Thinking About Taste is Keeping Me Up At Night

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt

The past few weeks one thing I can’t seem to shake off is the idea of taste. Good taste, bad taste, the taste in my mouth. I think about the people who are deemed tastemakers and things that are perceived as distasteful. I ask myself questions like, “Who decides the taste? Who and why does one challenge set taste?” And perhaps the most paralyzing and completely self centred thought, “Do I have “good” taste?”

When it comes to beliefs, we are all biased. This is not a drill: humans - aside from Beyoncé and Oprah - are flawed in the viewpoints we have. Of course we favour what we believe to be true. It’s a form of self-preservation or self defence. We want to survive thus we aren’t typically keen to claim the personal fool and appear vulnerable.

For those self aware folks that know and openly say they have no – or “bad” - taste and ask others for help, I salute you. That’s how I am with exercise and cooking. I say, let those more skilled and educated than me take care of it. Instead of pulling my hair out at my feeble attempts, I hand over my money to compensate these experts.

When it comes to taste – be it in your wardrobe, in home décor, in music, in manners – our society rewards being the one in the know. We hear phrases like,

“She has great taste in clothes but terrible taste in lovers.”

“While you wouldn’t know from looking at his clothes, the fella knows his classic hip hop.”

“She’s got great hair, exceptional taste, she’s smart, and she’s nice. I think I hate her.”

Hyperbole aside, as these are not matters of life and death, we accept that people have good and bad taste in different areas. Oxford defines taste as, “The ability to discern what is of good quality or of a high aesthetic standard.” Totally. That said I have questions.

Have you ever stopped to think about how one has this ability in the first place? Is it something we either have or don’t? Does ones gut instinct drive taste? Is it something one can develop and get better at over time? Like any other talent, I am curious about how much of it is one born with or what does one have to work at to get it? While I am aware of etiquette schools, are their lifestyle “taste” schools? Enter the lifestyle sector.

Next, who decides something is tasteful? When it comes to setting the taste in a given area things like skill, decorum, humanity, and beauty are all considerations. “Quite subjective they each are,” Yoda may say. Historically, white colonialists dictated what is considered “good” taste. More specially, white dudes that wrote a version of history unchecked. Is any one else concerned about this single minded perspective? If we go on the history provided to us we should all admit that that version is missing a lot of viewpoints at the best of times and dangerously elitist at worst.

Further, and back to an earlier thought, once we know someone has taste in a certain area, there seems to be people that will deliberately oppose the set standard. Over time, that counter, challenge, or distastefulness can take over as the predominant trend. Or more simply put, the new echelon of good taste. Brands like Vetements and Mochino come to mind.

When it comes to taste in style, I am questioning things like how we talk about ethics. What’s your personal stance on materials and sustainability? Do you think it’s tasteful to wear athletic clothes out and about or not? What are your thoughts on cultural influences? Do you prefer mixing high and low cost fashion or do you stay in a category? What books, podcasts, websites should I keep up with? Isn't it hard to keep tabs on the ever-changing trend setters?

Cue system overload. "We can't make sense of it so let's burn the system to the ground!" I kid. Turns out, I’m no further settled in answers to my questions. Maybe that's the whole point. To appreciate one's skill or taste in a given area might mean that you can't articulate exactly why it's good. You know it is. It's something that you just feel.

I have committed to honouring my personal taste and the individual taste of my clients to feel good about the work I do. I'll know - or learn - when it's in "bad" taste and I'll adjust.

My potty mouth, on the other hand, is undeniably in “good” taste.