Fashionable vs. Frumpy
I always look forward to the changing of the seasons. Twice a year, I pull boxes and tubs out of closets or the attic, unpack the treasure of hand-me-downs and forgotten outfits from the previous season, and share the delight of my family as we switch out our wardrobes. Together, we make a list of anything needed and prepare to shop. At that moment, panic hits me. Shopping for my husband and son will be no problem, but being the fashion-challenged mother that I am, I feel overwhelmed at the terrifying fashions bombarding my girls and me from the store racks. I need help!
Imagine the advice I would receive were I to begin widely polling fellow Christian women about what clothing to purchase. Some would suggest that, as a pastor’s wife, I should be up on the latest fashions. Others would tell me to make sure to dress in such a way as to be completely accessible to the culture in which I minister. I would also hear that I need to stand out, letting everyone know that I am a conservative, mature Christian woman. The advice would lead me down paths anywhere from spending beyond a fortune for one season’s worth of clothing to sewing everything myself. Whose opinion do I heed?
Ultimately, I must look directly to Scripture where I find verses like 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Although clothing styles and fashion are not mentioned here specifically, I see a connection. Paul’s discussion with the Corinthian believers dealt with whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Ultimately, the issue boiled down to how the witness of the believers would be impacted by their consumption of meat, since most of the meat available to them was involved in the worship practices of the pagan religions.
Fashion Questions to Ask Ourselves
The same principle applies to us, whether the issue is food and drink, fashion, or any other behavior. We can glean practical wisdom from this verse on the topic of physical appearance by asking ourselves several questions.
How Comfortable Are We?
This first question may seem a bit self-centered, but that does not diminish its legitimacy.
While we may not always have the option of wearing the most comfortable of clothing, we still can and should feel a sense of comfort and confidence about our appearance. For example, for many years I wore no makeup. This had nothing to do with religious belief or conviction. It had more to do with the fact that I had never learned how to apply makeup well. I felt like a clown when I put it on, and that made me horribly self-conscious. After being taught how to select colors and apply makeup, I learned to enjoy it. Now, I appreciate the flexibility of choosing whether or not I want to wear it.
When we are uncomfortable with any aspect of our appearance, we find ourselves distracted. We wonder what others must think of us—fidgeting with our clothes, continually checking our appearance, and missing much of what goes on around us. In the process, we fail to truly interact with the people God places in our paths. When we are comfortable with ourselves, however, focusing on others and their needs becomes much easier, bringing God glory in the process.
Whose standard are we trying to meet?
This second question has a more outward focus.
A wide variety of interpretations exist concerning Scripture’s guidelines on the appearance of women, forcing us to choose whose opinion to follow. Hungering to appear as spiritual as other believers, we heed the teachings of seemingly godly women who state that true spirituality only exists if we remain ultra-conservative, visibly set apart from the world. We surrender to the lie that the length of our skirts and hair offers a mirror to our souls, reflecting the depth of our maturity.
How many of us stop for a moment and instead consider our husband’s standards? My husband loves to buy clothes for me. Because I lack an innate sense of fashion, some of his selections push the limits of my comfort zone simply because they represent styles I have never worn. I know he strives to be obedient and God-honoring in his role as my husband, however, and that truth assures me that he will never allow or encourage me to wear something that would dishonor our Savior. So I trust him, and over the years his fashion opinion has become my standard. I know I honor God by meeting my husband’s standards and no one else’s.
Who do we try to please?
The third question flows smoothly with the second.
Pleasing people with our attire is not automatically wrong, especially, once again, related to our husbands. Every Friday, my husband and I have an at-home date night. On Friday morning, I put a little extra effort into choosing my attire for the day, selecting something that I know he likes. His pleasure motivates my choices, and I consider that a delightful motivation.
Even so, pleasing people can be taken to the extreme. Someone will always disapprove of my attire. Consequently, I cannot plan my fashion for the day based on another’s pleasure. I can, however, dress in such a way as to make others feel comfortable. If I encourage a fellow mom to come as she is to an evening Bible study after her long day wrestling preschoolers, I can choose to come as I am as well. If I desire to establish a relationship with a group of older ladies, gleaning from their wisdom, I can choose an outfit that shows respect for their opinions. In these instances, my goal is not to please these women but to build a bridge between us. In doing so, I partake in discipleship, which brings glory to God.
This brings us to a fourth, final, and probably most critical consideration.
What impression are we making?
On the one hand, we can blend in so greatly with the culture that they see nothing different in us. This comes much less from our clothing, however, than from our actions and attitudes. If I dress to seek the approval of other people or to meet the most recent fashion demands, the world does not see Christ glorified in me. If I stand out so greatly that the world only sees me as weird and unapproachable, rejecting the fashions they enjoy and elevating myself as more godly because of the style of clothing I wear, they have no desire to seek what I have. Again, Christ is not glorified. While we must keep ourselves pure and separate from this culture, we must also be accessible.
In order to reach this world for Christ, we must live in it yet remain not of it. We must be attractive to the world, yet not based on worldly standards. Our attractiveness must come because we dress neither in the latest fashions nor the frumpiest of conservative garb, but in the fruit of the Spirit. Only in that apparel will we truly glorify God in all we do.