Everything we do, including how we dress, is to be done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Making excellent clothing and dressing with excellence can honor God. Dorothy Sayers once wrote, “No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth.” We should infer the same would be true if Jesus had made tunics—they would have been made well.
Indeed, we see God’s concern for good craftsmanship and artistry in fashion in Exodus 28: “Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron…Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen” (Exodus 28:3,5, emphasis added). The priest’s clothes were nice, but they were also humble, as they symbolized the need for propitiation, not partiality or superiority.
When the priest wore his garment, the people weren’t intended to feel jealous; they were intended to feel thankful. Similarly, when a bride wears her dress, the audience shouldn’t feel jealous; they should feel thankful. Humbly excellent dress aims not to evoke envy but to express and evoke thanksgiving for God’s provision and the goodness of creation (cf. 1 Timothy 2:9).
According to Paul, God’s people “should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control” (1 Timothy 2:9). The principle of modesty goes something like this: we should not wear anything that in our culture would communicate we are sexually available, or single if one is married (1 Peter 3:3-4). Whereas human beauty is a publicly shareable good, human sexuality is a private good restricted to being shared with one’s spouse.
Every culture has its own “grammar” regarding modesty and dress. What is considered immodest or sensual among the Xingu tribe of Brazil or the Dani tribe of Indonesia is not the same as what is considered immodest or sensual in America. Therefore, the application of the principle of modesty is, in large part, a wisdom issue.
As Christians, our desire should be to glorify God and love our neighbor by abiding by the accepted boundaries that separate modesty from sensuality. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where “sunglasses are modesty’s last frontier.” In other words, the only thing people in the West consider private anymore is their eyes. Sensual dress has become the norm. So, we must use our baptized discernment to ensure we aren’t blindly “doing as the Romans do” about modesty.
The aim of modest attire is not to evoke lust or sexual desire but to publicly display and evoke gratitude for things like bodily provisions and beauty.
Jesus says, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none” (Luke 3:11). Jesus’ brother, James, says one way true faith expresses itself is by helping those who are “poorly clothed” (James 2:15). Wise generosity seeks to ensure the poor are adequately clothed for their physical (e.g., cold winters) and social environments (e.g., work clothes).
Generous fashion also pays a fair wage and ensures working conditions are good. In Deuteronomy, Moses writes, “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns” (Deuteronomy 24:14). Jeremiah writes, “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness…who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages” (Jeremiah 22:13). And Paul writes, “Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly” (Colossians 4:1).
The aim of generous fashion is not to ignore or exploit people but to help clothe and gainfully employ them. In addition to generously providing others with clothes, Christians should hold clothing companies accountable by spending money with companies that treat their workers and the environment well.
Fashion designer Monah Li once said, “I have always had more faith in fashion than in God…I believed the right clothes could make me perfect. I still do.” Gucci and Louis Vuitton are as powerless to cover our guilt and shame as Adam and Eve’s fig leaves. Only the robes of Christ’s righteousness can make us perfect and restore to us the creaturely goodness and joy of dress.