The question of fashion is an interesting one, especially for the Christian who is wary of the pride and vanity that often accompany physical adornment. Yet I am becoming convinced that as people who have physical bodies, we’re deceiving ourselves if we don’t give any thought to how we dress our bodies. Take, for instance, this article which appeared in the New York Times today:
The article tackles the strange place of fashion in the public consciousness, and the special hostility toward fashion conscious in the halls of academica and the world of politics. Guy Trebay takes a different stance than those who would denigrate fashion to a superfluity as he quotes Muiccia Prada and elborates:
‘”Even when people don’t have anything,” Ms. Prada said, “they have their bodies and their clothes.” They have their identities, that is, assembled during the profound daily ritual of clothing oneself’
Now, surely, as Christians we could remind Mr. Trebay that our identity is found in Christ, not in what we wear. Yet I find it interesting that Paul uses clothing metaphors when speaking of our relationship with Christ. We are “robed in Christ’s righteouness”. Forgetting what this implies concerning imputed-righteousness, notice that Paul here and elsewhere resorts to physical metaphor to speak of metaphysical realities. Of course, it is possible that Paul is being quite literal when he says we are “in Christ”. Either way, the body and its attributes seem quite vital in the understanding of any sort of relational or communicative interactions.
We do communicate with what clothes us. Condemn them for it if you will, but most people (all people?) form their first beliefs about us based on their physical sight of us. And condemn yourself, but you often dress with this in mind. Yet perhaps when most dress, they do it in much the same way that a six year old paints. They have a general intuition of what they want to paint (are all children representationalists?) and they paint it in shaky-handed smears. We do this with our dress. We do not know the nuances of dress, nor do we have the patience to practice those skills of manner and subtlety that are required for the art of dressing well.
I have not yet said that these things are good. I have only said that we do not have them. Should we? Mr. Trebay assumes that his readership cares about high art. He attempts to convince them that fashion can be legitimate high art. Christians are not yet convinced that art is worth caring about. I do not have the time and talent to convince my audience of such a thing. A look into the essays of Dorothy Sayers or Flannery O’Connor will soon show a discerning reader that artistry and creativity are not only worthwhile for a Christian, but perhaps the most essential Christian activities of all. Sayers says that we are most like God when we create. O’Connor warns us that art must first be high quality art before it can be called Christian art. Jehova is not the God of shoddy jobs.
If one comes even to the point of believing these two empresses of 20th century letters, one may still be unconvinced that actaully knowing about high fashion is important. Is it not a better thing to wear clothing that proclaims Christ? How about a “Got Jesus?” shirt? Is that not the most direct way of using our clothing to serve God in a creative, culture savvy way?
Beyond the obvious answer to this question, I think that those who see t-shirt-slogans as the most creative and Christian sort of apparel for the gentleman or lady are falling into a two-fold folly. First of all, it is very interesting to me that Christians, especially protestants, are very quick to turn everything into a book. For some reason protestants have got it into their head that Christ can only, or at least should primarily, be proclaimed verbally. When someone says that we should proclaim Christ with what we wear, we assume it to mean that we need to have the word “Christ” on our clothes. Does this seem a little elementary? Perhaps. Christ, I believe, is proclaimed more through a well fitting suit than He is through His Name on a shirt.
Why? Well, this leads me to the second pitfall of the Jesus-shirt people. For some reason we have fogotten about tradition. Forget for a second the high-churches or liturgy. Think about the history of painting. It would be unfortunate for a painter to go through his whole life without knowing about Rembrandt, about Caravaggio, about Monet, even Hokusai or Picasso. This painter would have paint, but not know how to use it to the best of its ability. We are like this with clothes. If you do not know how to wear a suit, gentlemen, you are choosing through ignorance or will to ignore a resource and skill that men have been using for centuries to creatively express and interact. We all have a failing grade in fashion history, and it deeply retards our ability to glorify Christ though how we dress.
When a suit fits perfectly, when a hat is tipped in gentility, when a sweeping skirt twirls on a dancefloor, when a high-heel’s arching bow creates a seeming vault of sky for a woman to walk atop, it is then that God is glorified in our dress, then that, for a moment, we can see, even from an initial glance, the image of God accentuated and made manifest in our own feeble attempts at entering into that most holy of activities–creation.