Personal adornment is not one of the greatest issues of a godly life, but it is one of them. With the rapid decline of Western culture and its abandonment of time-honored values and morals, the gap is widening between contemporary fashion and what is appropriate for a Christian. The message that the fashion industry seeks to communicate through current fashion trends is often in direct conflict with what a Christian is comfortable in wearing. For the Christian teenager, or for a new Christian, this conflicting viewpoint between the Word and the World may become the occasion of a temporary personal struggle which can distort the whole issue of dress entirely out of proportion to its true spiritual significance. To prevent this from happening, the church should faithfully teach each generation the Biblical guidelines for adornment. Without this instruction, many will succumb to the pressure of a secular society’s imposing view or struggle with what may appear to be, and sometimes is, man-made rules. Young people must know the difference between biblical principle and the traditions or convictions of the Church. Knowing the difference will give them greater freedom to accept both.
At the beginning of this discussion, it must be repeated that God’s Word and this present world present conflicting points of view about attire. But it must also be noted that there is one thing that both the world and the Word agree on.
The Clothes You Wear Communicate a Message
Fashion expert John T. Molloy said, “What you wear signals what you are. Your clothes speak a body language. You can elicit any effect you desire through the way you dress. You can look successful or impoverished, honest or sinister, sexy or puritanical…all depending on what you wear”. The business world uses this principle of dress to portray confidence, leadership, honesty and professionalism in its executives and sales staff. The fallen world uses it to portray its message of lust and rebellion. The Bible utilizes this principle as well. When God wants to make a statement about the character, attitude or personality of an individual, He often uses a description of their attire to do it.
In today’s world, the message communicated is often a moral one. A person can convey the language of their soul through what they wear. They can make an outward statement about their inner-held values just by the way they adorn themselves
This explains why opinions are often formed about a person simply based on the way they dress. More seriously, moral judgments are often made about people based on how they dress. Clothing that overly accentuates or exposes the body can bring with it a moral judgment about a person’s character. Teenagers with baggy, falling pants, heavy chains, studs in their ears and lips, brightly colored hair, with a cap perched on their head in the wrong direction, send out a message they often gives them a low rating in areas of honesty, industry, and morality. Some styles of clothing are made deliberately to attest to the sexual perversion of the wearer. Clothing styles that push the edge make anyone within mainstream civilization nervous or uncomfortable around the person that wears them. Clothes communicate a message.
The World Has a Message to Communicate
Manufacturers of clothing must address the need for clothing in a way that makes the clothing both popular and profitable. So, leading fashion designers are motivated by two things: Money and message. To ensure that they succeed on both, they are guided by four principles.
First, the utility principle. This principle addresses the need for various types of clothing. For example: uniforms, athletic attire, seasonal clothing, etc.
Second, the hierarchical principle. This guides the designer to design clothing in such a way that appeals to human pride. Designers seek to create styles and options that enable the wearer to feel proud and haughty when wearing them, giving him the feeling that he is better than others who do not wear this particular label.
Third, the autonomy principle. The point here is to design clothing that gives the wearer the ability to feel free from all inhibitions; a sense of total self-expression. This allows the wearer to rebel against societal and Biblical norms, shocking his observer with the clothes that he wears.
Fourth, the seduction principle. Sex appeal is the strongest motive of all in designing clothing, particularly women’s clothing. The point here is obvious. Create clothing that accentuates the sexuality of the wearer. This principle is maintained from year to year by changing the area of exposure, called erotic zones. Designers go from see-through clothes to a tight wrap around, to mini skirts, to long skirts with long slits, or to a dress with serious cleavage exposure.
The last three of these principles are utilized to the extreme to communicate a message – the message of a fallen world.
God Has a Message to Communicate
God doesn’t make the issue of personal adornment one of the greatest issues in the Bible. To elevate it to such a place is dangerous. But He does raise the issue and lays down principles to govern the Christian’s adornment. To apply those principles in our lives is not legalism but love.
Before I offer this list of Biblical principles, let me preface them with some statements that are drawn from a logical study of God’s viewpoint on the subject.
- God speaks through basic principles rather than rules when it comes to our adornment.
- These principles are given in the context of Christian growth rather than as evidence of conversion.
- Individuals and Churches are responsible to take these principles and apply them to their lives through personal convictions (individual) or collective convictions (churches).
- The desire to look nice is legitimate and God-given. An attractive and neat appearance is glorifying to God and an asset in all walks of life.
- The love of colors and variety is a God-given part of a person’s personality.
- Attention to current modes of dress is not necessarily wrong. (If so, we would have to adopt a uniform or settle on an antiquated style of attire.) If current practices and Christian principle disagree, we must side with Christian principle.
Biblical Principles for Dress
The principle of covering the body rather than exposing it. 2 Timothy 2:9. Clothes should never be worn that expose (see through), or unduly accentuate body parts, or do not cover our nakedness (Biblically we are naked when we expose the torso or thigh).
The principle to dress so as to identify the sexes rather than confuse them. Deuteronomy 22:5.
The principle of stressing the inward rather than the outward. 1 Timothy 2:9, I Peter 3:3. The Bible tells us our beauty should not depend on outward adornment, but should flow from within from our spirit. This is not to minimize adornment but to rather give it a very special place. Adornment becomes a servant to us, used to reflect the grace of God within.
The principle of moderation and simplicity rather than ostentation and showiness. 1 Timothy 2:8-10, I Peter 3:3-4. Christian should seek to dress modestly and in moderately. They should avoid an ostentatious display of riches, either to show off their social standing or to call attention to their person. All extremes should be avoided. In these two passages, the Bible clearly prohibits the ornamentation of the body. Christians should be careful that they do not invest an unreasonable amount in clothes.
The principle to be transformed by the Word rather than to be conformed to the world. Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 6:11-71. The Bible is quite clear about separation, and that call to separation will ultimately find its way into the way we dress.
The principle of propriety. Romans 14:16. As a matter of good culture, some forms of clothing should not be worn in certain places and at certain times that may be appropriate under other conditions.
As Christians, we are guided by the leadership of the Holy Spirit and a sincere desire to please God and obey His Word. All earnest Christians want to reflect God’s objectives and biblical values in both their inner and outer person. We should be motivated at all times to communicate the message of godliness and holiness in our walk, talk and spirit.
In evaluating this matter of what we wear, we should ask ourselves these two questions: First, “What do I want to say with my life?” Second, “Do the clothes I wear communicate the Biblical values that I seek to live by?”