So I had a huge fashion fail at my church a few weeks ago—or more properly, I guess I should call it a fashion-and-spirituality-worship-service fail.
I blame John Van Sloten, a CRC minister in Calgary.
A few years ago John invited well-known Canadian designer, Paul Hardy, to come to his church one Sunday. Paul came with two or three models. They showed off Paul’s designs on a fashion runway that ran down the main aisle of the church. After the fashion show, Van Sloten interviewed Paul Hardy about his designs and how they related to his faith.
The fashion-show service was so unexpected in a church setting that the local CBC affiliate covered it for the TV news that night. So I thought we ought to do that too, here, at Lawrence Park Community Church.
So, six months ago I told our facilities manager to rent us a catwalk. I signed up an up and coming Canadian designer who goes to church to show off her clothes here. She agreed. After the show, just like John, I was going to interview her.
While planning the service, my designer said that she would need half-a-dozen models to show off her creations. These models all had to be size four or smaller. And so I, naïve pastor that I am, put a note in the church bulletin saying that we were looking for a couple of size four or smaller models.
No one volunteered. I ran the note a second time. Still no volunteers.
Finally, some wiser members of the congregation told me that as far as they could tell, there probably were not half-a-dozen such-sized women in our church, unless I wanted to invite some tweens to wear the clothes.
More to the point, these wise LPCC members told me that one of the greatest problems with the modern fashion industry was just this—how it defines beauty in ways that are unattainable for most of us. Naomi Wolf gets at this in her book The Beauty Myth, “More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.”
Meanwhile, if Givenchy and Zara and H&M and Victoria’s Secret have played their cards just right, that impossible beauty standard has many of us who feel inadequate deeply engaged in aspirational buying of clothes and beauty aids. Selling that ideal has become a near perpetual motion profit machine for the fashion industry as we strive and fail, strive and fail, to buy who they tell us we should be. Meanwhile, our ten- and twelve-year-old kids—not to mention our twenty- and twenty-two-year-old kids, and even many of us who are much older—are left to make peace with a standard that very few of us have the DNA to achieve.
So, anyway, I disinvited our designer. I tried to explain the problem. She was nice about it. But I suddenly had a big hole in the worship schedule. What to say positively about fashion and spirituality from my empty gangway? Well—I basically told the story of why we were not having a fashion show, after all. Along the way I made two ancillary points.
First, scripture suggests that all humans are, in the words of the Psalmist, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139)—a line echoed in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, when beautiful Miranda, seeing her first young man, cries out, “Brave new world that has such creatures in it.” That is a profoundly Christian sentiment. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve are created, the story-teller notes that, “they were naked and not ashamed.”
Second, a spirituality of fashion, besides embracing all human bodies as good, should also celebrate the potential beauty of clothing. There was Joseph’s Technicolor coat of many colors. The priests who served in the temple wore clothing made of gold, blue, and crimson yarns, all decorated with onyx gems. Solomon was beautifully arrayed, says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, even if he couldn’t quite match the beauty of the lily that God clothed. The prodigal son was welcomed home with a beautiful robe.
Which is not to say that praising God with the beauty of our clothing choices is a big theme in scripture. It isn’t. When it comes to spirituality, fashion mostly falls in the category of “let’s have fun!”
So now what? I think a fashion show that celebrates not the size-four ideal, but our ability to playfully create beauty no matter our age and size and resources. My plan is to find volunteers to model Goth clothing, senior active wear clothing, 1890’s ball gowns, and Salvation Army Store castoff fashion—along with the one, beautiful size-four dress I bought from my Canadian designer.
If I can find someone to wear it.