It has been said that one shouldn’t be the first to adopt a fashion or the last to wear it—which is very good advice if fashion is important to you. Fashion is strange: it is related to fads, and often has little to do with good taste. Faddism is the generic term for the momentary enthusiasm given to something that has a short life-span.
Good taste, as regards fashion, means the appropriate wear for a given occasion. This would include jeans and a jeans-jacket at a rodeo (and designer-jeans would not necessarily be better for this); a tux or ball gown for an opera; and a sports coat and slacks or a little, black dress for an informal cocktail party. But look at the fashion shows! At many of them monstrosity after monstrosity is paraded down the runway—and this brings us to another aspect of the question: the mere fact that a well-known designer has created something doesn’t mean that it is either beautiful or in good taste. What makes it good taste is how well it fits together with the other garments—as with the rodeo, or the opera, or the cocktail party. And even though there may be a large collection of monstrosities, none of them will fit in because being monstrous—pretty much by definition—precludes that.
Good taste in fashion also means that the garment must be appropriate to the person’s, age, size, and shape, and again, that has little to do with fashion per se. This brings us to the people we see every day. There are those who make everyday use of the kind of exaggerated make-up that only works well in the evening—very bright red lipstick, dominating eye-liner, artificial eyelashes, etc. And there are those who put together their own ensembles with no attention as to whether the colors and patterns match or complement each other. (This is related to the choices men make when they decide to grow a beard. They often grow the kind of beard they liked when they saw it on someone else’s face, Errol Flynn’s, perhaps. They should study the shape of their own faces critically, decide what should be emphasized and what should be minimized, and trim their beards to favor their best features.)
Good taste in home furnishings means that they fit in well with each other, and are appropriate to the character of the house. Which brings us to another notion: eclecticism. It is an attractive buzz-word for many. But if a house is to be furnished in good taste, there is a decided limit to how eclectic one can be. A Bauhaus chair in a Victorian house together with a Tiffany lamp and Victorian settee is just horrific bad taste. Anyone who says, “Well, I like this and I like that,” is entitled to do as she pleases, though it is an offense to the eye of anyone who has a feeling for proportions, balance, symmetry, compatibility, etc.–and this is true of everything.
Of course, one could ignore these distinctions, but at the very least, they are social rules that make the world more interesting for those who follow them. (And does anyone really want to eat a meal with someone who slurps loudly, belches, and chews with his mouth open? Or with someone who blows his nose during the meal. That kind of variety has nothing to recommend it.) Following social rules, playing social games, generally has meaning beyond mere snob appeal.