[quote]Taste is the common sense of genius.[/quote]
I have great taste! How about you? This would make for a perfect study to reconfirm what we already know: Few people think they have “bad” taste. But what does it mean to have “good” taste?
Our cultural obsession with taste first flourished amidst the decadence of the 18th century. Social commentator George Coleman reflected on its ambiguous prevalence in his time:
“Taste is at present the darling idol of the polite world…The fine ladies and gentlemen dress with Taste; the architects build with Taste; the painters paint with Taste; critics read with Taste...Yet in this amazing super-abundancy of Taste, few can say what it really is, or what the word itself signifies.”
Even then, taste was elusive. In Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, “good taste” is all about social class: he argues that the “bourgeoisie” make choices to distinguish themselves from the lower classes, and from that distinction, desirable “good taste” emerges. Every seemingly minute decision we make -- from how (and if) we exercise to what we order for dinner -- symbolically distinguishes us and establishes our social clout. In other words, taste is more than superficial snobbery: it’s how we define who we are, and in turn, negotiate our social value and placement.
So, from this perspective, one can, indeed, learn taste -- at least in theory. Though money alone can’t buy taste. Take, for example, this $50,000 custom coat, which, far from the lavish beauty you might expect for such a price, has been described as a “plain, boxy, single-breasted number [that] looked like something you might find on Macy's clearance rack." Nevermind that it’s created from $6,000 per yard fabric.
Some argue that too much “‘good taste” leads to a bland world -- think spare, “modern,” and beige. This sort of aesthetic monotony can leave us wanting for something a bit spicier. “Bad taste” makes things more colorful and amusingly festive, like the perennial holiday over-decorator. Enter the gaudy, kitsch offerings of places like the Madonna Inn (pictured above) as the perfect antidote to blandness. While some may dismiss it as merely tacky, others relish in the fact that they have 110 unique hotel room experiences awaiting them (Just Heaven! Rock Bottom! Safari!) Though not all “bad taste” is revered (unflattering shorty shorts anyone?).
Kitsch aside, the general consensus on taste seems to be that while it need not be inborn, it must look effortless -- if you appear to be trying too hard, no matter how “tasteful” the presentation, it fails.
Want to prove to the world that you’re a distinguished individual with great taste? Here’s how:
Read: Elsie de Wolfe, the woman attributed with starting the profession of interior design, wrote The House in Good Taste, the seminal book on good taste that still holds up a century later.
Download: Indulge your snarky side and get the Fashion Police app to enjoy Joan River’s celebrity jabs.
Experience: Immerse yourself in “good taste”: Study and emulate classic style icons, stay at hotels reminiscent of the Soniat House in New Orleans when you travel, and decorate your home like a Fifth Avenue apartment (no matter where it’s actually located).
Do you have good taste? Tell us why -- and how you got it!