As much as I want to deny it, I've come to the conclusion that (some) fashion is truly art.
My Catholic sensibilities tell me that this is wrong, that fashion represents money and privilege and possessions and everything materialistic. Of course, in many ways that's true. The fashion industry is notoriously elitist, capitalizing on the emaciated bodies of young women to sell overpriced clothes that only a few superrich women could possibly afford.
Today's "fashionistas" are indeed rich, illustrious, elitist, far removed from you and me: Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, Victoria Beckham, Chloe Sevigny, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Katie Holmes, and the list of Hollywood celebs goes on and on. Surely, the fashion industry thrives on these few, and in fact may owe their continued existence to these few, pampered ladies.
But at the same time, look at the picture above, designed by the late Alexander McQueen. I don't know his religious affiliation, or if he even had one, but this photograph of his gowns reveals an ethereal beauty that speaks to greater thoughts. The movement of the fabric in soft waves brings to my mind the power of the sea, but the natural beauty of the female frame also speaks to vulnerability, but strength at the same time. There is almost a supernatural quality to the image, therefore, something that goes beyond ready-to-wear.
Perhaps not all works of fashion classify as great art, as this one does, but I think it has a language and symbolism of its own. Even the peasant lady dressed in big flowers and zebra stripes makes a statement of sorts. She cannot afford a McQueen of her own, but she sees, perhaps imperfectly, that color and shape have relevance to life, and that these elements communicate to the world.
But fashion can also be an equalizer, and not in a Maoist sense. A friend of mine who doesn't have much money always manages to look elegant and stylish, though she shops at Sears. Likewise, people manage to look great by shopping at Goodwill or Marshall's or Target. Similarly, I've seen people with plenty of money who have little sense of style whatsoever, even if their fashions are very expensive. Art knows no class--it comes from the soul and the heart. A fashion sense works the same way--the person wants to look good, classy, chic, appealing, so they use what God gave them in the absence of funding and, to quote Tim Gunn, "make it work."
As a Catholic with an interest in fashion, even on a small budget, I sometimes think about how what I wear can become a reflection of who I am. That sounds terribly shallow, and I'm sure that many saints would like to give me a THWACK upside the head at the mere mention of using fashion as a personal reflection. I am a child of God, they will remind me, not defined by clothing or accessories. And that's a fair point. I don't think we should become obsessed with fashion, but at the same time, I think it's important to look respectable.
I heard a story once about a former model who traveled to Vietnam because she wanted to help the poor. A priest told her to go out and find dying people under bridges and bring them back to the hospital. He pointed out to her that her physical beauty was a rare thing, and that she might be the only beautiful person those dying individuals might ever see in their lives. In other words, he didn't want her to shy away from or deny her beauty, but to celebrate it by offering it as a consolation to others. In my mind, that must have been a humbling moment for the woman.
Beauty brings joy to the world, so why shouldn't we include our personal fashion in that?
witty; cunning; crafty
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