Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A question of fashion

Mark 8:22-23 (NIV)

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
A few years ago I went shopping with Jack. We were supposed to go bowling first, but got there too late. I intended to get shoes for myself, but somehow we ended up buying shirts for Jack. Among the shirts we settled on was one depicting the main character from the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book series, a collection Jack loves dearly. It’s a red shirt with long black sleeves, and the character is depicted sitting at a school desk, sleeping.

My thought was a shirt featuring a book character would be a nice departure from his full wardrobe of Mario-based upper wear (he can wear a different Mario shirt for at least week straight without repeats). Kristie’s response was also welcome: he can’t wear that to school, it’s disrespectful. I thought about explaining all his teachers know about the series and wouldn’t be offended, but I had to admit she was right.

Dad should have thought twice before buying this shirt.
Jack and I quickly compromised: He could keep the shirt and wear it only on weekends. Since I’m the one who does his laundry and picks his outfit most days, it was on me to hold up both ends of the bargain. And since I’m the one who chose to buy the shirt, the deal seemed only fair.

This all came to mind today as I saw a story online about a parental revolt against clothing purveyor The Children’s Place. The outrage seems to swirl around two T-shirts designed for girls, one that read “Born to Wear Diamonds” and another that cited the wearer’s best subjects as “shopping,” “music” and “dancing” but not math, because “nobody’s perfect.” As is the norm with such kerfuffles, parents took to social media to blast the retailer, and the chain eventually responded by pulling the shirts from its inventory.

As a parent of boys, I tend not to have to worry about this stuff. As Jezebel writer Laura Beck noted, the Children’s Place boys shirts “are all about surfing and playing drums and being a superhero. They're by no means perfect, but they paint the picture of a pro-active kid putting himself out there and making things happen.” That description is generally consistent with the considerable contents of our closets, though I think our only Children’s Place items are wordless polo shirts. (We’re more of a Gymboree and Carter’s family, though I’m sure we have at least one of everything up there.)

But further, as a parent of three kids ages nine and younger, I’m also well aware how much control I have over what my children wear — complete and total. Jack has no concern for what his shirts say or if they even fit. Max has a few favorite items (he likes sleeveless shirts or anything with pictures of sharks). Charlie will actually insist on a certain item of clothing, which is hilarious with his two-year-old vocabulary.

Yet here’s the thing: they’re only choosing from the clothes we either paid to bring inside the house or allowed to remain when given as gifts. I can’t recall having to reject a shirt in nine years, which speaks to the good taste of our family and friends (and, also probably, not having girls). But when I have the money, I have the choice. And if I choose not to buy a shirt, for whatever reason, I’m not inclined to blame the store for trying to sell it to people. I’ve seen some of the stuff hanging in the Spencer’s window at the mall, and it’s almost all tasteless. Not coincidentally, I haven’t shopped in that store for years.

I don’t fault parents for looking out for their kids. I’m also a fan of capitalism, and asking a store not to sell something isn’t the same as calling for a government ban. I just hope in the cases of these outraged parents, they’re taking the time to explain to their children why they are upset, what it is specifically about the clothes that makes them uncomfortable and how they sought a peaceful, mature resolution. Because if all they’re doing is lighting up Facebook with rants about “glamorizing empty-headed materialism,” they’re missing an opportunity.

Frankly, just about everything in the mall is empty and materialistic. It’s a shopping mall. Most parents have an awful lot of influence over how their kids see the world, and when back-to-school shopping involves dropping several hundred dollars on name-brand clothing, the shirts don’t have to feature questionable slogans to send a dubious message to the children who wear them.

And then there’s the mother I saw at the allergy doctor today wearing a T-shirt that read simply “Save Water, Drink Beer.” I’m guessing she picked out her own outfit today.

A prayer for August 6:

Lord, please help me not to judge people by the clothes they wear or the first impressions made with a passing glance. Show me the tools I need to be deliberate, to truly know people for who they are, to actively see past behind the image they project — intentionally or otherwise. Help me to walk a mile in their shoes, to consider how others might view me. Never let me forget we’re all the handiwork of the same creator, and you love us all the same. Amen.

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