Women’s clothing is a neverending topic of conversation and opinion. Women seem to either wear too much or not enough depending on who you talk to. I was recently at a soccer game where a father with teenage girls was trying (unsuccessfully) to encourage them to cover up their exposed midriffs. I felt overwhelmed when I thought of my own two young girls who already have ideas about what they like and don’t like to wear. Current fashions encourage young ladies to wear high-waisted pants and short cropped tops, while others of us (perhaps more mature?) are doing all we can to cover up that little bit of extra that signals our war wounds from carrying babies or just our love for a square of chocolate or two.
Women seem to either wear too much or not enough depending on who you talk to.
Conversations about clothing and gender have recently come to the fore with the German gymnastics team competing at the Olympics in unitards instead of the traditional high-cut leotards. I am sure if those empty spectator stands were filled with women, the German Gymnastic team would have been ushered in with a standing ovation. These unitards were worn for comfort and as a statement against the sexualisation of women in sport. As German gymnast Elisabeth Seitz explained to CNN, “We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear.”
The Norweigan Women’s Beach Handball team would have loved to be receiving the same acceptance by officials as the German gymnastic team, however they were greeted with fines after their team members decided to wear shorts instead of the regulated bikini bottoms during a European championship. In subsequent interviews, the players have explained the lengths they have to go to help one another remain modest when competing in the regulated bikini bottoms.
So, how do we take a biblical view on dress? I have been in church services where I have been chastised for wearing jeans instead of a long skirt, I have also seen women distract the congregation with low cut tops that have both the men and women wondering where to look during the church announcement spot. Is it simply a matter of preference? How do we encourage modesty and love one another well, regardless of gender?
Throughout the Bible, we are taught not to conform to the patterns of the world around us (Romans 12:2) but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This renewal occurs so that we can test and approve what God’s will is. So, when thinking about the way we do anything, including the way we dress, we need to bring our thoughts under the authority of God’s word, not just succumb to the fashions of the day.
Clothing didn’t have a marvellous beginning … right from the beginning it pointed to the brokenness of the world and the humans it covered.
Clothing didn’t have a marvellous beginning. The first serviceable clothes (not the fig leaves, which didn’t even assuage their feelings of nakedness Gen 3:7-10) were created by God to cover Adam and Eve after they had sinned and recognised they were naked and ashamed (Gen 3:21).
The clothes that God made them were of skins—implicitly requiring the sacrifice of an animal. Clothing, in other words, was costly. Right from the beginning it pointed to the brokenness of the world and the humans it covered. It showed people as sinful vessels in need of a costly sacrifice for salvation.
In the Law, clothing became an outward and symbolic expression of purity, holiness and worship: people were told not to wear clothes of mixed materials (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:11). Women and men were not allowed to wear each other’s clothes (Deteronomy 22:5). While the Canaanites who surrounded Israel believed that the symbolic mixing of items would bring bounty and blessing, God was instructing his people to be different from this culture around them; to show they worshipped the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The particular concern about wool and linen being worn together (Deut 22:11) was also a way of preserving the distinction of roles ordained by God. It was the high priest, who wore an ephod made of “yarns” and linen (yarns assumed to be wool) (Ex 28:6-12, 39:2-7).
A Temple to Clothe
The New Testament appeals to us to recognise that our bodies are not our own. It urges us to not become preoccupied by what we will eat or wear (Matt 6:25-34), but instead to see how we dress as a way of bringing glory to God (1Cor 6:19-20).
Ultimately, we should be clothing ourselves ‘with Christ’.
Each one of us, when saved, are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13) and our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit. We are called to honour God with our bodies accordingly (1Cor 6:19-20). For the apostle Peter, that means turning away from cultural show-off markers like braided hair and costly jewellery (1 Peter 3:3-4). Perhaps for us, it means not trying to draw attention to ourselves with revealing clothes or expensive designer brands.
The adornment we should be focusing on is the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit; compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness (Col 3:12). Ultimately, we should be clothing ourselves “with Christ” (Gal 3:27) in order for people to see our character as a reflection of our Saviour.
We are told in 1 Timothy 2:9 to dress in respectable and modest attire. This surely isn’t meant to deny us freedom to choose how we dress—how we communicate our personalities and delight in the gifts God gives us. But we all know that there are choices that will be an unhelpful distraction.
As a teacher, this practical modesty becomes important in what I choose to wear each day. It would not be helpful for me to wear something that is too low-cut; nor would it be wise for me to try to teach sport in a dress, when any breath of wind could threaten my modesty.
Whatever we do, wherever we go, however much we spend, it is vital that we recognise God has taught us to be more concerned about our inner character than our outer adornment and to do everything for his glory in a respectable and modest way.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying clothing—even fashion. Yet our eyes must first and foremost be on God’s glory, not our own. Let’s do everything we can to dress and act in keeping with that.
 Fee, G.D. and Stuart, D., How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth (Michigan: Zondervan, 2nd Edt., 1993) pp.162-163