What are you wearing?

When was the last time that you thought of jewelry and hair when someone mentioned the topic of modesty? Apparently both the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter thought of those two things, as well as clothing, when admonishing the women to keep it reeled in.

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2: 9 that women ought to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation….” and he specifically mentions the flagrant violations: “not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing…”

Then Peter has the same three things in mind when he tells the women to remember they are supposed to be pretty on the inside, not just on the outside: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel…” (1 Peter 3:3).

When we think of adorning ourselves modestly and with a gentle and quiet spirit, it means we have thought through more than just our clothes. We’ve considered our hairstyle and our jewelry as well. What does the world want us to do with our hair? What does the world want us to do with jewelry? These things apparently matter because we have two apostles mentioning all three things in two different passages addressed to women.

When we think world-viewishly about music and literature and marriage and children, that is good. But we must not neglect to work it into these other areas as well. What is the world trying to get us to wear? Why? What do these things mean? What does God think about them? Why does the world care? The world wants to get Christian women to wear whatever the current uniform is for hair, jewelry, and clothing. Chances are always pretty good that said uniform will not be modest (or appropriate or moderate). God wants us to wear something else.

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19 thoughts on “What are you wearing?

  1. It is no secret that the world judges us by our outward appearance. Why shouldn’t that judgement be: Christian. I personally strive to appear as modest and simple and womanly on the outside as I strive to be on the inside. Thus I dress cleanly, neatly, modestly, and unadorned. It’s as much a blessing to me as it is a witness to others. And there is no fear of causing my brother or sister to stumble. Thanks for bringing this aspect of our walk to light.

  2. One thing I think we sometimes overlook is that the things mentioned include not just style, but the display of wealth. In Paul’s time, the wealthy women wore gold, pearls, and other jewels braided and woven into their hair and styles which took lots of time and sometimes multiple attendants to do. He seems to be saying don’t make your “look” all about displaying and showing off your wealth.

  3. JJ, if I understand these passages rightly, Peter and Paul are not telling women to go unadorned, but rather to be adorned in a way that corresponds with Christian humility.

    In other words, if you’re a bride, dress as a bride; adorn yourself appropriately for the occasion and for your role in it. It would not be more modest if you exchanged the pearls and the satin gown for a denim jumper and sensible athletic shoes. You are a picture of Christ’s glorified church. Dress appropriately. Rebekah did not decline the offer when Abraham’s servant came bearing gifts of costly gold earrings and bracelets.

    On the other hand, if you’re a guest at that wedding, you’d better not show up all weighted down with bling to upstage the bride. That is not your role. That is not modest.

    If I understand the principle correctly, modesty does not mean Plain Jane all day everyday. It means dressing in a way that befits the occasion—which will and should be different at a wedding banquet than at a kid’s soccer game—and in a way that corresponds with the inner “adornment” of a gentle and quiet spirit.

  4. Oddly enough, I was thinking about apparel when I looked at that blog you linked yesterday. The top post was about frogs — the fearful ones are drab and blend in. The fearless ones are bright and stand out. The fun, dramatic beauty of the bright ones chases away predators.

    While there are a variety of personal styles that I think are appropriate for Christian women, and not everybody needs “frog flair,” our outward adornment should be of the variety that warns off predators, not attracts them. Predators should know it’s not safe to mess with us because we’re protected…we belong to someone. Boaz asks of Ruth, “Whose young woman is this?” Typically the answer would be that we are someone’s daughter or someone’s sister or someone’s wife — that we are under someone’s protection. Ruth, sadly, was under no man’s protection, because she had lost her husband, but she is identified as belonging to Naomi, whom she had told, “Your God will be my God.” All of us should adorn ourselves as if we belong to Him: beautiful, but not available; attractive, but not attracting the wrong sort of attention (which I’ve heard you say somewhere); glorious, but not denying or detracting from His glory.

    I also looked a bit at the context of those verses and thinking about how that fleshes out our application of them a bit.

    The Timothy passage is about propriety in worship. It reminds me of stuff Doug has written about how we dress for church: you don’t wear a business suit to change your oil, you don’t wear beach attire to the office, you don’t wear an evening gown to a Little League game, you don’t wear a denim jumper on your wedding night, and you don’t wear inappropriate clothing to church. Your appearance in worship should be neither slovenly nor flashy, because it isn’t about you — not your personal comfort and not your ego and not your status compared to your sisters who are poorer or plainer. Drawing a broader application, while the style of clothing may vary significantly depending on the context, the goals of apparel remain the same: honoring God and loving your neighbor.

    The Peter passage is about what your adornment — both inward and outward — says about you. The temptation here is to think that only the inward counts, but I don’t think that’s what Peter is getting at. Rather, I think he’s saying that character will influence apparel, which will in turn shape the perception of character. What does your apparel say about your character…both to your husband, and to the world? It can say all sorts of good things, such as gentle, quiet, submissive, chaste, lovely, clean, careful, respectful, fun, modest, honorable, classy, tasteful, valued, and so on. Or it can say all sorts of bad things, such as rebellious, lazy, careless, drab, ugly, dirty, disrespectful, shallow, skanky, brazen, shameful, ridiculous, stupid, cheap, and so on.

    Anyway, these are more general ruminations than thoughts specifically about hair and jewelry, but the broader ideas can be applied to the narrower areas.

  5. I get the message of this blog post. In no manor are we to be copies of the world or pandering to base sense. But I’m hesitate to say that all good christian women should dress in plain tops, pants and minimal jewelry. If that is what you like, fine. But God is a creative God. He created this vast and varied world with plain and exotic life. To make others feel ungodly or as if they are disobeying God because they like to dress up and do their hair is foolishness. God created each of us as creative beings, for He is a creative God; and we are made in His image. That some exercise their creativity in their appearance is nothing to condemn unless they are obsessed or lose propriety.
    I fell away from the faith as a teen because I wanted to have fun and be cool. I didn’t see Christians as either, they were plain and boring. Then I met some Christians, sold out for Jesus that lived exciting lives and looked interesting. Not that we are to trick unbelievers or don costumes to appeal to them; but I think a vital message each person needs to know is that God fearfully and wonderfully made them. That they are cherished and not a mistake. How can one feel individually appreciated by God our loving Father, if we all are wearing the same uniform and trying to get others to be copies of ourselves.

  6. Sofie — Nancy can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think she’s saying we need to look like we’re all the product of the same cookie cutter.

    God made women in an amazing variety — tall and short, straight and curly, slim and round, porcelain and cream and gold and olive and latte and cocoa and ebony. Wow…all those different way to assemble beauty! There are four billion women in the world right now, billions before us, and billions yet to come, and He never runs out of ideas! We should model His creativity. We won’t come up with billions of ways, but we don’t need to dress in uniform to honor Him.

  7. I believe, if I understand Mrs. Wilson correctly, she’s not drawing any conclusions about what we can/should or can’t/shouldn’t do. She’s only pointing out that we need to consider these aspects of modesty.

    It never ceases to amaze me that when someone just says that “You know, we need to think about this aspect of life in light of Scripture too,” that the automatic reply is often “Are you saying I can’t…” I think that is very telling of the condition of our hearts.

    No one is saying we can’t do our hair or wear cute jewelry. Mrs. Wilson is just saying we need to think about the ramifications of every aspect of how we present ourselves.

  8. Nancy, I remember in one of your talks (I had ordered The Pleasant Home and Mothers and Daughters: Growing Into Wise Women Together), you talk about “Polished Cornerstones.” I remember you mentioned treating your son to nice basketball shoes and taking your daughters shopping to be like the “polished cornerstone” the Psalm describes–buying them classy, modest outfits and appropriate jewelry to reflect the beauty they have as a daughter of the King.

    In the discussion of modesty, I would love to hear your thoughts on how this all fits together. If there is a choice between a more flattering (still modest and classy) outfit and a less flattering choice, does modesty mean one chooses the less flattering? To me, that would seem contradictory to looking like a “polished cornerstone.”

    My pastor has explained this passage quite like Raine mentioned in her comment–an exhortation to not distract by one’s dress in worship through a flaunting of wealth (or one’s body).

    I think, too, sometimes we can become too legalistic–almost prideful, about modesty: following the “rules” and judging others against them. I’ve seen this in some Christian circles.

    I’d love to discuss this further, as I’m working through my thoughts on the *heart* of modesty (and now have a daughter after three boys!). If you’ll post more about the intersection of “polished cornerstones” and modesty, I think it would be helpful for many. Thanks a bunch!

  9. I’d really love to hear more elaborated on this as well! Valerie’s comments are tremendously helpful, to me. It can be a confusing topic to discuss, but clearly we’re meant to be thinking about these things, because the Spirit doesn’t waste His breath inspiring the apostles to write things that we don’t really need to pay attention to.

  10. “…the automatic reply is often ‘Are you saying I can’t…’ I think that is very telling of the condition of our hearts.”

    Thank you, Hannah Hill. I must say that I read this post the day it posted, and the “correction” of the first commenter by another really upset me. It made me angry, and then it grieved me. I’ve been stewing ever since. :(

    JJ wasn’t asking anyone’s opinion about her choices, she wasn’t asking any questions for clarification about the scriptures. She joyfully shared what has given her peace and contentment; what her family has decided about the question of modesty and adornment… which is what the post was about. Any ‘correction’ was out of line.

    I’ve been on the other end of some of those ‘corrections’. They are hurtful and a very real rejection of my family’s decisions. I have gotten more flak from the women at church than I ever have from the world. This should never. be. so.

    Phrases such as “plain jane” and “denim jumpers with athletic shoes” are scornful and mocking~ and huge assumptions. As is the insinuation that to adorn simply or not at all is inappropriate to social situations.

    Ladies, please…we really are members of one body. We really are sisters, purchased by Jesus’ precious blood. We really are answerable only to God and our authorities (including scripture) as to what our sanctification looks like. So if some of us look differently than others, so be it. As long as the decisions were made thoughtfully, prayerfully and deliberately, they are not wrong. The only wrong choice is to ‘go with the flow’ of the world because we’ve been too lazy to apply scripture to our lives.

  11. Janine, I didn’t read Hannah G.’s comment as a correction of JJ…just a further engagement in conversation. To paraphrase her comment, “JJ, the Bible doesn’t say to go unadorned, so other choices are OK, too.” That’s what the comments section is all about, eh?

    Please be careful with the motives you are imputing to others — I don’t see anything scornful or mocking anywhere in this thread. What you are inferring isn’t necessarily what the writers are implying.

    And in case you’re wondering, I’m not the least bit angry in writing this, just a little puzzled as to how you came to read these comments in such a negative light, and a little sad to see that anger expressed here where the comments are usually so congenial.

    Amen to your last paragraph…and I’d lay money that all of the other commenters would amen it, too.

  12. Janine,

    I certainly intended no offense by my comment. And please forgive any lack of charity on my part. I meant none.

    I heartily applaud anyone who is “thoughtfully, prayerfully and deliberately” pursuing modesty. Given your response of anger and grief at what I said, it is quite possible that I misunderstood JJ’s initial comment; the way I read it, the implication was that to dress like a Christian means to dress “unadorned.” That alone was my point of disagreement, and I may have understood it wrongly. If so, please forgive my error. Clearly, what I meant for blessing was taken as a curse.

    My hope was not to withhold charity but rather to extend it by attempting (however unsuccessfully) to prevent the problem of binding the conscience of other women unnecessarily. That was why I wrote my comment—not to insult JJ, and not because I thought she was asking for advice. That was also why I used the extreme example of the very plain clothes being worn by a bride at her wedding. You can replace the offending jumper-and-tennies illustration with a sweatshirt and flip-flops, or overalls and snow boots, if you will. I merely meant to use two extremes to illustrate that context can make a real difference as to what is modest and appropriate.

    I did not intend for anyone to conclude that JJ would have worn such a thing on her own wedding day—or any other day, for that matter. At the same time, I did want to point out that going unadorned is not the only definitively true Christian way.

    A wedding seemed like the obvious way to illustrate this, because a wedding is an event demanding some kind of uniquely lovely attire and adornment, however simple it may be. And biblically speaking, I think we have to grant that there is, at very least, such a thing as a wedding garment, and that to forgo it in favor of something more “humble” can be, in actual fact, not modest at all but an offense (Matthew 22:11ff). I mentioned the Rebekah example (and I would point to Isaiah 49:18, 61:10, Revelation 21:10, etc., as well) to imply that for a bride to adorn herself with jewelry can be both permissible and pleasing to God.

    The principle is always, of course, to honor God in everything—right down to hair and jewelry. We do need, as Nancy said in her first paragraph, to “keep it reeled in” when it comes to how we present ourselves. To entirely lay aside the earrings and necklaces is certainly one possible way to honor God, especially in a culture obsessed with outward appearance. But it is by no means the only way.

    As you said, we are one body, and if we’re all submitting the details of our lives to Christ and the authorities He’s placed over us, then none of us should be offended by a little sparkle on the earlobe—or by its absence. Christian liberty is far more freeing and gracious than we sometimes would like it to be!

    Once again, forgive me for any lack of charity in my previous comment—or any you may perceive in this one—and I beg you to forebear with me in love as we both endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    Blessings,
    Hannah G.

  13. Valerie and Hannah~ thank you for being so gracious. You are right. I did impute motives that I see now weren’t there. Please forgive me. I seem to be a little tender over this point. I’m sorry.

    I also apologize to the other commentors. I did bring some anger into this blog, and I shouldn’t have. I tried to wait to be able to speak calmly, and obviously didn’t wait long enough. :(

  14. May I just say, I have seen a fair number of quarrels flare up in blog comments, but I do not think I have ever seen one so delicately and sincerely amended: commenters not only apologising at a gentle correction but even admitting to having been wrong? What is with these Christians? *smiles*

    Thank you, ladies, for your encouraging example. May God bless you all.

  15. Janine, thank you for being so gracious! And of course I forgive you.

    I was just having a conversation with my elder this evening, and he told me I had to go ask someone’s forgiveness. He’s right, of course, and I knew it even before he told me, but ugh…I hate having to be humble. Thank you for setting a good example for me!

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