In modern society, fashion is to be “the first with the latest”. New clothes and designs are introduced ever so often, and people cannot wait to be trendy or trendsetters. Twice a year, in February–March and in September–October, the fashion capitals of the world—London, New York, Milan, Paris—host their fashion shows with supermodels strutting their stuff on the catwalk. Spectators are enticed by all the glamour and glitz of high society—this is what you must wear to be “cool and hip”.
High fashion comes with a heavy price tag. Enter “fast fashion” to cater to those who want the looks but not the price. Zara—the benchmark of fast fashion—churns out 18000 designs per year. Fashion is restless and ever changing.
Fashion which used to be controlled by the rich and powerful is today driven by the common people. This is seen in Lyst.com, an online clothing platform with over 150 million shoppers consuming the world’s hottest clothing items with no end.
Interestingly, the two years of Covid-19 lockdowns and quarantines have produced its own line of fashion besides the ubiquitous mask. There is a “vaccine attire” where Instagrammers bare their shoulders stylishly for a shot (pun intended).
There is nowadays a greater emphasis on an online persona expressed through clothes and cosmetics. This means looking like one’s game or anime characters or TikTok stars with metallic jackets or baby tees.
Is Fashion a Problem?
Fashion is a problem when it aims to flaunt the body to stir up the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). It is not a problem if it means dressing rightly for the right occasion. For instance, you do not dress for a wedding in singlet and shorts, but in proper coat and tie.
Clothes and dressing have changed over time, sometimes for the better. Clothes which used to hinder and hamper certain work or activity have been phased out to make way for the more practical and convenient without compromising on chastity and modesty. For example, SAF uniforms today are better designed and made to enhance military training and mobility, and they look good too compared to those in the 1960s and 70s.
Can a Christian work in the fashion industry? He can, only if he is able to preserve conservative fashion and dictate the rules of fashion based on biblical principles. There is however a real danger in the fashion world and the temptation is great to conform to the world (cf Rom 12:1–2). The love of money and the lust of the flesh in the fashion industry can easily blind a believer to God’s standards of beauty and dressing.
Covering Our Nakedness
It is clear that God requires us to cover our nakedness. After Adam and Eve sinned against God and realised they were naked, they sewed fig leaves as “aprons” to cover themselves (Gen 3:7). God deemed that covering insufficient and made for them a long garment or tunic for a covering. This long coat hid the form and contour of their bodies. It is the same word used for the priestly garment which extends to the toe (Exod 28). Why so? The priests and the Levites were moral and religious leaders and they set the example on how we ought to approach God. If we want to approach God rightly, we must watch what we wear besides other things. It is appalling that some Christians think they can wear as they please, revealing more than concealing, without considering the holiness of God.
Nakedness is only allowed in the marital bedroom of a one-flesh union (Gen 2:25). The Song of Solomon speaks very explicitly about the woman’s body because the author himself is her groom, her husband. Before the wedding, Solomon speaks of his lover as “a garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed” (Song 4:12). Only after the wedding did he fully and freely enjoy her as his garden and fountain (Song 4:13–16). A lady must guard her body as she is appointed for her husband alone and no one else. Her body is for his eyes only.
What the OT Says about Modesty
The Bible is definitely not silent about how we should dress ourselves. Proverbs 31 gives a picture of the virtuous woman and appreciates her beauty. Unlike what is portrayed in the magazines of the world, this biblical portrait is timeless. She is an excellent model of chastity, not like the runway models in the glitzy and seducing world of fashion.
About a third of Proverbs 31 speaks of the woman’s adorning (vv17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 30). It shows that clothes are important to the godly woman. Her clothes reflect the kind of wife and mother she is. She is neat, presentable and elegant. Just as sewing, cooking, washing are some of her daily duties, so also is dressing herself. She thinks carefully about her dressing. She dictates her dressing by making her own clothes. She is actively managing her household and dresses properly inside and outside her home. The clothes serve her, and not the other way round. At the end, we see a woman who dresses modestly and appropriately, and is praised by man and favoured by God for her wisdom and works.
What the NT Says about Modesty
1 Timothy 2:9–10 which sums up Proverbs 31 says, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” It goes hand in hand with 1 Timothy 2:8, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting”. “In like manner” refers to spirituality. Prayerfulness is a spiritual quality all Christian men and women should possess. Paul equates modest and chaste dressing with such a spiritual exercise.
The Greek words here for “adorn” and “modest” are the words kosmeo and kosmios(where we get the word “cosmetics”). Their root word kosmos has the idea of orderliness—the opposite of chaos. Consider the order and orderliness of creation in Genesis 1. Behold the thought and care that goes into creation (Job 38:4–6). Jesus did not think that Solomon in his silky garments looked better than the humble lilies of the field (Matt 6:29). Just as God had put in such wise care into His creation, we should also learn to put such godly and wise care into our clothing and dressing.
We can learn a lot from creation and its divine design. Observe the patterns and the colours of God’s handiwork and see how we can employ textures and combine colours when we clothe ourselves. We can be simple and yet dignified. Appreciate what God has given us and enhance these features creatively, bringing Him glory for being such a wonderful Creator of our body and face.
Our dressing should be pleasant and presentable according to biblical principles. Again we have this encouragement in 1 Peter 3:3–4, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
“Shamefacedness” teaches on the need of decency. It is to be aware and conscious of exposure and nakedness. Are we showing skin and cleavage? Think of the shame that Adam and Eve felt in Genesis 3. “Sobriety” is being reasonable, appropriate, temperate and controlled. Both words address modesty. Modesty must stem from the heart. Modesty is humility expressed in how we dress, while gentleness and meekness serve as our ornaments. Carnal fashion and immodest dressing, on the other hand, draw attention to the flesh and to self and not to God.
Since modesty is a matter of the heart, it is one virtue that must be cultivated. It is a process of spiritual growth. It is not simply adhering to a dress code or a list of do’s and don’ts that will make one modest or chaste. It is spirituality that will do that. Grow spiritually in the Lord and in His Word. And as one grows in faith and godliness, the virtue of modesty will show as well.
Modesty is self-control in dressing. It condemns excessiveness. The beauty of modesty can be seen in many aspects such as hairstyle, make-up, accessories, shoes, body language and speech. A modest woman will not be extravagant on clothes, or buy outlandish, outrageous pieces, or collect and accumulate clothes without discretion.
Modesty is also about considering the people around us. Even in the way we dress, we should be respectful of others. Ladies for instance should not dress like a temptress or adulteress to seduce or tempt the men (cf 2 Kgs 9:20, 4:30). No spaghetti straps, low-cuts (front and back), translucent or tight-fitting clothes, miniskirts and short shorts. They send wrong signals and fire up lustful thoughts.
Let us uphold high moral standards in dressing. Let us evaluate our wardrobe and review the types of clothes we have. It may be good to declutter and get rid of unsuitable pieces, and cut down on our spending on clothes. Be wise to source out timeless, good quality, and long lasting pieces. Learn to recycle or renew, sew or alter clothes, instead of falling prey to fashion brands and trends.
Christians should dress to reflect godliness, and not attract worldliness. We should dress to protect ourselves and edify others, not promote self and stumble others. We should seek God’s standard of beauty and earn His praise, not man’s. Let us aim to be tagged “of great price” by God. JK/EC
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