“Maybe they are the lucky ones.” His words surprised me. The discussion was about a local faith variety where the young women are easily spotted in their homemade dresses and coverings, while the young men blend into the “world.” Some fellows have become surprisingly fashionable.
I declared, perhaps smugly, that this is unfair to women. Then I heard, “Maybe they are the lucky ones.” This friend felt that since it is easy to become acculturated, their appearance is a reminder of who they are.
I read MWR columnist Hillary Watson’s reflections on the advantages of a bonnet or covering over a safety pin. Wearing a safety pin was proposed as a way to reach out to people who were feeling threatened after the U.S. election results. The safety pin designates you as a supportive, safe person. Watson feels Anabaptists can do better. We have a rich history of marking ourselves in bolder ways than a safety pin. Watson worries “that in shrugging off the head coverings and beards, they shook off a giant safety pin and said, ‘Here we are, America. Assimilate us.’ ”
Do we need new signs of nonconformity? Do we need coverings or plain dresses to save us from assimilation?
Did Jesus’ followers look different? Since they did not have steady incomes, we can imagine they looked poor but not so poor that they weren’t invited to dine with richer people.
Jesus did say that by our love people will know we are his disciples. How does love spill over into clothes? Are they homemade? Fair-traded? Second-hand? Decorated with doves?
Jesus reminds his disciples that life is more than fashionable clothes. “Look at those lilies, they neither toil nor shop, and yet even Justin Trudeau in all his stylish garments is not clothed like these. Stop striving to be trendy.”
Paul has some countercultural wardrobe ideas. He suggests God’s lucky people wear compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience (Col. 3:12). These go a long way in communicating love and safety to our neighbors and the strangers we meet. When we overhear derogatory comments, let’s flash our compassion. When we hear jokes about LGBT people, let’s flaunt some kindness that makes it clear we aren’t laughing. When we see Muslim women in hijabs, let’s remember grandmother’s head covering and convey welcome. When we are tempted to declare our political opinions, perhaps too smugly, let’s put on humility and respond with patience.
At the Iowa City library a stranger approached me and asked if I could give her a ride to meet her daughter. After I dropped her off, I tried guessing why I looked safe. Was it my out-of-style blue jeans? My bag of books? I was getting self-righteous about looking safe when I stopped at a government office. The security person at the door asked me if I was carrying a gun. “Do I look like someone who is carrying a gun?” After searching my bag, I was cleared to go. If I had been wearing a covering, would I have been questioned?
For many women, coverings and past clothing requirements are stained by patriarchal assertions. It seems like the right time for a reversal, for the males to be “the lucky ones” and take the lead in unworldly fashion statements. Let me know how those barn-door pants work out for you.
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.