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Aestheticization of Christianity, Rejection of Institution

Written by Isabella Rivera

November 14, 2022

Religious inspired fashion has become a central part of alternative and mainstream trends in modern culture. From the 2018 Met Gala theme “Heavenly Bodies” to the religion inspired runways--Jean Paul Gaultier SS07 Couture, Dolce and Gabbana SF13 Ready to Wear, Givenchy SS13 Menswear, and more, Christianity, and Catholicism in particular have been at the forefront of a religious revival in fashion.

This is not just prevalent in high fashion. In fact, many brands have embraced Christianity as part of their selling point. Fast fashion brands like Forever 21 often sell articles of clothing with Bible verses on them and Adidas did a recent collaboration with the brand “Praying” using TikTok influencer Addison Rae as their model in a “Father, Son and Holy Spirit bikini.”

Mainstream media supports the religious revival and the aestheticization of Catholicism. It has been popularized by pop culture, as many artists are devout believers and discuss the religious ideals in their songs. Music and visual artists have been exploring the concept of God since the beginning of human consciousness, so it’s no surprise that these ideas have been transferred through modern forms of art such as fashion. God is explored in so many means and areas of pop culture. Many artists even make it their persona, like Madonna in her “Like A Prayer” era. She emulated a Catholic school girl through her fashion and music, making her an aspiration--a Pop Girl that you wanted to copy. Yet, these Pop icons aren’t pushing Christianity as a secular belief, but rather as a trend, an emulation, and an aesthetic that can be easily copied by the masses. And with the rise of social media and alternative fashion, it has become its own subculture, with trending TikToks discussing the fascination with icons and religious memorabilia of Christianity, or eastern religions like Buddhism without believing in the inherent meaning of the pieces of art, jewelry, or clothing. 

Religious fashion and its recent revival in media could also be related to the art history aesthetics and appreciation of famous Christian paintings, sculptures and other mediums of art that are now often recreated as fashion pieces. You can walk into any museum and there will be a section dedicated to Christianity, the early Roman Empire and the countless idols of Jesus, Mary, and other religious symbols. Christians have always expressed their love for their religion and beliefs through extravagant art, and even liturgical clothing, the way it has been interpreted through modernity is mass production and fashion items. This is especially related to Christianity, as it’s the most common religion in America.

Many people, whether they associate with Christianity or not, wear cross jewelry--it's an easily accessible design that is sold everywhere, and has loosened its sacridty in pop culture.

The role of Christianity and its rise in pop culture and fashion could be due to its non-threatening nature. A western religion, one not plagued by cultural taboos (other than its colonial history) and widely accepted rather than specifically cultural, it's a religion with aesthetics that are non-controversial. Catholics, and most Christians, have not been recently persecuted due to their religion like others such as Judaism and Islamic religions. There is less of a sense of “cultural appropriation” when it comes to Catholicism as there is no definite culture, nor is their major oppression of Catholics and their beliefs.

Yet, the way young people wear these religious pieces is not the way a strict religion like Christianity would support. Provocative clothing with religious symbolism continues to shock conservative Christians every time it makes headlines. Even religious designers themselves seem to take these designs and make them sexy. Christianity has a long history with misogyny, so the reclamation of femininity and sexuality through a fashion that represents a systematic institution can be seen as inherently dismantling the patriarchal and hierarchical themes that have been prevalent in Christianity for years.

Ultimately, it’s a statement of power.

The resurgence of religious fashion may also be due to younger generations searching for meaning in their daily life through their dress. Or it’s simply the aesthetics of Christianity--the rosaries, crosses, and idols. Despite searching for meaning, it's not like young people are more religious--in fact they seem to be rejecting religious institutions more than ever today, especially Catholics. As someone who grew up Catholic and attended church weekly, I too have rejected the institution, and have found meaning through spirituality in other ways and practices in my life, yet I still wear the cross I received when I was baptized, and occasionally throw on a rosary to enhance the look of my outfit. Whether it connects me more to my home or my familial beliefs is something that I haven't been able to explain, but quite frankly, I love the way it looks.

But, are young people rejecting institutions because of the brutal history or because the way sacrality has become capitalized in modern culture? When using these religious articles as a fashion statement, it may dissuade people from the sacredness and lead them to the trend, which lacks the ultimate belief in something more. Capitalizing on these religious items can separate the consumer from the direct spiritual meaning, possibly causing the decline in religiosity.

Every religion has its fashion pieces that are ingrained within their culture--religion has always used clothing to serve a spiritual purpose. Now, it's taken a more ambiguous form in our modern, capitalistic, pluralistic society.

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