The Relationship Between Religions and Style
Kwabena Gyane looks at the relationship between religions and fashion.
To say fashion and religion have a troubled relationship would be presenting matters in the lightest way possible. Their relationship is turbulent if nothing else. Their chaotic connection throughout history is one that can never be severed as, although less severe, it is still present to this day.
When presented with the words fashion and religion, many see these two as residing at opposite ends of a spectrum, only interacting when need be, since religious people do need to wear clothes. To some, when it comes to religion, there is a belief of uniformity, even with different denominations, core values, and belief systems staying roughly consistent. This sense of homogeneity also lends to religions being seen as conservative in nature.
Fashion on the other hand gets given the image of innovation that’s constantly changing and evolving, evident in the trends departing as quickly as they were brought to the limelight. Self-expression through clothing has been the beating heart of fashion, especially in modern times, and while both religion and fashion can reflect identity, it is fashion that remains at the forefront of it as, like identity, fashion is presented as forever fluid.
So, we have two seemingly opposing forces, one supposedly linked to limitations while the other is associated with liberation. With their continuous friction, in more ways than one, how do they seem to find ways to influence the other?
Secular in The Sacred: Fashion in Religion
Fashion will always be attached to religion and not just because of the disdain that many believe religions, especially the Abrahamic faiths, have for the temporal taint fashion leaves on people. As stated before, almost everyone needs clothes, and one cannot break away from that fact.
From soutanes to hijabs, turbans to bekishe, the importance of religious clothing and their connection to religious teachings usually gets them removed from the topic of clothing in general. They are often placed in a different sphere, not to be addressed in the same sentence as secular clothes unless to show contrast.
However, fashion is submerged in religion, whether anyone likes it or not. Different people in the same denomination can sometimes wear different religious attire based on how they want to present themselves, showing how important fashion is in self-expression, however limiting. For example, with Islamic head coverings, there is the hijab, the khimar, and the niqab all performing the same role while having different silhouettes.
Fashion in religion extends further than religious clothing. As many religions uphold the practice of modesty, especially when it comes to women, a question suddenly presents itself— how do religious people particularly women engage with fashion outside of a religious setting while still standing by their beliefs?
While there is a plethora of fashion items that adhere to the idea of modesty, from turtlenecks to maxi dresses, some activities such as sports require garments that meet different requirements from mobility and stretch to moisture-wicking, allowing for comfort and durability.
Created by Aheda Zanetti, the burqini, a portmanteau of the words bikini and burqa, does exactly what it says on the tin. Covering the body and the head, it allows women, primarily Muslim women, to participate in sports while still being modest. The burqini would later go on to be worn by other women from other faiths and even non-religious women.
The burqini highlights the innovation of fashion in religion as, due to faith, many Muslim women cannot engage in activities that might compromise their faith, and head coverings in sports were seen as a safety hazard. The creation of the burqini saw the cooperation of religion and fashion outside of a religious setting— one could still engage with the world of fashion without giving up aspects of the belief systems.
Another fashion item that caters to the needs of modesty is the sports hijab. Functioning as a normal hijab would, it was designed by Cindy van den Bremen after witnessing the hostility shown to Muslim girls, especially when it came to sports and their attire.
These modest clothes can be found in numerous stores these days. Sport hijabs are sold by Nike and Sweaty Betty among others, while burqinis can be found on websites like LYRA Swimwear and Modanisa UK, showing not only the general need for them but also their commercial appeal.
In 2016, at New York Fashion Week, Anniesa Hausban showcased her collection, which ranged from gowns to tunics, all paired with a hijab. In doing so, she became the first designer at such an event to showcase modest clothing in this manner.
Faith fashion, as I call fashion that is created due to religious necessity, must always find a way to appeal to both the religious traditionalist values and fashion forward expectations.
Worship in The Worldly: Religion in Fashion
Unlike faith fashion, which puts religion at the forefront of its creation, religion in fashion serves primarily as inspiration. It plays a role without dictating the direction of the fashion.
The most recent religion in fashion moment many can remember would have to be the 2018 Met Gala. With the theme being “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and The Catholic Imagination”, it was the epitome of fashion being inspired by religion, and in this case, inspiration was pulled from the largest Christian denomination. From Rihanna donning a mitre and robe encrusted with pearls and jewels to Zendaya in her Joan of Arc inspired metallic gown, the event had Catholicism present purely for its aesthetical value.
This is not the only time religion has found its way into fashion.
In 2013, Dolce & Gabbana had the Byzantine and Venetian mosaics on their dresses, inspired by the Cathedral of Monreale located in Sicily. Alexander McQueen decided to showcase a mixture of Christianity and Islam in 2000, supposedly inspired by the friction and conflict of the two Abrahamic faiths.
Judaism served as Jean-Paul Gautier’s source of inspiration in 1993 for his line Chosen People. The line was said to have used elements of the religion inappropriately, as one would expect when inspiration is only surface level.
This can sometimes be the issue some have with religion in fashion because religion takes a backseat and is there for décor purposes. Little thought is sometimes put into it, unlike faith fashion which needs to always have faith in mind.
However, there are collections which, although would not be described as faith fashion, do take their time to understand aspects of the religion they pull inspiration from and how it works with their fashion pieces. This could be due to their knowledge of the said religion. An example being Vivienne Tam’s Buddha Collection back in 1997 which had Buddha imagery paired with silhouettes that were in line with the fashion of the time.
When it comes to religious iconography, fashion loves a crux immissa. It is found on several fashion items, from shirts to rings to trousers. It has become so commonplace that most people do not even think of the religious significance when they purchase garments with this sacred symbol. Christianity was able to root itself so deep into the very fabric of our everyday lives that a religious piece was able to exist as both a holy symbol and a fashionable figure.
Limitation and Liberation: Fashion and Religion
Limitations of fashion within religion are mostly said to apply to women, with the notion of modesty primarily targeting them. In the meanwhile, the list of rules either does not apply to men or is never implemented as it is with the opposite gender.
It is evident that religion can and does pose limitations to clothing and aspects of self-expression. Fashion is not as liberating as many would think.
From seasonal trend reports to articles on the “Top Ten Things to Have in Your Wardrobe This Year”, fashion has its rules and limitations that many, whether conscious of it or not, adhere to. Clothes are made with seasonal styles and material types in mind before they hit the racks at specific periods, the choice being made for individuals before they even enter a store.
Fashion trends can be seen as limiting in nature as well because they require people to follow them, creating a period of sameness and loss of self-expression. Even those who go against fashion trends and fashion expectations are locked to it as they are constantly involved and informed by the current styles to break from them.
While religion is sometimes attached to limitation, fashion also has elements of it. However, its presentation allows it to be seen as mostly liberating— both require a level of conformity to properly navigate them.
While boundaries are being pushed with faith fashion, religion and fashion both require a level of conformity to properly navigate them.
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