Being a devout Catholic who’s into fashion has always put me in an unspecified category among other Catholics. The typical response I get is one of genuine surprise. To be fair, a Catholic who’s actively pursuing a career in fashion isn’t terribly common.
And I’ll admit that for years, I didn’t even really know how my faith and lifelong interest in fashion coincided. Fashion was my superficial, materialistic, worldly passion contradicting my traditional Catholic beliefs that encourage detachment from material goods. So, instead of applying to fashion schools like I had always dreamed of, I applied to Catholic colleges.
I found myself at Ave Maria University in 2011 with zero clues about what I would major in. And while I would never take back that experience, the liberal arts education didn’t quite suit my desired career trajectory. It wasn’t until my senior year that everything changed.
I signed up for a class called Theology of The Body (TOB) with Dr. Michael Waldstein, a celebrated Catholic scholar and theologian who translated some of the work of St. John Paul II. It was in TOB that my perspective on the human person completely changed, impacting the way I view fashion.
St. John Paul II explains that body and soul are inseparable. Today’s American culture is greatly influenced by puritanical Christian culture, making it easy to slip into the belief that the materialism of the human body makes it bad — while the soul is good, and who we truly are.
Without realizing it, I believed this as well. But St. John Paul II wrote, “The structure of [man’s] body is such that it permits him to be the author of genuinely human activity. In this activity, the body expresses the person.”
This explanation for the inseparable relationship between the body and soul quite frankly blew my mind. For years, I had viewed the body as somewhat of a burden and distraction from holiness — but I learned that it’s through the body that we recognize how we are created in God’s image.
I’ll never forget when Dr. Waldstein said, “The body manifests the soul.” I honestly felt my life change in that moment.
So, how exactly did this impact how I viewed fashion? My thought process was this: “If the body manifests the soul, why can’t the things we wear aid in this expression of the human person?”
And the more I reflected on it, the more it made sense. Who can deny the intimate link between the internal and external? On a very basic level, we see that personalities, characters, and moods are visible through facial expressions and body language. Furthermore, the things we wear also reflect things about us. Ever have a bad day and worn black to reflect your mood? Perhaps you had a great day and felt emboldened to wear a super-pulled-together ensemble? Or maybe you just know what it’s like to put together an outfit that feels so you.
There’s an undeniable link between the material and immaterial when it comes to what we wear. It’s a means of communication, self-actualization, and expression. The things we wear can reveal the internal while dignifying the external, celebrating the human person overall.
Also covered in Theology of the Body is the natural desire to be understood and known, which ultimately reveals our desire for community. St. John Paul II said that we hold the image of God not only in our humanity but also in the relationships we form. Friendship and love — expressed through our bodies — reveal the communion that is the very nature of God. In fact, this communion is our destiny, our ultimate calling. And while it might sound sort of crazy (and perhaps a bit of stretch to some), the things we wear can become one of the ways in which we express our unrepeatable, completely unique identities as people made in God’s image.
We have been made so distinctively, why not dress in such a way? If the internal is manifested through the external — what an incredible opportunity to reveal and share the beauty of our souls while upholding the dignity of our bodies. We have the power to choose what we wear and how it reflects our personhood. Our souls are unseen, but they are manifested in our bodies — and how we clothe them.
So every time I write an article on the power and significance of personal style, consult with women on their wardrobes, or simply put together my own outfits for Instagram — I do everything with the belief that I have a greater message to share on this particular expression of the human person. Every time a woman reaches out to tell me that I’ve helped her share the beauty of her soul with the world through sartorial expression, I think back to the moment I realized my faith and interest in fashion actually do go hand-in-hand.