Closet obsession: Clothes reflect consumerist mentality

Miller Chapel Speaker Travis Taylor | Lariat Photographer
Miller Chapel Speaker Travis Taylor | Lariat Photographer
Miller Chapel Speaker
Travis Taylor | Lariat Photographer

By Madison Ferril

An old cliché goes the clothes make the man, and according to Dr. Paul Martens, perhaps it’s time to rethink this statement.

“Everyone attempts to say something with their clothes,” said Martens, a Baylor religion professor. In his lecture Thursday, “You Are What You Wear,” he encouraged students to think about where their clothing comes from and how to rethink society’s obsession with clothes.

Martens said until the manufacture of clothes became cheaper in the 19th century with the rise of textile mills, most people only owned one set of clothes. These clothes told everything about a person. Once people could afford multiple sets of clothes, clothing became a more major part of identity.

“Dressing for leisure became important to express individuality,” Martens said. “Clothing as identity is not a recent phenomenon.”

Norman sophomore Jaja Chen said the lecture was a good follow-up to things she had learned in previous conferences.

“It was a good reminder that clothing is not an individual event and it affects other people,” Chen said. Martens asked students to look at their clothing and shout out where it was manufactured. Students shouted out China, Bangladesh, Cambodia and numerous other countries.

“Clothes are objects with their own history,” Martens said. “Sweatshops force us to think about the materiality of our clothes and ethics.”

Martens said people who work in sweatshops are often victims of human trafficking and are paid low wages. “Six percent of municipal solid waste is clothing,” Martens said. “In places such as New York and Chicago, this number is as high as 10 percent.”

Atlanta, Ga., junior Sarah Mathis said she liked how Martens put emphasis on consumerism.

“I think a lot of the time we’re unaware of how much we do buy,” Mathis said. Mathis said she also liked how Martens mentioned human trafficking. “A lot of what we wear is made in sweatshops by people who are enslaved,” Mathis said.

Martens said wearing explicitly Christian clothing is only meaningful to the extent you live out what’s on your clothes. But when people treat clothes like fast food, electronics and other consumer products, Martens said it contradicts Jesus’ statement in Luke 12: 22-23 about trusting God to provide for needs.

“Our clothing habits show we don’t really trust God to provide,” Martens said. “It signals our broken relationship with God and our neighbors.”

Martens said he encouraged students to think of those who make their clothing as their neighbors. Martens provided steps students could follow to become more aware of problems with clothing consumerism and to stop contributing to the problem.

“Start with a six-month moratorium on buying clothes,” Martens said. “Wear articles you have until they wear out.”

He also suggested looking at Christian practices such as service to help those affected by poverty and the clothing industry.

“Sit with those in need and learn the best way to serve them,” Martens said. He said students should purchase clothes more selectively by purchasing fair-trade clothing, buying clothing secondhand and making clothes on their own. “If you buy a good outfit, that cuts the need for production,” Martens said. Dallas junior Josh Flores said he liked Martens’ lecture because it was relatable.

“He didn’t try to bring in a bunch of sources that weren’t understandable,” Flores said. “He guided us through how clothes defined Christians back then and how they define us now.”