Fashion Challenge: Join a Cult

Sometimes looking good means looking eerily alike.

I’ve never understood how people in cults were so chic. I’m not talking about modern cults like Scientology, or '90s favorite cult Heaven’s Gate. I’m talking classic cults. Jim Jones cults. Manson Family cults. And my personal favorite, The Source Family – by far the most sartorially important cult.

The outfits! There were so dang cool. Just look at these photos! They were hippie fabulous before anyone even had the idea that hippies could be fabulous.

And here’s why it perplexes me; did they plan this? Was there a stylist? Did they all go shopping together? What the heck is the deal?

While contemplating these burning questions, I suddenly realized there was someone very close to me who had all the answers. My mom. She wasn't in the Source, but she was a Child of God.

Mary Ann "Bad Sister" Meighan with her husband and daughter, 1975

THE KIND: So Mom, what kind of cult were you in?
My Mom: I was a member of The Children of God.

What was their deal? 
They started out in Huntington Beach, California. David Berg (I don't know if that was his real name or not), was a Church of Christ minister who had been kicked out of the church because he was, you know, a little weird. So he started preaching to hippies down on the beach. A lot of them were homeless and drug addicted—at first it seemed like he was doing good work.

He had a pretty big family of his own, at least five kids. One died young, he fell off a mountain or something. And as Berg got older, he got weirder, and he started going by Moses David. He told everyone he'd get these dreams at night where God would tell him what to do, and those dreams became the Mo Letters

Image via The Children of God

The heck are the Mo Letters? 
They were his "epistles," his directions to us. He sent them out to all the established colonies, and it was up to each colonies' publications department to distribute them. Some letters were only for certain eyes; some letters were to be passed out in the street. A lot of them were called "Leadership Letters," and those only went to the leaders of each colony. 

At some point he got in trouble with the IRS and took off somewhere.  He decided to take on a second wife—some young hot thing, her name was Maria. Mother Eve (his first wife) was put in charge of taking care of the women in the colonies, and she had her own letters, The Mother Eve Letters. They had lessons about taking care of children, keeping a house clean, recipes...

But anyway, Moses David was a nutty fruitcake. He'd pretty much drink himself to sleep every night, then he'd wake up in a drunken delirium and proselytize while Maria would write all the shit down. 

Image via Progressive.homestead.com

So, what was the point? I mean, was there an over-arching philosophy? 
They told us we were supposed to "live Biblically." Love Jesus, the whole bit...but then it got weird. 

Where did you live?
We lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, all over the city. Sometimes ten of us in an apartment, sometimes in a house. I probably lived in seven or eight places.

Image via The Source Doc

Why did you move so much?
Different reasons. Often someone “higher up” would decide they liked our place better, and we’d have to clear out.

How rude! How long were you there?
Thirteen months. 1975 to 1976.

I’m going to ask you questions about fashion now.

Image via Rashneesh Things

Did you arrive with enough clothing to last you 13 months, or did you shop while you were there? I mean how do you pack for joining a cult? 
I can’t remember ever shopping while I was there. I may have been given some stuff.

Did anyone make their own clothing?
Yes! People made diapers.

I guess that counts?
Since I was pregnant, someone made a pair of overalls into a maternity dress for me. They cut the legs open and sewed a panel in front and panels on the sides.

A classic DIY. So many pregnant people in cults huh!

Image via The Source Doc

How do you think the fashion in the cult differed from the trends of the era, and how was it the same?
It was the same because everyone was a hippie, and we were pretty much dressed like hippies. However, toward the end they started getting into the whole “flirty little fishy” thing.

Oh good lord. You should look it up. They wanted women to go to the bars and pick up rich men. The idea was to bring them back and turn them into Children of God. There was one guy from Italy, he had a big Italian mansion and everything. He fell in love with one of the girls, and she married his ass. Who knows how many people they converted that way. 

She was catfishing!
I guess. Basically. They said to us, “If you have to crawl in bed with someone to teach them that Jesus loves them, you better be doing it.”

Image via Xfamily.org

Dude gross. So wait, what does a “Flirty Little Fish” look like?
You know, short skirts, revealing tops, braless. That kind of thing.

Alright. Pretty unoriginal stuff. Did the group think about fashion or were clothes just utilitarian?
There was no fashion to it. Mostly it was just to cover your body. Or not cover your body!

Yeah ok I got it, Mom. Was there any symbolism in the things you wore?
There was a necklace we wore. It was a yoke on a leather cord.

Image via OregonLive

Because you're like carrying the yoke of Jesus or something?
I guess. I don’t know. I was a bad sister.