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Why Fashion Matters to You
The fashion industry is at once the most visible and overlooked of cultural sectors. Malls, streets, magazines racks, television shows, and runways are filled with people making fashion statements—some angry, some extreme, some incoherent. But while designers, celebrities, publicists, and most young people in America understand the persuasive power of a fashion statement, most “serious” cultural critics give little evidence of noticing, much less engaging, the often pathological and destructive messages that fashion trends and fads market. This is a mistake: fashion statements are often both influential and philosophy-laden and, therefore, often need to be considered, analyzed, or challenged.
One does not need to be a critic or designer to understand that fashion statements intend to send a message. The content of those messages is an increasingly important component of the state of our culture. There are several reasons why this is so.
First, fashion helps define and shape popular culture, which, in turn, drives much of American culture writ large. The last few years have provided numerous examples of the influence fashion wields in shaping popular culture. Television and movies have, since their beginning, spawned fashion trends, but are increasingly institutionalizing their fashion influence. Models host their own television shows, open restaurants, and star in movies. All-fashion programs are making their appearance on cable stations and all-fashion networks are even emerging.
Similarly, the music and fashion industries are growing ever more intertwined. Music magazines—Rolling Stone, Spin, Vibe, and others—often feature fashion spreads, in addition to the fashion-conscious musicians they profile. VH1 offers the yearly VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards; MTV boasts the House of Style program. As far back as 1986, the Council of Fashion Designers of America gave MTV a special award for its influence on fashion. Fashion becomes an integral part of what young people consider cool, attractive, stylish, and entertaining. Even Newsweek admitted that “Style counts: Teen cliques are more fluid than adults thing, but each has its own distinctive tribal markings, from hippie chic to body art to buttoned down prep.” Indeed, virtually all cultural trends have a fashion component; one cannot adopt a role without looking the part.
As fashion has grown more intertwined with popular culture, its reach and influence have extended to younger consumers. Children provide an emerging market for the fashion world, and prove an increasingly lucrative one. According to some studies, direct spending by teens and preteens has tripled since 1990; in 1998, children under twelve alone spent over $28 billion, much of it on clothes. Children are more susceptible to peer pressure and fashion fads than adults; their increasing purchase power is a sure sign that fashion advertising—and its institutionalized presence in much of popular culture—will target more and more marketing efforts toward children. As fashion grows more influential, it will direct its statements toward the more easily influenced.
The increasing clout and celebrity of those within the fashion industry has also yielded political access. A generation ago, it would have been difficult to imagine a model being invited to testify on Capital Hill; today, models have been asked to do everything from advise Congress on foreign affairs (as when the model Iman testified about slavery in Sudan) to lead public health campaigns (Lauren Hutton’s campaign for hormone therapy). Nor is the fashion industry’s political access limited to the United States. In 1998, when models Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss finished their photo shoot in Havana, on a lark they sent a note to Castro requesting a meeting. Castro met with them for a full ninety minutes—half an hour longer than he spared for the Pope. In addition, Cuba’s chief revolutionary showed himself to be fairly well acquainted with fashion trends, congratulating Miss Moss on starting the “revolution” toward smaller models.
A third factor is that fashion is significant in its capacity to both reflect and affect larger historical trends. “Fashion is a mirror of history,” declared Louis IV. And David Wolfe, creative director of the fashion consulting Doneger Group, has stated: “Fashion is both a predecessor of what has taken place in larger society, and a predictor of what will take place.”
There are numerous examples to prove their point: the end of the first World War and subsequent expansion of economic wealth and opportunity unleashed daring and expensive new fashions. The passage of the nineteenth amendment, extending the right to vote to women, coincided with the advent of pants, shorter skirts, looser-fitting clothing for women, and bobbed hair. The departure of flapper fashion from previously accepted norms was radical in and of itself, as well as reflective of seismic changes underway in the status and treatment of women. The shortening of women’s hemlines and advent of the dropped-waist dress (which eliminated the need for corsets) were vehemently criticized for being “unfeminine,” with the result that social concepts of femininity underwent alterations along with hemlines and haircuts. Fashion accelerated the movement of history—and not only by enabling women to walk faster. The adoption of new fashions became a social, even a philosophical statement, in some ways. Indeed, the most renowned author of the time, F. Scott Fitzgerald, penned his most famous short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” in a book titled Flappers and Philosophers.
Finally, and most importantly, fashion statements are significant because they purport to define what an individual and/or society believes is and should be attractive, desired, and emulated. The fashion industry’s primary purpose is to glamorize a particular “look” and hold it up as something to be admired, purchased, and adopted. It is about endowing a certain appearance with glamour and encouraging others to aspire toward its emulation. As one critic noted, “In virtually all forms of fashion photography, there is a patina of glamour. Once anything is touched by the hand of fashion, it takes on an enticing glow and a secular and commercial appeal.”
What we, as a society, consider attractive and stylish is no trivial matter, as it reflects significantly on what we value, what we consider beautiful, and how we wish to appear and be known. As such, fashion statements are, as their name suggests, invitations to a conversation—one that we would do well to take seriously.
Editor's Note: This post is part of an essay published in
Building a Healthy Culture
and was posted here with permission. The image was taken by
Fashion is an amazing access point for introducing young people to more mature concepts of the Christian life. Most 7th graders can identify the felt pressure to appear cool and fit in in that way. Engaging in a fashion dialogue can help a young person to creatively express themselves, find voice, resist peer pressure, identify the snares of materialism, understand basic theology of sexuality and the body, engage in simple forms of activism (31bits.com), and ultimately become thoughtful stewards of the aesthetic dimensions of their lives (twentypieces.org). I would love to hear about people and organizations that are participating in this conversation. I think it may be more important than we think.
I myself have decided to engage this segment of society that many believers seem to turn away from. After working in marketing and graphic design for 10 years, I've always been curious about fashion and been a distant admirer but afraid to engage in what seemed superfluous and vain. But this was a side of me that was really yearning to be released.
But now I've decided to venture and to see what fashion is all about.
What I've discovered is that in the end it's just business. ALL companies strive to make money and to be successful and some may make decisions where it's really all about the bottom line and some actually will use the power of a fashion brand for a cause. As a fashion student now and social entrepreneur of Elliefunday.com, I hope to be the later. I've realized that anything can be used for selfish reasons, it's all about who we live for in the end, ourselves or for the kingdom.
Fashion is such a fascinating part of culture. I have read that it actually mirrors architecture, and so is first shaped by other dynamics we may not be aware of. It has influence, yet it is actually first *influenced.*
Thank you Cherie for reminding us that we live in a fashion culture, whether we like it or not. As a pastor who has had a number of members of our congregation involved in this industry, I've found the Christian response terribly one-sided in its engagement. Fashion is not going away, and it is time that Christians began to formulate a constructive yet critical response to fashion as a powerful social, economic, aesthetic, political and (I would dare to add) theological topic.
john van sloten
A few years back I preached a series of messages on fashion. The call to worship for the first service had Canadian designer Paul Hardy previewing his Spring 2005 collection (before his NY or LA shows) at our church with a full-on runway show. Fashionistas came from all over the city to see the show and then hear about how God made us to be seen as beautiful, to one day be perfect, and how part of our image bearing is about becoming fully ourselves (ie: your point on self expression).
(KJV) Matthew 6:25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
(KJV) Matthew 6:28-32 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, [shall he] not much more [clothe] you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
@Linda: Stepping out of the world of fashion because of this passage would be like ignoring nutrition because it says not to worry about what we eat.
I think you've missed the point of this passage as well as this essay. That section of Matthew commands us not to worry about what we will wear in a way that encourages us to remember where our security and identity lay (in the Father not what we can produce on our own). This does not mean ignoring the entire world of fashion.
Having obtained an A.A. in Fashion Merchandising for F.I.D.M. and as the founder of Beautiful You, a ministry for 14 - 16 year old young women emphasizing modesty, purity and self-confidence with a fashion twist thrown in, the two questions presented above
1.What fashion trends have you noticed that portray people as we ought to be?
2.Following Gabe Lyon’s lead from The Next Christians, how can you engage the fashion industry by creating and not only critiquing?
are quite thought provoking.
I truly believe all females (ages 0 -100+) can dress femininely, stylishly & modestly and truly reflect God's character. God created women to be the more beautiful sex. However, sin distorted men's (and women's view) of beauty .The question is where to find these clothes. I have done research looking for clothing for young women that is feminine, stylish & modest and have been hard pressed to find a line of clothing that satisfies all these criteria. I have talked with numberous parents who express these same thoughts and concerns. In my experience, in an effort to dress modesty, girls sometimes tend to dress androgynous (i.e. khaki pants or jeans and a t-shirt, sweatshirt or polo shirt). There is an wide open field in the area of fashion for modest feminine and fashionable clothing for young women (and for that matter all women). I would like to see young fashion designers with a passion for this segment of the fashion industry like Sarah who posted stating she is a fashion student. I will be praying for her and others to have the courage to make a difference in the world of fashion.
Based on my above comments, maybe that is why the previous posts have not addressed these questions. I am determined to meditate on these questions and provide answers. I look forward to posting again when the answers are revealed to me.
I think fashion also presents us (Christians) with an opportunity to think about what we buy, why we buy, and how we can live counter-culturally. Cherie, I think your final point is right on - the clothes that we wear communicate much about what we value and want to emulate.
To answer your second question, I started an organization called Forgotten that produces t-shirts (and eventually other apparel) that provides good jobs and opportunities for people who are marginalized and forgotten. We work with cotton farmers and textile workers in sub-Saharan Africa and our shirts are screen printed by at-risk urban teens in Minneapolis. We want to provide an alternative - a fashion statement - that communicates our love for the least. Too often, beautiful clothes are oppressive to those who make them. I think that fashion presents an opportunity for the church to communicate concepts of love and justice. Perhaps that's grandiose, but I think your article shows that fashion has great power to communicate.
Great article Cherie!
My wife and I are the directors of a Fashion Industry ministry called, Models for Christ
( ModelsforChrist.com ). We have traveled the world as models so that we can reach this unreached people group in Fashion. Jobs as a couple are great because we can go into usually an anti-christian working environment like how Jesus sent the disciples out, two-by-two, and God provides many opportunities to share because of our 18 year marriage and peace and joy. All because of our relationship with Christ. We have been doing this for over 14 years and the ministry was started 28 years ago in 1984 by another couple, the Calenberg's. Many people know about MFC because they are in the Fashion Industry, but we get mixed support from the church body who do not understand the need of sharing the Gospel, verbally and in action, to many of these spiritual lost, but incredible people who Jesus loves and actually died for. We believe and have seen over all these years that the Holy Spirit uses many of from MFC to lead people to a relationship with Jesus, or rededicate their lives to Him, or walk them through life threatening situations. It is such a blessing for us and really makes those Bible verses come to life where Jesus would eat, spend time with and love "sinners" like us.
Fashion is way of controlling people and leading them like sheep. I prefer to swim in the world of freedom and far away from all manipulators! Modesty is at the top list of fashion as the body is sacred!
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