Fashion Dressing and Dressing for Church: Slavery and Freedom

One of the interesting things about having 50 TV channels is ‘Fashion TV’. In Australia, we would sometimes get puff pictures of the latest new season shows from Paris or Milan at the end of the news, and of course the Australian Fashion shows. But ‘Fashion TV’ is continuous ‘cat walking’. Watching so many girls walking down the runway has helped to dis-illusion me about the world of fashion.

First of all there is a kind of ‘reverse logic’ that operates. The people who are seen to have the most glamour(the models) have the least! Their hair is pushed and pulled in a thousand different ways, their faces have all kinds of different goo applied to them every day and they sometimes wear the most ridiculous clothes. Their bodies really are ‘a living sacrifice’  to the god ‘fashion’, or perhaps a living sacrifice to the god ‘Karl Largerfeld’ or ‘Dolce and Gabana.’ But these are the people at the ‘front end’ of the industry. Almost because they are the least important part of the fashion scene, they are compensated by the adulation of the camera.

The real stars of the fashion world make a brief appearance at the end of the show, right at the back of the catwalk. No strutting down the runway, pausing, and walking back for them. No, they are permitted a ‘back of the runway’ bow and wave, like royalty, and then they are gone!

The other thing that I noticed by watching a lot of ‘Fashion TV’ is that the models are not conventionally beautiful. There are three criteria I have divined for being a model. First a girl must be about 1.9m tall. Second she must be very skinny (if not anorexic), third she must have wide set eyes and high cheekbones.

Everything else depends upon the particular ‘look’ that is ‘in’ this year. Like sacrifices of old, models are chewed up at a great rate. Apart from the un-mentioned ‘casting couch’ thousands of girls are looked at, chosen, used up and thrown away. They are paid very well if they get to the top, but most are not.

If a person matches these criteria, then something happens! I was watching Fashion TV the other night and I said ‘Oh, there’s that same girl again!’ It was a different girl, but after a while watching, all the individuality is drained from the models. They all become ‘that same six foot, skinny girl with wide eyes and high cheekbones.’ This must done on purpose because what happens is that the girls themselves disappear into the background, and all one sees is the clothes! It is no wonder that models are called ‘clothes horses’.

That of course is the purpose. A designer could simply, and more cheaply have lots of tailor’s dummies with pretty faces on motorised wheels going down the cat walk, but the ‘movement’ of the clothes, how they look on a human being would be missing. So somehow the human being must be enticed to be a living ‘dummy’ who can then disappear so that the clothes themselves, the object of the show, can stand out. That is the purpose of the standardisation of the person and body type, and the ‘look’ of each show. The uniqueness of each human model disappears in order to demonstrate the uniqueness of the ‘creation’ of the designer-god.  

In religious terms, this is exactly the opposite of what happens in a monastery and in the army. The monks and soldiers are all dressed the same. Unlike fashion statements, a monk’s or a soldier’s outward individuality is supressed because they as individuals are part of a body. In the case of a monk or nun he or she is part of the body of Christ. A soldier is literally part of a ‘corps’ (body).

But underneath this ‘uniform’ the individuality of each person can be developed. This is the opposite of the fashion industry. In the Church and the Army it is the whole group that works as one, and then the uniqueness of each person is able to be encouraged and developed over time.

It is the same with vestments which are worn in Church. The clothes are symbolic in their shape and meaning. They cover my individuality, so that I am no longer ‘Paul’ but ‘Priest’. Who I am for you in Church is not the ‘living sacrifice’ to a creator-designer-god or to my own ‘self’ but a living sacrifice to the God who is there ‘for you’ no matter who inhabits the habit!
What you meet in Church is a God beyond the individual ‘presenter’. What holds us all in Church is the structure of the liturgy in which we all participate.

But then each person’s individuality can shine through. How I am a ‘priest’ can bring my own special gifts for your sake on behalf of God. I, as a person can really ‘inhabit’ the form that has been ‘given’ in such a way that it comes alive and achieves the end (communion with God and one another) for which it was designed.

I saw a movie recently. It was called ‘I was Monty’s Double’. It told the story of an ordinary person who looked like General Montgomery. In order to fool the Germans, he could be in places that ‘Monty’ was not, so that no one knew where ‘Monty’ was at any given time. This person had to fool not only the Germans, but his own troops. On one occasion he had to learn a long speech in a short time. Of course it was impossible, so in the middle of ‘delivering the lines that were written for him’ he froze for a minute or two. Then the spirit of Monty’ entered him. He forgot the speech and began talking ‘in the spirit’ of Monty. The speech was true to Monty and far more moving because it was this person’s own words.

That is what is promised to us too. In Church the Spirit of Jesus inhabits (dwells in) us. We speak as individuals but outwardly clothed in the same clothing (each christian is able to wear their baptism gown each Sunday): our uniform of the body of Christ . From God it is the Spirit of Christ that inhabits us. We bring our individuality to bear as this Spirit flows through us.

This is the difference between the modes of dress and ‘liturgy’ of the Fashion industry and of the Church. One form of living sacrifice give space for all of our reality: God’s Spirit, our corporate life and our individuality. The other instrumentalises human beings so that ‘girls’ are turned into ‘clothes horses’.

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
This entry was posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections at St. John's Montreux and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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