A matter of taste




noun: taste;

  1. the ability to discern what is of good quality or of a high aesthetic standard.

'she has frightful taste in fashion'

  1. conformity or failure to conform with generally held views concerning what is offensive or acceptable.

'that's a joke in very bad taste'

The Tasteless Britain panel conversation was steered by host Charlene White, and began with a comparison between Kim Kardashian and Kate Middleton. The former was widely categorised as “bad taste” and the latter “good taste”. But what is this based on? From the photos on the screen, it appeared to be largely aesthetic. Kim sporting her usual black, body-con, low cut dress, and Kate in a high neck tailored number, presumably from her favourite retailer Reiss. I couldn’t help but wonder, if someone looked at these two images without knowing either woman, would they automatically place them as good and bad taste, based on their appearance?

The definitions above reference the notion of taste in two varying ways; for the sake of argument let’s call them aesthetic and behavioural. Looking at these, it struck me that defining a person as bad or good taste sits almost uncomfortably between the two. If we accept for a moment that Kim is bad taste and Kate is good, are we not assuming it is theirtaste inclothing that puts them in each category? One of the panellists mentioned Kim’s sexual behaviour as an example of “bad taste”, but this infers that it is the consequence of having her sexual endeavours strewn across the internet that labels her as such. In this example, her actions are being deemed as in bad taste, rather thanbeing innately bad taste herself.

With this in mind, can a person change their actions in order to change the perception of which camp they fall under? Kate is forever haunted by the photo of her university fashion show, but it doesn’t define her. The actions that followed – marrying a prince, having a royal baby, doing charity work – have far eclipsed any ‘bad taste’ perceptions that may have surfaced along with those images.

They say you can’t buy taste, but you can arguably change aesthetics, behaviours and actions, which could take a celebrity or business from one end of the taste spectrum to another. One such celebrity couple/business, the Beckhams, are a prime example of this. It’s easier to tell this story through images, and as such the media often document their transition through the years, from matching leather outfits and bleach blonde haircuts, to the front row of fashion week.

But how much can a photograph really tell us? Does a designer clad family speak you as good taste, bad taste, or (the worst case scenario) no taste at all?

Helen Wood

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search