The Clothes Make The (Wo)Man
June 9th, 2008 by Sonja

This photo is from the on-line gallery of Phillip Toledano (thanks to fellow Scriber, Ben).

Sit with that photo for a minute. Allow your emotions to bubble up and give them names. Let them have their own stories just for a moment or so. See what those stories might be, if you don’t just shove the emotions down or wave them aside or tell them what to do.

Now, think for a moment about how intimidated you feel when standing in the presence of someone who is dressed “to the nines.” How intimidated you feel when you walk into a room or space and suddenly you realize … you are not dressed the same as everyone else there. You’ll never be able to dress like everyone else there.

Now you have the sense of modesty that Paul was trying to instill in Timothy when he wrote, “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” His concern was not for sexual purity, but that the women would set a tone of hospitality and welcoming.

Our clothes tell people something about us. They tell a story about who we are before people ever get to know us. When we use those clothes to engage in power and manipulation to subdue others in our presence … by whatever means, we are negating the power of the Gospel in the very space that the Gospel is to be transcendent.

So … how should we dress? Well … that’s up to you and your particular dance with the Holy Spirit. See, none of us is the same. The rules are all the same, yet they’re all different. All we can do is ask questions of each other … where do you live? How do your neighbors dress? What are the local standards? What is welcoming amongst them? How do you create a welcoming environment in your space, where you are free to proclaim the Good News to people so they will hear it from you?

8 Responses  
  • Heidi writes:
    June 9th, 20088:31 amat

    Wow, this is good.

    It’s funny, the other day I was talking to my husband about some of this. I picked up “The Lolita Effect” in the bookstore…worth taking a look at if you have the chance. Interesting book. It’s by a secular feminist with a very real grasp on our culture’s sexualizing of young girls. She doesn’t use the word modesty, but she said that she points out to her daughters that our clothes send signals, and we need to think through what we want those signals to say.

    Or as I re-worded it when talking to my husband: We tell the world something about who we are by the way we dress. We get to choose what to tell them. We need to do it intentionally rather than accidentally.

    This goes far beyond modesty, I think.

    The person who dresses in a slovenly way tells the world “I’m not worthy of my own respect.”

    The person who always wears the most expensive, latest fashions tells the world “this is my priority in life.”

    And sure, the girl wearing “revealing” (in quotes to recognize there are many definitions of revealing) clothes tells the world something about how she views herself as a sexual being.

    But it’s not about the other person. It’s not about “not causing your brother to stumble.” It’s not objectifying in that is doesn’t assume that we’re mere objects in the eyes of another person.

    It’s about us, about who we are, about what WE want to say about who WE are.

    And there, I love what you’re saying…that modesty and decency according to Paul is about hospitality and welcoming and love.

    I LOVE that. That is something I can tell the world.

    As opposed to, “I have a female shape that I’m trying to hide under a bag so you don’t notice because I know I’m just a siren that’s going to distract you from God so here I go sulking off into the corner where you won’t notice me…”

  • Adam G. writes:
    June 9th, 20089:07 amat

    Something my wife, a Brazilian, and I have talked about from time to time is how in Brazil people dress up their little girls in tiny outfits. They think its so cute. Then the little girl becomes a teenager and still wants to wear tiny, revealing outfits. Not so cute any more (oh, the girl will be gorgeous, the the results?).

  • Bill Lollar writes:
    June 9th, 20089:44 amat

    So are you saying there is no such thing as “sexual purity” when it comes to dress? Or that the phrase “modestly, with decency and propriety” should never be interpreted from the perspective of the onlooker? Do we have any responsibility to one another in these things? For example, should we offer guidance or correction to fellow Christians who may not realize the inappropriate “stories” they are communicating to others?

  • Sonja writes:
    June 9th, 200810:02 amat

    @Heidi … this way makes accountable to the Holy Spirit and gives us a far more beautiful charge.

    @Adam … thanks for the additional culture flavor. I love these stories.

    @Bill … you’ll need to read my earlier post on the subject. I’m saying that (a) Paul was not concerned with sexual purity when he was communicating with Timothy on the subject of modesty; we have turned it to that in our times and (b) the inappropriate “stories” need to be looked at within the context of that person’s life. Who are they? Where are they coming from? What cultural context are they coming out of? What clothing choices do they have? Perhaps it is we who need to change to accommodate them … you see the issue is NOT sexual purity at all. Rather it’s whether or not we are manipulating someone with our clothing or standards of dress. Now we can do that by revealing our sexual nature, or we can do that by wearing a power suit. Either way is damaging to the Gospel. Either way is making someone feel that they do not belong because of what we do. It makes them feel vulnerable and alone. So … whether we’re wearing a power suit and a power tie or FM pumps and a short skirt … if we’re doing it to manipulate someone … it’s wrong.

  • Heidi writes:
    June 9th, 20081:17 pmat

    “So … whether we’re wearing a power suit and a power tie or FM pumps and a short skirt … if we’re doing it to manipulate someone … it’s wrong.”

    Wow, so true.

    This issue of modesty is *finally* starting to make sense to me.

  • Dee writes:
    June 10th, 20083:21 amat

    wow. maybe I am just weird but all I thought of with that picture was that if I was that girl posing I would sure be hoping that monofilament would hold….or maybe its photoshopped…..I guess it depends on what you mean by “manipulating”…do you mean influencing? Is that always bad? Is it bad to dress in say, a job interview, in a way that says “I am professional and take this job seriously”? Clothing says a lot about someone. I would think if your heart is in the right place and you take it to God you won’ t have to be “nitpicking” about what exactly these verses mean ( personally I think these are both right…the propriety/respect thing and the modesty thing) Someone who takes their relationship with God seriously and asks for God’s guidance WILL eventually come to the conclusion that dressing like a sex kitten is not making a statement about her that is congruent with how God sees her. Perhaps the problem is not the sexuality influence per se but the fact that it i more about other people and what they think than trusting that God will direct you in a right manner. Even if basically the end result is the same wardrobe.

  • vikingfru writes:
    June 10th, 20085:19 pmat

    Hmm. Very thought provoking….i will need to ponder and return and read again, BUT I think you are on to something. MAN!!! I was just having a mindless afternoon too. Thanks alot Sonja;-)

  • Che V. writes:
    June 16th, 200810:01 amat

    I think I get what you are saying..what we wear is a non-verbal communication…so we get to choose what we want to say.
    I have gotten pretty tired of the way christian culture tries to dictate what is modest and what is not…yet to think about our message makes alot more sense.
    Turning it around…what does looking at a teenage girl in very skimpy clothing tell you? Instead of frowning at her clothing, maybe letting the message she is sending be read…and prayed into. Ask God if there is anything she needs that we can provide.
    When I was a teenager, I dressed in skimpy clothing…and I was definitely looking for attention. But I didn’t want sexual attention, but had no clue how to find any other kind of attention. And when you are that needy….you do whatever to fill those needs.
    The church needs to stop looking at people as if they are breaking rules, instead find out if there is anything a person could do to help.
    I like what you said, Sonya, about finding out what our particular community wears, so we can bridge gaps.
    If I constantly dressed “modestly” around here…no one would have anything to do with me. Here, there is little tolerance for the posing of christians…
    Good article…

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