Did you know the unity of faith and fashion is not a new idea? We have many friends in the communion of saints who encouraged intentionality in what we wear and using garments as a means of communicating the Gospel! Here are a few of our favorites who shared their thoughts on the importance of dressing intentionally and how it is fitting (and nearly essential) for living out the faith.
St. Augustine warns against negligence in how we present ourselves as well as to not let our clothing become our identity. He states to be wary "not only the glare and pomp of outward things, but even dirt and the weeds of mourning may be a subject of ostentation, all the more dangerous as being a decoy under the guise of God's service" (Our Lord’s Sermon On The Mount, according to Matthew). In other words, God is not pleased with false humility such as intentionally neglecting our appearance in the name of Christianity. Also, this is a good reminder to do our research on the companies we purchase from—just because the clothes seem well made does not mean they are transparent about their sources and ethical practices!
St. Gianna Molla backs up the thoughts of Augustine when she states, “We must be living witnesses of the beauty and grandeur of Christianity.” We have a duty to be examples of intentionality. St. Gianna is often noted in her biographies to be a woman who delighted in the joys of fashion and high-quality garments, “All of the published photos of St. Gianna show a strikingly beautiful, elegantly dressed, lively, confident young woman…St. Gianna appreciated the beauty of women expressed in refined fashion. This love of beauty and fashion is famously expressed shortly before the birth of their fourth child, as Pietro prepared to leave for business trip to Paris, St. Gianna asked him to bring back some French fashion magazines stating: “If God keeps me here, I would like to make some nice clothes.”
Did you know that St. Edith Stein’s sister provided her with beautiful silk material for her wedding day (that is the day of her vows as a Carmelite)? Here we have an affirmation of the importance in the exterior expressing the interior in religious life (which many seem to write off as just those who choose impoverished materials).
Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman is another example of a religious sister who understood the importance of what our clothing communicates. She replaced her traditional habit with Afro-centric robes from Nigeria since “[Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration] would wear secular clothing rather than the modified habit…they chose to dress more like the people they serve” (Skylar, Sister Thea Bowman: Do You Hear Me Church?). Sr. Thea joyfully proclaimed through her garments: “I come to my Church fully functioning. I bring myself, my Black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become, I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as a gift to the Church.”
St. Margaret of Scotland is the patron saint of fashion based on her request for her people to learn how to weave with better materials. She hoped by these skills they might become distinct as a nation through their clothing and not simply a copy/paste version of other countries. Once again there is this theme of intentionality and knowing what you are communicating to the world about your story. St. Margaret expresses her desire to the courtiers asking: “‘Why should we buy foreign wares?’ asked the Queen. Why not weave these softer fairer stuffs ourselves?’ …The Queen was as good as her word, and sent abroad for workers to teach her people at Dunfermline how to weave the fair white linen, giving them thus an industry which has lasted to this day.” (Steedman, Amy. “Saint Margaret of Scotland.” Our Island Saints; Stories for Children).
St. Francis de Sales has an entire section in his Introduction to the Devout Life on dressing intentionally. He mentions the importance of hygiene and keeping up one’s appearance as applicable to all vocations (it’s not just for the laity), “External seemliness is a sort of indication of inward good order” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Chapter 25 of Part III by St. Francis de Sales). Similar to Augustine, he warns against the two extremes of negligence and vanity (we are not to serve our clothing, but they are to serve us and give us the freedom to act in accordance of who God has called us to be). He affirms modesty as a term that refers to wearing garments appropriate for the event and task at hand stating, “As to the quality and fashion of clothes, modesty in these points must depend upon various circumstances, age, season, condition, the society we move in, and the special occasion” (Introduction to the Devout Life). Finally, he concludes by stating that those who are faithful Christians ought to be an example of good taste and clothing themselves intentionally as he writes, “For my own part I should like my devout man or woman to be the best dressed person in the company.”
We hope these bits of wisdom from holy men and women urge you onward in the pursuit of intentionality as you adorn yourself each day. We look to our dear friends in the communion of saints as a reminder that we have all been given the opportunity within our season and vocation to testify to the faith through our garments. To reflect truth, beauty, and goodness in our clothing means to reveal a truth about your own heart and He who is present within you.