A Rule for Solving Unsolvable Problems: Cut, Don’t Pull
A fashion maxim that works for the rest of life, too
It would probably surprise a lot of my current colleagues to learn, but I once worked “in fashion.”
I loved this part of my magazine job precisely because I’ve never been all that interested in how to dress. As a story editor, I could look at the subject unburdened by, well, a refined sense of style — a beneficial quality because my job was to take the fashion department’s ideas and present them in a way that made sense to any reader, regardless of their sartorial predilections.
When you come at fashion that way, you’re able to see it for what it essentially is: clothes, dressing, fabric, and thread. A pair of pants becomes an object of utility and design. You look at it as history, too. You begin to see almost every type of clothing in terms of its more utilitarian antecedent. The little straps on the shoulders of jackets? They kept your bayonets in place! A tweed jacket? That’s just water-resistant camouflaging outerwear for Scottish hunters! (So much of men’s clothing design can be traced to the military or hunting.)
You also see fashion as a series of rules, from the style rules — “There should only be one-quarter-inch of shirt cuff showing past your jacket” or “Never button the bottom button of a coat” — to the guidelines for care and maintenance. These guidelines helped me see order in the universe of fashion and style, which can otherwise seem highly idiosyncratic, determined only by the whimsies of fashion editors and designers.
Because they’re so clear-cut, these rules are ripe for universal application. And no rule has been more broadly applicable for me than this one: “Always cut; never pull.”
It’s something a colleague in the fashion department said to me once at a men’s magazine I worked at in the 2000s. He was referring to threads. Don’t pull threads. Always cut them. You pull a thread, and you don’t know how long you’ll be pulling or how much damage you’re doing to the larger structure. But if you cut it, you’ve contained the damage, neatly and cleanly. You’ve lost a little thread, sure, but no one will notice.