You know you’re not in the loop when you have to Google “business casual” and study the diagrams before going to an event. I pulled together a few things, and Barbara lent a scarf and blue boots to go with my only non-frayed pair of jeans, and I was set to go. My husband made a furtive phone call to Barb the day before the trip, and that night I was in her salon getting three inches of white roots nuked.
But while we arrived safely in North Carolina, our luggage did not. I had mixed feelings about that immediately. Partly I was unnerved about having to wear the same clothes four days in a row, and partly I was delighted to have a perfectly good excuse to wear the same clothes four days in a row. Who could fault me? It was the airline’s fault, and as far as anyone at the swank party knew, my missing suitcase was full of very impressive business casual attire that I would have wowed them with if fate hadn’t dealt me such a hand.
As is obvious from your reading thus far, there is an awful lot of “I” in this column. Here I am going to a weekend to meet about a hundred people—all with histories and needs and sorrows and joys—and my predominant concern is whether I look the part. Sartorial obsession crowds out love, like a lifted finger blocking out the sun. I am thinking about clothes and at the same time thinking about how shallow I am to be thinking about clothes.
I cast around in my mind and blame the inviters. No, I broaden the blame to encompass society at large: What would Jesus say about a culture that has dress codes so finely delineated that you are considered uncouth if you show up to a dressy casual affair wearing business casual? A pox on all their houses! Right? I further counter imagined calumny with James’ epistle:
“… if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there’… have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4)
But just then God brings to mind Jesus’ parable of the guest who arrives at a wedding without the proper wedding garment—and he is thrown out (Matthew 22:1-14). So then, there is something to this business of dressing appropriately for an occasion. And it now occurs to me that the stipulation on the invitation was not to be mean but was for my benefit—to obviate embarrassment, to ensure our mutual comfort, and to render clothing entirely a non-issue.
A woman at the event took me aside and offered to lend me some of her outfits. She evidently (like the five wise virgins) had taken more along than she would need, just in case. But as it happened, the airline was as good as its word and my husband and I had our bags before bedtime. And as the weekend got under way, no one seemed to notice my clothes one way or another.