We are on a long roadtrip travelling through and along the southern edge of an expansive, midwestern farm state, when we stop for some much needed body and vehicle fuel. The town where we stop is small and, technically, in the middle of “nowhere.”
Once, when I was asked about roadtrips and how I ever “get through” one of these hours-wide, midwestern states, I told the woman questioning me that I spend most of my time in prayer, thanking the many rural families who have given up urban amenities to commit their lives to feeding the rest of us indolent city dwellers.
Now, I am not much of a fashionista, but as a result of my travels, I have observed that clothing function in rural regions almost always trumps form. In farm or ranch country, the reality is this. What woman really needs a pair of low-slung, small-heeled pumps, when she might be called upon to drive the pickup truck to help in the field or when she is canning vegetables all day? And, what rural, working man needs dress shoes made of supple Italian leather?
Add to these practical considerations the knowledge that being fashionable relies upon a person being “seen.” Being seen as fashionable or unfashionable requires an audience. This is in some sense a state of formal judgment. It is easier to find an audience of critics and admirers in the city than it is to find an audience of critics and admirers in rural America.
Thus, technically, fashion consciousness is something of an urban luxury which is rendered almost foolish in the face of real-life concerns, such as soil quality, germination rates, weather, pests and crop reports. These are but a few of the concerns for rural, farming folks who need to feed their families, as well as produce enough food to feed the rest of us. Yet, in terms of fashion, there still emerges some sort of aesthetic around clothing and self-expression in rural locations–large audience or not.
As I sit in the truck outside of this rural gas-station-slash-convenience-store, I see four Mennonite women leave through the station’s front door. Mennonites are a Protestant denomination, who along with the Amish, choose to observe a code of dress which is “plain” in nature. Plainclothes religious people are supposed to keep their attention and energy focused on their relationship with God, rather than focusing their attention and energy on personal “vanities” such as appearances or self-expression–through something so fleeting as seasonal fashion. Still, among this small group of women, there is one young woman who stands out very clearly.
The young woman who stands out appears to be among, perhaps, her sisters. All four women wear dresses cut from the same, conservative ankle-length pattern. And their dresses are of the same fabric. The only thing that varies is the shade of Easter egg they represent in their gentle pastels. So what causes this one woman to stand out?
Attempting to discern what makes this woman appear so regal, among this group of plainclothes believers, I notice her deportment. She carries herself like a princess–tall, erect and with a beautifully level head. Her movements are conscious and graceful. She walks and behaves as though she has an audience. Still searching for some external expression of her uniqueness, I notice her foot gear.
Somehow this woman has managed to push the envelope on her clothing restrictions via one pair of strappy roman-soldier sandals she has chosen. The sandals are requisite flats, yet very fashionable and quite provocative in the manner in which they hug her well-turned ankles.
Amazing, is it not? The human heart and its desire for expression is able to shine through such restrictive circumstances. How do you choose to shine?