There are some shiny new things which are wonderful: a wristwatch is one, a pocketknife another. Sterling silver cufflinks are certainly a third. Each of these things, by their gleaming, announce “I am new, take notice!”
This is wonderful, if something shiny is what you’re after, but it’s not very interesting. Anybody can find a shop and buy a wristwatch, or a pocketknife, or cufflinks. And if they find the same shop as you, they can buy the same wristwatch, pocketknife, or cufflinks as you. So, things gotten that way don’t offer much character of their own, because their character is mass-produced and standardized (which is to say, nonexistent). Character rarely survives the assembly line.
Ah, but what identity might come with a great-grandfather’s watch! An old steel Hamilton, or a leather-strapped Omega, a watch that’s been aboard ships and trains, has travelled, has acquired and displays the ribbons and metals of its campaigns in scratches, chips, and nicks to its case and bracelet… that watch would be worth noticing. And it would lend the man wearing it something more interesting, personal, and stylish than the fact that he can find a watch shop in a phone book. It would lend him some character and, through it, taste.
In this way, men acquire taste. Good taste is an unusual commodity because it is sought by the wealthy but can’t be bought. It isn’t new or shiny; in fact, it’s often old and worn, because having it means having also the ability to enjoy it for itself, without having to stay apace of gaudy fashion; taste is timeless. Relax and imagine two pair of shoes: one is shiny and black and sports an oversized gold buckle, the other is a scuffed old pair of tassel loafers, probably cracked at a seam. Which is more inclined to country club croquet and the gravel driveways of country houses? If you’re not sure, you’re reading the wrong blog. As somebody padding around Nantucket in those beat-up loafers might say, new money shines… old money doesn’t.
Things, like money and people, acquire taste with age. They all three develop a gloss over time, a texturing and shading that make them more interesting, more distinguished than the newer, shinier models. Of course, there are some regrettable exceptions, things and people incapable of acquiring taste. Hummer H2’s and Arab oil magnates fall into this category.
But luckily for most, age brings restraint, and restraint is the essence of taste. Age means not only having had the time to acquire taste in the form of history and personality, but also the maturity to appreciate it and to recognize in it a worth greater than ephemeral fashion. Many say the journey is more important than the destination, and the journey of life is one of constant acquisition: of things, knowledge, friends, stories, experience, history. The question is, what will we try to acquire while we still have the strength to do it aggressively? Shiny new things… or taste?