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From the September 22, 2008 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

I adore shoes (especially heels), and I love rings (particularly large vintage rings)! But I could also happily go a day with bare fingers and some flat soles.

I used to wonder how my love for fashion fit in with my love for Christian Science and my spiritual growth. At times, fixation on shifting trends and styles left me appearance-obsessed. On the other hand, there were times when I gave up on my appearance altogether. But neither state of mind seemed very spiritual at all.

There's often a lot of pressure in our culture to dress a certain way. Clothing stores, and their marketing teams, can be aggressive in defining a certain image they would like us to adopt. At school or at work, pressure to conform to a specific style of dress can seem overwhelming. Expensive sneakers, designer jeans, and the sleekest new phones and MP3 players seem like must-haves. Without them, it would appear to be hard to fit in or be accepted.

Over the years, I've learned that true style has nothing to do with sporting the top brand names or carrying the latest technological gadgets. This verse from the Christian Science Hymnal has been a great starting point for me in gaining a better understanding of appearance: "O perfect Mind, reveal Thy likeness true, / That higher selfhood which we all must prove" (Violet Hay, No. 66). Because God made each of us, He determines our unique spiritual identities. Each of us expresses Soul's qualities of innovation, creativity, beauty, elegance, and strength. I've found that when I'm aware of the true qualities of selfhood, my spiritual sense of worth takes over my thoughts, and I forget about things that can seem so important—like the designer logo on a pair of sunglasses.

I've come to realize that each one of us has everything that we need right now because of God. We can be certain of being included—of confidence and self-assuredness. Knowing this, I've gained a deeper sense of satisfaction and conscious worth.

In Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "At present mortals progress slowly for fear of being thought ridiculous. They are slaves to fashion, pride, and sense. Sometime we shall learn how Spirit, the great architect, has created men and women in Science. We ought to weary of the fleeting and false, and to cherish nothing which hinders our highest selfhood" (p. 68). When I first read this citation, I thought, "Oh, wow! Am I a slave to fashion?" I really didn't want to be. I would never want to hinder my spiritual progress. But this citation caused me to refocus my attention on God. It reminded me of my true identity—immortal and already whole, which material things (i.e., clothes, shoes, bags, etc.) could never define.

I've also been inspired by Mary Baker Eddy and her approach to fashion. In the book We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, one of her students describes how Mary Baker Eddy dressed with great attention to detail, by mentioning a little black and white cape and a handsome silk dress (see p. 130). I've learned through this and other biographies that Mary Baker Eddy was always forward thinking and acting, so I think one of the ways she showed her efforts to be at the forefront of her time was through dressing in the current style.

My first retail job in a small boutique allowed me to put into practice some of these thoughts about appearance. I often prayed about how I was seeing the customers, especially when working in the fitting rooms. People regularly complained about their bodies and expressed a lot of insecurities when trying on clothes. Instead of agreeing with a client's false estimate of herself, I would correct my own thought about that person's identity. I saw each one as a reflection of God, including a complete sense of beauty, poise, and grace.

I've definitely gained a more balanced approach through thinking about fashion and style in a more spiritual light. It's clear to me now that style is really about elevating my sense of identity beyond material things to spiritual qualities from God. Receptivity to Him leads me to see more of these qualities in everything I do—including fashion. I appreciate color and line, and the infinite expressions of goodness, creativity, and beauty, all around.

In the chapter "Footsteps of Truth" in Science and Health, I like what this sentence says: "The embellishments of the person are poor substitutes for the charms of being, shining resplendent and eternal over age and decay" (p. 247). That passage is a clear explanation to me that I don't need to put too much emphasis on things that will fade away. My spiritual identity can express the "charms of being" and not necessarily be defined by clothes and accessories.

I think of fashion as a form of art. My hope is that people can see that fashion, in its spiritual sense, is an expression of beauty. I've come to think of my expression of the unique qualities of Soul as the basis of how I present myself. That's how to be spiritually stylish!

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Hilary Wise is from Massachusetts and studies arts management and administration at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England.

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