Entering into a discussion on fashion calls for none else than an entry on the theology of fashion! Yes, I said it and out loud too. And if you think that no theology on said topic could possibly exist, well, it does. This past semester, I gave a lecture on it to my class of all male classmates and my male professor. The following are bits and pieces of my lecture notes for the class presentation.
We often speak of today’s society craving something, that preceding societies did not desire. However, human nature has remained virtually the same since the beginning. Although context and environment may change, the human nature does not. Of course, certain aspects within human nature can become more pronounced, resulting in a propensity toward that aspect, that can in turn consume a society. This has happened all down through the ages. At the same time, it hardly seems so—that one aspect is emphasised above the rest. Human nature is commonly compulsive, obsessive, driven: prone to longings and cravings that leave people feeling empty or partially fulfilled but never completely satisfied. Thus the human nature, being deep and complex, searches for something more. In fact, it strives for that which is beyond itself. Moreover, because all are made in the image of God, thus all can exude a proclivity toward something and for this entry, that something is beauty.
I will not get into grappling with what the world defines as beautiful. That being entirely relative, none other than the fashion world displays this to such an extent. It is a place to witness an ever shifting culture of relativism, where one fashion is in, while another is out. What was entirely unstylish when we were children has now become vogue today. At the same time, some styles seem to remain for years, while others last but a moment and then just as quickly vanish from the fashion scene. Ironically so, in many respects, the fashion world many times hardly exudes beauty. Instead, it reveals the carelessness and fleeting nature of the world. However, beauty can be found within in it—that which is both physical and material.
Nevertheless, I want to focus on why fashion affects so much of the world, not so much fashion itself. Fashion is an outward manifestation of the inward make-up of what it means to be human. Humans desire beauty, that which is beautiful. It is a God-given desire, even if it can become at times rather warped and twisted. Thus the question can be asked, “What does fashion reveal to us about the desires, the innate longing within us for something other than ourselves?” Other questions can then follow: “Is it the desire for the Other?” “Or is it a desire to understand the self?” “Or possibly is it a desire to cover up self or hide from self?”
Oftentimes, we the Church believe that we need to redeem everything around us, including fashion. However, because we can recognise the Divine within all of creation, we can seek to understand the reality that beauty exists within fashion. Thus our desire for fashion does not necessarily come out of sinfully willful pleasure, but reveals our thirst for and our affinity for the Divine revealed in that which is beautiful.
Furthermore, the body is not bad. Unfortunately, many evangelicals maintain a gnostic perception of the body to their detriment. However, Michelle Gonzalez in her book Shopping points out that the Incarnation shows us more than anything else that the body is to be esteemed. Hence, the material world reflects the glory of God. In her warning against consumerism, she does not dismiss the idea that fashion can speak to the believer. Rather, she argues that daily life, which would include such activities as shopping that relates to fashion, is that which reflects the glory of God.
Thus and obviously so, I do not view the love of fashion to be only for those deemed to be hedonistic, materialistic consumers. In fact, I would say that many aren’t, and more are embracing the beauty found within Creation, rather than not.