Theology, Fashion & Shame – Part 1

London Fashion Weeks kicked off this week to great fanfare. It reminded me that it’s been over a year since my last blog post on the 5-Year Project. The project continues; however, my blogging about it has all but dried up. Incidentally, it’s now nearly 10 years since I began my 5-year project.

I’ve been reflecting on the reasons for the lack of 5YP blogging over the past year.

Partly it’s busyness.  Last September I was appointed to a new role, which meant not only a new job, but also a new city and the consequent implications of moving house, finding new schools, uprooting of family that this kind of move entails.

But partly it’s shame….….a subtle shame that has meant I have struggled to find my 5YP voice in this new situation.

My new role is as Principal at an evangelical theological college, London School of Theology. It’s one of the leading evangelical academic institutions and the largest school of its type in Europe. Less than 9 months in it still feels a new role in which I’m finding my feet.  …and my voice.

Put simply, I’ve not yet quite found a way to reconcile my new role as a leader in theological education with what might appear to be a vain or self-centred concern with style and fashion.

How does one at the same time speak with gravitas and wisdom as a public theologian on the one hand and blog about men’s style on the other?  How do I reconcile my personal and research interest in holiness and the contemplation of the divine with apparently frivolous reflection on ties, pocket squares, tweed blazers and chinos? To what extent is there potential conflict between my identity as scholar, Christian leader, and theologian with that of dandy, and David Gandy wannabe? And how far are my convictions about the importance and significance of the representative and public role of Principal in an evangelical theological college almost inevitably in tension, if not conflict, with the values and commitments of the fashion and menswear industry. I don’t doubt that it is possible to find ways of bridging these two worlds, indeed I believe it is important to do so, but on what terms and using what models?

One potential model is that of the guilty pleasure. Whatever hobbies I pursue in my spare time aren’t anybody else’s business, as long as they are not too unwholesome.  In the grand scheme of things, of all the vices a man could have, a love of clothes is probably not among the worst. However, this model implies that one’s pastime is something one probably shouldn’t be doing, (hence the guilty pleasure).  I’m not sure this model works for me.  Moreover, I’m a blogger.  If you’re going to have a guilty pleasure then you probably shouldn’t blog about it.  Then again, perhaps that’s why the 5YP blog has been silent for over a year.A second model is the nerdy special interest. Whether bird watching, stamp or rock collecting, rebuilding classic cars or woodwork, here is a pursuit that many people don’t find interesting but it’s one’s special interest.  John Stott, for example, was famously an obsessive bird watcher, who was also a church leader, theologian and writer. Twitching was his little nerdy quirk.

However, this model does not seem a good fit either, perhaps because the nerdy special interest is clearly differentiated from the self. An interest in your own clothes has a whiff of self-centeredness and vanity about it.

A third is the alternative pursuit, the stimulating of the other half of the brain and the self that is underutilised in the normal pattern of one’s life.  It’s the engineer who is also a musician or gardener, the senior executive who’s a weekend racer, the priest who dreams of also dancing on Strictly, the primary school teacher who’s an amateur boxer, the plumber who is also an artist and a dab hand at baking.  This model seems to present greater potential.  The scholar-priest who’s also a fashionista doesn’t sound to dissimilar to these other alternative pursuits.

But there is dissimilarity.  The very narrative of alternative pushes against the grain of integration. The theologian in me wants to move away from the compartmentalisation that seems inherent to the idea of alternative pursuit  towards an integrative engagement between my emerging identity as a theologian (I am only now coming to terms with that identity) and whatever name one gives to an identity connected with a love of style and clothes.

This is the first in a 3 part blog post on Theology Fashion & Shame. See also Part 2 and Part 3

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9 thoughts on “Theology, Fashion & Shame – Part 1

  1. Welcome back! You’ve been missed – by me anyway. I came to your blogs late in the day and they were a great help to me. And, to be frank, there’s no shame in helping people in whatever area they need help in. Looking forward to the next instalment. Oh, and by the way, congratulations on the new role.

  2. Hi Calvin. I read the article and if I read it right I don’t think there is any conflict. It’s something I have pondered too in regards to loving something which seems so frivolous next to divine matters. However my reconciliation of the two worlds came when I saw that my love for fashion / clothes and anything of beauty is reflected in God himself. Look at nature and how beautiful it is. As Jesus said even the rich man Solomon could not match the flowers in the field which God dressed, Matthew 6:28-30. Beauty is built into Gods work which we are and our love for what we desire mirrors that. Maybe the key is seeing where God exists even in your love for fashion and being creative enough to see how he works there just as much as the seminary. Nuff love to you sir. Oh by the way I think part of loving ourselves is by loving the things we have been given to love and some will be personal. Speak soon. James.

  3. My Brother be not shameful of this pleasure because l am one of those who greatly enjoy your insights into the world of fashion. Perhaps in some small way you will let the rest of us see that despite salvation we still need to enjoy life and not consumed by being self righteous, but rather Be merely concerned with being good examples.

    Semper virens

    VJ

    Vernon A. Jeffers, Sr

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  4. “The glory of God is a man living” Irenaeus. In Christian terms true fulfilment is through Christ not self. You are human, in discipleship towards salvation. It’s ok to do it in style, not hurting anyone and lovingly.

  5. I also struggle with my interest in clothes. I only started paying serious attention to it about 5 years ago, but often ask myself if it makes me seem vain (in itself, that may be an exercise in vanity…).

    By wearing clothes that are appropriate for the context in which you engage with other people, you show respect for them. This is true regardless of their interest in your clothes . If a suit is appropriate, then you show respect by wearing it – or disrespect by showing up in trainers, jeans and a worn-out t-shirt. Incidentally, the opposite is true too: the dandy who always goes all-in, and turns up at casual BBQs wearing a three-piece suit, is knowingly upstaging everyone else. So knowing what is appropriate to wear is important, and is often a tricky task.

    In my eyes, a gentleman’s wardrobe is not defined by a handful of designers, in the way many fashionable styles are. The gentleman’s style is defined by those who wear it, always letting themselves be inspired by other gentlemen around them. It is organic and not driven by the commercial desires of style houses, but evolving with inspiration and wear, simultaneously taking cues from and shaping society around us. By taking an interest in the clothes you wear, you contribute to this evolution.*

    I only found your blog about 5 years ago, just as I was embarking on my own wardrobe project. I have referred back to your blog again and again, and found it very helpful. Don’t forget that your blog has helped many people. Helping others is a noble cause.

    Congratulations on your new role.

    * A practical example of this: when I started working for my current employer a few years ago, I was hired alongside a fellow academic with similar tastes in fashion as me. We work in a casual environment, in which most employees are technical specialists, who had a very relaxed dresscode (jeans and tucked in, print t-shirts, mainly). Over the past few years, this dresscode has evolved, and today the t-shirts are almost entirely gone. Today, almost all male employees are wearing shirts. Not all are equally stylish, but there is a clear evolution in the wardrobes of most of my colleagues – and to the better, in my eyes.

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