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Girly T-Shirt Fashion - A Christian Designer's Appraisal

A woman in my congregation has spent some considerable time in Africa and told a story of women from a tribal group that were new Christians now coming to church. They wanted to express praise by way of one of their tribe's dances. It became obvious during the dance that this was a traditional fertility dance, lots of hip action and provocative moves. After the service, the pastor said to someone in private, "Look...I'm only human--I think maybe that dance was too sexy for church!" Tensions between cultural expression and notions of propriety are universal. I also deal with it, not in dance, but in fashion, as a Christian designer of ladies wear. Today's styles for ladies are fitted, figure flattering, and sometimes skimpier than we've seen in the past, so then are they "too sexy for church"? The emergence of 'uber-pink' women's fashion, however, may give us even deeper pause. Where did this wind blow from, exactly? What happened to the grungy, one-size-fits-all-genders-look that I remember like it was yesterday? What should we make of the huge popularity of the girly styles niche? Assessing the Trends: Is Girly 'Good'? As Christians we seek to help shape culture even while we're at the same time being counter-cultural, as needs be, wherever our faith is at clear odds with certain trends and prevailing outlooks. But where are the lines? Many may sense a repulsion or subliminal disconnect with this article's title, wondering, perhaps, how 'girly' and 'Christian' can live peaceably in the same phrase. Still, at its heart, "girly fashion" may be expressing something good, if only because it's possible to understand its current significance as a letting loose of gender-blurring unisex clothing and a re-embracing of the inherent, created differences custom-designed by the One who "made them male and female"(Genesis 1:27). A delight in the differentiating work of God in creation is one characteristic that sets Christianity apart from Gnosticism and Monism. So, viva la difference! Love your curves--celebrate womanhood! Still, many will ask, what about 'modesty'? This word is used in the New Testament in passages specifically concerned with women's dress (I Tim. 2:9-10/ I Pet: 3: 3-4). Indeed, while millennia apart from us, these ancient texts may be the closest thing we have to scriptural witness on women's fashion. They are also the 'bugaboo' texts as many women's apprehensions are that a "Christian dress code" is intended. Yet two things of significance should be noted that contextualize these passages. The Bible On Ladies Wear The first observation is that these passages, in their own words, are less about prescribing specific standards for dress and more about the essence of beauty coming from within, rather than from outward adornment. The second is that the 'modesty' being urged is almost certainly (though perhaps not entirely) economic, that is, a modesty of means. It's far less clear that women in these new first century congregations may have been flaunting their bodies, as it is that they were flaunting their wealth, dressing to out-class! Gold, pearls, braided hair, and expensive clothes are specifically named, clearly the 'bling' of Greco-Roman era ostentatious, status-seeking fashion choices. Even the wording around 'braided hair', in the original language, carried the meaning of rolling costly gems into the hair's braids. So will buying pricier clothes 'cure' immodesty? These passages seem to be nudging in the opposite, dressing down direction. Notwithstanding, a sense of 'modesty in all things' trails with the leading thought if only because the clothing is also a metaphor of the recommended virtues (dressed in 'good deeds' would be over the top if literal!) and because 'decency' and 'propriety' are also mentioned. I for one wonder about a society whose women's wear seems to move in a more and more baring direction. Personal motivations, even in fashion choices, are also to be wrestled with, though as with all matters of conscience, a spectrum of differences is surely predictable (dare I say even enjoyable?) Here I think C.S. Lewis was on to something when he noted that notions of modesty, while universal, change from time to time and from culture to culture. New trends have a way of becoming standard, commonplace classics, and society at large adjusts. Is "dressing like man-bait" someone's actual motivation or is it the judgment of sectors of society not accepting of the new trends? This question was an aside with which audiences were being teased in the movie "Erin Brockavich" (though undoubtedly after a manner that many Christians might find unsatisfactory.) Along these lines, perhaps we should take our cue from the mini skirt, once thought to be scandalous, but now an everyday classic even in business circles. Was the 53-year-old mom in a mini who recently came to church to pick up her daughter from my church's youth group trying to be 'immodest' or 'scandalous'? Or was she simply making a wise and now classic cool-down fashion choice on a hot summer's night? She's a friend of mine-- I'll opt for the latter! Among the people of God, isn't there room enough to make room for each other when it comes to personal expressions like style and fashion? Perhaps that'd only be Christian.


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