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FIRST-PERSON: Do clothes display values?

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–I must confess that I do not like to shop. So, on a recent trip to a mall with my family for the purpose of securing back-to-school clothes, I occupied much of my time by observing people as they navigated the two-tiered building dedicated to all things retail.

What I found most fascinating were the array of fashions that paraded past me.

“Clothes make the man,” said Mark Twain. Whether or not the famed American author’s observation is correct is a matter of debate. I rather think that clothes reveal the man or woman, as the case may be.

Clothing choices reveal much about what a person values. What men, women and teenagers choose to hang on their bodies communicates volumes. Of course, the attire of young children merely reflects the values of their parents.

I am sure some will object to my seeking to discern something about a person based on their clothing choices. After all, someone once said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Whoever coined this phrase knows nothing of the book publishing business.

While a book’s cover — which includes the title — may not be as critical as its content, don’t underestimate the importance of a publication’s appearance. Publishers don’t. A book with an appealing cover design is more apt to be picked up, browsed and bought than one that is mundane. Publishers want you to judge the book by the cover.

Others will object to my fashion equals values because the Bible says that we are not to judge. Actually, Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

With Jesus’ wisdom in mind, let me start with myself. If you would have encountered me in the mall the day I was “judging” fashion, you would have observed me wearing a loose-fitting generic Hawaiian-style shirt. It was beige, with cream colored plaits down the front and no pattern. I also had on a pair of black walking shorts and black sandals.

What could you ascertain about my attire? What values did I project? If you happened to notice that my clothes were color coordinated — for the fashion illiterate that means they matched — you might have concluded that I care about my appearance. Either that or my wife dressed me.

My choice of clothes also communicated that I embrace comfort over style. The lack of any identifiable labels might have also told you that I am unconcerned about popular fashion trends — either that or that I am cheap, perhaps both.

So now that I have submitted to my own standard of judgment, allow me to share my general observations of an afternoon at a mall.

I noticed that quite a few people are proud of their bodies, tans, tattoos, piercings and/or their underwear. Either that or they just don’t know how to do laundry properly. I saw a significant number of people — mostly young — wearing clothing that seemed to be not only too tight, but a tad revealing.

It did not seem to matter whether one possessed a fit build or not. It seems that many believe that if you “got it” flaunt it, even if you have a lot of it.

Suffice it to say that modesty seems to be sorely lacking in our society.

After my mall fashion observation session I came to the conclusion there are quite a few people that are slaves to popular culture. Designer labels and famous brands were prominently blazoned on shirts, shorts, skirts and slacks and as far as the eye could see.

I fail to understand why I should have to pay more money to wear a famous designer’s name on my clothes. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? If I am going to be a walking billboard for someone’s brand, shouldn’t they pay me?

And I don’t even need to get started on ripped-up blue jeans. I saw pants that I would throw out fetching $75 or more. “A sucker is born every minute,” observed P.T. Barnum. Looking at the price designers ask for their clothes, I have to agree with the American showman.

To be sure, there were many people that seemed dressed appropriately. They were modestly and neatly attired, color coordinated even. These folks projected that they were comfortable with themselves and had nothing to prove with their attire. It was either that or, like me, they are just very boring.

Our clothes do not make us, but they certainly communicate volumes about our values. What do yours say about you?
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs