Fashion, Clothes, & Christ

UntitledWhat is fashion saying about us? What is fashion saying to us? Why does fashion matter?

Clothes and Communication

Clothes have two main functions. Clothes provide protection, warmth, and modesty. Clothes also communicate things about us. Should we just care about the utility of clothes and not about their beauty and what they communicate?

Clothing can be a form of defiance. It can communicate to people that you don’t care at all about societies accepted norms. Clothes can be “a snub to clean and neat conformism.”[1] It was for me when I went through my punk stage (I don’t think I’m fully through it yet). My clothes said, I’ve seen some stuff and I’m jaded. My clothes, in my mind said, you may have had the perfect little life but I haven’t.

Clothes communicate. Clothes say, “I don’t care,” “I’m sexy,”[2] “I’m rich,” and so forth. Clothes can communicate that we are respectable and care about beauty. They can show that we are intentional and appreciate quality without communicating pride. Clothes speak but are we aware of what they’re saying?

We should… be aware of how ideas are communicated through fashion and of the thinking behind the design of clothes. We should be alert to our own motivations for choosing what we wear.[3]

Fashion is on us and all about us everyday so we should be aware of what it’s saying.

Clothes and Creation

In the beginning God created. And His creation was good, even “very good” (Gen. 1:31). We, male and female, were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). So we too are creative and that is a good thing. It’s one way that we image God.

God is the most majestic musician, supreme sculptor, wowing writer, and awesome artist. We can look at the flowers of the field and see that God is the most creative creator of clothing. He is the creator that gives creativity. Our creativity is contingent upon the Creator.

Creativity is not bad and creativity when it comes to clothing is not bad. Beauty is not bad. God saw all the good that He made and said “very good”—beautiful. We too can and should create with the goal of saying “beautiful.”

Many critics of Christianity say that Christians are self-loathing and boring. The way that people see Christians can reflect back on the way they conceive of God. Many think of God as a drudge that hates fun and beauty. However, the Bible says that the body is wonderful (cf. Ps. 139:14). The Bible celebrates beauty and creativity. The Bible shows that God is anything but dull, boring, and against beauty.

Clothes and Conformity

Clothes and culture are in many ways parallel. I think for instance of Marie Antoinette and 18th century French fashion contrasted with Puritan fashion. Again clothes communicate. Clothes reflect the views and convictions of the day. However, we often don’t consider this truth. We often just conform to the surrounding culture.

As with many things, balance is important. On one side we can care too much about what we wear. It can consume us and we can find our identity wrapped up in what we wear. However, we can also not care enough about what we wear and how we look. Steve Turner points out that some

Christians have often been not merely out of step with fashion but dowdy, boring and unadventurous. Their clothes suggest that they have no pride in their bodies, are content to be disconnected from the times they live in, don’t value creativity or imagination and have no desire to provide aesthetic pleasure for those they meet.[4]

This should not be the case because God has made a beautiful and creative world. We can image God even in what we wear. For example, God beautifully, creatively, and polychromatically clothes the flowers of the field (Matt. 6:28-29). So we can point to our creative Creator even in the way that we clothe ourselves.

In our conversation about clothes and conformity, modesty is a helpful word. For our purposes modesty means decency in dress. It is behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid offense and indecency. It is also the quality of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s self.

I think Steven Turner maintains a good balance. He says,

We need on the one hand to avoid dressing in a way that makes it appear that we are ashamed of who we are, take not delight in aesthetics and have a low view of the body, and on the other to avoid wearing clothes designed to encourage sinful pride in ourselves or lust and envy in others.[5]

We need to ensure our clothes do not send messages that are opposed to what we actually confess and believe.

Clothes and Christ

In my punk rock heavy metal days (which I have not completely left) my identity was found to a significant degree in my grungy style. I was the angsty skater kid. I was mad at the world, and I was secretly proud of it.

However, as I put on more and more of Christ and found my identity in Him, I could literally put off more and more of my grungy clothes and be ok with it. I may not have been able to articulate it but my identity was less and less about any outward style. My identity was in Christ and it eventually worked itself out in tangible ways.

I have not completely left my punk style and probably never will and that is ok. I still like the grungy look, which is fine. However, I can now wear nice pants with my shirt tucked in and I don’t feel like a sellout. My angst and anger have also been relieved to a great degree.

As Christians, our identity and significance is found in Christ and not in Nike, Gucci, or Ralph Lauren. Let’s put on Christ and have a Christian perspective as we put on our clothes (cf. Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27; Col. 3:1ff).

Conclusion

Clothes are not inherently evil. Beauty is not bad. Care and creativity in regard to clothes is good. We can honor God and even image Him as we intentionally and appropriately dress ourselves. However, we must seek modesty in our dress and realize that our identity is not dependent upon the shoes on our feet or the hat on our head.

Our identity and significance need to be grounded in Christ and not in clothes.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you enjoy your clothes as an expression of who you are and of beauty or are clothes merely for protection, warmth, and covering?
  • Why do you buy the clothes you buy? Are we trying to impress people and fill a void? Or do we buy clothes we buy for reasons of quality, good design, and beauty?
  • Do you know that “the prestige given to certain brands is out of all proportion to their usefulness and actual material value”?[6]
  • What are you telling others about yourself with what you wear?
  • Can we both be humble and beautiful at the same time with what we wear?
  • We can often be tempted to find our identity in what we wear instead of who we are. Is that a temptation for you? How can you fight against that temptation?

__________________

[1] Steven Turner, Popcultured, 115.

[2] Mary Quant, the lady that named the miniskirt, said that miniskirts say: “I’m very sexy. I enjoy sex. I feel provocative, but you’re going to have a job to get me. You’ve got to excite me and you’ve got to be jolly marvelous to attract me. I can’t be bought, but if I want you, I’ll have you” (as quoted in Ibid., 118).

[3] Ibid., 118.

[4] Ibid., 123.

[5] Ibid., 127.

[6] Ibid., 121. As Time magazine said, “If you’re paying $300 for sunglasses, your buying them to look cool and impress people… You’re not buying them for the sake of your eyes’ health” (see Ibid., 121).

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :) View all posts by Paul O'Brien

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