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In My Own Fashion

Rusty - September 10, 2004

There is an interesting phenomenon in the Book of Mormon: almost every time it describes a prideful person/people, it also slips in a line about how they wear costly apparel (do a search for “apparel”, the results are staggering). Whether it is the cause or the result of their pride, expensive clothing seems to be the whipping boy. Strangely, The Book of Mormon is much more silent on matters of alcohol, R-rated movies, debt, pornography, and wearing white shirts to church. I don’t even think sexual sin gets as much ink (in The Book of Mormon). Nor did President Benson mention this phenomenon in his famous sermon on Pride.

This begs a couple questions:

1) Why don’t we ever talk about expensive clothing, even though Book of Mormon prophets emphasized it in most of their teachings on pride?

2) What is so bad about expensive clothing? Are we not supposed to appreciate and enjoy the finer things that God has blessed us with?

I think the problem of fashion is that we are dealing with something the world offers that has a capacity to make us feel good about ourselves. I often think of sin as a variance from righteousness. Beauty, confidence, fine materials are all good things God has given us. It’s easy to see how each of these things can be skewed into pride.

I have personal issues with fashion. I find it to be one of the most reprehensible, self-indulgent, wretched entities in existence. It encourages (mostly) girls to do unnatural/dispicable things to/with their bodies, it skews our perspective of needs vs. wants, and provides a platform for judgement. It also thrives on the selling of sex. And if Fashion is the devil, the Cosmetics industry is Cain. An industry that thrives on the message “how you look right now is not pretty enough, you need to buy our product to be beautiful and feel good about yourself.” Are they not pushing a product/lifestyle that is more addicting than alcohol or tobacco? (I submit that these appear to be a bit extreme, which might be the case, but I live in New York and am exposed to the extremes of this industry.)

Having said this, I must admit that I succumb to its devilish enticings as much as the next guy. I won’t wear pants that are an inch too short…or that have pleats. I find Banana Republic morally superior to Old Navy, however, thrift store clothing is morally superior to Prada. Black will always be the new black. I have too many clothes for a poor, straight, married guy.

Again, how do I find myself (and I presume at least a few others) in this moral quandary and yet we never talk about it?

1 Comment »

  1. you’re a good writer.

    i love old navy and i love that pink will always be popular. and i love looking nice (expensive clothes or not) becus it shows that i have respect for myself and whoever I am with. just don’t let it get out of hand and prevent you from paying for the more important things in life.. like electricity or whatever.
    nicole | Email | Homepage | 09.10.04 – 3:38 am | #

    I think apparel comes up so much because its easy to see; we all make judgments about either other all the time based on clothes we wear. Its easy for people to make value judgments about you based on what they think about your clothing because they can’t immediately look at your heart.

    It’s also very easy to be absolutely wrong about someone based on the knee-jerk assumptions we can make based on thier apparel.

    It’s like the old canard, if gossip gave you bad breath, there’d be a lot fewer conversations in the hallway during the Sunday School hour…
    Chad too | Email | Homepage | 09.10.04 – 1:21 pm | #

    From my understanding, the Book of Mormon peoples wore their riches (i.e. their gold and silver and fine-twined linen) so it was very much a thing of pride and easy to see. It showed what class you belonged to and such. Of course that is still very true today, but I don’t think it’s the same. It is harder to recognize what is costly apparel and what isn’t and it is available to all classes. (Though “class” isn’t what it used to be, either. At least not in the first world)
    For me, I could care less about fashion. I just try to look decent and only make a point to wear things that show my hobbies/interests (thus, I have a lot of novelty t-shirts)
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 09.10.04 – 3:08 pm | #

    One difference between the Nephites and ourselves is the laboriousness of pre-industrial clothing manufacture. This would have augmented the status value of nice clothes. I find myself thinking of old fairy tales about poor tailors working day and night to supply kings.
    John Mansfield | Email | Homepage | 09.10.04 – 3:22 pm | #

    I think the problem is that I’m expected to wear a nice, pressed, white shirt with a nice tie, and a nice suit to a church that claims to be generous, when there are others in this very community that would be grateful to own even a shredded T-shirt.

    Mark Hansen | Email | Homepage | 09.10.04 – 7:26 pm | #

    My dream job would not require me to dress mor formally than jeans and a t-shirt. I love t-shirts because they aren’t usually too expensive, they are comfortable and usually you can find a t-shirt that expresses appreciation for some kind of musical artist or that expresses some kind of (funny) message.

    My wife told me there’s a t-shirt out there that says “Real Men Marry Doctors.” I told her if she got me one I’d wear it.
    danithew | Email | Homepage | 09.11.04 – 8:52 am | #

    “… there are others in this very community that would be grateful to own even a shredded T-shirt.” This sounds a bit hyperbolic. Are the people literally naked, or are they wearing borrowed clothes?

    Paul Theroux in Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town. writes of paddling in a dugout down the Shire River in Malawi (8th poorest country) with a couple of men “whose clothes were purely symbolic: Karsten’s ripped T-shirt and split shorts, Wilson’s long-sleeve white shirt draped over his shoulders in ribbons. His shorts, too, were split.” How about that? A ripped T-shirt AND a long-sleeve white shirt in ribbons. Maybe there are poorer people in other places.
    Anonymous | Email | Homepage | 09.11.04 – 4:49 pm | #

    “And if Fashion is the devil, the Cosmetics industry is Cain.”

    Great line, Rusty. I admit that I am very prideful about clothes, and it is only my grad-student/starving-artist economic situation that keeps me from spending lots and lots of money on expensive clothes.

    But, I don’t do it so I can look down on others–I just feel more comfortable when I am well-dressed. I don’t feel superior to anyone when I have nice clothes. Possibly this is due to the fact that my mom bought me toughskins and super-denims and garanimals until I finally convinced her to buy my an Izod in 7th grade. It was traumatic.
    Braden | Email | Homepage | 09.14.04 – 11:49 pm | #

    Like I said Braden, I am the same way. But I often wonder if CS Lewis was right, that pride is not having something, it’s having MORE of something than others. In other words, I wonder if you were dressed nice and everyone around you was dressed AS nice, would you feel just as comfortable? I hope I (and you) would, but part of the allure to fashion (for me) is how it allows me to stick out (in a sense) from those around me. The moment I start blending in is the moment I start finding ways to differentiate. It’s not about the attention, it’s about feeling NOT the same as everyone else.
    Rusty Clifton | Email | Homepage | 09.15.04 – 12:44 am | #

    Which, Rusty, is the EXACT reason I think the Nephites kept going through the cycle they did. Everyone was prosperous and righteous and doing well that they had to find a way to be different from each other and through their riches (their “costly apparel” which we understand was how they showed their wealth) they were able to do that. One thing led to another and they were back to square one.
    Not that that means independance is a bad thing in that way, but it’s like you said, our attitude about it.
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 09.15.04 – 1:51 am | #

    I think all of us like to have something that’s different from others. We like to be different. Part of the “fun” of being Mormon is that we are so different. So being able to do that by what we wear is an easy expression of that as well. Luckily my wife dresses me or I’d be a total slob, instead of just a pleated plants out of it guy.
    don | Email | Homepage | 09.15.04 – 2:39 am | #

    Both questions you asked are intriguing, but since most have already responded to question #2, let me comment on question #1. My guess is that Conference talks don’t focus on the pride of wearing costly apparel in part because of the cultural point Bret makes: the Mesoamericans didn’t have coins or currency so they transported (and thus displayed) their wealth by wearing it. Today we can “wear our wealth” not only in the brand or style of our clothes but also in the size of our homes, the make of car(s) we own, and the number of boats and plasma TVs and etc. we have. Our pride is connected to more than just our costly apparel.
    Amy | Email | Homepage | 09.15.04 – 9:40 am | #

    A few years ago, Elder Joe J. Christensen did give a Conference talk (May 1999) in which he mentions the dangers of being slaves to expensive fads and fashions. He reminded us “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” and advised we evaluate the amount of time, money, and thought we devote to shopping and spending. As you read the Book of Mormon scriptures on pride and costly apparel, it is clear the danger came only when they set their hearts upon those riches (Alma 5:53 & 31:28, Mormon 8:37).
    Amy | Email | Homepage | 09.15.04 – 9:40 am | #

    Great post, I have often wondered the same thing. It seems like that part of doctrine is only talked about when someone actually reads a scripture containing something about “costly apparel”. Maybe it’s because everyone in the listening audience is wearing the stuff? Everyone is too embarassed to admit that they buy it?
    Aimee Roo | Email | Homepage | 09.17.04 – 11:15 pm | #

    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 09.25.04 – 1:09 am | #

    What? No bling-bling?
    danithew | Email | Homepage | 09.27.04 – 6:13 pm | #

    Comment by Comment Restore — November 28, 2005 @ 12:39 am

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