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  • Writer's pictureJade Serna

Your Rosary Looks Great With That Top

How Catholicism became fashion’s hottest throughline.


L-R: Namilia Berlin SS24, Praying, Mirror Palais Collection III

Think holy body entwined with carnal energy, angelic lineage mixed with mortal sin: these culturally shattering themes formed the core of the 2018 Met Gala. Themed “Heavenly Bodies,” the annual event reinvigorated the historical overlap of fashion and God — and sartorial impulses versus spiritual ones. Years later, Catholicism-as-trend has ascended in popularity and not, as the atheism of the day would suggest, dwindled. Brands like Mirror Palais and Praying reaffirm that God (or, at the very least, religious paraphernalia) is trending once again. 

In recent years, there has been a swell in the aestheticization, and, to some extent, the fetishization of Abrahamic religion, with spiritually significant icons worn as fashion statements. Religious-iconography-as-fashion-statement isn’t particularly new (see: Madonna, Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover), but after 20 years of cultural agnosticism, these images are less about stoking controversy and more about their sheer aesthetic qualities. Specifically, #catholicaesthetic — or even #catholiccore —  has grown tremendously in popularity. Long white dresses, rosary beads, gold crosses, and red accents form the crux of the style. 

Daniela Garza’s public posting ethos encapsulates this Latina Catholic Girl aesthetic perfectly; images of Penelope Cruz from the ‘90s, Frida Kahlo’s handwritten letters from the ‘40s, and Virgin Mary figurines entwined with rosaries populate Garza’s digital space. In 2022, Garza found herself in the spotlight as the face and muse of Mirror Palais’ Collection III campaign, a brand that has gained social media virality for its sensual, soft, and distinctly feminine pieces. 

Video collateral for Collection III filmed Garza gallivanting through historic, cobblestoned Mexican cities like San Miguel de Allende. The imposing gong of church bells is heard tolling in the back and Garza appears like a ghost, dressed in clothing that, while highly reminiscent of this Old World, would be seen as insulting — and downright blasphemous — in the age of Hernán Cortés, Haciendas, and the Empire. But isn’t there something anachronistically transcendent about seeing a modern woman recreate historical dress? Perhaps here lies the intrigue of such a campaign: there is a delicious transgressiveness to imagining oneself as a scantily-clad 16th-century maiden, roaming around a world that looks straight out of a García Márquez novel. 

Lana Del Rey, Tropico (2013)

Coquette is another buzzword often used in conjunction with Catholic Core — and can’t be mentioned without the specter of Lana Del Rey. Del Rey’s embrace of traditionally Catholic textures through her lyricism and stylistic choices has garnered both applause and criticism. Her music videos permeate spiritual insinuations: lace veils, cross jewelry, teary-eyed girls kneeling and praying in dreamy landscapes. Del Rey’s self-written 2013 short film Tropico, where she and male model Shaun Ross impersonate Adam and Eve (and their subsequent fall from grace) is the most blatant example of religion being employed as an aesthetic. While the Creation story is not axiomatically Catholic — nor Christian — the film’s aesthetics borrow from Catholic catechesis, down to the technicolor palette, reminiscent of stained glass. 12 years later, the film has amassed more than 10 million views.

More recently, Del Rey’s album Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd has accumulated millions of streams — and also includes religion as a key interlocutor. “Judah Smith Interlude” is a soul-hitting sermon extract taken from Del Rey’s non-denominational megachurch, though reads like a homily, complete with an exegesis that warns of “a life founded in lust”; “Jon Batiste Interlude” is a trance-like, dramatic proclamation of spiritual ecstasy; and “Let The Light In” (featuring Father John Misty, ironically enough) tells the story of a clandestine love affair, where the ambiguous “light” that the narrator seeks could be read as the light of God. 

In her essay “Coquette Inclination,” Eliza McLamb comments on the intersection between this newfound fascination with Catholicism and fashion. The forces that have made this aesthetic moment so influential are, while rather varied and complex in the abstract, actually quite simple. McLamb writes: “...while I don’t think that young people need to ‘find God’ necessarily, I think it’s time we admit that we’re all looking for it.”

Since time immemorial, fashion has provided an accessible outlet for moral stances, personal beliefs, and idiosyncratic tastes. In a culture of anything goes, the disintegration of concrete moralities once found inside religious doctrine feels pernicious, and young people feel more lost and aimless than ever. Many are seeking answers — and trying to find meaning in a world that feels increasingly meaningless. Of course, we are not the first generation to experience this existential dread, and we certainly won’t be the last. Virginia Woolf famously commented on the baffling nature of living back in her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse:

 “To stand on this little ledge facing the dark of human ignorance, how we know nothing and the sea eats away the ground we stand on.” 

More recently, in the infamous 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert notes similar anxieties:

 “This panic I was feeling at the age of 10 was nothing less than a spontaneous and full out realization of mortality’s inevitable march, and I had no spiritual vocabulary with which to help myself manage it.”

Religion provides indisputable solace. For believers, it provides answers to the irrefutable fact of our inevitable demise and perpetually oscillating emotions. The idea of having a connection with something divine, and therefore feeling protected by that divinity, should not be overlooked. Fashion’s creative directors — or consulting firms, depending on your philosophical outlook — have been paying attention to this major moral shift, incorporating religious answers as fashion statements to reflect society’s collective unconsciousness. High-fashion Catholic touches, from Gaultier to Willy Chavarria, have trickled down to the wider market, translated into modern clothing’s palpable expanse.

Madonna, "Like a Prayer" (1989)

On the flip side of any trend, deeper meaning abounds. The obsession with Catholic-Core is nostalgic and submissive. It allows the wearer to feel close to the docile innocence of adolescence’s gilded cages while still feeling empowered in adulthood — a grown individual exercising the freedom to curate their own image exactly as they want it.

The aesthetic also resonates with the duality of the female experience. One can be gentle, feminine, submissive, sultry, dignified, and cool. The popularity of Mirror Palais’s Collection III is due to similar forces. Marcelo Gaia’s designs engage virginal undertones while still maintaining unmistakable allusions to sexuality, with their low necklines, exposed midriffs, and sheer, gauzy materials. 

Fashion operates as a looking glass into the self. Often, without even realizing it, every day we communicate our interior emotions to the external world. En masse, young people yearn for a connection to something bigger than themselves and their fleeting experiences. This fixation with Catholicism is no accident; it is a targeted reaction to the lack of ritual, meaning, and devotion endemic to the Western world. Ostensibly, Religion-as-Aesthetic is just another trend, one that will inevitably pass. But I think it is, in fact, one of the few trends that will only increase in relevancy as the polarization of society pulls some in the other direction, towards hyper-modernism and the avant-garde. Ornamentation using religious symbology will always have a space in the fashion scene as long as humans feel a connection to a higher power. In other words: the oratories within our hearts — those places of quiet worship where the thousands of silent thank you’s or pleas to God reside — will never cease to exist until human emotion itself subsides. 🌀


Jade Serna is a writer and aspiring journalist from London, England. She can be found on Instagram @jadesernaa.


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