There seems to be a weird schizophrenic mindset in American Christianity about fashion. We want to dismiss it because Christianity is about inward, spiritual beauty. Why should the fashion trends of the world bother us? At the same time, we obsessively policing people and what they wear, because Godly Women Don’t Wear Short Skirts. The result is a Church full of women who are told they should dress in a way that honors the Lord but have no idea how to go about it.
It would be easier if we were all made to look the same way, and all the churches of the world existed in one unified culture. It might be easier if the world that we lived in never changed. We would never have to figure out if pants were acceptable in the church, or leggings, or uncovering our hair. It’d be a lot easier if being Christian meant knowing all the answers, and always being right.
But because this is not the case, I’m compelled to sit here and puzzle out how fashion intersects with my faith. I won’t get it 100% right, but I’m okay with this. I’m a finite being interacting with an Infinite God. Still, I want to try and find answers, and I invite you to find answers with me.
What is Fashion?
In my head, there are two ways we can define Fashion.
- Fashion is a way of dressing yourself, dictated by your culture and the market forces. For example, while I lived in Oklahoma, America I wear shorts in the summer. When I lived in Istanbul, Turkey, I did not. For that matter, most of the men didn’t wear shorts either, it wasn’t a part of the culture.I also LOVE high waisted trousers, but until a few years ago they weren’t available to me in stores. If I wanted them I had to go thrift shopping. Now they’re in vogue and the market is offering them.
Looking at fashion through these two lenses, culture and the market makes Fashion pretty worldly. That’s not what I care about.
- The second way to define Fashion is that as a way of dressing that expresses your personality and values. For example, I rarely wear t-shirts with text on them unless I agree 100% with what it says. This is definition I will use throughout this post and this blog.
Fashion is a Reflection of Our Values
If we accept this definition of Fashion, then it’s safe to assume that what we wear and how we wear it is a form of non-verbal communication. If that’s the case, then we should examine what it is we’re communicating through our Fashion.
The first and most obvious thing Fashion communicates is our likes and dislikes. Because I wear a lot of red, people assume red is my favorite color. When we see someone wearing “athleisure” we think to ourselves, “That person values comfort and movability.”
Fashion also communicates our socio-economic standing. If we see a woman wearing a nice dress during lunchtime, we assume she works at an office and has a 401K and health insurance. These are some of the more basic, and shallow, assumptions we can make about a person based on their fashion.
But fashion can also communicate other, more important things about us. Often, it can communicate how we feel about ourselves. Ironed clothing, nice accessories, and nails always done? That person cares about presenting themselves in a put-together, polished way. T-shirt, jeans, nasty hair, and little makeup? That person doesn’t care nearly as much about that, AND THAT’S OKAY.
Fashion Reflects How We Feel About Ourselves
I would like to take a moment and point out that neither of these Fashions is wrong by themselves. They are only wrong if they are not a reflection of the character and personality of God.
For example, when I’m feeling good about myself I love to put on makeup, iron my clothes and wear a ton of fun accessories. These things can bring me joy and I’m grateful that I get to wear them, or that God gave me a body that makes them look good. When I’m not feeling good about myself, I’ll still try to look polished… I’ll just also try to look like everyone else. I replace my fun accessories with quieter pieces and I dress to fit in rather than stand out.
My friend, on the other hand, doesn’t give a flying flip about makeup, accessories, or ironing her clothing. She is an au naturel woman, and it works for her. But, again, when she’s not feeling good about herself, little things will shift. She’ll dress to hide her legs because she’s self-conscious, or she’ll try to cram herself into heels that she feels like she needs to learn how to wear.
In both of these cases, we are either using Fashion to express pleasure and joy in the way God made us, or we’re using it to conform to the world’s standard. We think these internal motivations don’t communicate, but most of the time they do. Besides, it ultimately doesn’t matter what we’re communicating to the outside world, what are we communicating with God? That the way He made us isn’t good enough? Isn’t “Fashionable” enough?
Fashion is More Complicated Than We Think
I’ve already spoken about how God has used fashion in my life to help with communication. But Fashion can also be an outward expression of the beautiful, complicated nature that God gave us! It might not always be pretty (she says, as she burns the photos of her high school fashion choices), but figuring it out can be incredibly rewarding. What’s more, dressing in a way that matches your God-given character is honoring to God.
But enough from me! Tell me what you think! Do you agree? Disagree? Think there are some points that I need to flesh out or clarify? Your thoughts are going to make me a better thinker, so talk to me in the comments below!