I’m thinking today about fashion. . . men’s fashion in particular. According to some members of my family, I might want to start thinking more often about men’s fashion. . . but that’s another conversation that won’t be had any time in the near future! Today, its one of my students. . . a young youth pastor. . . who has sparked my thoughts about fashion.
Some of you might be surprised. . . very surprised, in fact. . . that I monitor developing fashion trends rather regularly. Take one look at me and you will have proof that my monitoring of these trends has nothing to do with curating myself. That urge, while present in my adolescence, was there but relatively weak. If I had fallen prey to trends back then, you would be able to find pictures of me dressed like. . . well. . . what you see on the right. Which begs the question, how were those even a thing??
Today, that urge has all but disappeared. Again, take a look at me. . . exhibit A! I look at fashion trends as a culture-watcher who has studied and has increasingly seen how the power of marketing shapes individuals and institutions. As a Christian, monitoring these trends and how we spend so much time, energy, and money trying to stay up with them should be a cause for concern at many levels. No. . . being neat, clean, and in style is not a sin. But when those desires move from the point of serving the stewardship of self to outright idolatry, then there’s a problem. We are called to avoid idolatry and live counter-cultural lives.
The marketing world wants nothing more than to sell you the latest-and-greatest. They have become so effective at doing so that yesterday’s latest and greatest are today’s “so yesterday”. . . which means that we need to spend time, money, and energy again today. . . as we will once again tomorrow. . . and so forth and so on.
Who is most susceptible to getting into this wretched rat-race? All of us if we aren’t careful. Our kids want to fit in and are easily influenced by the estimated 6,000 to 10,000 marketing messages they see every day (thank you smartphones!). Our parents are susceptible not only because they’ve got kids harping about needs that are really nothing more than marketing-created-wants, but because the remnants of our own adolescent insecurities have left us with a desire to fit in. . . and to be sure that our kids fit in. Finally, our church leaders. . . influenced more than we know it or are willing to admit. . . are influenced by this ever-present marketing blitz. . . youthworkers, worship leaders, pastors, etc. . . all of us. We increasingly value and even worship “cool”.
Which leads me back to what the marketing machine is feeding us regarding men’s fashion trends for this Winter. You can check them all out here on Vogue’s “The 20 Men’s Fashion Trends to Know for Fall/Winter 2021-2022.” Good golly. . . here are five visual highlights to whet your appetite. . . just in time to get them on your Christmas list so that you can emerge from your Christmas vacation as the new cool you in the New Year. . .
Geometric knitwear. . .
Extra-large trousers. . .
Legs forward. . .
Long shirts. . .
And the best of all. . . pajama party. . .
I love this challenge to the church that I read this morning in one of the papers I’ve been grading for my Coalition for Youth Ministry Excellence class. The students were assigned to write a thoughtful response paper to our friend Steve Turner’s wonderful book, Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media, and Entertainment. One student focused on Turner’s chapters on marketing and fashion. I love the student’s introspective musings that should give us all pause to think critically about how marketing and fashion have shaped our forms.
The student writes, “I have seen some churches that bought into this model (sporting the latest fashions and trends) entirely and the church becomes just another brand vying for our attention. I have been at services where the band up on the stage is full of members expressing their unique styles and wearing the latest fashion, and that is what we are staring at during worship. It is almost like watching another commercial. Then, between the worship and the message the pastor got up and told us all about the new merch they have and that we should go check it out and pick some up. They want to connect so desperately with unchurched people that they have become the same as the culture that surrounds us.
His self-examination hits not only on the church-at-large, but more deeply into a look at his own youth ministry. He writes, “I think one way that my ministry has assimilated to culture is the way we have sought to be a brand just like any other corporation. We have the merch, the promotional videos, the sense of style, the new up-beat music, all in an attempt to stay relevant and bring in more people, which on its own is not completely a bad thing. It seems strange that we spend so much time trying to sculpt our outward image so that it looks so attractive to outsiders when our actions should be able to speak for themselves. What should be attractive to outsiders is the truth of the Gospel and the love of Jesus that we are proclaiming, not whether or not we are looking cool in our photos and wearing fashionable clothing. We must engage with the culture, but we cannot be just another brand that our youth can subscribe to . . . but we must be a place of Truth.”
Good food for thought.