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Sunday, June 26, 2011

cracking the dress code

Recently I read an article addressing choice of dress among Christian women. It was written by a man, so I was particularly interested to hear how he would approach a topic of such delicacy from a male perspective. What I read was a sensitive, well-presented plea for Christian women to consider the weaknesses of their spiritual brothers when choosing their clothes. Though many discussions of dress focus on “how short is too short” or “how low is too low”, this one avoided these legalistic pitfalls and took aim for the heart: what is your motive for choosing the clothes you choose?

The plea to bear with our Christian brothers by covering ourselves is an important one for Christian women to hear. Dressing modestly is one of the simplest ways a believer can distinguish herself from the world around her and keep herself free from sin. But any female over the age of eleven can tell you that modesty may not be the biggest hurdle to overcome in aligning our fashion with our faith.

Consider the following incident related to me by my thirteen-year-old son: With summer approaching, the band at his middle school planned a party at a local water park. Several moms went along as chaperones. One of the mothers, a woman presumably in her forties, chose to spend the day in a very small bikini that showcased her enhanced assets. As she snoozed in the sun, she became the topic of lively and inappropriate discussion among her son’s classmates.

I have to ask myself: Did this woman wake up the morning of the trip and ask “What can I wear today to excite lust among my son’s peer group?” No, the question she more likely asked was “What can I wear today to impress my own peer group?” – a group in this case, composed not of both genders but of one: other women.

While dressing for the attention of men is problematic, dressing for the attention of other women is epidemic. The question “How do I look?” implies the answering inquiry “Relative to whom?” Far more powerful than the desire to dress to tempt a man is the desire to dress to trump another woman. It begins in elementary school, at an age before many girls have even begun to think about boys at all.

My son's bikini-clad chaperone wanted to be the hottest 40-something woman at the pool. She may not love Jesus, so I am going to have to let her off the hook. But what about me? How do I compete with other women by the way I dress? Do I dress to be the trendiest? The wealthiest? The thinnest? The fittest? The quirkiest? What about the purest? In certain circles, even modest dress can be a venue for self-promotion. There is nothing inherently righteous about a denim jumper or culottes. Nor is there anything inherently sinful about platform peep-toe stilettos. Is having great fashion sense wrong? I don't think so - I know women with effortless style who I would never say distract with their dress. The heart of the problem, then, is not the length, style or fit of any particular outfit but my craving for the superlative, the “-est” of any wardrobe choice – a craving rooted in the desire to elevate myself above others.

Crazily, those black and white habits the nuns wore in The Sound of Music are starting to make more sense, aren't they? They take all the guess-work out of dress-work. Unfortunately, they wouldn't exactly achieve the goal of diverting attention off of myself if I wore one on a grocery run to Walmart. American women live in a culture of endless clothing choices. Without a uniform as an option, we will have to train ourselves to focus more on the "why" of those choices than the "which".

Here is the bottom line: Godly women do not seek to elevate themselves above others – not by immodest dress, and not by competitive dress. They seek to provoke neither the lust of men nor the envy of women. They love preferentially by keeping the focus off of themselves. Clothed inwardly with the righteousness of Christ, their outward clothing becomes a matter for sober consideration: How can I best reflect the character of God through my wardrobe choices? May we, as daughters of the Living God, be measured not by our hemlines but by our humility. May our character outshine our clothing, so that whether we wear a habit or a hula skirt Christ is magnified.

Well, maybe skip the hula skirt.

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  1. Great thoughts! Our deep rooted desire to be accepted by other men and women definitely manifests itself in what we wear. Always good to be reminded and check my heart on why I make the choices I make! No more hula skirts for me ;)

  2. Your post was great and a good reminder especially with the hot weather upon us. The winter time would probably be geared towards those tight fitting jeans huh?

  3. This is an excellent message! At first glance, I thought it would be the modesty argument, which many are ignoring on a daily basis. However, when I got to the "dressing for other women" part, I went "aha". That point is absolutely true. I've never dressed to impress any other man (than my hubby), but I've considered the opinion of a few women before. Great point - thanks for sharing!

  4. I like this perspective on it.. it's good - right on

  5. Really enjoyed reading this Mrs. Jennifer! As you can imagine, the same mindsets exist in college and maybe even to a heightened extent. Nevertheless, this is a great idea to think about when dressing in the morning. When going to impact (a christian-based fish camp) they had all of the male leaders come in a talk to the female campers. Many of the young women asked questions like "what does a christian guy look for in a women?" and things along the lines. They too shared that a woman who respects herself and shows the love of Christ rather than showing more skin shows so much more character.

  6. Thank you for obediently sharing with many what God has asked of you. It will touch and change many hearts.

  7. Excellent post! Really cuts to the heart of the matter!

  8. Jen.......well done! If I had an "amen" flag I'd fly it. :)

  9. Just saw this post in your "most frequently viewed" section! I recently talked about modesty on my blog, but thought it would be better to let you speak to the subject!

    Thanks for the godly perspective, always more relevant than our feeble attempts to make our own lists or guidelines.