Theology Fashion & Shame – Part 3

This part 3 of a 3-part blog.  You can read Part 1 here and Part 2

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 and with models for thinking about what I’m doing.Clothes of course have two primary elemental functions. They cover our nakedness and in so doing protect us from the elements. Clothes keep us warm in the cold, dry in the rain and protect us from scorching heat. Style and fashion is the introduction of artistry, craftsmanship and beauty into the utility of clothing. Just because it is functional doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be beautiful. Indeed, well-crafted clothes do more than cover up our bodies, they display them sympathetically, they are the frame which displays the painting to greater effect.

This is where my theological and personality problems arise.  If I were an artist or sculptor, then it would be natural to create something beautiful which does not require the presence of the artist to be appreciated. Indeed, part of the wonder of art is that it speaks for itself, apart from the artist. If I were a baker or carpenter or some other form of artisan a similar perspective would pertain.  If I were a tailor or fashion designer the art form to which I am drawing the eye, though infused with my personality and ideas is nonetheless sufficiently differentiated from the self.

However, if one is a dancer, or an athlete, then the artistry is intimately interconnected with one’s body, and by that means with one’s self.  The narrative and drama presented by the dancer requires that one draws attention to one’s self for it is the dancer’s very body that constitutes the canvas or sculpture of his art form.

What I do with clothes seems to me to be of this type of art form where the body is the canvas or the three dimensional moving sculpture. I do not create these, I am not the tailor, but I combine the into collections to create beautiful three dimensional organic structures, not dissimilar to a florist who does not grow the flowers but selects which flowers will be part of the arrangements depending on the context and the statements that one wishes to make.The critical difference is that the clothing combinations that I create are intended to be worn and are indeed worn so that the point of clothing reaches beyond its functional purposes of cover and protection of the body to becoming a form of artistic self-expression through the body and the self.

As an introvert this is a potentially problematic position in which to place myself. I like clothes and dressing up as a form of artistic self-expression, but that is for me.  So when others compliment me on my dress or comment about it, I have had to learn both how to accept a compliment and to deflect a comment because my interest in clothes is not primarily to make an impression on others but rather to express something of myself. That other people interact with that is still occasionally a surprise.

It is this very self-centredness and self-expression, however, that  is in need of further theological reflection and interrogation.  Christian faith invites us to deny ourselves and to take up the cross of Christ, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to give away our possessions to serve the poor. Perhaps most challenging for a man like me Jesus challenges us to lay up treasure in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt.  As a lover of clothes and cars moth and rust are the two things most likely to destroy my treasured possessions.

Clearly I have some more work to do to integrate my voices as theologian and style blogger as well as to continue to define my identity as evangelical public theologian and whatever the name is for one who views dress as an art form.

Equally clearly I have some more work to do to resolve the places of tension between my commitments as a Christian committed to holiness and the contemplation of the divine and the drawing of attention toe h self which is an inevitable outcome of my interest in beautiful fabrics and items of clothing not as static pieces of craftsmanship, but as wearable artistic self-expression.

I’m conscious that this is a personal conflict, and for many they might not see why this is an issue at all.  And perhaps it isn’t.  Except that for me it is.

I’ll let you know if I find resolution.

What do you think?


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