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Work • Status & Success

On Glamour

Glamour is the reflexive sheen afforded to people and things by the approval of the most prestigious sectors of society. What we like isn’t as spontaneous as we think. Our sense that something is exciting or admirable is intimately tied to the degree of glamour it is able to lay claim to. Or – to put it another way – it’s immensely hard for us to dare to like things that lack glamour.

Glamour, flowing from the endorsement of high status figures, is conveyed along the most prestigious avenues of fashion, literature and the arts. A TV series can bestow glamour on a whole region of the planet, like the uplands of Patagonia, or on a whole era of history, like the 1960s. The most popular novelist of the early 19th Century, Sir Walter Scott made kilts, briefly, very glamorous – and his sovereign King George IV obediently wore one in an official portrait.


Things are constantly gaining or losing glamour. Many not especially helpful things can end up glamorous: founding a tech company, being very slim, being very angry, always saying what you think immediately, family skiing holidays… And many very helpful things are not glamorous at all: small gestures of kindness, learning poems by heart, coping with having the wrong sort of nose, being polite, doing the laundry … The lack of glamour makes it harder for us to get enthusiastic about these moves or devote ourselves to them with a modicum of grace.

Rather than reject glamour, the priority is to redirect it more accurately. In the utopia, the following things would be glamorous: forgiveness, depressive realism, the acceptance of imperfection, humility, gratitude… In other words, glamour would support, rather than undermine, the pursuit of a good life.  

Fortunately, it has always been possible to raise the esteem of hitherto disregarded things: the light of glamour can – with effort – be redirected. Even an examined life might, one day, be artfully rendered glamorous.

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