Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fashion and Christian Identity: So, Regarding Fashion...

It's "Fashion Week" here at Renewing Your Mind!  There will be a series of six posts this week on "Fashion & Christian Identity".  IntroductionModesty & Our BodiesThe Purpose of Our BodiesTabernacle & Temple, So, Regarding Fashion

If we go along with Reformed Theology, which, since we are at Dordt, is kind of important, what does it mean in the world of fashion that Christ has claimed it for himself too?

There are some religions and Christian denominations that have dress codes.  Looking at pictures of these women, we could fairly easily guess as to their religious identity based on their clothing.  However, most Christians do not have dress codes to follow.  The only identifying fashion for Christians are cross necklaces, but even those are worn by non-Christians as simply a piece of jewelry, nothing more. We evade the culture of fashion by not acknowledging what good fashion choices can do for a person.

When we choose what to display on our bodies, we are making an identity statement, whether or not we consciously know it.  Sally McGraw of Already Pretty states “Even people who claim not to care about style and fashion still purchase and wear clothing on a daily basis. I believe that how we dress and how we view personal style ties into how we feel about visual presentation. Some people resent the idea that they may be judged on appearances, and refuse to invest in stylish, contemporary clothing that works with their figures. Others accept that appearance is the first level of information we broadcast to the observing world, and dress to project a chosen image. Still others hang much of their identities on their clothing - be it through genre-dressing like steampunk, goth, or boho; label and designer consciousness; or choosing to project modesty/sexuality through clothing choice.”  She concludes by saying “How we dress reflects how we view style as a tool for self-presentation.”

As Christians, we typically don’t think much about how our faith and fashion are connected.  Getting dressed each day is mandatory, but what we choose to wear is up to us.  The fashion world is often very remote, especially in rural Iowa.  We do not get dressed up like the characters in The Devil Wears Prada, especially in the middle of winter, unless it’s Andi’s pre-makeover look.  If how we dress does show how we look at style as a tool for self-presentation, we also need to think about just who we are presenting to the world.  Are we presenting only ourselves, or are we presenting ourselves as representatives of Jesus?

In the June issue of Lucky magazine, actress Salma Hayak, whose husband is from France, comments on the difference between the French and American way of dressing.  In France, she says, “It’s nuts, how good the people look...nobody’s overweight, everybody’s well-dressed, not tennis shoes--somehow, even though they walk all over the place, everyone manages to wear real shoes, nice shoes” (p. 138).  She later comments how her husband doesn’t understand the “American style, with the sweatpants and flip-flops” (p. 141).  She argues with him that it is about comfort, but he disagrees and says “If they want to be so comfortable why do they have so much makeup on at 7 am?” (p. 141).  Salma concludes that “he has a point:  people spend all this time with makeup and then not with clothes.  Why?”  (p. 141).

I wonder the same thing.

Now, many Christians might say we should not care about what we wear because we should not be making judgments based on the outside of a person.  while this is true about judgment, we should care what we wear, not only because of the ideas of temple and priesthood, but also because we are Jesus’ representatives.  The clothes that we wear do have an effect on how we are viewed, whether we like it or not.  Stylist Angie Cox says “Dressing is a form of self expression - the silent communicator. And without an audience of judgmental people and subjective opinions, it wouldn't mean anything.”

Cox continues to say “For those of us who appreciate and respect dressing as an art form, fashion/style becomes a deep part of your life. A way to express yourself without talking. A way to appreciate beauty in the same way we appreciate art. I believe that the right clothes will change your life in a good way. Because being perceived as stylish boosts confidence, you're on a winning wicket from the word go. This level of confidence tends to affect other areas of your life, and that can't be bad.”

The fashion world could be described by some verses in the book of Ecclesiastes:  because styles come and go and come and go again:  there nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  Me, I’m waiting for this type of style to come back.  It’ll be both fashionable and modest!  {Note:  that was a late addition since Peter Rollins spoke about pirates the night before my talk and Tony Jones' topic was "Culture:  I do not think that word means what you think it means", so I felt like I should get in something about The Princess Bride too}.

What would it look like in Christianity if we thought more about our bodies being temples?  How would it affect not only what we wear, but what we eat and how we take care of our bodies?  What difference could it make to a high school or college student who is struggling with her image?  Telling someone to “be modest” may be easy, but teaching someone to honor her body as God’s temple and ways in which that can be done is much more difficult.  And it isn't that being modest is a bad thing; it’s just that it is advice that is incomplete and, as Rachel Held Evans discovered, “like clothing, modesty fits each woman a little differently” (140).

To Be Continued...


Shari Braendel said...

Great job with this Kelly!

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Thanks Shari! I just came across your website the other day--I can't even remember how (I think a friend mentioned something on Facebook about Hearts at Home and then I looked it up and saw you on there?). How did you find me?