The authoritative Cambridge Dictionary defines Sunday Best as ‘your best clothes, which you wear on special occasions’. The expression originates in Catholic culture, where the best clothes were reserved exclusively for church and Sunday services. Wearing good, clean, and elegant clothes was by many considered a way to express their reverence for God, while for others it became an opportunity to impress members of the community and show off their best. It was not until the mid-19th century that this practice took on the name Sunday Best within the Afro-American community, and throughout the 20th century its meaning acquired various nuances, especially in the United States, as a political, social, and civil protest tool. As penned in the introduction of Melissa De Witte’s interview with Richard Thompson Ford – author of ‘Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History’ (Simon & Schuster, 2021) and a legal scholar at Stanford University – published in the same university’s journal: “For as long as we’ve worn clothing, we’ve had rules about what to wear and when to wear it.”
In this new issue of inCf magazine, we have taken the concept of ‘Sunday Best’ as a starting point to reflect on our contemporaneity. Starting from the opposition between workwear and Sunday attire, we focused on the comparison between the function and the aesthetics of objects, asking ourselves how and what are the elements through which we express our idea of ‘Sunday Best’ today. If, for its purpose, workwear is defined by its performance and comfort features, best clothing is, on the contrary, characterised by its aesthetics and poor functionality. Thus, we analysed how, in our mass consumer society, the aesthetics of clothing and objects have become increasingly important rather than their functionality and durability, and how this phenomenon has intensified since the 1980s until the present day with the exposure to social media networks.
If, for the Catholic community, one’s best clothing was indeed a symbol of their reverence to God or a means of sending messages to other members of the community, today, we similarly delegate to the aesthetics of the clothes we wear, the dishes we eat, and the objects we buy, the narrative of ourselves, our values and desires, who we would like to be and how we would like to be perceived by others. Through clothes and objects, we put on masks and stage a daily disguise in search of an identity that not only expresses our personality but, most importantly, defines and justifies us within the community to which we belong.