Sunday, 28 December 2008

how should we then wear?

"I wondered if you came across in your time at L'abri anyone exploring Christianity and fashion? is art and what we wear functions as a work of art ... it relates back to your question about what place physical beauty has. Any further thoughts on that? The industry as a whole clearly has a lot of faults - but stripping that away do you think there is anything biblical there?" (Also see

There weren't any explicitly in the fashion industry this term at L'Abri, there were photographers and related artists, and generally fashionable people.. Artisan Initiatives at St Mary’s tends to have a gaggle of fashion industry types and they link to MFC in their publication, I haven’t followed it before.

Slowly I am preparing for the blog my thoughts on Christians, Craft and Image, and trying to take in idolatry and the environment all in one, it is a convoluted piece. So for fashion, just as with architecture, we cannot say a piece of clothing is inherently wrong, God made us creative, we are fallen, everything is a mixed bag.

However, I do think some fashion is virtually irredeemable, though I feel that about some architectures, and it is possibly an unhealthy black and white approach. But some systems of deceit and illusion, of slavery and production, of shallowness and addiction, leave in their wake such a slew of victims and offer such fleeting happiness to the consumer as to demand that Christians demonstrate that a more joyful way of clothing oneself is possible, even if that means making them yourself, Gandhi did, Shane Claiborne does..

But calling things ‘bad’ is relatively easy compared with affirming the ‘good’, where in post-structuralist, hyper-environmentalist architecture school ‘beauty’ is considered unnecessary or arbitrary or even damaging. There is a borderline pharasaical legalism around ornament, tradition and story. It is spilt perfume all over again.

Doing and wearing fashion as an expression of something within a language that is both meaningful and redemptive is so hard in a context where we often do not share signifiers (a guy wears a rainbow t-shirt to denote peace in one community, which means something else in another language community), and where we do not have sufficient information, indeed there are vested (pun intended meh) interests by companies in keeping us from knowing the means of production (so ‘fairtrade’ ‘sweatshop-free’ ‘green’ become sloganised and make a mockery of our petty morals).

It is difficult, the fashionable Christians too quickly pull the, God-made-me-creative-to-express-who-I-am-Stop-with-your-Puritanism, the less fashionable Christians too quickly assume some bizarre moral high ground, based on flawed theology that is anti-the-physical-body.. This is the same conversation as Christians and food, Christians and architecture etc, and my stock response leans heavily on a return to locality, to community, and to traditional creativity, which requires that I for the sake of argument eschew many of the fruits of a hyper-specialised, technology-enabled modern life; this is a noble hope, but is not an adequate compromise and comes with its own list of theological short-comings…

The efficiency of a machine age has been used a trumph card justify all means of production, to supply all confected 'needs'. When that which formerly was a legible meaningful expression, or 'art' as you have called it, becomes a fashion 'industry,' clothes become consumer goods, their meaning becomes impoverished and there comes a disconnect between producer and consumer, the gifts of nature - cottons, leathers etc - and the joy of using them, the creator and the creature. Out of this we struggle to live in meaningful gratitude, which almost inevitably reduces the entire transaction to the sum of its vices. Vitally the role of christians should be affirming relevent art and craft at every level, shifting people's default state from consuming to creating. The fashion born out of vanity, insecurity and bare greed is easy to throw stones at, a braver move is to consider the process of production and the language of decoration and how we can integrate these in contemporary life, in redemptive and joyful ways. Catherine knitted a pair of socks for Anna in the last week of term, it was a deep joy just to watch, as were all the hats knitted, songs written and pictures painted, the socks just seemed more fiddly. This sort of physical work should be a spiritual discipline, this sort of personal expression constitutes the sort of truly Good Work that we would do without being paid, it is redeemed work. And so for the joy set before us... I have not yet seen a theology defending the 'art' of shopping, it is not inherently wrong, but it is opted for on the basis of expediency, consuming rather than creating is complicit in fracturing community and cheapening the value of work and people.

There is another area to be explored, that of festivity, of parades and carnivals as sabbath time and their associated attire, playful wear and colourful story, and ways in which this should trickle down to the every day, if we only did not consider ourselves too sophisticated to play like that in any but an ironic fashion.

Here I am again filling cyberspace with unfootnoted opinion, tenuously strung together argument, self-evident truths mixed polemically with spurious conjecture.. and no Bible.. The question we're asking is How Should We Then Wear? And I would point people chiefly to AF's lecture on "Intentional Community as a Subversion of Modernity" and CSL's essay on "Good Work".