In the know

Are You Born with It?


For a long time, trends have repeated themselves every 20 years or so, right?

Looking back, you can kind of see how the 90s feel a bit like the 70s, the 70s feel a bit like the 50s, and the 00s borrowed bits and pieces from the 80s. But there’s an interesting shift taking place that’s disrupting that cycle a bit!

For one, the internet has reduced our attention span and sped up trend cycles to break-neck pace. More specifically, though, it feels like people are — in an effort go against the grain of these trend cycles — hungry to align themselves with a look or “aesthetic” that doesn’t just communicate that they’re “in the know”, but rather, that they’ve been “in the know” for a long time.

“Old Money”, “Stealth Wealth”, “Quiet Luxury”. “Coastal Grandmother”, and “Clean Girl” aesthetics are all online trends aimed at timeless sensibilities and refined tastes, an idea which ultimately spiraled out of control when the concept of “Eclectic Grandpa” was unironically introduced this winter.

If we’re being reductive, all of these trends are essentially an attempt to cosplay good personal taste. Why do we want to emulate your eclectic grandfather or coastal grandma? Because they’ve curated a discerning wardrobe and lifestyle over the course of 60, 70, or even 90 years of life! You can’t replicate the moments that shaped their vision for how to get dressed or what they feel looks good, but you can buy their slacks in a Goodwill and pair them with a sweater vest from J Crew and call it a “vibe”!

It’s this idea that’s popularized thrifting to a level I never anticipated. People want to buy this concept of taste, but they also want it to feel authentic — even though the nature of that venture itself feels inherently inauthentic! It’s also brought to the forefront the phrase “personal style” in the last couple of years — an attempt to individualize trends and distil our favorites into a package that’s unique to each of us.

Maybe wanting to buy or emulate good personal taste isn’t all that bad, but this whole concept has led me to this question: Are you born with taste, or can you learn it?

Is it something that’s hardwired into you at birth, part of your DNA and personality, or is it a skill that’s sharpened, a discipline that’s honed, or a craft that’s mastered through years of dedication?

Our hunch? It’s nature, not nurture (but it is a bit of a spectrum).

Why is it that your buddy with the best taste in leather shoes also drinks good coffee, has a stash of excellent whiskey, knows the best cut of steak, has a great barber rec, and always owns a cool car? Why does your stylish friend also have a beautifully curated living space, a delicious bottle of wine on hand at all times, and the best playlist for every occasion?

Beyond that, why is it that all of these people seem to find the same great things before the rest of us? Is it because they exhaust themselves in the discipline of cultural research and development? Or is it, maybe, because by the nature of who they are, they’re simply drawn to the things that are just a bit off the beaten path, and that they ultimately are more willing to go a different way than the masses for something slightly better?

I remember hearing a quote from an Olympic athlete who essentially said the only difference between him and a guy selling insurance was that he was willing to go through more pain in training. Maybe the same applies to those who have it?

In college I remember the friend who introduced me to Mumford & Sons, because he was exactly who you would have expected to be the one who had heard of Mumford before anyone else. Then there was my roommate, who always got made fun of for wearing certain clothes, all of which were inevitably worn by everyone else a few months later. And of course, there’s my former co-worker who had excellent music taste and could effortlessly pull off saying “cheers” to end a conversation without sounded douche-y, condescending, or forced (I always envied that).

I am convinced these people were not taught to be early adopters. Something in their personality type pushes them just “left of center” in their interests and behavior, and, over time, that small degree of adjustment in their trajectory sends them miles ahead of the pack in terms of preferences. These people are the trendsetters, the founding fathers, the “have you heard of’s”, “what are those’s”, and “you really should try’s”. Ralph Lauren — whom we reference frequently — essentially built his empire on his natural instincts and predilections, rather than formal training and education. There may be people who shepherded this behavior in them, but that sense of adventure was always there from the start.

Others of us may not be far behind them (and as such, we have learned to operate well in spite of our “taste deficit”), but we always are, in fact, behind them. We’re somewhere on the spectrum, able to discern a good cup of coffee from a bad one, able to pick a wine pairing for dinner, or even point you in the direction of an up-and-coming clothing brand you might not know about… but rarely with the vision and bravery to find any of it first.

There’s lots of people in this group, and it’s important to embrace the “cite your sources” of it all, or else you risk coming across extremely forced and inauthentic. (Beware the originality fallacy — you almost never found it first, and you certainly won’t be the last to find it.)

Ultimately, despite the truth that anyone can learn about interior decor or fashion from a book, you cannot build a “good taste” algorithm or download it like a podcast. Because taste is not merely about having the knowledge of what people say is good today, it’s about discovering what’s good — experientially, without fear of judgement — through a curiosity and hunger that operates outside of the rating systems and top 5 listicles that already exist.

In other words, if you did try to buy it today, you’d already have an outdated model!

Thus, we’re forced to conclude that most aren’t as ahead of the game as we’d like to think. Instead, we’re tracking the taste-havers and tastemakers, copycatting what we like, ditching what we don’t, and putting together the filter through which we can interpret the chaos of culture that’s shot at us through the firehose of the internet. (In that sense, it’s our make-shift, Frankenstein of personal taste that gets us through the day.)

In the end, even if you weren’t born with it, in a time where everyone’s trying to fake good taste, if you can still figure out a nice glass of wine, recommend a well made t shirt, and put together a crowd pleasing playlist when the occasion calls for it, that ain’t half bad!

What do you think? Are we born with taste, or can it be learned? Let us know in the comments!



• leave a comment •

  1. Sandi Parker says:

    Interesting take… I definitely agree certain people are just born with flair, at least in some areas – like my niece, who, every time I see her outfit, I think “she’s hit that one out of the park again, how does she do it, I would never have thought to pair that top with that skirt…” BUT – she works in fashion (childrenswear designer for The Gap), fashion is her great love, and she most likely planned that outfit with a great deal of thought involved, unlike people who just grab something and throw it on. So I think something else that plays into it is your basic interests and passions. If you pour over interior design books (like I do) your home is probably going to look more stylish than those who don’t have the time or the interest to really think about interiors (most people won’t spend the better part of an hour styling their coffee table amiright?) So yes, there are those who just have “it” in many areas of their lives – they are just…stylish…like Anna. But these people also CARE about their aesthetic and spend time on it, so I think maybe it’s a combination (I’d say for some people it’s effortless, for others, like me, we have to study! Which is where blogs like yours come in!)

    • Nathan Page says:

      That’s a great point! It’s hard to nail down where that cycle starts, because an interest will inevitably just lead to more studying, and deeper interest, and more thought to it all. Ironically, the people who have “it” probably study as much as, if not more than the rest of us! It’s almost like if I spent as much time playing guitar as John Mayer does, would I ever be as good as him? Maybe. But do I have that thing in his head that puts it all together and creates new music like he does? Unfortunately no. But I could pretty close, and that’s still good! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

  2. Alexandra says:

    I wonder if part of the secret to those who “have it” is that they do inherently have a eye/ear for whatever their specific area of strength is, but it is also paired with a lack of inhibition or fear to try something out. If they like it and are drawn to it, they will pick it up or buy it. If it doesn’t work, they simply move on. When you think about it, the whole concept of trends is dependent on people desiring to be aligned with what is “cool” at that moment. If your focus is instead on finding something you like, then you’re freed up a bit.

    I think there is something innate in it, that thing that separates the “scattered experimenter” from the tastemaker that can puts pieces together cohesively and beautifully into a whole. That can be honed, but some people have an innate creative spark. But I think being unafraid to try is a piece of it too.

    • Nathan Page says:

      This is spot on! And really well said. It definitely feels like there’s a personality component to it all that lends to someone being able to put together that “cohesive” idea better than others!

  3. Abbie says:

    I love your writing style, and really enjoyed this read. Thanks for sharing!

  4. JustAThought says:

    Interesting post. I tend to think that the “old” in old money if far more elusive and valuable than the money part that comes and goes. The “rules” we are taught are just different and quietly subtle. Just my opinion that really doesn’t matter much since I’m not in fashion and don’t much care. I dress how we’ve dressed for generations…give or take a bit.

    What’s the saying? It should take 15 minutes to tell how expensive one’s out is.

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