characterizes a diamond. In this sense, they combine this precious virtue of being extremely transparent and yet also rigorously honest and determined, without any impure trace of vanity, pretentiousness or narcissism. They might even be geniuses in their own field of work, but appear to others with the innocence of a child who still wants to learn about everything, lacking any conceited sophistication in their manners, a modesty that causes them often to be conceived as rather “ordinary” by many connoisseurs of fashion and stylism. Aesthetically one might not be impressed by the external forms of a diamond in the rough, but it is still a diamond, and just like in the case of a diamond, these elegant individuals formerly forged themselves in very challenging situations that demanded from them in each moment to undertake decisions that could always serve to put their heart to the test. If you are something truly special, then there is no need to go around always trying to demonstrate it.
Like most things in our times, elegance has surrendered to one advertisement appeal among countless others, and has also surrendered to the mere mirage of imagery. But whenever someone exclusively pursues the external image of elegance, that person is then impeded to gain true elegance. Today elegance is for sale, like practically everything else, but if there is something that at the end of the day truly defines an elegant person is that nobody can buy their decisions nor attitudes.
Elegance is the only thing that I respect in someone. And in a society such as today´s where individuals are valued based on what they represent, elegant people are still there to remind us that value exclusively is gained according to who one is.