God was the first fashion designer.
It’s odd, then, that the pictures in the children’s Sunday school consistently show Adam and Eve wearing outfits apparently borrowed from Fred Flintstone. Children and adults alike perceive their first parents’ wardrobe as ugly: a ragged-edged deerskin awkwardly tied around one shoulder. It’s as if the God who had just finished clothing the first lilies of the field were unimaginative and clumsy with a needle and thread.
Christians rightly recognize that the need for clothing is rooted in sin. Adam and Eve took, ate, saw their own nakedness, and started to sew. With this in mind, Puritan writer Henry Scudder, in The Christian’s Daily Walk, even says: “When you arise and dress yourself … think upon the cause why you have need of apparel; namely, the fall and sin of your first parents … what man in his senses would be proud of the badge of his shame?”
Given clothing’s sinful beginnings, and the deceitfulness of sinful hearts, much of Christian writing and thinking about fashion has focused on modesty and humility. Modesty is important (see I Timothy 2:9-10,) and Christians do need warnings against idolizing their own appearance. But clothing is also joyful evidence of God’s grace.
In the Scriptures, God’s people are clothed as a sign of favor and provision. Clothing is a lavish gift: Abraham’s servant gives Rebekah jewelry and clothing; the boy Joseph, beloved son of Jacob, receives a garment of many colors; the adult Joseph gives each of his brothers clothing and, to Benjamin, five sets of clothing. Clothing is also God’s provision for need: the clothes and shoes of the wandering Israelites did not wear out for 40 years, and the faithful love of Hannah provided the boy Samuel with one new outfit each year.
God did not leave Adam and Eve blushing and naked in the bushes, fending for themselves with fig leaves. He drew near and clothed them with better things. (In his commentary on Genesis, Bruce K. Waltke calls this “an image of God’s tender care for the couple.”) The Flintstone outfits in the Sunday school room do God a dishonor. Clothing tailored by the hand of God Himself was the most perfect clothing anyone has ever worn.
So, is there a theology of redeemed fashion? How should Christians get dressed?
The right clothes are protective.
Far from dismissing the human body, Scripture elevates it as the special creation of God and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Christians are given instruction to care for the body; the Westminster Shorter Catechism says the sixth commandment requires “all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others.” Similarly, the Bible describes clothing as protection for the body. The garment taken in pledge must be returned quickly (Exodus 22:27) because it keeps its wearer warm and dry; it promotes his health.
That’s what makes certain fashion trends so abhorrent: the tiny shoes of Chinese women whose feet were broken in childhood, the corsets which atrophied muscles and deteriorated spines of 19th century women, the knee-injuring stiletto heels on so many metropolitan sidewalks today. Even shoes that cause blisters, belts that pinch, and shirts that irritate the skin, are bad fashion because they work against God’s good design.
In contrast, Christians can give thanks for their running shoes, mittens, sunglasses, and raincoats. Fashion that protects the body is a good gift from the Lord.
The right clothes are a tool for kingdom usefulness.
God’s servants may wear clothes that look similar to the clothing of others, but they wear them with a special purpose. They have been created by God for good works (Ephesians 2:10,) and He gives them clothing to assist their labors. Older translations use the word “gird,” the language for tying on a belt as a final step of readiness. Aaron’s sons girded themselves for the ministry of the priesthood; David’s soldiers girded themselves for battle; Jesus girded Himself before washing the disciples’ feet. Christians get dressed with their calling in view.
With this attitude, they can joyfully wear a suit in the office, scrubs at the clinic, and jeans to help with a disaster relief project. They gird themselves to fulfill their God-given tasks.
The right clothes are an outward accessory to heart emotion.
Mourning garments appear repeatedly in Scriptures when God’s people are told to signify their heart’s sorrow and repentance with garments that are torn and soiled. Godly emotion expressed outwardly is good; using clothing to pretend what the heart doesn’t feel (see Joel 2:13) is condemned by God.
Clothes are also made for celebration. In Luke 15, Jesus tells one of the most famous stories in the Bible: the Parable of the Lost Son. At the end of this story, the son returns and the father immediately prepares for a celebration: “’Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet … and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.’” New and beautiful clothes are a mark of inward joy.
In a culture where flip flops appear at weddings and jeans are right for every occasion, that new dress for a friend’s birthday party seems extraordinary. Which is exactly the point. A Christian can choose something festive with delight, rejoicing with those who rejoice.
Just as clothing points backward to Adam’s sin, it also points forward to the redeemed wedding garments of the Bride, described in Revelation 19:7-8:
“’Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted to her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure’—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
And God, the divine tailor, receives all the glory.
Megan Hill is the wardrobe manager for her husband and two children. She is a member of St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi and writes a weekly blog at SundayWomen.com.