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The Virgin Refigured: Playful Promises Valentine's Day Lookbook 2019

Playful Promises

Though I, personally, am not religious, like a lot of people who grow up in predominantly Christian countries, I have a deep affinity for Christian iconography. However, it's not the belief system that's appealing to me. It's the aesthetic.

Last year, I had the opportunity to view The Met Museum's "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" exhibit. It may seem sacrilegious to some to discuss religious attire from the perspective of fashion. But if we can acknowledge that all fashion carries meaning, then certainly religious garb is no exception (and perhaps might even be the best proof of that rule).



Historically, religious figures in cathedrals and churches were richly clad in satin and brocade and jewels. Even today, couture houses and jewelry makers still create custom garments for figures of the Virgin Mary in Europe. It's an odd juxtaposition as an outsider; a woman revered for her humility dressed in more extravagant clothes than modern day royalty.

Of course, this iconography can have a deeper and more sinister meaning. The hagiography of the Virgin Mary is also used a tool - to guide or discipline, depending on your point of view - women into correct behavior. The Virgin Mary is not only the ultimate symbol of purity, but also the ultimate symbol of control. Her womanhood is relevant only in relation to the masculine, deified figures in her life.

Playful Promises

As I mentioned in this article about textile artist Sydney Duncan, the sacred cannot exist without the profane. To revere Mary's virginity is to, deliberately or implicitly, denounce women without it. To desexualize her, even to the extent of insisting upon her lifelong virginity (though Jesus had several siblings) is to not only deny her personhood but also imply that being a woman who has never had sex is, somehow, "better." To hinge her respect and adoration upon her virginity is to insinuate that women who are not virgins deserve no such respect.

All of that is what I had in mind when I viewed this Playful Promises' Valentine's Day Lookbook.

I often say that TLA is about the intersection of lingerie and society. That lingerie is a tool for understanding the culture we live in. Intimate apparel tends to pull unstated values or ideals right to the surface, exposing where the real priorities are in terms of aesthetics or control or morality.

Would we venerate Mary the same if she were dressed in lingerie? Of course not. But why?

I don't believe this blog post is going to answer any of those questions. I'm not sure if they even have answers (or at least not ones I want to spend the necessary time thinking about). But in a society that still seeks to control women's bodies - a society that tells us nipples are vulgar and pregnancy can be punishment and certain types of women are "unrapeable" - I believe lookbooks like this are more relevant than ever.

Do you have any thoughts?

Playful Promises

Playful Promises

Playful Promises

Playful Promises

Playful Promises

Playful Promises


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Cora
Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

3 Comments on this post

  1. Ana says:

    Cora, I’m feeling very spoiled here with two great blog posts. I just really like the styling and the colors, and having re-read your words I appreciate the ornate even more. I do not know if it’s just a part of the orthodox church iconography, but we have a lot of images of Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus or with the new born in the barn after birth. I never really associated Mary with virginity, but with having a rough life (breastfeeding, giving birth in a barn, loosing a child cannot be easy), which is why I found it nice that in our calendar there are a lot of days dedicated to her. But also I think the concepts of Mary and Jesus do not belong to the church, but to anyone who wants to have a relationship with them. So this is how I see this look-book. St Valentine is a saint and it is a celebration of love, and Jesus in my opinion was ALL about love.

  2. nofixedstars says:

    interesting questions and observations, and i do agree. lingerie and fashion lookbooks, like film topics and books and art and music video, reference many cultural subtexts and it’s always of interest to see which trends appear and ask why…and to see the reactions to things. i’ve been seeing quite a lot of art in various forms that re-imagines sacred imagery, looking at it through feminist, or post-colonial, or non-caucasian lenses, and i find it very exciting to see this. and of course, first and second wave feminism brought ancient sacred iconography back to view, giving us access to female holiness that looks very different from christianity. certainly your point above “To hinge her respect and adoration upon her virginity is to insinuate that women who are not virgins deserve no such respect”, is cogent and well worth discussion in our current social climate, where it seems for every step forward toward equality—in women’s or civil rights—-we are taking steps backward. i’ll leave this with the observation that the christian mary’s purported virginity was part of an ancient tradition of female deities; it did not, however, originally have the negative corollary that the christian tradition acquired over time. goddesses who became pregnant without a man’s help existed in antiquity. goddesses who magically renewed their virginity annually existed, and they were venerated for their cyclical fertility. even the word virgin, virgos in greek, does not necessarily imply an intact hymen or lack of sexual experience, but means a woman who is not married. aphrodite, the deity of love, sexuality, marriage, and fertility was a virgin goddess, as was the very different artemis. sex and sacredness were not mutually exclusive; on the contrary. i think, in some of the images above, we can see something of this ancient recognition of the power of female sexuality as holy and magnetic, as well as some interesting subtexts referencing the ‘mater dolorosa’. sexuality is multivalent, especially for women. power and peril, pain and pleasure, all intertwine here.

  3. Thursday says:

    One one hand, this editorial thrills me with the vibrant colours, rich textures and evocative poses but on the other hand, it evokes a range of negative emotions I associate with a religious upbringing I rejected a long time ago. But I guess that gets at the crux (no pun intended) of the social, cultural and political contradictions of the Virgin Mary. Obviously I agree that how a woman clothes herself has nothing to do with her worth, and that it remains so prominent an issue in societies should give people pause to consider this campaign. Honestly though, I am surprised at how little backlash I have seen to this campaign, given how intolerant many people are to the exploration of religious iconography generally.

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