My mother grew up in the old school Southern tradition where women were not allowed to wear pants to church or even outside of church. Also, they had to carry around a handkerchief to cover their legs when they sat down. To me, that tradition seems a little dated, although Deuteronomy 22:5 reads, “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing…” Once again we see the tricky task of interpreting some Old Testament scriptures from the law to our current circumstances. What if a Christian woman is a construction worker, can she not then wear pants? Must she always wear a skirt? This raises the question, is there such a thing as a Christian dress code? And if so, should we still follow it today?
As we grow and learn more about being a Christian, many things change. Some smokers quit smoking, some cursers quit cursing, and maybe negative thinkers take action to combat their negativity. Can I be blunt for a moment? Before becoming a Christian, to make it plain, I used to dress rather provocatively. Short skirts, tight, tight jeans, with an attitude to match, but the moment Christ came into my life, I was, as the scripture says, “a new creature, old things are passed away, behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Does this mean that I began to only wear skirts? No, but I did begin to realize which things were acceptable and unacceptable to God.
My jeans got a little looser, and my attitude got better, and in all this, I was reminded of 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” Notice that in this scripture, Paul does not mention dresses or skirts only, but he says to clothe ourselves modestly, which by definition means neither boldly nor assertively. Each generation must reinterpret these texts for their own times. Gold, pearls, elaborate hairstyles, and expensive clothes are not necessarily immodest in our contemporary society. Paul is not trying to regulate women’s dress but speak to the heart and attitude of whether they want the attention of men or God.
As new believers we are thirsty for more knowledge of God, which comes over time, and we may have told everyone in our circle and beyond about our shiny new relationship with Christ. In doing so, we are now ambassadors for him and must present ourselves as such. Our outside should not distract or take away from the good work we are doing for and with God in the world. Basically, do not let your clothing choices steal God’s thunder or misrepresent God. Also, we must always remember that beauty is on the inside. “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4). Ideally our lives reveal things about God to others. So what does our clothing say about God?
Let’s stretch our minds for a moment. There is an old song by Whodini called Freaks Come out at Night that details the events that occur during a wild night out on the town. Keep this song in mind when reading this next scripture. “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy” (Romans 13:13). One can imagine what kind of clothing both men and women wear in such a scene at night. This scripture urges Christians to dress in the night as they would in the day. Now, we may jazz it up a bit by throwing on heels, bejeweled jeans, or an extra starched shirt at night, but we should always carry the same attitude, demeanor, and grace in the night as we would in the day.
Ideally our lives reveal things about God to others. So what does our clothing say about God?
Another scripture that further clarifies the topic of dress for Christians is Matthew 5:28; “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This explains why one should dress modestly. Just thinking lustful thoughts is a sin in and of itself, so why in a world that is full of sin, would one dress in a way to create more sin? Not limited to dress only, in order to avoid the trap of lust, a new believer may decide to stop going to clubs, bars, drinking heavily, and engaging in any such behavior that might be against God.
Matthew also says, “Do not worry about what you will wear.” (Matthew 6:25) Here, the assumption is that people ought not worry about having clothes to wear. It’s telling of our social context that most of us even have a choice about what we will wear. In this sense, some Christians desire to remove focus from wearing clothes as fashion items and to emphasize simplicity in a countercultural way. Yet, even in the ancient world, one’s clothes said something about who they were. So there is a tension here. How much do we use clothing to express who we are, while not being overly particular about styles, brands and designs? In some social contexts clothing is something the body needs, in others, because of abundance, clothing is seen as merely decoration.
Romans 13:14 reads, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” This scripture helps us realize that it’s not just about what the believer is wearing, but it’s about the very foundation of his or her belief. Clearly, there is not a Christian dress code per se, but there is a command to always “put on” Jesus Christ. In doing so we will understand how God wants us to dress, talk, look and be.
More importantly, God understands what we need when we need it.
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith” (Matthew 6:28-30).
He would not command a woman who works in construction to wear a skirt instead of pants, knowing that wearing such would put her in harm’s way. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful, all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23). I encourage you to continue to study God’s word, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you in what is appropriate to wear, and for all of us, that our outside would look just like our inside – holy and acceptable.