When Beauty’s Greatest Adversary is Practicality

When Beauty’s Greatest Adversary is Practicality

If there is anything that hurts more than the truth, it is beauty. Literally. Just think about how long it took you to break in those Prada sneakers or how sweat burned your eyes because you deemed that wool beret inseparable from your outfit. Such investment in the business of fashion means it might be likely that sense and reason have once again escaped you. Be it sheer stubbornness or plain foolishness, no one can deny that wearing wool under the Singapore sun is a recipe for disaster.

Everyone has a crazy streak; this possibly deluded writer wants to believe that there is always a method to the madness. A way to make sense of how practicality is often renounced in the name of fashion is to realise their mutual exclusivity. Beauty is often emotional and time-consuming, not only in terms of how we pursue it but also the high standards we seek to achieve. Practicality, on the other hand, is about logic, intention, and productivity. Despite instances when the adversaries seem to have gently brushed against each other, the two basically cannot stand to be in the same room.

In the first room, we have the designers who constantly remind us that minimalism is alive and well. This Spring/Summer ‘19, they included Virgil Abloh for Off-White and Luke and Lucie Meier for Jil Sander. Art and fashion aside, what lies at the heart of a minimalist lifestyle is the idea of being close to nothing and retaining only what holds true value. However, the commercialisation of minimalism has only acquainted us with its aesthetic side, like forking out extra to buy an olive wood clock with no hour markers. A pious minimalist would frown upon that, positing that a clock is unnecessary in this day when mobile phones and watches perform the same function. It might just be a battle of beliefs, but the pimped up mainstream adaptation of minimalism seems to betray its roots of practicality and purposefulness.

The same goes for the contemporary eco-conscious scene. Should there be anything more trendy than sipping on brown sugar milk tea, it is sipping it with a metal straw and/or taking it out in a customised KeepCup. Going green has never been more glamorous than it is today. Although typically disguised as “spreading the good word”, responsible practices are increasingly staged like performance art. It has become less about reducing consumption but investing even more in products that put one in the greenest light possible. Real talk: How many accessories does one need to sustainably drink a beverage? This eco-paradox is yet another instance where the pursuit of aesthetics not only usurps the practical necessity of things but also possibly defeats its very purpose. 

Even though it is unlikely that the two are going to be rubbing shoulders anytime soon, it does not mean it has to stay that way. After all, it is pretty odd how practicality is so highly personal yet so narrowly and uniformly defined. So here is a crazy thought. Perhaps, like beauty, practicality is also in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is rarely regarded as practical simply because emotions are also not. Beauty makes one feel good in the most unexplainable of ways, but just because emotions are immeasurable should not make it immaterial. This is about readjusting positions and priorities to see the practicality of emotions. The result is not always chaos; allowing ourselves to feel freely could change the way we look at ourselves and the world.

So chin up and pull that wool beret away from your eyes; you will definitely be turning heads when you enter the room.

Words by Valerie Wong