He held up a high-waisted, navy and white striped A-line skirt. “This would look really cute on you. You should try it on!” Ike suggested. I pursed my lips in skepticism. It was short–probably too short for church, anyway–and too nice to wear when I’m watching the kids. It didn’t seem practical.
“When would I ever wear something like that?” I asked.
“Um….on a date? With me?”
I had to laugh. I was coming off 9 months of pregnancy, a season when comfort always wins and looking tiny and cute is out of the question. Skirts like the one in front of me had not been on my radar for quite some time. But that season had ended, and looking nice for Ike is one way I love on him, so I was grateful for the reminder.
I thought back on that exchange after a friend e-mailed me with a question about fashion. She was looking for a Christian perspective on clothing and materialism, and she had questions like, how much money is okay to spend on clothes? Or, when there are so many people starving in the world, how can we justify spending money on clothes we don’t need? And is it wrong for me to want to look cute?
Those are great questions. We live in an image-obsessed culture, so I don’t think you can be a human woman and not struggle with wanting to look good, especially in comparison with other women. Add to that pressure the overabundance of clothing in our nation. Never have clothes been so cheap and so…many. American stores sell far more clothing than we can consume, while the production process is bad for garment workers and bad for the environment.
So, should we all just wear American-made denim jumpers and call it a day?
I don’t think so. One person who has helped me think through this is my friend Laura Turner, who wrote a post on this topic for Her.meneutics several years ago. One line especially stuck out to me, which was this:
“Regardless of your fashion history or background, we can all benefit from remembering that what we wear can help us to move closer to God and closer to others.“
That is a great filter for thinking about our clothing choices, and in a number of ways:
Fashion and marriage. As I already mentioned, the way I look and dress is one way I express love to my husband. I know it means a lot to him when I make the effort, and that guides my shopping. Sometimes that means NOT buying the latest trend because, as some of you know, men don’t always like what’s trendy. Ike and I had a YEARS long dispute over tall boots–which Ike hated–and I’ll never forget standing in the store modeling an adorable pair that I was SURE he would like. His response? “Well, I don’t have to look at you all the time.” So yeah, I didn’t buy them.
All of that to say, many of my clothing choices are driven by a desire to love and honor my husband. BUT, I show myself a lot of grace in this area as well. The more children I have, the harder it is to look put together. Sometimes showering and applying makeup can feel like a monumental feat–and Ike knows that–so we both have reasonable expectations.
Fashion and friendship. Most of us know what it’s like to walk into church and see a women who’s so done up and cute that, in comparison, you feel like a week old biscuit. I don’t want to make other women feel like that, and that desire guides my fashion choices. I don’t want to look so put together, all the time, that it puts extra pressure on other women. That desire also frees me from feeling self-conscious when friends see me without makeup or clean hair. I see those moments as an opportunity to make space for them as they are, instead of feeding into the comparison.
On the other hand, dressing way down isn’t the best way to “grow closer” to other women either. In the spirit of “being all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), I try to dress in a way that is a bridge for friendship and connection with the women in my neighborhood or at my church. Appearance is a way people identify with one another, so when a woman looks at me and sees someone “like her,” Christ in me might also seem more accessible to her.
Fashion and stewardship. My husband and I have a budget for clothes, which not only holds us accountable but also insures we have margin for unplanned generosity. In addition to tithing and other charitable commitments, we want the freedom to give to unexpected needs, so we try to make sure no expense–clothing or otherwise–impedes that.
In addition to our budget, stewardship also raises the question of where we buy our clothes. How does the company treat its workers? What kind of environmental footprint does the company make? You might be saving money by buying cheap clothes, but exploiting the poor in the process.
Fashion and God. For me, the intersection between fashion and God means keeping a close eye on my heart. Materialism and idolatry are ever-present temptations, which is why fasting is a great help. If I realize fashion is wrapped around my heart a little too tightly, I take a break from buying clothes. Fasting has always helped me recalibrate my heart and get perspective on what I truly need. Pregnancy–which is basically an extended fast from my regular appearance–is a great heart check as well.
As a final thought, it’s easy to become legalistic or self-righteous about what we wear, which is just one more way fashion can hinder our love for God and others. That’s why, in addition to giving it serious thought, it’s also good to enjoy fashion. Like any other artistic or personal expression, fashion can be fun and creative. As such, we have freedom in Christ to enjoy it, and that freedom balances out our attempts to turn fashion into law.
Those are just a few of the principles that shape my thinking on fashion. And in case you were wondering, that’s the skirt! I recently wore it on a date with Ike, and he loved it. Even more importantly, he felt loved by me. Just one way God uses fashion for good!
Sharon, I appreciate this piece. Feeling good in my skin AND my style has been a treasured gift of grace over the years, one I am still learning to receive on many levels.
However, if I could push back just a little. I too like to dress up a bit for my husband. I can tell that he notices and enjoys it. I wan to claim that and enjoy blessing him.
But. I grew up under patriarchy. My worth got tied up in whether or not I shaved my legs or looked “right,” as dictated by men.
My husband is incredibly sensitive to my past.
How do we enjoy pleasing/exciting/blessing our husbands through our beauty (a gift of God), while guarding against conforming to social norms? How do we guard against training younger women to “dress the part,” according to patriarchy?
I want to claim freedom in Christ and be able to enjoy expressing my unique femininity…as long as it does not perpetuate someone else’s slavery (under patriarchy or literal slavery in the workhouse), or my own.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Hi Leanna, thanks for bringing that up! That is something I think about a lot as well. I think it’s possible that the call to honor God, and the desire to honor our husbands’ desires, can be in conflict. If my husband wanted me to dress in a way that I felt was dishonoring to God, I would have to say no and pray that the Holy Spirit would work on his heart. That hierarchy of allegiance is certainly important to this discussion.
A woman’s past is also an important factor, and if a wife feels pressured to dress in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable or unsafe, that is not ok. The work of honoring our husbands should come from a place of freedom, not compulsion or shame.
I hope that’s helpful!
I have had SUCH an issue with modesty/fashion/dress over the past several years. It’s been hard because I feel there are 40550 ideas of ‘modesty’ and how a Christian woman should dress. Fashion doesn’t come naturally to me and thinking about what to wear just leaves me overwhelmed. I feel like your article was super helpful in tackling several different angles of why our dress matters, when it doesn’t, and how to honor God above all. Thanks!
Sharon, thank you for this. There is so much truth in your words. So much grace. So much freedom! Sometimes its hard to find the gospel in things that seem mundane or frivolous or that can become areas of sin very easily. Having the perspective that clothes communicate things is so valuable. I went shopping this weekend, guilt free, on a reasonable budget, and enjoyed it so much. And now I don’t hate every piece of clothing in my closet 🙂 And my husband noticed too.
Aw I’m so glad! Enjoy wearing those clothes!