Elegance has something to do with one’s ability to judge the worth of a thing. It’s being able to differentiate what’s really at the core of things and hence the ability to let go of the superfluous. It is the ability to see true value, not the externalities but the Inner worth of a person, for example.
“Worth” has been defined as the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated. However, the value we attribute to a thing requires our judgment, which is influenced by our value system.
In that light, I have seen that those who carried themselves with nobility, born not of riches or status, but of truth and compassion, have an innate elegance about them. An elegance that shines through regardless of appearance or circumstances. It is a very attractive quality.
The ancient Chinese have a word for a person with such qualities. He is called a chuntze, one who is noble. In English it has been translated as a gentleman though it doesn’t fully express it. Confucius, a revered teacher, said that he dared not aspire to be a shengren or the holy one for that is beyond any man, but if he could at his death arrive at being a chuntze, he would be happy. A key virtue of the chuntze is li or righteousness. Not a legalistic kind of righteousness but one infused with compassion and guided by the well-being of others.
Here’s a well written piece on Elegance by Paulo Coelho, which captures the essence of the word beautifully.
Elegance tends to be mistaken for superficiality and mere appearance.
Nothing could be further from the truth: some words are elegant, others can wound and destroy, but all are written with the same letters.
Flowers are elegant, even when hidden among the grasses in a meadow. The gazelle when it runs is elegant, even when it is fleeing from a lion.
Elegance is not an outer quality, but a part of the soul that is visible to others.
And even when passions run high, elegance does not allow the real ties binding two people to be broken.
Elegance lies not in the clothes we wear, but in the way we wear them.
It isn’t in the way we wield a sword, but in the dialogue we hold that could avoid a war.
Elegance is achieved when, having discarded all superfluous things, we discover simplicity and concentration; the simpler the pose, the better; the more sober, the more beautiful