The Sword and the Shaving Brush
Towards a Biblical understanding of fashion
by Timothy Bartel
Part X Conclusion: Personhood, Not Propoganda
Having reinterpreted fashion as an incarnational art form and modesty as a sort of aesthetic and moral check on that art, we may now turn to the last problem of fashion. It was said before that when aesthetic concerns are ignored, and moral concerns overemphasized, fashion becomes a frame for propaganda. One’s t-shirt is used to advertise and proselytize. Often this is defended as faux-incarnational by those who argue that fashion expresses one’s self. We have discussed above that clothing most primarily images forth one’s body, yet it would be foolish to say that one’s fashion does not also express one’s immaterial self. Without becoming overly metaphysical, I believe it is safe to say that for the Christian, the body is intricately connected with and acts as physical ‘clothing’ to the soul. While it may be too tidy to say that one’s clothing is to one’s body as one’s body is to one’s soul, it is not improper to say that fashion may, when most complete, image forth the whole self of the wearer, not just the body. There is, then, a place for the ideological and verbal in fashion. Yet this expression of ideas must be ruled by the governing principles of incarnational art—that careful attention must be paid to the imaged object if the image is to be of any quality, and that one art form must not be exploited for the purposes of another. I will give some examples.
Take, for instance, the ‘Christian T-shirt,’ which sports Psalm 23 written in a fancy, stylish font across the torso. While Psalm 23 is a masterful piece of poetry, and the t-shirt a garment of simple beauty, when put together, they detract from one another. Poetry is written to be read on a stationary, flat piece of paper, not a moving, folding, curving surface. A T-shirt was made to accentuate and image and move in unison with the bold structure of the torso and shoulders, not be an image of a printed page. Perhaps this is why smaller, bold emblems have traditionally worked best as accents on clothing. An embroidered cross or badge mimics much more the small, bold accents of the human form: the eye, the joint, or scar. Color is another safe and aesthetically consistent method of imaging not only body, but idea or cause. Yet the correct balances of uniformity, complexity, and contrast not only between clothing colors, but also between body and garment must be understood and employed in such designs. Once again, the hard work of looking well and learning from artistic tradition is essential to the art of fashion.
While I wish I could go on and tell one how to dress in particular, I will not. It was the goal of this essay to attempt a biblical, incarnational approach to the art of fashion. ‘How to dress’ is for another essay or book.
Yet one must remember that fashion is a unique art in that we all participate in it on a daily basis. Many do not paint or even write on a daily basis, but we all do dress. How can we dress incarnationally?
First, we wear clothes that fit us. While the best way to get clothes that fit us is to have a personal tailor, the second best way is to actually pay attention to the fit and form of the clothes we buy. Do they fit us? Do they help to reveal our bodies as not just racks for clothes, but as glorious, God-made forms? If we take our physical natures seriously, we will want to treat our bodies and souls with the dignity and honor of well made garments which reveal not only the work of skilled artists who make clothes, but the work of a skilled dresser, who reveals in his fashion the image of God which separated us from the beasts in the beginning.