Fashion

Evanger Fireside wrote an interesting post here which I wish to partly respond to and partly to build upon.

Two specific things I would like to speak on. The first is a statement Mr Fireside makes, and the second is something that appears to be an axiomatic principle to his line of thought.  First the first, then the next:

Mr Fireside says:

as Christians … our identity is found in Christ, not in what we wear

Yes, Mr Fireside you are correct, however I feel that when the Mr. Trebay of NYTimes says, “[People] have their identities… assembled during the profound daily ritual of clothing oneself” he is speaking of identity differently. In Christ we have the right to be called sons (and daughters) of God. This is our prime identity. And, while Paul asserts that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, it is nonetheless true that he addresses individuals (e.g. Euodias, Syntyche, Clement) as well as identifiably distinct sets of persons (e.g. “those women who laboured with me”).

It is not the core (ontological?) identity being constructed with the daily ritual of adornment. No school of thought I have yet to come across holds to this notion. Even those who do not hold to an ontological identity would say it was wrapped up in the fabric of your cashmere sweater.

Rather the identity created, marked, communicated in the fashion statement of our wardrobes is one of mode, not type. Just as one can drift in and out of sleep, day dream, analytic thought, prayer, and witty jubilance while still maintaining the same consciousness (and identity), so the same individual may taken on (or remove) the tie, the dress, the heals, the boots, the coat, the mauve, cerulean, taupe and orange without have the fundamental identity change. (Though there are mystical exceptions to this. See the description of the Priestly garments in the Levitical laws and Ezekiel.) However, my identity does change with my clothing. When I wear black pants, and shirt, with black patent leather shoes, tie my hair back, and put on a green apron and black cap, I am a barista at a local coffee shop. When I put on the long white alb, I become an acolyte. If I don my three-piece, slate grey with ash grey and red pinstriped suit with my European cut, gold buckled dress shoes with hair slicked back and a leather folder in-hand, I become somebody that people step out of the way for in grocery stores, I am called sir, and am catered to. When I wear my hair loose, sport my white raw cotton duster embroidered with bright colours, going about barefoot, I am ogled, pointed at, talked to by complete strangers, and asked to leave establishments.

Our identity is, at least to some degree, bound in what we wear.

The second issue is, and correct me if I infer incorrectly, the implication that we should, if indeed we should seek to care about fashion, care about fashion in a sense similar to ‘high art’. The examples that are given, Mr Fireside, all speak of the elegant, the (at least moderately) expensive, the ‘classy’. Sir, if indeed my previous conclusion is correct and that (at least some) of our identity is bound in what we wear, it is important to remember that some are not elegant, rich, or classy. Thus it would be improper to for a Christian, in seeking to glorify God in his/her wardrobe to become elegant, rich, and classy. Just as the Gentile need not become a Jew to become a Christian, I fear it would be improper to ask the surfer (who is of the t-shirt generation) to don the sports coat.

Before I am taken too literally, let me assert that I do believe in standards, and that there should be some observances that folks are held to beyond the cultural understandings of their youth. I, for one, would assert that shorts should not be worn in Church. I would argue this as a point of respect. And I would encourage Mr Surfer-new-born-Christian to wear long pants, and maybe even a collared shirt to Church. The danger that I see in your argument, Mr Fireside, is that it seems to glorify the fashion of the European bourgeois.

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~ by jeorgesmith on 2 September 2007.

5 Responses to “Fashion”

  1. Mr. Smith,

    Thanks for you response! I like your distinction about the essential idenity vs. lesser forms of identity. I think I’m on board. I think, though, that the surfer (or, which is much more prevalent, those who wear surf-related clothing) is the person who should read my post and learn form it. European high fashion is as important and varied a tradition as european painting or architechture, and often does deserve to be glorified for the simple fact that it is glorious.

    European is a very broad term; if I may continue on with the painting parrallel, it seems that to lump all European fashion into one category or even one style would be similar to saying lumping Giotto, Van Gogh, and Goya into the term “European painter”. The sharp shoulders of the Milanese suit are quite different from the sack coats of New York and the tweed bulk of Saville Row. The rich (and often quite inexpensive) traditions of the Europeans are our inheritance as well as the blue jeans of the san francisco miners; they have stodd the test of time longer than the T-shirt, and the T-shirt wearer might live in a richer universe were he to duck into the local Goodwill, Gap, or Gucci and paroose the fabrics of his forefathers.

    – E. Fireside

  2. I also detected some class-based assumptions to Mr. Fireside’s arguments. However, I think there is room within the Kingdom (and a time and a place) for multiple approaches. Certainly, John the Baptist dressed appropriately to the message and the target audience he was sent to reach. On the other hand, class is covered by Paul’s “all things to all people that some might be saved.” I once talked to a missionary whose target unreached people was “the millionares of Mexico City.” He absolutely needed to dress the part. But missionaries in the past have earned well-deserved criticisms for putting indigenous populations in white shirts and ties. Among the K__ people where you and I have seen the beginning of a people movement, a key question among non-believers has been that in the past, when K__ individuals went outside to get an education, they began to dress differently and lost their very K__ness. The K__ Christians have earned the respect of other K__, precisely because they have not only kept their K__ identity (strongly carried by choice of dress), but have actually become better K__ than the non-believers. What works for the K__ can be applied to a greater or lesser degree to any target population. Author Ruby K. Payne has written several very perceptive books on the unwritten assumptions of class (A Framework for Understanding Poverty, What Every Church Member Should Know about Poverty, Marrying Across the Tracks). Mr. Fireside’s arguments place him squarely within an upper-middle or upper class mindset, but for that class level, his arguments absolutely hold sway.

    Oh, and on those hot, humid, LML Sunday mornings, I wore shorts to church to the glory of God.

  3. I should also add that even within the U.S., at equivalent social stations, there is significant difference between say, California and New York. Do you know where Mr. Fireside is writing from?

  4. Mr Fireside, yes, I would be appalled to lump all European fashions in one and the same group. The reason I gave the general distinction of “European” instead of that of Milan, Paris, Oxford, etc was that in your own original article you suggest both the top hat and the stiletto which are of different areas of Europe (The former English, and the other of Italy). Through cross-breeding and adoption these two pieces have come to be seen in one and the same setting, but their origins are unique. It is also interesting to note, with these to examples, that they are both quite new to the scene. Neither the top hat nor the stiletto have existed for more than two hundred years. I do agree with your statement concerning the T-shirt wearer’s possible improved world were he to step into a “Goodwill, Gap, or Gucci”, I am in general favorable to a multilingual education–this applying also to the languages of clothing and adornment.

    Dad, I really like the point about the K__ people. And as for shorts, maybe its my old fashioned ways, but I have a hard time with large quantities of skin in Euro-Caucasian worship. There is something about being fully clothed that seems more proper when coming to worship God. For those from a small scale tribal, clan, or chieftain society that wears hemp twine and feathers I would encourage them to wear whatever was most ‘formal’ (i.e. ceremonial, respectful, etc) rather than simply going for ‘fully clothed’.

    Mr Fireside is writing from SoCal.

    J.R.Smith

  5. My identity is who I am, not necessarily what I wear. I have become a chameleon (or have been one for a long time) in that I dress in a manner to be able to better communicate with my “audience”/ministry. I dress differently for the classroom than for church, primarily because I want to build better rapport with my students, thereby gaining a hearing. And, like you, I do enjoy the various styles, and like to observe the differing reactions from those around us. Love, Mom

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