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© Getty Images Good taste: What qualifies it? How do you know if you have it? And perhaps most importantly, can it be acquired?
Most people would like to believe they have good taste, of course. But could that just be a self-delusion? And what exactly is meant by “good taste,” anyways? In honor of the taste package in our October issue, we asked experts to weigh in on the subject.
Here, find “good taste” as defined by some T&C's most trusted tasteful friends.
Bruce LaBruce, avant-garde artist & filmmaker
“Good taste has never been a quality that I have aspired to. As a provocateur, I find it exceedingly difficult to provoke people by assaulting them with good taste. Furthermore, and not to be too Rumsfeldian about it, one cannot simply invoke the notion of ‘good taste’ without qualifying it. There is good good taste and bad good taste, just as there is good bad taste and bad bad taste. Bad good taste might be described as something akin to the ‘piss-elegant,’ a pretentious attempt at being discriminating and highfalutin. In the final analysis, people who loudly espouse their own ‘good taste’ are often self-conscious snobs more interested in conspicuous consumption and showing off than any actual expression of refinement or style.”
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Antwaun Sargent, writer & critic
“As David Hammons once said, ‘A great tailor makes the fewest cuts.’”
Patricia Field, stylist
“On the subject of taste, I am a bit hesitant to join the ranks of snobbism. However, I will offer some simple thoughts about taste in general. 1) Taste displays intelligence, as it requires creativity and individuality in one’s style. 2) It is very important that someone who dresses interestingly exhibit the above. In my filmmaking experience, I have to hand it to Sarah Jessica Parker, who is very fashion-savvy and understands the nuances of an interesting wardrobe.”
Andre Aciman, novelist
“Taste is not a democracy. Not everyone has it. But all of us are persuaded that we have it and that others do not. There is no standard of taste, there are no rules, and our philosophers cannot agree. This is an anarchy. And that’s that.”
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Julian Fellowes, writer & director
“Good taste on the whole is a sort of co-worker with good manners. Manners should be designed to make everyone feel at their ease. And, of course, the point of teaching your children how to behave or how to eat an oyster is not to put them on edge but to put them at ease. I feel much the same about taste. I think that if your taste is grand, then it should be grand in a way that allows people who are not grand to appreciate the things you have. If it’s designed to make them feel small and obscure, then I don’t think that is good taste. I think that’s showing off.”
Joel Chen, antiques dealer
“There are the subjective categories of good taste and bad taste, but there’s also a third category, which is the worst of all: no taste. By that I mean an individual who has never encountered or judged acquisitions. If he buys a sofa, there is no distinction beyond functionality. There are those who live their lives in this fashion, poor or prosperous.”
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Wendy Goodman, design critic
“Taste is a tricky thing to parse as it’s completely subjective, and although people have spent eons trying to define good taste and denigrate bad taste, the truth is that there is no truth to what constitutes either. I would suggest that taste is not about aesthetics but about behavior, conviction, and bearing. I admire extreme passion that can express itself in extreme aesthetics, as the late Italian writer Anna Piaggi’s incredible presentation of herself as a walking encyclopedia of unique style. The fashion writer and doll collector Lynn Yaeger is also someone who is extraordinary and looks extraordinary every single moment of the day. These style icons go beyond representing taste; they define originality, wit, commitment, and nerve. Taste, as a concept, just might be outdated and irrelevant! Style, on the other hand, one’s declaration of independence, is what counts.”
Prince Dimitri, jeweler & author
“Good taste is inseparable from beauty and elegance. If there is no beauty or elegance in what you’re looking at, it’s in bad taste. That goes for creations as well as behavior.”
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Symone, performer & RuPaul's Drag Race winner
“Taste means knowing yourself and trying to present yourself in the best way—and it’s hard, because either you have it or you don’t. I never wanted to look like anyone else. Of course, there are references and points of view that I admire, but I’ve always wanted to shift things and say, ‘Okay, that was where it started, but how do I put it through my own filter and make it my own?’ That’s important when it comes to taste in drag, or whatever you do.”
Dianora Salviati, designer
“For me, taste is not so much a matter of how you dress, how you style your home, or having perfect table manners. It’s about how aware and how considerate you are of who it is you are talking to—the social context. Speaking a lot about oneself, about money, or flaunting one’s wealth and privilege, is always in bad taste. Kindness, consideration of others, and discretion are all hallmarks of good taste.”
Clint Ramos, Tony-winning costumer and set designer
“I don’t know if good taste is something that’s innately in you. I feel like taste is acquired. And I think the acquisition of good taste is about an acknowledgment of what we truly need. To me, good taste is not only about aesthetics or about the precision of Hellenic ideals, but you know you’re seeing or experiencing good taste when it feels like home. It’s effortless. Effort is not even a question.”
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Stanley Tucci; actor, writer, & gourmand
“I think our palates become more sophisticated as we get older—if we allow them to. I know a lot of people who are full-grown adults and still have the taste buds of an eight-year-old. How do you go through life like that?”
Candy Spelling; author, theater producer, and philanthropist
"The word beauty is a key here because people who really have taste see beauty in everything. Edie Goetz was Louis B. Mayer's daughter, and she was one of the top hostesses in Los Angeles. I was lucky enough to come to a lot of her dinner parties, since my best girlfriend was her daughter. She had the best art on the wall, the best combination of everyone you’d ever want at a dinner party, and it was always perfection. People don't take that kind of time anymore. As I get older, I look back and go, ‘gosh, we don't have this, we don't have that.’ I guess younger people think that their way is best, and maybe it is. I just know that I liked a lot of the way we did it before better.”
This story originally appeared in the 2021 issue of Town & Country. Shop Now
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