A few months ago, Bob Covolo suggested we consider fashion to be a legitimate form of theological investigation – just as we examine our relationship to food from a theological lens, so may we examine our relationship to the clothing on our backs. This post explores what the obligations of Christ-minded individuals might be as consumers of fashion.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006) is a film that focuses on a person who knows nothing about fashion working as a personal assistant for one of the biggest names in the industry. In general, I’m not a fan of the movie, except for one part. Anne Hathaway’s character admits that she’s still trying to learn about fashion in order to do her job, but beyond that, she doesn’t see what it has to do with her. Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) replies with this explanation:
You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff. (emphasis mine)
Miranda emphasizes the interconnectivity of the fashion industry as merely one example of how ideas, products, and decisions made years and miles away trickle down to the consumer and affect our lives. The idea that fashion (or food, electronics, furniture, etc) has “nothing to do with me” is outmoded and based on incorrect assumptions.
In an increasingly global community, where I can talk with my friends in New Zealand and Canada simultaneously while sitting comfortably on my couch in South Dakota (USA), where I can get in my car that was made in Japan and drive down the street to purchase candy created in Germany, the idea of being truly independent and unconnected is a laughable one. Fashion is merely one example of how truly interconnected and dependent on other human beings we all are.
Fashion, too, is one of those industries where being ignorant of the interconnectedness of the human race is problematic at best, and a willful sin of omission at worst. Now, I’m not talking about knowing where that color of blue came from – if you’ve ever seen me in person, you know I don’t particularly care how fashion looks. But the method by which that particular blue sweater came to be in the discount bin matters because it speaks to the interconnectedness of human life, and particularly suffering in human life.
There are terrifying stories all over the world of treatment in the production lines for American factories. Nike workers in Indonesia forced to work 16 hour days with little food and no break, for barely enough money to buy dinner. Children as young as 7 working to sew shirts together in back rooms in factories in India. Equally small children in Uzbekistan picking the cotton that goes into making those shirts. Each piece of our clothing represents a massive number of hands – from the picking of the raw material, from the molding of that material into fabric, from the sewing of that material to its shipping to the world where it ends up purchased for $5 in Wal-Mart. In just one sweater, the tale of interconnectedness is so self-evident it is remarkable that we’re able to ignore it.
A more socially conscious Miranda Priestly might have amended her speech in this way:
That sweater represents tens of hands and immeasurable hard work and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was made for you by hands that could never afford it.
Dianna Anderson has a Master of Arts from Baylor University and a BA in Theology & Philosophy from the University of Sioux Falls. She currently lives in Sioux Falls, SD.