We have all heard the classic case for professional dress, right? It’s a familiar suggestion that we take as bible truth, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Magazines, instagram, and blogs galore will flood you with fashion tips nauseating enough to make you want to tip the scale to the other side and reject it all. We might think it virtuous to reject what appears to be materialism, to subscribe to a “higher view” that what really counts is how productive we are, how well we do our job, how we treat our clients etc. and the outward expression is just superfluous.
Before you toss professional dress out as superficial, let me argue that the notion of rejecting the material is profoundly anti-Catholic.
We live in a world where God became man and took on flesh, where He explicitly used material to convey grace. Imagine Baptism without water, the Eucharist without bread and wine, Confirmation without oil. It is impossible. The “bells and smells” of the liturgy are meant to draw us into the reality of prayer. In the resurrection, our actual physical bodies are going to be raised up, and heaven will be populated with persons, body and soul. So yes, the material matters.
When you see with a sacramental world view you realize that we communicate with our bodies and have the incredible ability to evangelize through our dress. We can ask, “What am I communicating to the world by my outward appearance?”
Our bodies reveal who we are. Don’t believe me? Look at a priest. His collar and black clerics tell the world who he is. A religious sister’s veil reminds us she is the bride of Christ, a nurse’s scrubs tell her patients who she is, a police man’s uniform proclaims outwardly who he is.
In a world that rejects the idea that our bodies carry any objective truth (i.e. with transgenderism), it is critical that we communicate truth through our dress. So dress as is culturally appropriate to manifest your gender and age. We can all acknowledge that shoulder pads were a blot in fashion – women ought not to try to appear as men. Cross dressing is not just an inconsequential hobby, it is miscommunication the truth of who you are as a man or woman. Similarly, an
adult who mirrors adolescent fashion is not communicating the truth of who he or she is. The fashion industry has tried to align women with the look of a young girl since Twiggy with its mandate to look stick thin and wear babydoll dresses etc. For men, it says to wear vans and a ballcap like a teen. As a professional, reject those trends and reveal who you are instead, both in and out of the office.
When it comes to communicating who we are, beauty and goodness go hand in hand with truth. We can reveal our beauty by dressing in colors that enhance our natural features and by wearing clothing that fits well. Furthermore, by avoiding gaudy displays that obscure one’s beauty by making the world first see the flashy accessory, we appropriately put the focus on the beauty of our person. We speak of the goodness of our bodies by modestly veiling the sacred. Still, wearing a potato sack in the name of modesty is not revealing the goodness and beauty of who you are. Your body is good, made in the image of God; clothing should reveal that truth.
Finally, we always communicate our intention and courtesy through dress. When we wear a suit to mass, we communicate that worship is important and worth the effort of putting on a tie. When we dress professionally to the office we communicate that we care about our employer, employees, and clients. Conversely, wearing joggers to our lunch meeting communicates that the people we encounter aren’t worth getting ready for. There are times when casual clothing or activewear is appropriate, of course. I won’t list the specifics because you have prudence!
You don’t have to look like a J Crew model incarnate or perpetually look like you just pressed your Bloomingdale suit. No, but regardless of your intention, you will communicate with your body. And since you are inevitably going to speak this universal language, you ought to say who you truly are, and that is a beautiful, good child of God who loves and respects others.