My young friend pointed at the thin gold chain that draped around his neck. “Did you notice?”
I replied to Jonathan, “Not until now. It looks nice and you wear it well.”
I reassured Jonathan that the chain wears well on him and he didn’t look tacky. I added that it’s a shame that some people believe gold jewelry is tacky.
My pal agreed and added, “At least I don’t wear more than one piece at a time. I don’t flaunt it.”
Given that Jonathan is interested in becoming a jeweler someday, I think his enjoyment of his gold chain is a plus. The fact that he’s aware of the concept of taste is also fine. I told him I’m glad he is cultivating good taste.
I asked if he remembers me ever wearing my gold-toned Invicta pro-diver watch. I had bought it at Goodwill a few years ago for 30-bucks. I was afraid that it looked tacky at first, but eventually became fond of the outrageous campiness of the watch. It’s an ironic counterpoint to jeans and tee-shirt. I wear it for fun, not to impress.
Jonathan laughed but said that while he has reservations about Invicta brand watches in general, he doesn’t think he’s snobbish about them. He tries not to be judgmental about people nor what they choose to wear.
The subject of good taste has become almost taboo in today’s culture. Many people believe that the sort of people who talk about whether or not something is in good taste invariably have bad taste because they talk about it. To have a serious discussion about taste is sometimes like “walking on eggshells”. The fact that Jonathan was somewhat careful about asking for my opinion about his chain necklace is a good example.
Who can truly determine whether a Zen monk has better taste than Liberace? If the monk looks down on someone like Liberace, does the monk have poor taste? Is that monk’s practice of overt simplicity only conspicuous minimalism? On the other hand, was Liberace’s exorbitant display of finery a lack of good taste or was it just part of his show-business act? Can we objectively answer these questions in good faith?
Whether we want to admit it or not, we judge books by their covers and people by their appearance. This is what we do in order to determine who is in our in-group and who are outliers. Who do we trust and who we might not. I’m guessing this type of judgmentalism is a survival mechanism. At the very least, how a person looks hints at how competent she or he is.
If I wish to contract with a funeral home to arrange final rites for a family member, I might be offended at the sight of a funeral director wearing an old, shredded Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-flops. I expect funeral directors to wear business suits, or at the very least to wear a dress shirt and necktie. If the funeral director is a woman, similar, appropriate attire would be a display of good taste.
When we’re able to finally get around social awkwardness regarding good taste, we can observe taste more objectively and in proper context. In the same way that we benefit by training our intellect in remaining curious and open-minded about new knowledge, we benefit in cultivating taste. It’s important to understand that people can behave tastefully and display attractive things without looking down their noses and being snobbish.
A noble mind can be recognized by cultivated, elevated taste. This sort of taste is different from ostentatious, showy displays meant to impress. A way to differentiate between good taste and questionable taste is in the wearer’s attitude and demeanor. In the case of Jonathan’s gold chain, he was cognizant of the impression his wearing of it might have. He wanted to wear it out of simple enjoyment of the jewelry, not to impress others. He is interested in jewelry as an avocation, not an obsession. As I suggested to my friend, he wears it well.
Such impressions are subjective. Some folks are deceptive and can use material displays to fool people. I argue that someone wearing the same gold chain but is pretending to be humble, is not exercising good taste. Taste is an extension of intent. Good taste is an extension of a good mind.
To have good taste is to not have affectations. In fact, we easily detect insecure people with affectations and feel friction when around them. This is a touchy subject because we do not wish to be judgmental, but the affectations touch sensitive nerves. Our outward behavior towards others is another way of displaying good taste, so it is best to treat affectatious people respectfully because we might be misjudging them. Even if we know their character, it’s still wise not to insult nor mistreat them.
People who have cultivated simple good taste are admired and respected. People with good taste are quietly confident not loud, brash, nor boastful. Good taste implies strength and leadership. Haughtiness implies weakness and insecurity. Again, good taste reflects a good mind.