Can sack-cloth and ashes be the next fashion fad?

When I got a newsletter from John Horvat of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) asking the question “is wearing ripped jeans  sinful” it made me stop and think. What actually is the  mentality behind wearing torn, old, dirty and stained items of clothing?  Especially wearing them to church, because that is where some degree of decorum could at least be expected to prevail.

I also felt uncomfortable a few weeks ago at a parish Mass when the lector came forward wearing a little strappy top with no attempt to cover up her shoulders at least with a scarf.

While I’m fairly tolerant about dress code in general I do have some views on modesty and appropriateness for different situations. But it is not only about dress. The whole thing of ripped jeans and some really tatty outfits of any kind does not speak to me about an awareness of respect so much as about deliberate disrespect for conventions and the desire to be free from any restraint.

Much the same applies to the issue of girls in sexy clothes being a temptation to boys which is so often raised. Legally a girl is free to wear whatever she likes. But everyone, even us oldies, somehow dress to impress. I believe there is an ulterior motive, likely a bit of tantalising in wearing provocative clothes. There is a convoluted sense of appropriateness but quite honestly appropriate for what?

Back to the ripped clothes, or “distressed” jeans is the term. As a fashion item they often carry a hefty pricetag, as if to say ripping holes in jeans takes time and time is money. In the article I refer to above there was an enlightening reference to St Thomas Aquinas and the meaning of modesty which means to present oneself in an appropriate way according to one’s state in life. You are immodest if you are negligent in your appearance. Ripped and dirty clothes go against the dignity of human beings made in the image and likeness of God.  Interesting that we love to talk about our dignity but in a different sense.

In a comment on the article there was reference to churchgoers in a Baptist church who would wear their Sunday best as a sign of respect for meeting the Lord. Few Catholic churches, in traditional white parishes that I visit mainly, seem to have that attitude.  I have noticed that churchgoers from Nigeria or DRC and other African countries often dress up beautifully. But do they not also dress to impress, and if so whom?  It all has to do with mindset.

Another comment that touched me was from a poor person, who stated he had no other clothes to wear and would gladly wash and iron his only pair of holey jeans and sell them for a good price, so he could buy himself another decent pair.

Others commented on the issue of appropriateness and politeness. When an adult enters a classroom do children still stand up and greet him or her?  Is there still that attitude of respect inculcated in learners?

Wearing ripped clothes, which are really anything but attractive, is a fashion fad and followed partly to conform and experience a sense of belonging. Is it sinful?  Does it not also indicate the rebelliousness against conventional behaviour of the young?  Is it a danger signal, a sign of the times, about the current and future state of society?  How many people go to protest marches and how easily does it turn to violence?   People break every law in the book, they become abusive at any provocation. Is total anarchy on the horizon?  This trend became clear with post-modernism and is very noticeable in architecture where symmetry is not important any more. Buildings can take any shape that is technically possible.  Music, art, literature are other indicators of this liberation from convention trend.

Somehow to the mind of this older person there appears to be little attempt to make things around us more beautiful, or aesthetically pleasing.  Why do we go out of our way to make things ugly?

We might just as well go for the sack-cloth and ashes look and hope that to some old-fashioned believers it might have a different meaning and purpose.  It might help us dwell on the poverty of so many among us,  or bear the discomfort as a sacrifice and a reminder of this season of repentance. Or be a form of protest against injustice or war.  It might encourage us to share some of the many clothes. that clutter up our cupboards, with the genuinely poor, those who only have torn and dirty jeans, not only today but tomorrow and possibly forever. A current massive need are the families in Mocambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe who have been affected so badly by the recent cyclone.  Donations can be made to through diocesan chanceries and Radio Veritas for distribution by Caritas

MARFAM’s Thoughts for the Day during these weeks of Lent invite us to look into our own family reality and our way of the cross in the light of the way that Jesus walked his journey. Then let us share with one another especially in families.

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