Find My Style

Utility versus Aesthetic

Last Friday took Find My Style to the Eames Exhibition at the Barbican for a dose of inspiration for personal styling and design aesthetics; I’m a great fan of the work of Ray and Charles Eames and am actually sitting on one of their chair designs while writing this.


Q: “Is Design an expression of art?”

A: “I would rather say it’s an expression of purpose. It may, if it is good enough, later be judged as art.”


Walking around the exhibition I was struck by how the purpose of what they created was centric to the creative process, and I wondering if we address our wardrobes from this utilitarian perspective, what impact would it have? One example that jumped into my mind with all this wet weather we are having is footwear choices. At the moment I am living in my Versus hi-tops, they are black suede with thick rubber shoes, laced up with zips and lined with leather inside the shoes – super comfy and keep my feet totally dry in this weather. By contrast I’ve seen plenty of people heading around London streets in pale leather shoes and open flat pumps, with pretty wet looking feet. It’s not like the weather in London is a surprise at this time of year, but people are just not thinking about the utility of their wardrobe choices.

“What works is better than what looks good,” Ray said. “The looks good can change, but what works, works.”

Material & Fabric

Eames designs were shaped by the need for affordable, yet high quality furniture at the time. For years they perfected their designs using low-cost materials like plywood, to create an iconic design aesthetic. Their choice of materials informed their design process and output. Often when we consider our clothes, the first thought is to aesthetics rather than materials. Considering what a garment is made of can be crucial in some climates, for instance, any climber will tell you that cotton kills. It is a good insulator when dry, however when sweat makes cotton wet, it draws heat away from the skin which can be lethal in mountaineering. This characteristic of cotton becomes a plus in hot climates, as it is the perfect fabric for keeping cool in the heat. Using synthetic fibres or natural fabrics, like merino wool, to wick moisture away from the body will allow the body to retain heat. Some fabrics also have metal such as silver in the thread which can reflect heat back to the body.


Q: “What are the boundaries of Design?”

A: “What are the boundaries of problems?”

The Eames philosophy is not about accepting compromises, only constraints. It’s about addressing the problems in life and finding a solution. Imagine looking at your wardrobe from a constraints point of view when you are deciding what to put into it, what job do you need it to do for you? What changes would you make? And what would you keep the same? Typically at this time of year in London, your environment constraints would be staying dry and warm. Your communication constraints might be standing out from the crowd or getting the job done. It might be sealing the deal, or making people feel comfortable.

As you implement changes in your wardrobe, its useful to have the words of Ray Eames in mind, ‘I never stopped painting, I just changed my palette’.  Having a wardrobe that works for you isn’t about throwing out your principles; it’s about being you and creating something that works for your life. A few questions that might be handy to think about when making your wardrobe choices could include:

What’s the purpose you are buying it for?

Will the fabric do the job?

What constraints does it meet in your life?
Until next time, enjoy your wardrobe…

NB The questions and answers quotes above were the conceptual basis of the exhibition Qu’est ce que le design? (What is Design?) at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais de Louvre in 1972 as answered by Charles Eames.