Saturday, May 13, 2006

Do clothes really make the man?

I know it's just a dumb cliche, but this question actually has been floating through my head a bit these days. Here in Turkey--a land renowned for its mustache-wearing machismo--tight clothing for men is en vogue. Of course, that's sort of true about much of Europe, but there's no escaping the leg-squeezing jeans and narrow-cut, open-chested shirts sported here. Sometimes I even see men's capris.

Being involved in a Latin dancing club (cha cha, salsa, rhumba, and the like) here at Istanbul Technical University, I've entered into a world where men actually move their hips and wear tight black pants and shoes with heels. It seems like a lot of students here are really into Latin dancing, despite being something we in America would probably shun. Last night I was at the Bosphorus University Dance Festival with some friends, and as I watched some of the performances, I couldn't help but think how much some of the wardrobe and moves were reminiscent of figure skating. In my high school there was a guy who figure skated, and despite the athletic skill and strength demanded by it, he got mocked constantly and called "gay" or "fag".

So this makes me wonder if there really exists a true expression of manhood within any given culture. On the one hand, I easily recognize now that real men are not defined by being "wild at heart" (sorry, John Eldredge), for in Latin cultures, the men do dance and are thinly built and wear heels. But the Bible does beg the question, for propriety in church worship is based upon the distinction that there are to be visible differences in male and female fashion (see 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, where the main concern is that women cover their heads to respect their husbands and show that they're married, sort of like wearing a wedding ring nowadays):

"Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? " (1 Corinthians 11:14-15b)

Now, it must be understood that there is nothing wrong or ungodly about long hair for males itself; Samson and other Nazirites had long hair and were men commended by God. Absalom had long hair, too. Paul is not making absolute distinctions about hairstyles (or any other fashion, for that matter). But he does seem to be saying that the natural order of things indicates that there ought to be visible distinctions between men and women. But what those distinctions are is left up to the prevailing cultural trends. Would a man living in America right now be wrong to wear capris or to figure skate? Is it wrong for both men and women to have same-length hair (be it short or long)?

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