Thought for the Day - Canon Angela Tilby - 19/02/2013

Good morning. Tonight sees the climax of London Fashion Week. 56 catwalk shows in five days at which world famous designers have unveiled their latest creations. Fashion has become a great success story for the British economy. London now rates alongside Paris, Milan and New York. All this represents the long evolution from being an industrial nation to one where the talent lies in brain power, imagination and design. Tom Ford, the American designer whose show was last night said that he valued the British for their ‘humour, formality, manners and irreverence’. A wonderful string of opposites. One of the Sunday supplements runs a back page column in which quirky individuals are photographed in their favourite kit, explaining the look they are aspiring to. It is a revelation of character as well as style. How does humour go with formality, and manners with irreverence? Look at some of those showing off in their unique mix of vintage and retro set off with an every day item from the high street and you’ll see what Tom Ford may have meant.

Now I don’t keep up with fashion and my daily dress is various shades of clerical black, with sensible shoes to accommodate the bunions, but I do recognize in the way we choose to dress a connection to the inner self. Our clothes may be a portrait or a disguise; a mask or a revelation. But we know we can get away with it; we tolerate wildly different styles of dress. Even dress codes are less rigid than they once were and can accommodate degrees of irony and self-parody.

This tolerance – a virtue for which the British have become famous – was a hard won outcome of the historic clash of religious and political factions. Having failed to suppress our differences we eventually learnt to live with them, and now we rejoice in them. Individuality is in our blood stream and we pass it on to those thousands who flock here in pursuit of luxury goods. Who knows how many of those who scrutinize the latest fashions are also on a quest for a connection to their inner selves? There is a spiritual dimension to our individuality; the deeply held belief that each particular person reflects the image of God in a way which no one else can. God, it seems, at least to the British, likes variety more than uniformity. It may be an exercise in manners and irreverence but the catwalk reminds me that our whole life is a about learning to wear ourselves well, not as a disguise or a mask but as a reflection of our particular story through time. The apostle Paul says that we find our freedom when we reflect the glory of the Lord, when our faces are unveiled. I hope that our final progress is along something less exposing than a catwalk; but also that God as the spectator of creation finally approves his handiwork.

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