The question of Australian style

Two things happened over the weekend that made me think about the state of the Australian man.  I'd like to preface this piece by adding that not all men are like this, and no doubt many of you reading this don't feel this way, but generally speaking, the problem concerns the attitudes Australians have towards dressing and design.

The short story is we don't care about it and in a charming kind of way I like that. I have a certain respect for this casual eschewing of superficialities.  But on the other hand it grates on me, because so often this point of view comes from a totally ignorant perspective. Why would you want a lack of style and awareness to be worn as a badge of honour?

Why is the ability to look like a grown man and not an oversized skateboarder in bad jeans and a hoodie come Saturday morning such a problem?

Speaking with a Danish-Australian photographer, one who splits her time between the two countries, she noted this attitude and asked me, why?  Why do Australians see fashion, and to a larger extent design, with such indifference?

Scandinavians don't find the idea of presentation to be such a dirty word.  What is comforting about this attitude is the comfortable indifference to labeling.  In Denmark or Sweden, when someone is 'IN' fashion or well dressed, this does not mean that it is the latest flight of fancy from the Paris catwalks. What it means is that there's a beautiful self-awareness, an idea of silhouettes and what suits.  There is an enjoyment in the use of colour and shape and often all of this is completely accessible to the average person. Executed in a very homogenous, devil's in the details kind of way, it's never a garish pursuit.

I guess what I am saying is that it's part of the psyche. The idea that when you leave the house you simply are well groomed and presented, which is something I always go on about, yet here it is on everybody's mind, not just the design inclined.

The second instance was a story that was relayed to me about the new David Jones personal shopper program. Aimed at the time poor and wealthy alike, a male client had a time arranged by his wife because despite a suited prowess on Collins Street (Melbourne's financial district), his weekend wardrobe and his ability to dress casually, was sadly lacking.

Why is this? Why is the ability to look like a grown man and not an oversized skateboarder in bad jeans and a hoodie come Saturday morning such a problem?  Why is it such a concern as to instil a fear of shopping?  Look to the north I say.

The northern Europeans aren't looking to show off fashion, but their style is a simple affair that comfortably suits their attitude to life.  Like a piece of Scandinavian furniture, it is easy on the eye, subtly original and joyfully inserted into an existing life.

After years of being surrounded by this colloquial design language, it just is.  This aesthetic quality can be found everywhere from their tallboys to their tall boys, in the amazing timber interiors of a new Volvo to the beautiful execution of an Acne store and collection.  This ability to present well, as well as the inclination to, is the kind of attitude more Australians should be willing to take up.

It is not a desire to be in or part of fashion, but an enjoyment of all the things life can offer.  Forfeiting one for another doesn't really make sense in this respect.

Do Australians have a good grasp on design and what it means? Or is it largely a playground for the wealthy and snobbish?

This article The question of Australian style was originally published in The Age.