|A sanitised and prettyfied 'goth' outfit.|
There'll be better examples on the last bus home.
seriously to the point that they no longer think anything else worthy of consideration in choosing clothes: one commenter, in particular, said there was no reason why a Catholic should not wear the Muslim hijab in one of the pictures. I doubt, however, that any Catholic would ever do so, and I think that the reason would be an instinctive fear of appropriating not only the clothes but their ideological underpinning as well. This post will discuss the way in which clothes express the ideology of the person wearing them (or at any rate that of the designer), and in doing so, I hope, demonstrate the paramount importance of making informed choices about what we as Catholics wear.
The fact that clothes are a kind of language through which we communicate with the people around us is obvious, but still bears repeating. Every society has created a dress which reflects its values, and the ideas which preoccupy it. Within what might be called the mainstream standard of dress there are groups who deliberately dress differently in order to demonstrate that they set themselves at odds with convention: their dress not only distinguishes them from the crowd but makes it clear in what way they are different. This is most clearly seen today in the style tribes: for example goths, who sprang from the rock music scene of the 1980s. Musicians were influenced by horror in film and literature, and their fans responded by adopting the appropriate dress and props. As time went on the net was spread wider to encompass the occult, and as the movement grew authors and filmmakers looked to the Gothic literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for inspiration. It’s unnecessary, however, to know much about the origins and development of the movement, to understand and interpret the clothes of a goth, when we meet one. The black hair, eyes and fingernails, the black clothing (often ripped), the piercings and, occasionally, dress styled along period lines, usually Victorian, speak to us more forcefully than any UCAS personal statement can that here is a person who rejects the superficial, optimistic materialism of our time, and furthermore, is deeply preoccupied with supernatural concerns of the darkest sort.
This can be seen, of course, over and over again, in sub-cultures as various as skater boys and bohemians. That much is obvious, and I’m sure that no one would disagree. But aside from these subcultures, which after all are making a deliberate effort to identify themselves sartorially as a group in as noticeable a way as possible, and who have taken possession of a certain style of dress, it is still possible to see, in every garment made by any manufacturer at any time, the influence of philosophies and ideologies, some good, some bad, some indifferent, but nevertheless there. Often the maker will be unaware of the influence over him – sometimes even the designer might be so, too, although that is less common. I think this situation is best summarised by the film The Devil Wears Prada, a witty and provocative take on Vogue and its famously unapproachable editor, Anna Wintour. The new secretary, ignorant of all things fashionable (and dressed accordingly), is inclined to be scornful of a room full of fashion editors and stylists preparing their next fashion shoot: she is an Ivy League graduate, and naturally above all that sort of thing, and inadvertently lets this out to the aforementioned editor. She is skewered in a few sentences, as follows:
None of us should underestimate the truth and force of this statement. Everything we wear has been created in a particular way with a particular aim, and is, like it or not, making a particular statement. It may not be a statement that we fully understand, and for that reason, like the secretary in the film, we may not be aware we are making it and be inclined to doubt that we are making it. But it is there, visible to the people around us; and we need to understand clearly that if we haven’t made a conscious effort to choose a style statement, it will be chosen for us by people with whom we probably have very little sympathy.
Again, this is a matter which, like the understanding of beauty, takes time to understand. As Dr Shaw has very clearly put it in his philosophical interludes, it is the exercise of the virtue of prudence. It would be impossible, in one blog post, to list the many philosophies which are at variance with the Catholic Faith and then go on to describe all the many garments which it can be seen are derived from them or influenced by them. Here, I will simply point out three prevalent ones, and the ones that Catholics might even be tempted to wear for modesty’s sake, but which should be avoided if possible.
|Nirvana. Not a pretty sight: but they're not supposed to be.|
|Jeans are bad enough, but these are specifically designed to look as though |
you've picked them up off your boyfriend's bedroom floor.
Punk is another one to look out for. I must say it is amazing to me that punk is still going, and I think it must be in part attributed to the continuing influence of Vivienne Westwood, still going strong at 73. Punk is the sartorial expression of anarchy (the non-recognition of authority and absolute freedom of the individual – in political terms, a society without a publicly recognised government). This is directly opposed to Catholicism, which is hierarchical and ordered. Punk fashion is usually achieved by combining a conventional element, for example a tartan skirt, which is then contradicted by clunky boots and aggressive jewellery. The overall effect is that of a garment at war with itself and its wearer: it is a brutal, brutalised style. Safety pins, rips and black leather often feature. As time has gone on particular brands have become associated with this, such as Doc Martens, and the movement has developed into expressions of sexual fetishism, deviancy and perversity. It’s not necessary to sport a bright pink Mohican to promote a punk style. That Dress, worn by Liz Hurley (usually known as the 'safety-pin dress') was an example of an anti-fashion statement worn on the red carpet, the one place where you might think haute couture was still safe. Unbecoming, unflattering, it nevertheless made her name: it anticipated a trend, and made a complex fashion statement the ramifications of which are still working themselves out.
For people who regard themselves as above fashion, or at any rate outside it, designers such as Issey
Miyake and Eskandar have a strong
attraction. They wanted to reject the tidal movements of fashion and put
themselves outside its parameters, and their garments have been worn by many
people who sought to identify their style as transcending fashion. However by
the nature of clothes design, these designers found themselves involved in
the very industry which they set out to contradict. Though both have created
some beautiful clothes, their ideological position in relation to fashion is
fundamentally incoherent. There is a lesson for us too here: much as we might
like the idea of saying that as Catholics, fashion is not for us, nevertheless
we can’t help being caught up in it and must make the best of it, rather than
trying to pretend that we are disconnected from it.
|Classic Eskandar: trying to look like nothing |
in particular. Can be elegant, can be bizarre, but
it has been so often imitated they even fought
a legal battle about it.
Aside from these ideologically driven styles, we should be aware of dangerous sociological influences on fashion. Pick up a copy of Vogue, and you will see them at work. The cult of youth, which disparages age and experience, is clearly visible in baby doll styles, and very high hemlines. The blurring of gender roles can be seen in tuxedos for women and so called “boyfriend” shirts and trousers. Also very worrying is the attempt (mentioned in my previous post) of deconstructing clothes by taking them out of their proper setting. Institution after institution has been forced to reduce or drop their dress codes altogether in the face of this insistence on wearing the wrong clothes: I see from the news that Wimbledon is the latest victim. This is sad because once such a tradition is reversed, it’s almost impossible to reintroduce it; and, of course, once sensitivity to appropriateness has been lost, rebuilding it becomes painfully difficult: it’s hard even to get people to see that there is anything needing rebuilding. Even more pernicious, in my view, is the cult of ugliness: Miuccia Prada boasted of making “ugly clothes from ugly materials”, and in anything like that, or in anything that seems to want to uglify or contradict the feminine form, we should see opposition to the beauty of God’s creation all around us.
Our Lady said the the children at Fatima that "there are no fashions in Heaven": anyone attempting to recreate a Puritan-style uniformity of dress within Catholicism should take note! It therefore behoves us to look beyond the craze of the moment, or indeed latest mad list of details constituting a Mary-like dress. What we put on should be determined not by these things but by sensitivity to our situations and the people around us, and in doing so should attempt, in however feeble a manner, to emulate the many and varied beauties of nature, and to embrace the many colours, shapes and textures it gives us.
|Catherine of Medici weds the future King of France in 1533.|