… And they shall dress in rags!
In those days when we were growing up, there were three major ways of identifying a mad person. The person would be naked; or be dressed in rags or the hair would be disheveled. There was a fourth one which was only tangentially relevant to the issue at stake here: the person would be talking to nobody in particular as he made the rounds of the markets and village squares. Unfortunately, in our very presence, the youth of these days and some that are not so young have turned these indicators of madness into statements of fashion! The girls-and some women, some mothers, literally move about naked in the name of fashion. The skirt is less than one foot long while the blouse starts 6 inches above the skirt to expose the navel. It however baffles me when they now keep on pulling down these same wickedly short clothes that they have deliberately, made and worn! The breasts are generously exposed and even the smelly armpits are not spared. The trouser starts at the buttocks (no longer at the hips/waist) revealing the dirty cleavages behind and all that. Items of clothing that are called under wears are boldly displayed; they become externalised, thereby becoming over-wears! As one writer remarked, girls and ladies of nowadays boldly move about with the kind of attires that their mothers were ashamed to wear to bed!
Both boys and girls will deliberately go for rags; buy clothes that have been deliberately ‘ragged’ from the factory or buy new clothes and them deploy their scissors and razor blades mercilessly on those helpless clothes. In the olden days; you seek out an itinerant tailor to mend your torn cloth. Today, our children will deliberately shred their own clothes; the clothes they bought with our own money-all in the name of fashion. No wonder the obioma tailors are now out of business! The boys on their part will complete the picture by deliberately grooming disheveled hair; what was once the statement of advanced madness! And when these young ones plug their earphones and are talking to no one in particular, even while crossing our murderous expressways, you cannot but agree that the equation is complete.
Initially I was aghast at this development but I was eventually led by the spirit to Prophet Isaiah who had foretold about 2700 years ago that instead of fine clothes, they would be dressed in rags; and that their beauty would be turned into shame[Isaiah, 3:24]. Indeed, they are dressed in rags and their beauty has become a thing of shame! Yes, our fashion crazy youths are fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah but they need be reminded that fulfillment of some prophecies also attract punishment. After all, Christ said (and it came to pass) woe betide the person through whom the son of man would be betrayed!
About ten years ago, the issue of indecent dressing especially inside the church became topical both within the church and the larger society. Then, the greatest complaint was that ladies were wearing trousers-which were seen as mens’ dress-and that skirts were a little bit above the knee. But we have since gone beyond that. Now everything is visible and must be shown and parts of the female anatomy that are naturally and traditionally removed from the public view are being advertised. Boys and men have also joined the fray; things have fallen apart and the center cannot hold. Now it is obvious that ladies who wear trousers are even saints and are doing the society a lot of favour. Of course we are talking of conventional trousers; not those that are so configured that all the contours are visible and noticeable even from a one-kilometer distance. Now as I have said, the boys have joined. They now wear all sorts of female attires including scarf and skirts (as if in revenge), weave their hair (that is if they do not leave it scattered), walk about the public domain with singlet and knickers that are as short as pants, bare their chests and deliberately create a very visible bulge in their flaps as if we don’t know they are carrying excess luggage in-between their legs! It got so bad that schools across the land left their teaching and research, to devote time to dressing codes while churches started illustrating allowable and non-allowable dresses in their bulletins!
Dresses, and fashion generally, perform some functions for humanity: to protect us from the elements, facilitate the performance of our daily official and domestic activities, serve as a means of identification and satisfy our urge to be appreciated and admired. Consequently factors that affect our dress-sense include weather, occasion, environment (social, culture, religion), size, shape and colour, It is also important to stress that there is a wide gulf of difference between improper and indecent dressing. Wearing a tracksuit to church is improper but not indecent just as trying a scarf (gele) that prevents everybody behind you from seeing what is going in front is improper unless in a hall with a stair-case (cascading) sitting arrangement. Even wearing a t-shirt with inscriptions that distract peoples’ attention may be improper. But dresses that assault the social or religious sensibilities of others, that pass lewd messages, and expose ones flesh beyond what is socially reasonable are indecent.
Why and how did we get to this level? The wind of liberalism that is blowing everywhere; globalization and the CNN age in which people see what is going on everywhere; our copy-cat mentality which makes us copy everything the crazy white-man does, the collapse of Christian and traditional values, peer pressure, explosion in the fashion industry and taking the search for self-expression to dangerous levels. Mothers in the past 20 years have also started dressing their children in these dangerous clothes, arguing that they are just kids. The problem is that by the time they grow up, that is the only type of clothing they understand and are used to and you can’t teach an old dog a new trick! But those who claim to be learning from the ubiquitous white-men and women should note two things. Watch the CNN today or tomorrow; no newscaster, presenter or guest there dresses in rags or goes even 10% naked. They are decently dressed. Secondly, several US states and cities have passed laws against boys who sag their trousers. In the cities of Delcambre & Louisiana, offenders are liable to up to $500 fine or six-month imprisonment. The law is also under consideration in Dallas, Atlanta & Texas.
Those who argue that poor dressing is an expression of freedom should remember that freedom is not total and that within the church, you are even advised not to do anything that is right but might lead others astray.
Apostle Paul advises that ‘everything is permissible but not everything does good’ and that we should avoid meat sacrificed to idols, not because it is wrong per se, but because others may misinterpret it or be led astray by that! (I Cor:10:23+). So if dangerous-or not so dangerous-dressing creates problems for others, that is enough reason to reconsider it.
So, what do we do? About six years ago, I complained that we had moved from mini to micro mini to cyber mini. But we have gone beyond those ones. What we have now is the Garden of Eden syndrome: total nakedness that is at times covered with some carelessly stitched pieces of cloth! And only God knows what tomorrow will bring.
Muo is of the Department of Business Administration, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State.
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