As one year rolls into another, retrospective analyses of recent trends and surging cultural shifts are common. This year was no exception, and while the lists are pretty predictable - demographic shifts, technological influences, political shifts, etc. - this year Andy Crouch caught my attention when he named “informality” as number eight on his list of “top 10 significant trends in North American culture that accelerated dramatically in the 2000s."
Crouch writes: “Men untucked their shirts. Billionaires wore jeans. The most powerful CEO in America was universally known as ‘Steve.'” He also notes that “most institutions, with layers of tradition and deference accumulated over years, struggled to stay relevant to an informal culture.”
I have begun to wonder what happens to a culture when most everything is “informal." I suspect that one corollary might be a rather pervasive elimination of cultural taboos. If everything is informal, relaxed, not to be taken too seriously, then pretty much anything has room to grow. It is perhaps noteworthy therefore that number seven on Crouch’s list of significantly accelerating trends is pornography.
In a now mostly bygone age, people used to “dress up” for services of worship. You put on your best clothes. Often, these were the most formal clothes in a person’s wardrobe - suits and ties, well-tailored dresses, etc. These outfits were mostly set apart for “high” (read: not informal) occasions - church, graduation, weddings, etc. The formal clothing signified the importance, the honor, the privilege, the cultural value of the events.
Despite this trend to informality, we still find occasions and opportunities to dress up. In our closets, we still have outfits that are set apart for special occasions. We head out to the ball game decked out in the colors and logo of our team. We dress elaborately for Halloween. We dress up for the night’s events downtown.
If we consider clothes - what we wear, when and where - a clue to our cultural values and aspirations, what do our closets reveal about us? What do we consider holy, worthy to be set apart by our best attire? And if it’s not worship, what is it?
Bill Van Groningen was raised in Australia, schooled in middle America, and formed in ministry in Canada. He is currently chaplain at Trinity Christian College.
Photo courtesy of Healing Dream.