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Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 32 - December 2009 / January 2010 > Clothes Maketh the Woman (by Erica Green)

Clothes Maketh the Woman

by Erica Green

Clothes Maketh the Woman (apologies to Mark Twain) - Clothing for Ladies

As Christian women what is our responsibility regarding our clothing choices?

What we wear is more than just fibres and fabric.

Clothes really are an expression of our individuality. Our clothes style tells a story and sends a message about who we are.  Whilst slightly more subtle than the identification afforded by a formal uniform, there are certainly design elements of our clothing choices which act in a similar way to identify the wearer.  Amongst other things (wealth, status, social group, personality, morality and mood) our outfit tells others how we see ourselves and how we want them to think about us. 

Rightly or wrongly, clothes generate judgments about the wearer.  Within the first few seconds of an initial encounter, people will sum us up and make judgements about us based on how we look and once made, that first impression is very hard to unmake.  I can hear you all protesting, that this is not fair, as they don't even know us.  After all, "... Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV) and that is what is the most important, right?  Whilst I agree that it is more important to be concerned with what God thinks of us, but come on, admit it, we all make these snap judgements to varying degrees and we still have to live in this enfeebled world and we will be impacted by the judgements of others about us.

That first impression and the ensuing judgements that have been made, will then impact the way that people treat us.  To some extent we train people how to approach us by the way that we dress.  If you put on the 'uniform' that people associate with a specific value, then don't be surprised if you are approached in a way that would, at least initially, presume them as your own.  If you want to be considered a serious professional at work then put on the appropriate business attire.  If you don't want others to view you as a sex object then perhaps you should consider not dressing like one. 

A Perfect World vs A Not so Perfect World

In a perfect world you could wear exactly what you liked.  Look at Adam and Eve for example in the idyllic Garden of Eden.  "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." (Genesis 2:25, NIV)  When their environment ceased to be perfect, we find the emergence of the first ever clothing design.  "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." (Genesis 3:7, NIV)  Perhaps not the best first attempt, so God himself stepped into the tailoring business.  "The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them." (Genesis 3:21, NIV)

Why did God endorse the first cover up?  Some may say that these garments were needed as protection against the elements.  Perhaps that has something to do with it, but I think that there was more to it than that. The famous Edenic fig leaf would not have offered much protection against inclement weather and after all they were still within the protected Garden of Eden at that stage.  There was something more than a chilly breeze around the buttocks that was bothering them.  Why the sudden sense of a need for privacy?  Without sin, there is no need to be worried or concerned about what we share of ourselves with others, because nobody is going to take advantage of us.  God knew that they would be going out into a sinful world and that every good thing that God has made would be distorted by the effects of sin. (Eg: the concept of love would be distorted to that of lust.)  Clothing was not only protection against sin's impact on the hospitability of the climate but also a guard against sin's impact on our hearts.

You and I are living on enemy turf.  Satan has claimed ownership of the planet and is fighting for allegiance of its inhabitants.  The clothing or "uniform" decisions that we make every day, amongst other things, serve as an upfront signal to the world of where our allegiances and values lie.  Whilst we should be able to wear what we like, a pragmatic approach would consider the virtue in entering warfare in enemy territory brandishing the opposition's colours?

Whilst defending the concepts of individuality, practically, I cannot picture that any self respecting mother would be happy about sending her daughter out into the night being dressed like a prostitute.  She would not want her to have to deal with the reactions associated with the resulting first impressions.


The "uniforms" which are associated with decency or loose morality will of course differ from culture to culture, from era to era and from situation to situation.  As such, I would never even attempt to be definitive about specifically what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate dress for every circumstance.  But it is possible to establish, on an individual basis, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves in answering a few questions:- "What is it that motivates us to don the various 'uniforms' that we wear on a day to day basis?";  "Who are we trying to identify with and why?";  "What message do we want to send to other people about who we are?"

"Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;" (Psalm 26:2, NIV)

What I am not saying

Please don't get me wrong here; I am not saying that we are responsible for the reactions of others to the way that we dress.  I am not saying that women's clothing choices are responsible for the corruption of men in the workplace.  I am certainly not saying that rape victims, who have dressed provocatively, are responsible for or deserve what they get, nor that they could have avoided being raped if they dressed in a more modest fashion.  It is not only 'hot' young women who are raped you know.  Grannies in thermal underwear and cardigans are on the list of rape victims too.  The crime of rape is more about control over another than it is about sex.  Men are responsible for managing their own actions.  To say otherwise implies that men are, or that we should expect them to be, simple creatures with no behavioural control or moral obligation.  Surely we think of and expect better than that from our men.  If not, then we certainly should.

The book of Matthew talks to men about lustful thoughts.  "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." (Matthew 5:27-30, NIV)  The drastic solution proposed in this text, which no one would suggest in reality be put into action, is really being employed in order to make a point about the seriousness of the problem.  The approach, however, does imply that the solution for lustful thoughts lies within the responsibility of the one who is doing the lusting, not the object of such lust.  This text does not propose the covering up of or the chastisement of the women as a solution to the issue.  There were certainly men lusting after women in bible times and I can be pretty sure that they were not wearing short shorts and a crop top.  For goodness sake, I know some beautiful and desirable women who could wear a hessian bag and still men could find ample reason to lust after them.  A codification of cover all, tent like, clothing for women is not a solution to the problem of men's lustful thoughts.

I am also not advocating that Christian women should dress like frumps.  Just remember, God used Queen Esther's beauty to save a nation.  God made women to be beautiful and there is nothing wrong with making the best of what we have been blessed with and for many women an important part of that is how they look.  It is a little like the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-28) some of us unfortunately have not been as blessed as others.  I wonder, does the term "cover it up and hope nobody notices", compare to "burying one's talent"?   I comfort myself with the following thought from the bible, though slightly taken out of context and a little tongue in cheek. "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." (Matthew 20:16, NIV) All you gorgeous women, come the kingdom, move over and make some room for the rest of us!

So in Summary, what am I saying then?

In an ideal world we should be able to wear whatever we like.  Pragmatically, in our significantly less than perfect world, we need to be aware of the presumptions that people will make resulting from the way that we dress.   This awareness, however, does not then extend into taking on responsibility for the reaction, motivation or behaviours of others.  We should though, be in a position to understand our own motivation in wearing what we wear and the value alignments and allegiances that we are making through our behaviour.  

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 32 - December 2009 / January 2010 > Clothes Maketh the Woman (by Erica Green)