Style is an elusive quality, easily recognized but defined only with great difficulty.
Still, in years of observing the passing fashion parade, we have come to notice a few things about the art of stylish dress.
We have noticed, for example, that the most stylish people do not always wear the most expensive clothes. Nor do the stylish mindlessly adopt every trend.
Invariably, however, the stylish pay close attention to detail. They would no sooner be seen in sloppy sweats and dirty hair than they would run naked in the streets.
Indeed, there is no quicker way to ruin a beautiful suit of clothes than to neglect the fine points. Such as:
* Split seams, drooping hems, lost buttons. Additional points off if you've tried to make repairs with transparent tape or a safety pin. Get to a tailor or learn to sew.
* Stains, spots and dirt, on you or your clothes. Unappetizing and unacceptable.
* Scuffed shoes and rundown heels. Nothing spoils a stylish outfit quicker than crummy shoes. A regular polishing, either do-it-yourself or professional, works wonders. So does periodic replacement of worn heels and soles.
* A poor fit. You'll never look chic in clothes that are too big, too small, too short or too long. A good tailor can solve these problems, making you look better in the bargain.
* Outdated styles. It's unlikely that what you wore in the '60s is appropriate in the '90s, whether it be hair color, lipstick shade or hem length. Take a good look in the mirror and decide what's really flattering. And don't be afraid to make changes.
Trade the linebacker shoulder pads for smaller, rounder ones. Hem that skirt just above the knee. Choose pleated pants instead of flat-front models, especially if your front isn't so flat anymore. Use matte cosmetics instead of frosted ones, which only exaggerate wrinkles.
* Accessories overload. This is a tough one. After all, Karl Lagerfeld has gotten rich at Chanel by showing button- and braid-trimmed suits adorned with silk camellias, suede waist packs and miles of pearls and chains.
But that too-much-is-never-enough style works only on the runway, not in real life. It's better to follow Mom's rule about putting on all your accessories, then removing one piece.
And to that, we'd add another rule: The more ornate the garment, the simpler the accessories should be. And vice versa.
But don't let the rules discourage you from dressing with flair. Your clothes should express your personality. Think of Katharine Hepburn in her loose jackets and pants, or Cary Grant in anything he put on.
Style, pure and simple.