Clothes Are A Necessity, Labels Aren’t.

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Some months ago, my eldest son handed a pile of clothes to his brother. “Here,” the boy said, “these don’t fit me anymore.” My younger son, idolizing his big brother as younger brothers are wont to do, took the pile with a big grin.

I went through it a bit later. They were all shirts–short and long-sleeved. I noticed one thing in common with them all: they had a certain brand name showing on the front. So I asked my older son what was up. At first he said they didn’t fit well. Later, however, he admitted he didn’t like that particular brand and asked me if we could perhaps not shop at that store for him anymore.

While I understand my preteen son’s desire to fit in with his friends, I have resolved to work on uprooting the tiny seeds of materialism that have begun to grow in him. I haven’t been as aggressive, since I understand the pressures kids these days go through. But I won’t let it go.

The hubby and I had a conversation a few days ago about my lack of interest in fashion. He thinks it’s because I was never interested in playing with dolls to begin with, therefore dressing up wasn’t a part of my vocabulary since I was a child. He could be right. Or maybe I read The Emperor’s New Clothes at the most opportune moment, the lesson sinking deep into my subconsciousness and rearing its homely head when needed. Whatever the reason, it makes it so much easier for me to not care about having every style of jeans in my closet, or of riffling through fashion magazines trying to figure out the best look for myself.

Which is why I have to admit that this isn’t much of a struggle for me. It’s an unfair advantage over the fashion-conscious person, and too often I have acted without grace toward someone I felt was too materialistic. So if you are one of them, I apologize. I also hope you keep reading.

A few weeks ago, one of my sisters was at a popular mall back home. Since she is expecting a baby, she was looking at baby bags. The imported ones. A sales associate came up to her and said, “Ma’am, those bags aren’t on sale.” Surprised, my sister asked her to repeat what she said. The associate complied, “Ma’am, those bags aren’t on sale.” My sister has only one explanation for the sales associate’s haughty attitude–she was dressed too simply and wearing flip flops.

Her experience upset me. It also made me think of all the other people who have been through similar situations, leading me to reflect on how often people get treated based on how they look like–physically. Which brings to mind a few stories…

  • Back when I was so much younger, I’d like to say I was in high school, someone came knocking on our front door. My mother opened the door to find a lady clutching a bag, a nervous look on her face. She asked if she could come in. My mother obliged. Once inside, the lady opened the bag—the kind people use when they go to the public market—and showed my mother the contents. It was filled with money, the bills piled high on top of each other. The money was from the sale of her vegetable harvest, which proved a good one. The lady then explained that some men had been following her, forcing her to seek refuge at our house. My mother, after hearing the lady’s story, decided to wait for my father to get back so they could drive the lady home and make sure she got to her house safely.
  • I like to think it was because my father is part Chinese, but when we were growing up, my family owned a fruit stand and a small grocery store (among other business ventures). Intermittently, my sisters, brother and I would take turns manning the ship. We had a lot of customers, and it was during those times that I noticed something: it was, for most of the time, the shabbily dressed farmer and his equally nondescript wife who would pay with the big bills, who could afford the imported chocolates, and who bought in bulk.
  • Back in college, I lived  for weeks in an Aeta village in the forests of Subic in Zambales. An indigenous people group, many Aetas are often disenfranchised and treated badly. A friend and I did research there, mine was focused on identifying the Aetas’ attitude toward education. Many of my respondents shared the same sentiments: it wasn’t the long hikes to the schools in the low-lands that discouraged their children from going to school, it was the discrimination they invariably received from the “lowlanders” that hurt them. It wasn’t laziness that stopped them from selling their products in the town markets, it was the cheating they have come to expect from those “more educated” than them. {This gave my research work a focus: how can non-formal education help fight the poverty a lack of education caused in our target village.}

I share these stories because I want to bring attention to a misconception we all perpetuate. A person’s appearance is hardly ever a true measure of his wealth–literally, figuratively, financially and spiritually.

I come from a long line of farmers. {It was education that changed my family’s lot, which is thought for another post.} And when I was younger, because of my home church’s then-passion to serve “the least of these,”  I spent time in communities made up of farmers and laborers, holding people’s jaws open so the missionary dentist could work, training a flashlight on a patient so the doctor could perform minor surgeries, and explaining prescriptions to uneducated mothers–showing them how to use the measuring cup and making sure they understood the appropriate dosage needed for their sick child or family member.

I have also met fisher-folk whose hard work shamed me and who, despite giving it their best, could never seem to get ahead. But it was never for lack of trying. I grew up realizing that decent, hard-working people come from all walks of life, and being in their company always made me a better person.

I have also come to realize that one can hardly despise those they have served or worked among with. Exceedingly, the face of poverty is deceitful, branded clothes can easily hide a shriveled-up heart. Clothes have never made a man, and poverty is not a disqualification for greatness.

One time, I was helping distributing clothes for the homeless in Washington, D.C., when a man came up to me and asked for a pair of shoes of a certain brand. I asked for his shoe size and looked through what we had available. There were several good pairs that would have fit him, a couple of them were new too. But he declined them all since they weren’t from the brand he specified. I looked at his obviously ill-fitting shoes that were, however, the right brand. And I silently stored the memory away for future introspection.

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One response »

  1. Having had two parents who grew up in the depression era, I had nearly zero of the brand name desire displayed to me. Whatever was available was what we wore. Same thing with other necessities. Only after being on my own did any of that brand bug strike. Thankfully, it was short lived.

    Like you I noticed that the well dressed are sometimes the ones who are overstreched, and the humbly and simply dressed could afford extras in such areas as food.

    The homeless shoe hunter clearly needs some lessons in priorities. Likely has something ot do with his homelessness.

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