Why not just give up on fashion all together? Or, on the differences between Val and Al.

by Alison Gerber

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Here is my precious friend Val. Val and I are so similar in lots of ways. We’re both passionate about ministry, we both love preaching, board games, we’re both competitive. We both love to read…and write. We both love a good giggle. We both treasure our families. We’re both Aussies!

But we’re pretty different in some ways too. One evening when I was over at her house she handed me a bag full of makeup. “I’m not going to wear it anymore,” she tells me. When we took a trip to the hairdressers together, she had no specific directions except “cut it in a bob.” She regularly wears her hand-me-down skirts and her husband’s sweaters.

Val is gorgeous. But she’s not all about fashion. I mean, I have seen her dressed up and looking amazing – I just doubt it would be in her top 10 favorite things to do. But it is in mine.

Val and I both care about what the fashion industry does to people. We’re both not okay with oppressing others for our benefit. But Val’s response then, for the most part, is to forget about fashion and just to wear whatever is available and ethical. Should my response be the same?

I think there is another similarity between Val and I that is important here: we both need to wear something. We’re not nudists! Every day we’ve gotta get up and put on clothes. And as we get dressed, there are actually two questions on the table:

  1. Do I care about what I wear today, style-wise?
  2. Do I care about what I wear today, ethics-wise?

Val and I answer question 1 very differently. But we answer question 2 the same.

For Val, as she gets dressed, question 1 and 2 are never in conflict, because question 1 is a non-event. But for me, where I run into problems, is when the answer to question 1 becomes more important than the one to question 2.

I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to care about fashion – as long as I can find ways for it to not be in conflict with my care for the world and those who live in it. Because when I care about how I look more than how others are treated in the world, then I am going against Philippians 2:3’s charge to “think of others as more significant than yourselves.” Caring about fashion is a me-pursuit. Caring about where my clothes come from is an others-pursuit.

So I’ll continue to search out some alternative ways to be fashionable but to put the well-beings of others first. And for those times I can’t find anything ethical to wear? I’ll remember Val, perfectly happy, giggling and smiling in hand-me-down sweaters and skirts.