01 August 2013

Style Inspiration: Religious Contrast

I grew up singing the Doxology. We had coffee hour. My grandparents were greeters. Then my parents were. I grew up solidly Protestant, in austere churches: whitewashed walls, wood trim, and unpadded pews. The only adornment was the cross. The only color shone through the stained glass windows, casting rich hues onto well-worn hymnal pages.

When I cast out on my own, I finally found a church where I felt at home. Its fa├žade is classic stone, its interior white and wood. Its music is traditional organ and choir. The congregation sings “A Mighty Fortress” without glancing at the hymnal, and Easter is full of brass joyfulness.

H is Orthodox Christian. The first time I walked into an Orthodox cathedral I was dumbounded. My Protestant senses were overwhelmed. Not only was there incense (that made my WASP-y nose sneeze), but that smoke drifted past ornate icons. I thought of them as richly decorated paintings; Orthodoxy holds them as holy objects.

When we decided to marry, we thought briefly about a dual service, then tossed that idea. The logistics would just be a PITA. For this Protestant girl, though, the mysticism inherent in Orthodoxy was perplexing. I saw the beauty (I’ve always been a sucker for gilding and illumination. Give me an ornate medieval text, and I’m a happy girl.), but I didn’t get the faith. I was much more at home with a more Shaker and even Quaker sensibility of clean wood and no gold.

Over the last 14 years (yup, been together that long), I’ve come to not only appreciate the intricacy, but also the solidity, of the Orthodox aesthetic. The iconography once foreign to me is now comforting. The relative minimalism I still find peaceful (the first American settlers in my family were Quakers, it's no wonder I find it grounding) now shares room in my closet and our home with the rich colors that come with ancient faith.

This contrast struck me, in particular, one recent day – on Pinterest, no less. The Autum/Winter 2013 Milan runways were popping up all over the boards I follow. I found myself pinning non-stop. I was pinning the Dolce & Gabbana collection. I loved every bit of it: rich, embroidered, and yet sedate glamour.

It was the Orthodox palette. It was the Orthodox sensibility. It was the Orthodox mysticism, staring back at me from a Pinterest feed. With a teensy bit of Protestant starch.

I’m still a sucker for an impeccably structured and crisply austere Helmut Lang jacket. I still lust after simple contrast in color and texture. You know, the ones that might as well be a Presbyterian minister’s collared shirt? I’d happily wear them.

I’d just add a big, gold, filigreed cuff in balance.

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