catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 2 :: 2013.01.18 — 2013.01.31


Therefore, put on the dress of joy

[God] likes matter.  He invented it.

C.S. Lewis

In my closet hangs a pale yellow, translucent dress, with a monochrome, floral appliqué around the collar.  Narrow, graceful pleats cascade from the neckline down to the mid-calf hemline, cinched around the waist with a matching yellow belt.  It’s slightly too big for me, but I wear it anyway, and imagine how pretty my grandma must have felt in it — a special purchase, perhaps from Marshall Fields in downtown Chicago, a splurge by my great grandmother for her only daughter.  It would have looked lovely against my grandma’s olive skin and dark hair.

Keeping this special dress company is a whole host of vintage characters, authentic and reproduction: a blousy, bright purple, polyester number with a built-in bow at the neckline; a silky, hot-pink evening version of a muumuu, belted at the waist with a slim strip of the same fabric as the dress, a funky, faux ikat inspiration of orange and purple and jade; a floaty, summer thing with bold, geometric blue and white pattern and an hourglass shape that languished on the consignment shop clearance rack probably due to a mismarked size.  As someone who’s perhaps serious to a fault, I truly enjoy these unique dresses.  I delight in dressing up occasionally, sometimes for special occasions, and sometimes for no particular reason at all. 

Our authors in this issue expound beautifully on the many serious roles that fashion and clothing play in our lives.  Clothing contains our memories, bears witness to our gluttony, forms our economic systems (to the detriment of those caught at the bottom) and bears the shape of our guilt and anxieties.  As feminist theologian Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen remarks,

The frantic pursuit of fashion and physical perfection inhibits us as builders of God’s kingdom because it takes undue time and attention and because it reinforces sex and class divisions.  It is just another bar in the cage.

As a justice-seeking woman, I completely agree, and I want to extend such arguments not with a “but,” but with an “and…”

AND: there is a playful side to clothing that we often forget as we fulfill the cultural requirement of covering our nakedness every day.  God gave Adam and Even skins as a regrettable mercy, but God had already planted the seed of much more: the creative capacity to dream up possibilities; to (mis)match colors and patterns and materials; to not only grow, but harvest and process flax into linen, cotton into cloth, vegetables into dye.  What a mysterious, haphazard, limitless wonder! 

AND: because I need more mystery, haphazardry and limitlessness in my type-A, firstborn life, I choose to let the dresses in my closet stand not primarily for guilt or oppression, but the endless imagination that should be the privilege of all people on earth — a worldwide fashion shalom that is less about showing off, than it is about showing up to see what wild, wily things the sartorial Spirit is up to in a multitude of brains, on a whole host of bodies.

Whether justice or joy, I won’t (and don’t) always get it just right, but in some ways, that’s the point, isn’t it?  The underwear of humility, the scarf of grace, and all that — bought at a price, and utterly free.

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