catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 17 :: 2005.09.23 — 2005.10.06


What to wear

If I?m honest with myself, the three values I consider when making clothing choices come in this order:

  1. Financial Stewardship
  2. Aesthetic Quality
  3. Social Justice

Financial stewardship has to come first, as a person living on very limited income. If an article of clothing is too expensive, I have to rule it out by necessity. Unfortunately, this requirement often entirely eclipses choices that rank high on the other value scales. A $250 tailored jacket made by unionized workers will almost always take the back seat to a $4.00 consignment store item.

However, I heed the warning of a friend that frugality does not, in spite of some lifestyle evidence to the contrary, equal godliness. Even within my limited budget, I incorporate my aesthetic values into my fashion choices. I ask questions like:

  • Does this item fit my body in a way that is flattering, comfortable and expressive of my personality?

  • Will the color, texture and fabric work with other articles of clothing that I already have?

  • Is there something classically beautiful about the item, as opposed to being trendily attractive?

  • Is this choice appropriate if I think of clothing myself as art? As worship?

The value that too often comes last as a consideration is social justice. While more and more clothing options are becoming available for socially conscious consumers, I often find that the options don?t meet criteria in one or both of the other value categories. American Apparel, for example, is the only manufacturer of undergarments I?ve found that is conscious about using fair labor practices. However, $12 is a little steep for a pair of underwear (not to mention publicity of a workplace culture that is strangely sexual). And Marketplace Handwork of India has creative, fairly traded clothing, but it tends not to express who I am as much as I?d like.

Must I then resign myself to imperfect choices, for lack of money or lack of options? I can?t resign myself, if I hope to be a part of the story I claim as my own in the biblical narrative. From the beginning of our written accounts, clothing is a powerful symbol: in the beginning, representing the knowledge of good and evil; in the story of Jacob and Esau, representing that which captures the essence of a person; in the story of Joseph, representing a father?s love and brothers? consuming envy. Clothing, now and throughout history, is an important part of our relationship with God and with others and is part of our complex identity as human creatures.

My husband received a t-shirt this past year that has a quote on the back from Billie Holiday: ?The difficult I?ll do right now; the impossible will take a little while.? These are words that, ironically enough, I did not connect until now with my struggle to clothe myself well, but may offer guidance in going forward. For me, the difficult is represented by doing with less, saving up for the items I really need, and perhaps purchasing my own organic and/or fair trade fabric to make some of my own clothing. And perhaps the achievement of satisfying all of my values perfectly with my wardrobe is impossible on my current budget, with my current style and in the current global climate. But this, like everything, is significant in my journey of living into obedience and worth taking ?a little while? to achieve.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus