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Wardrobe worries

closetEvery once and a while, I marvel at how simultaneously contemporary and counter-cultural the words of Jesus are.

The other day I was at home watching some mid-day talk shows. I happened to land on a program where the hosts were discussing a current study that suggested that the inability to keep up-to-date with the latest fashion trends could have negative effects on one’s life. This idea is not new. Forbes magazine, Psychology Today, the New York Times have all in the last several years written articles suggesting this ‘fact’. Such studies, and the media outlets that promote them, claim that our fashion faux pas’ prevent us from receiving wanted job promotions, important personal and work related contacts, and the generally happy existence we are all owed.

On one level, these studies sound safe enough and there is certain level of truth in the claim that the clothes we wear make certain statements about us. Ripped, torn, ragged clothing does project a message of unkemptness; whereas a three-pieced suits does breathes an air of sophistication and class. These judgements are no doubt surface level conjectures, for the woman in ripped jeans may be a high powered executive and the man in the suit could very well be a shumck.  Still, such in the moment judgements based solely on one’s clothing—however unwarranted—is understandable. This is the reason why we have saying like ‘Dress for the job you want’ and ‘Look the part’.

The idea behind all of this is that fashion forwardness not only makes us seem relevant an knowledgeable of the world, but it also boosts our confidence and mastery over the direction of our lives. If we can look the part, we say, we thereby have a better chance of landing that date, that job, or that deal. The TLC hit “What Not to Wear” highlighted this idea quite prominently. This show was not so much about a wardrobe make-over, as it was about the establishment of one’s mastery over their life and person-hood. On the surface, the belief that being in the step of current fashion can only have positive effects for one’s life seems as if it could only have beneficial results.

But is that the case in reality? It seems to me that if we really believed that a positive fashion sense created positive opportunities in life, then we would not be living lives of bold confidence or self mastery. Nor would we wake each morning feeling good about our ability to advance our lives in the furtherance of our dreams. It seems to me the opposite would be true. Instead of freedom and self-esteem, fear, anxiety, and an aching sense of ever-constant worry would be the result. Not only would we live in the constant worry about correctly identifying the current trend, there would be the stress of having to search out the appropriate pieces and pray to God that we would have the funds to afford them. This stress would be unrelenting, for fashion is constantly shifting. Just think, how horrifying would it be to go to sleep in a world of yoga pants but wake up in one of jean-cut-offs and Birkenstocks!

What is more, these studies do not take into account is the amount of judgement that occurs even when one wear’s current fashions. This is evidenced in many of today’s celebrity magazines that include a multi-page spread entitled ‘Who Wore it Better.’ These pages depict images of celebrities sporting the exact same outfit, sometimes even at the same event. These stars, and their outfits, are then placed side by side and ranked: one celeb is praised for her look, the other ridiculed.

Thus, it is not enough to understand current fashion, or even to have the foresight, the opportunity, and the budget to adopt these looks, one must also look better than everyone else. While the hosts of the day-time talk show may have tried to suggest that they feel ‘empowered’ in the midst of their fashion hits, the reality is anything but. The moment of being confident in our fashion ability is obliterated whenever we see someone wearing the same outfit, and God-forbid, wearing it better than us.

Perhaps this is the reason why Jesus says “Do not worry about your body, what you will wear.” (Matthew 6:25) This is spoken in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, so it must be important to the life that the Jesus is attempting to form in His disciples. As followers of Jesus, who continually attempt to live out the dynamic of God’s will and presence, we are called to side-step all vain worry about style icons and fashionistas. Instead, we are to see our identity as emanating from the one who created and redeemed us. The life of not worrying about what we will wear is built upon the foundation of seeing our lives in the context of God’s presence and care. It looks beyond the surface level of what we can gain or produce for ourselves, and peers into the deeper spaces of God’s goodness and love bestowed upon us in ever flowing constancy. The fact is, we sidestep the life Jesus wants to produce in us when we see ourselves only in relation to the external things that adorn our lives. It matters not what we will wear, because we know that the living of our lives is more about living out our redeemed identity than it is about glorifying any external thing found amid this world.

Jesus invites us to step away from the worry and anxiety that stems from trying to look the way the world wishes us to look and invites us to put down our frenetic striving for the best looks, the best things, the best toys, or the best products. This only leads us into, what Thomas Kelly calls, a “intolerable scramble of panting fervishness.’

Instead, Jesus invites us into the freedom that comes from being found in his love and grace. Do not worry about what you will wear; Jesus will love you no matter what.

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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One Response to Wardrobe worries

  1. In this context, I have to agree with you. When Jesus said just a few verses earlier in Mt 6. 21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” it applies not just to money, but anything that we emphasize in our lives. It’s also a point emphasized in the Book of Homilies where Homily VI Against the Excess of Apparel which describes the emphasis on wardrobe as being ‘care for pleasing the flesh’ or in other words filling their hearts with earthly things. There is a counter-point to all of this, though. 1 Sm 16. 7 says, ” For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Generally speaking it’s the culture we live in that shapes the message our clothes give. We might have our own personal message–counter-cultural clothing is not exactly unknown–but generally speaking if someone is dressing formally, they are conveying a generally understood message. Your article focuses on the question of how we see what others are wearing, but the counter-point to that is how does God see what we’re wearing? He doesn’t care so much what we’re wearing but he does care about why we’re wearing it. When I attend mass, I understand that to some degree my clothes say something to others around me, but what is important is the message I am sending to God; namely that I am seeking in my heart to show reverence for him by dressing, as I am able, in some degree of formality.

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