I want to dress better, but I'm afraid of becoming more superficial and conforming to worldly standards. How do I draw that line?
Thank you for this timely question. For many, January is a favorite time of year for thinking about things they want to start doing, do differently or get better at. Although New Year's resolutions are notoriously short-lived, it's wise to spend some time during the first weeks of a new year for reflection, prayer and planning about just this sort of question.
I believe the way to avoid superficiality is to be intentional about how and why you dress the way you do, and the way to resist conformity with the world's standards is to know and embrace and delight in God's standards.
As Christian women, our starting point should be what God has revealed about how He wants us to dress. We know a few key things from 1 Timothy 2:9, "… women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire …" This isn't an outright prohibition against jewelry, valuable garments or lovely hairstyles, but rather, "the principle is that women should not dress ostentatiously or seductively, but in a way that is proper" (ESV Study Bible notes on 1 Timothy 2:9). Additionally, the notes on 1 Peter 3:3-7 explain that Peter's similar warning to Christian women is "against inordinate preoccupation with personal appearance and material excess."
How do you apply this at the mall, in your closet, and in front of the mirror?
I have a friend who enjoyed her college wardrobe of jeans and varsity sweatshirts well beyond graduation. With the help of an older friend, she began to see that her clothing wasn't well-suited to her post-college life. As a leader in campus women's ministry who spoke in public, she needed clothes appropriate to her roles and responsibilities. It's helpful to do a quick survey of the situations you're in routinely and ask what sorts of clothes fit those settings. It seems fewer jobs these days have uniforms, but there are standards in every job, whether implied or spelled out in a dress code. What does the work you do require?
If you are a student, you'll have fewer occasions that call for expensive skirts or dresses, but you may need one or two good outfits for job interviews. (And it's always a good idea to resist wearing your pajama pants to class!) If you're working full time, you'll need clothes appropriate to your job. An accountant has need of dressy suits and shoes that would seem overdone in a kindergarten classroom, even as a P.E. teacher would need athletic gear as well as dressier clothes for game-day. Even a stay-at-home mom needs something beyond T-shirts and yoga pants for going to the grocery store and running errands.
Whatever your work, however you dress, strive to wear clothes that are neat and clean. Contrary to public opinion, an iron is not a relic best kept in museums. If your shirt is wrinkled, press it. Whenever possible, we should make the effort to wear clothes that fit well and are well-fitted to whatever situation we're in. We should not dress to draw attention to ourselves, but to present ourselves honorably. What we wear should not distract people from who we are or Whose we are, whether it's because they're too flashy, too expensive, too disheveled, too worn, too faddish, too whatever.
Once you figure out what you need for the season of life you're in, it's helpful to make a list of essentials. For example, if you decide you need more dress-up or professional clothes, you could make a list that includes skirts, dresses, pants suits, low-heeled pumps, tall leather boots, blouses, scarves, sweaters, and more. But few if any women can afford to go out and buy everything on their wardrobe wish-list all at once. The foundations list might be more realistic. For example:
black wool skirt,
lightweight, long-sleeved cardigan,
tan or camel pants
With some mixing and matching, and a good accessory or two, you can wear a few good pieces lots of ways. Often better department stores have knowledgeable staff or personal shoppers who can help you think through what's best to buy when you're just starting out, or you could look for a woman at church who is a smart dresser and ask if she'd be willing to help you. Such a friend might even be able to help you rethink some of the garments already hanging in your closet.
It's wise when buying clothes to be as frugal as possible. Notice I didn't say cheap. I'd rather buy one well-made sweater that lasts 10 years than to get three cheap sweaters that will need to be replaced in a year. Look for sales on well-made pieces, opting for quality over quantity. And avoid credit. Pray and ask God to give you wisdom to know where, when and what to buy. Depending on where you live, you may have some upscale resale or consignment shops that have affordable clothes that will meet your needs.
Jesus told us not to be anxious about our clothes, the way the pagans are, but to bring our requests to our loving heavenly Father who knows what we need (Matthew 6:25-34). I'm amazed how different my purchasing experiences are when I take time to pray about them beforehand. I'm much more able to wait on God's timing and provision, and more realistic about what I truly need (versus want) when I've prayed about it. It's when I'm not praying that I'm more likely to run ahead of God and get into debt for a blouse or a pair of shoes I convinced myself I couldn't live without.
As you can likely guess, it's not the praise of the world we should be seeking. In their book True Beauty, Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre describe "the wardrobe of the beautiful woman" saying,
Modesty and self-control reflect the beauty of God's holiness. They point out the preciousness of his purity by prizing the purity in our own lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. And by refusing to align ourselves with the provocatively sinful styles of the world, we reveal that we have been set apart for the service of Christ. We have been called to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).
They include two helpful guidelines from Nancy Leigh DeMoss for recognizing sinful styles: don't "expose intimate parts of the body" or "emphasize private or alluring parts of the body." As I heard someone else put it, don't expose or emphasize "the parts of your body that are covered by a modest swimsuit." That's a good rule of thumb. Remember whenever you're shopping that "… you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:20). Whatever you wear, wherever you are, dress for the glory of Christ. That includes the style, size, price and even condition of your garments. If He is your Lord, He is Lord over everything. Even your clothes.
"For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:36).
Giving thought to how you dress is a necessary part of stewardship of your body, and buying quality clothes you can afford is a wise part of stewarding your money. Resist the temptation to make your wardrobe and how you look your main focus, or to upgrade your clothes at the cost of neglecting other financial commitments like giving to your church, giving to others, and paying your bills on time. Pray for wisdom; seek out the help of a godly, well-dressed woman; and enjoy the love of beauty that is a gift from God.
Copyright 2015 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.