I credit Ralph Lauren with curing my depression. When I started filling my closet with his clothing, my depression simply slipped away. I had a stylist who worked at Ralph Lauren in Houston. He taught me to avoid the shirts with pony on the front and go for the really good, expensive stuff that is 75% off at the Houston Polo Outlet, vintage belt buckles, motorcycle jackets, selvedge RRL denim, and tailored suits. It was amazing how much more powerful this investment was than medication and therapy. Maybe some people thought I looked ridiculous, but I felt great. A whole new world of self-esteem opened up to me which I had never experienced.
My stylist friend also gave an Enrichment Night to the Relief Society on how to dress. By the end of the evening, some of them were in tears. The lesson was about more than clothing. It was about the worth of souls and the beauty of each individual. Some overweight, under-appreciated Relief Society Sisters began to feel that they were worth the trouble of thinking about their clothing. They had a beauty about them that deserved to be seen, a light within them that needed to shine.
My depression had its roots in the disconnect between my spiritual identity and the material expression of that identity. As mortals in a fallen world, we are powerfully tied to the visual and material. Joseph Smith needed a seer stone to access heaven in his early revelations. Scriptures understood as literally historical are more impressive to our minds than scriptures understood merely as allegorical. And people who are well dressed are more superficially impressive to our mortal minds. When we dress well, it is an authentic manifestation of our unacknowledged inner beauty and our spirits take confidence in our outwardly beautiful appearance. “Awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments!” There is an Islamic prayer to be said when looking in a mirror: “O Allah, just as You have made my external features beautiful, make my character beautiful as well.” We love to be beautiful because that beauty expresses something true and eternal about us. Physical beauty opens the windows of the soul, which shines through with radiant light. It magnifies inner beauty.
Let Your Light So Shine
Her soul was lost among millions of other bodies until the day a look of desire settled on it and drew it forth from the nebulous multitude; then the number of such looks increased and set afire this body which ever since has been moving through the world like a torch; now is it’s time of radiant glory, but soon the looks will start to grow fewer, the light to dim little by little, until the day when this translucent, then transparent, then invisible body will pace the streets like a small itinerant non-being.
The desire of others beckons our soul to alight from where it is hidden deep within the body. Kundera described Theresa, his heroine in The Unbearable Lightness of Being as being like a ship, whose crew would come up onto the deck, shouting and raising flags when someone gazed at her with a look of love. This enthusiastic crew was her soul, a soul being recognized for what it was. But unlike Theresa, we have more than a lover to gaze upon us. We have God’s eternal love. When we feel it, the crew of our soul comes out onto the deck and raise its flag and shout its name.
I’m reminded of a scene from The Rainmaker, when the lovable conman Starbuck tells the homely Lizzy that she is pretty, and for the first time in her life, she starts to believe it. “All women are pretty in a different way, but they are all pretty.” This phrase is more than just wishful sentimentality. Of course, some people are more attractive than others. There are ideals of beauty in the human form, and we all recognize those innately. Some people have those ideals in abundance, and some do not. But each person has something that resembles the ideal, even if it is in a small way. Finding that aspect, that physical light our particular body possesses, and letting it shine, is our right. The light may be small, it may be great, but whatever it is, we can magnify it. We can let it shine. Just as in the parable of the talents, where one is given 5, another 2, another 1, we are all to magnify what we have. And although it is only physical, it is nevertheless a symbol of a very real spiritual beauty that lies beneath. Letting the physical shine shows us that the soul has confidence, that it believes in itself.
“You Have Beautiful Hands”
There is a touching scene in the film Under the Skin in which Scarlet Johansson plays a sexy alien who encounters a man with facial neurofibromitosis. She gently seduces this disfigured man, commenting, “you have such beautiful hands.” An article in The Gaurdian says the film is helping people look at people with neurofibromitosis in a new way. “In person, Pearson (the actor) is both eloquent and extremely funny. He possesses a quiet confidence and a degree of self-awareness that is rare among young men in their 20s.” When I first saw him in the film, I was shocked and horrified at his appearance. But looking at pictures at him now, and remembering how moving it was to see Scarlet Johansson seducing him, I see him as a beautiful person, someone worthy of letting his light shine same as everyone else. And I noticed that he does indeed have beautiful hands.
Embracing our Vanity
Salt Lake City ranks as “the 2nd worst dressed city in the US.” Wrangler has a jean called the “Utah Comfort Fit” which happens to be the most formless in their line. It seems Mormons purposefully eschew dressing in any way that could be judged as vain. But Mormons ARE vain. They have some of the highest rates of plastic surgery and cosmetic use. We care so deeply what others think of us that we adhere to the most rigorous and uncompromising cultural standards, displaying a remarkable unity of dress, political ideology, and adherence to religious ideals. We are self-conscious about our polygamous heritage, and deeply resentful of being excluded from the community of Christians. We long for mainstream acceptance. Perhaps this kind of vanity is easier to hide than wearing “costly apparel.” It is masked as obedience or missionary mindedness. But if we are vain, why should we try to hide it? Vanity in and of itself is not evil. Solomon says, “I looked upon the world and beheld that all is vanity.” Vanity is by definition something temporal, of fleeting significance. But Solomon also said, “let thy garments be white and thy head lack no ointment, and live joyfully all the days of the life of thy vanity.” Let our vanity be the temporary shadow of something true and enduring, the beauty of an eternal soul reflected in the body. Not the vanity of Pharisaical obedience to the letter of the law.
Counterpoint from Ralph Lauren
Of course I recognize that fashion and vanity can be a distraction that can easily spiral into pride and superficiality. Ralph Lauren himself said:
In terms of what makes people attractive, I don’t think clothing is important. I think you could be wearing anything. It doesn’t really matter. A guy could walk in here wearing an ordinary suit. If you found out that he does a lot of important things, and that he’s a great guy, you’d say, Wow, he looks great. The fact that he is sloppy and doesn’t care becomes appealing. If a guy comes in here with nothing but a spiffy, up-to-date suit, he becomes a very unimportant guy. I mean, models look great, but they have nothing to say.
Ralph Lauren stands at the head of the greatest fashion and lifestyle empire in the history of the world. Yet like Solomon of old, he looks upon his life work and says, “all is vanity.” “It doesn’t really matter.” Most of us have not yet ascended to these lofty heights of wisdom. We lack confidence. We judge things too much by their material appearance. And for us in a fallen world the material has an important place. Ralph Lauren also said:
“Clothing sets your taste; it’s your outward expression, it’s the first shot, it’s what you say about yourself to the world. After that, it’s supposed to be the backdrop.”
- Has clothing given you confidence?
- Can clothing help us “let our light so shine?”
- Can physical beauty be a type and shadow or symbol of the spiritual truth beneath?
- Or is vanity a superficial distraction from spirituality?