For a lot of Christians the topic of fashion is a controversial one. I happen to live in an area in which the prevailing cultural response to fashion is a bit like, “eh, why should I care?” but for me the incessant progression through colors, patterns and trends for clothing remains nearly as fascinating as the natural change of seasons happening outdoors. I’m not encouraging extremes of materialism, but I see no problem with recognizing the aesthetic joy of beautiful clothing, whenever and however it comes into view! While fashion is (perhaps necessarily) an industry that encourages conspicuous consumption, it is also a world in which the creativity of the God-created human mind can produce stunning results. I believe the desire to look well-put-together and to be in fashion, like anything else, can be fully experienced without being over-indulged.
The perspective regarding fashion with which I have the most trouble is the firm belief that shopping at low-end stores is the best plan because it is frugal and “less materialistic” somehow. I do not believe that investing in one beautiful, well-made piece of clothing is more materialistic than buying twelve of one style of shirt in different colors from JC Penney’s, yet this is often the argument I encounter. To me, this is a bit like saying that it’s more materialistic to buy a bottle of fresh orange juice instead of three of those frozen cans of the concentrate. The long-term benefits outweigh the negative aspect of the larger initial expense. One well-made item of clothing will last for many months (and sometimes even years) longer than the twelve poorly-crafted ones that are supposed to be the “frugal” option.
The other conversation I frequently have with friends concerns the frustrations of knowing what to buy. Many people have not grown up in families that cared much about fashion, and most people know very little about their own bodies and what will fit them best. In addition, the Christian culture in particular is so dead set against the dreaded sin of materialism that we have not encouraged the art of dressing to enhance this temple God has given us so that our appearance does not distract from the beauty of His nature in us. It is a simple fact that as humans we are far more able to focus on the personality of a person who is dressed in a way that suits them exactly than we are when a person is dressed in such a way that all we are able to pay attention to is their clothing. Dressing poorly is not only unflattering, it also draws attention away from the inherent beauty of a person and brings the focus to the clothes themselves. I know that we believe we should be able to look past outward appearances at all times, but as we inhabit a world full of imperfect human beings this is rarely actually the case!
I believe strongly that God gave humans an innate desire to present ourselves in such a way that our appearance is an enhancement to the inner beauty with which He fills us. Shame and insecurities about our appearance haunt us all as a result of the sin nature that is in us, but as we experience God’s grace operating in our lives I believe we can regain a simple confidence and learn to dress in such a way that our God-given inner beauty is demonstrated in how we choose to present our outward appearance.
So how can we begin to learn to dress well, and to dress to enhance the frame God has given us? Think of it this way – if you want to become a painter, what do you study? You don’t go to your child’s preschool and study their handiwork. You study Picasso, Van Gogh, Rembrandt – all the greatest painters of history. If you want to become an architect, you don’t go and spend lots of time studying the work of the person who designed Wal-Mart. You focus on Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry. In the same way, if you want to learn how to be a person of style and fashion sense, you shouldn’t look at your local Sears and JC Penney’s for direction or spend all your time poring over In Style magazine – you should look to the houses of Chanel, Dior and Givenchy, and also to those around you who have the quiet grace, creativity and confidence of appearance that comes from being a Christ-filled and balanced person. Beauty (inner and outer) encourages and inspires those who pay attention to it.
Fashion is also an enormously subjective thing. While some people are fantastically chic because they meticulously follow trends, others are chic for exactly the opposite reason – they never follow trends but have a natural flair for the classic looks that never go out of style. I believe the key is first to work out what looks best on you in terms of fit and shape and proportion. Honesty is key – you’ll never look your best in your own body if you’re constantly attempting to look as if you have someone else’s. Once you’ve figured out what works best for you, then you can make trends work in your favor. Fashion should enhance, not overwhelm. It is meant to bring beauty and inspire emotion, not to conform everyone to a single flatline pattern of existence. And if you find that you look best when you entirely ignore trends and instead wear that one style that best enhances the beauty God has given you, then my advice would be to do just that!
For me, paying attention to the endless morphology of fashion is entertaining and enjoyable. I adore poring over picture after picture from the latest runway shows and marveling at the colors, textures and detailwork each piece contains. It is a fun challenge to me to try to incorporate the latest styles into my own wardrobe in such a way that they are as flattering as possible without obscuring who I am as an individual. I know it’s not that way for everyone (nor should it be!), but I could wish that more Christians would take into careful consideration the question of whether their choices in fashion enhance or distract from the natural beauty God has given to them.
I know not every person reading this will agree with me. If you have another perspective or would like to add to my own, please feel free to comment!
A Classic Dior Suit, Circa 1947 (picture taken by Willy Maywald in the 1950’s)
The Sartorialist is a blog by a photographer who takes pictures of people he sees walking through the streets of major cities – he bases his choices not simply on what they are wearing, but how they wear it. I think this site demonstrates at least a part of what I am trying to propose – that when people are confident and assured in what they are wearing, that inner beauty and confidence have a direct impact on a person’s overall attractiveness. If you don’t believe me, go check out the site and see for yourself! www.thesartorialist.com