"Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening."—Coco Chanel
Legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel found inspiration not just in her fellow Parisians but also in the air she breathed and the life she lived. Fashion consumed her, but not simply the clothes worn by the women bustling through the Left Bank. She was fascinated with the desire to express lifestyle and ideas through clothing. For Chanel, fashion was this expression that made simple body coverings into fashion statements.
Since Chanel launched her career 80 years ago, has this definition changed? I think not. Designers seek inspiration in the elements that surround them, and consumers seek new ways to express themselves. Clothing is the primary vehicle for self-expression. This medium demonstrates creativity and individuality by revealing a bit of your personality.
Your fashion choices make statements about the type of person you aspire to be. Fashion is inspiration, not just a simple method to hide your birthday suit. (Otherwise, we’d all be wandering the streets in muu muus!) Contemporary fashion is dominated by so-called "lifestyle brands," providing consumers with the chance to align themselves with pre-packaged ideals. If you’re rockin’ some threads from DC Shoe Co., we know you’re a skater or at least living the skate lifestyle. In a culture where first impressions are critical, we create connections with one another based on these social cues and attribute values to strangers based on their clothing.
And so we must ask the question: How is the "Christian" lifestyle represented in fashion? At the very least, can a "Christian" style be found amidst the chaos of fashion?
Nailing down a Christian "style" would be impossible. We are blessed to have people from all walks of life gather with us in worship everyday. Faux-hawked indie-rock hipsters, blinged-up urban MCs and overall-wearing plumbers in rural Arkansas are all represented. We certainly don’t look to our church elders for guidance, as I would doubt many of you take fashion tips from your pastor. "Look at those sexy new robes he’s wearing this Sunday." No, I don’t think so.
Despite an incohesive style among Christians, where are the brands that reflect the Christian lifestyle? First we must ask whether it is even possible to define the Christian lifestyle. The basic tenets of the Christian life are something on which we can generally agree. We lead a lifestyle of high ideals and commonality in our failures. Together we seek communal worship and create opportunities to spread the Good News. Our lifestyle is rooted in fellowship and faith and anchored in a search for meaning and truth. Our responsibilities in fellowship are not simply to worship together, but to live and speak the message of hope, love and grace.
With that said, where is the clothing that reflects this lifestyle? If skaters, snowboarders, preppies and jet-setters all have their brands, shouldn’t we? Maybe secular fashion responds adequately to our Christian value system? Does Christian fashion exist, and if it does, how responsive to this lifestyle is it? How do we as Christians currently express our lifestyle and value system? Where are our brands that help us build community? Where are the clothes that provide us a chance to express ourselves in a creative way?
The good news: There are Christian brands out there for us. The bad news: it’s certainly not all good. Try Googling "Christian clothing." You can find countless peddlers of "witness wear" (that stuff that literally screams "JESUS!!!") Does this really help us "witness," or does this lead to debate and overall negativity about Christians in general? I believe that unfortunately it does the latter. These messages can be quite polarizing and at best are worn only in the community of believers. This does not always provide opportunities to spark positive conversations in which we can spread the Word.
There are, however, some cool companies out there, promoting positive lifestyles with a faith-inspired message. One such example is California action sports brand Disciple. Says Jason Lowrym, owner/designer of Disciple, "Our fundamental beliefs guide everything we do, from our clean and subtle design approach to the athletes we work with. We strive to live up to the concept of ‘disciple’ everyday." Messenger, a North Carolina-based fashion brand, ties every design to scripture that provides daily reminder and inspiration in the everyday, without making any overt or explicit statements. Companies such as Ephraim, Simple Letter and Emunah pursue similar inspiration and create great product.
All of these aforementioned companies do one amazing thing—they initiate a positive conversation for us. By wearing a hip shirt that contains a meaningful spiritual message, we can inspire our friends to say, "Hey, cool shirt!" By wearing something that helps you express your values as a Christian, you may be able to follow their compliment with an opportunity to reach an open soul.
If "witness wear" is the status quo, then the so-called Christian fashion of today is ready to be supplanted by the positive messages we truly seek to express. We’re ready to tear down the walls and build anew. Let us create creative forms of expression that represent the creative nature of our faith with designs and words of hope, love and grace. Sometimes the less you speak, the more you are heard. Express yourself and be inspired by the Christian lifestyle in every aspect of it.