Teens' Faith In Fashion Is Their Cross To Wear
Lynette Sharlo doesn't know that much about her religion. The 14-year-old goes to church only every once in a while. But lately, her necklace with a cross has become very important to her.
"I saw it, and I thought, I've got to get this - for fashion," she said.
The Greenfield Middle School student isn't the only one turning to Jesus for jewelry.
In recent months, sales of necklaces, earrings and other items bearing a cross or a crucifix - a cross with the image of the crucified Christ - have increased.
One well-known jewelry designer has created a waiting list for the crosses he supplies to 300 shops across the country, and some stores in the Milwaukee area are reporting sales increases of up to 30%.
Experts believe Sept. 11 has something to do with it, but celebrity doesn't hurt either.
"It comes on strong whenever the country is in trouble," said Robert Lee Morris, a nationally known jewelry designer who claims to have created the crosses Madonna made popular during the early 1980s.
Back then, Morris said, people snapped up crosses while dealing with the country's recession and the fighting in Beirut. Around the same time, Madonna was draping herself with rosaries and crucifixes while singing songs such as "Like a Virgin."
Today, with the United States again in recession and troops fighting a war against terrorism, crosses can be spotted on everyone from Elizabeth Hurley to Britney Spears and Lil' Kim. Spears, whose playlist includes "I'm a Slave 4 U," told Teen People her favorite accessory is her diamond cross necklace.
Fourteen-year-old Danielle Shook of Greenfield has similar tastes. Shook said she recently started wearing the cross she received for First Communion in second grade. But she isn't thinking of the sacrament when she wears it.
"It's just fashion, I guess," Shook said.
Cross sales are double what they usually are at Claire's, a popular accessory store found at Milwaukee-area malls. Crosses also are showing up on display at mainstream stores such as Express, Wet Seal and The Limited.
Shops that specialize in religious articles are seeing an increase in business, too, and their employees are growing accustomed to selling hip, new cross designs - from leather necklaces to crosses that fans of heavy metal music buy.
"It's a 'they've-just-got-to-get-it' kind of thing," said Jim Langreder, manager of The Giving Tree, a religious gift shop in Waukesha.
"They're kind of giggling and laughing a little bit while they're buying it. You kind of know they're getting it just to get it," he said.
Fashion or blasphemy?
Some worry that the trend borders on blasphemy - more about style than sacredness. Christians believe the cross in jewelry is meant to remind wearers of Jesus Christ's ultimate sacrifice.
At NPH Christian Books and Gifts in Wauwatosa, marketing coordinator Andrea Delwiche said she has noticed customers whose crosses around the necks are hanging over not-so-Christian sayings on their T-shirts.
At Afterthoughts, an accessory store in Southridge Mall, employees say it's safe to assume many of the cross buyers are not heading straight to church.
"Half these girls that are buying these have dirty mouths," said Melissa Rick, a 19-year-old employee at the store.
While Delwiche, who has worked at the NPH Christian Books and Gifts for five years, said it wouldn't be very Christian-like to start judging her customers, she hopes the meaning behind the cross won't be washed away in the wave of popularity.
"I would hate to see it lose the important meaning that it has for Christians," she said, adding that the trend could be a good thing. "It's a doorway for people to learn more about Christianity."
Sharlo guesses that for now, she and her Greenfield classmates aren't thinking about religion when they put on the jewelry. She isn't even sure about the proper way to describe her crucifix, which has a "silver outline and God in the middle."
"It just looks nice," she said.