Why How We Dress Matters as Christians

For my first few jobs as a kid, I wore the company uniform of jeans and a t-shirt. Since I’ve always been a casual kind of gal, that suited me just fine. At age twenty-one, while still in college and with no business experience, I applied for my first “real” job as a receptionist at a law firm. When I landed an interview, I instinctively knew I would need to bolster my paltry (okay, nonexistent) résumé by dressing the part.

I headed to a higher-end department store and wandered around looking for something professional. In the clearance section, I found a gray two-piece suit that cost more money than I had ever plunked down for an outfit in my life. I went all in and purchased a pair of navy pumps to complete the ensemble.

On the way home, I fretted about the hit to my meager bank account. “The investment will pay off,” I reassured myself.

Sure enough, it did.

My outward appearance projected what my credentials did not: I understood and respected the company's culture and had the skills to do more than my prior experience might indicate.

Lowered Dress Standards

Recently, the Senate of the United States had a kerfuffle over dress standards. Initially, the leader dumbed down the formal business attire requirement to accommodate my state senator’s proclivity for shorts and hoodies. The backlash was swift. In a rare bipartisan move, a requirement for traditional attire was quickly restored.

Some wondered at the outcry over something so seemingly frivolous. Doesn’t our country have more important problems for our Senate to address? Why does how they dress matter?

While we could debate where the dress code of the Senate should fall on the list of priorities, we should not be so eager to dispose of standards without considering what our outward appearance communicates. Even more importantly, Christians should understand what the Bible teaches about God’s standard for appearance.

Appearance Matters

After my breakthrough into the business world, I spent years managing human resources. Over time, both business and personal dress standards have relaxed, but how we present ourselves still impacts success today.

In business, when we meet or exceed the appearance standard of the organization, we communicate several important points:

  • Respect for the organization’s leadership, values, and goals
  • Ability to represent the company’s vision to both customers and coworkers
  • The importance of each role within the organization, whether entry or senior-level
  • Commitment to the success of the organization

Additionally, our attire conveys attitudes and beliefs about ourselves. Dressing professionally tells others we are confident, skilled, and motivated. We can even transform our own internal feelings of inadequacy or anxiety by our choice of apparel.

Outside of the business environment, how we dress continues to matter. Different occasions or environments should prompt an appropriate choice from casual to formal. What does a young man communicate when he picks up his date for the school prom wearing ripped jeans, a t-shirt, and flip-flops? Or when a person displays more skin than is covered? When a senator dons a hoodie for a formal Senate hearing? How about when we show up for church in our comfy sweats?

Photo credit: Unsplash/Dan Gold

A Popular Bible Verse about Appearance

When God wanted to anoint a new king for Israel, He sent His prophet, Samuel, to select from among Jesse’s children. Beginning with the oldest of eight sons, Samuel went down the line, but the Lord nixed each one. Initially, the youngest son, David, was not even presented as a possibility. In the end, God chose David with this explanation:

The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7b NLT)

We often rightly quote this verse as a reminder that the condition of our hearts is more important to God than our outward appearance. This truth should motivate us to get to know people at a deeper heart level.

On the other hand, I think we can understand this verse to be a statement about the limited perception of all humans. People cannot see inside another person in the same way God can. Understanding the heart requires time and effort. Even then, we will never know every hidden nook and cranny. Humans must rely on physical appearance to make certain judgments because we do not have the omniscience of God.

If people must rely on outward appearance to understand us—especially initially, then how we dress matters a great deal.

What God Says We Should Wear

In the Bible, we find verses about both physical and spiritual clothing.

Spiritual Clothing

God saved us to give us holy hearts wholly devoted to Him. At salvation, Jesus began this process by clothing us in His own righteousness. God helps us to continue the process of becoming holy throughout our lives. We cooperate by yielding our will to the Holy Spirit to dress our hearts with His attributes every day.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12 NLT)

We accomplish this by deepening our relationship with our Savior through prayer and studying His Word.

Clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 13:14a NLT)

Physical Clothing

In one of His parables, Jesus told about a king who invited guests to his son’s wedding feast. While physical attire isn’t the main point of the illustration, Jesus draws attention to one particular man. He said, “But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding” (Matthew 22:11 NLT). Evidently, specific occasions and locations in Bible times called for appropriate attire. What was true then remains true today.

Often, discussion of appropriate dress centers on modesty for women. Indeed, we find several Bible verses pertaining to this subject.

And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by how they fix their hair or by wearing gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. Women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. (1 Timothy 2:9-10 NLT)

The admonishment Paul wrote specifically for women in these verses extends to both men and women in other passages of Scripture.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. (Romans 12:1 NLT)

How We Dress for God’s Glory

So, how do we maintain godly dress standards without imposing legalism on brothers and sisters in Christ? We need to focus on the principles underlying the verses on this subject.

First, God values each person regardless of outward appearance, including the standard of dress. We should never diminish what God deems intrinsically worthy.

Second, our clothing should not draw attention to specific body parts. This parallels God’s direction regarding the spiritual body of Christ. No member of His body, the church, should stand out above another. We should be seen as a unified organism that showcases the glory of God (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). We claim God's glory for ourselves when we dress to display one part of our physical body.

Finally, how we physically dress can enhance or obscure our spiritual clothing. With the help of the Holy Spirit within us, we can unite our physical and spiritual attire to cast all attention and glory to God.

Friends, our Father in Heaven cares about every detail of our lives. From our inner thoughts and motives to our outward appearance, we are His representation to this world. If how we dress matters to Him, let’s act and dress in a manner worthy of this holy calling.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Margo Ovcharenko

Writer Annie YortyAnnie Yorty writes and speaks to encourage others to perceive God’s person, presence, provision, and purpose in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Married to her high school sweetheart and living in Pennsylvania, she mothers a teen, two adult children (one with intellectual disabilities), and a furry beast labradoodle. She has written From Ignorance to Bliss: God’s Heart Revealed through Down SyndromePlease connect with her at http://annieyorty.com/, Facebook, and Instagram.

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