By Elizabeth Lev


THE END OF summer has parents and kids dashing around the malls as they stock up on back-to-school gear. New clothes for a new academic year have long been one of the few perks for young men and women as they pick up notebooks, pencils and backpacks.


But perusing the fashion magazines and checking out the trendy new looks, I was dismayed to see an old fad returning among the glossy pages. I thought wearing devotional objects as accessories had been laid to rest in my teenage years of the '80s, but "retro-chic" has returned the look to our city streets.


Following the popular list format of "best-dressed" and "top 10 trends", I thought I'd prepare a list of the top five worst looks for Christians.


1. Cardinal socks. Tourists often ask me where they can buy cardinal socks in Rome so they can bring the distinctive red footwear back as a souvenir. While the socks are quite charming on the appropriate clerics, laicized cardinal socks diminishes the respect for the authority of their usual wearers.


2. Virgin Mary belt buckles. The most garish of these is about four inches wide and features rhinestones, and generally worn with low-rise jeans. Unfortunately the look is very popular among girls at Catholic schools. You get the picture. 'Nuff said.


3. The rosary necklace. Pop singer Madonna catapulted to stardom by mocking her Catholic upbringing. Her signature look of a bustier and rosary worn as a necklace was emulated by millions of young women who would cringe today to see a picture of themselves in that ridiculous get-up. But soccer star David Beckham was recently featured in an advertisement bare-chested with Dolce and Gabbana's rosary necklace framed by his numerous tattoos.


4. Crucifixes, chaplets and scapulars as accessories. It's one thing to wear a crucifix around one's neck as a devotional reminder, and quite another to wear it hanging from your ear. One young fashion designer was photographed for a Sunday magazine with a chaplet dangling between her shoulder blades. She referred to it as a "good luck charm" that she had picked up in the Vatican.


5. Satanic imagery. On the flip side of blasphemous sacred objects one finds the wholly unsacred. Unfortunately, this kind of attire is to heavy metal bands and their followers what khakis and polo shirts are to the preppies. Don't call the devil. He will come.


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Your say


ABOUT A WEEK ago, Daniel Tay gave a rosary to a non- Catholic friend and taught him how to pray it. A moment later, Daniel found his friend wearing the rosary around his neck. "Can I wear the rosary like this?" he asked. "Rosaries aren't meant to be worn," was Daniel's reply. "They are meant to be carried around and prayed with."


CatholicNews then asked some young people whether religious items like rosaries and crucifixes should be worn as fashion accessories. Here are their (edited) replies.


"To me, these are sacred items. More respect should be accorded to them than mere accessories. Wearing them would make people look at you and 'judge' your behaviour, so it won't be a good reflection if people wear them but do not conduct themselves appropriately."

- Bernadette Chin, 24, St. Mary of the Angels


"I think they should go find out the meaning of whatever they are wearing. They should also be aware of how people around them may react."

- Regina Xie, 22, Risen Christ


"It's up to them but I will not do it. It's nothing wrong with wanting to wear a pretty crucifix but not because you want to show it off. Intention is important."

- Alexis Koh, 22, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour


"They should at least have the basic courtesy not to do it as a sign of respect to our faith. Unless they are ignorant to what kind of beliefs we have."

- Amanda Chetty, 19, St. Stephen


"I think it's a clear call for help for they're clearly not having enough education about what these sacramentals mean."

- Edward Gunalan, 21, Christ the King


"The youth are probably searching for their identity in a fashion sense. It's not all bad. Nevertheless, they ought to be educated in the Catholic faith and its mysteries through a proper channel."

- Delphine Goh, 25, Our Lady Star of the Sea


"I think it's abusing the faith and disrespectful to its believers especially when high profile people wear them and display un-Christian behaviour like rappers and Criss Angel. May lead nonbelievers to associate our faith to their behaviours and values. Can you imagine if Osama wears one during his video!"

- Grace Goh, 27, St. Vincent de Paul

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