This article on clothes looks at fashion throughout history, clothes and character, clothes and sin, and the purpose of clothes.

Source: Reformed Perspective, 1984. 4 pages.

Why Wear Clothes?

What a question! I don't think you would have the nerve to show up at school in the altogether, would you now? Yet we all know that from the beginning it was not so. The LORD God created man and woman beautiful and perfect. But they wore no clothes. That was not necessary. With the fall into sin the necessity of dress came into the world.

Clothes are a gift of God's mercy, to the end that sin may be curtailed. At the same time they are also a hindrance, a limitation on the perfect beauty which God had given to the human body. Had sin not come into the world, this work of divine art, the human body, would never have needed a cover.

Clothes therefore are not in the first place works of art. Their usage was born from necessity. The need to cover naked­ness came first. Good taste and fashions are secondary.

Different Times - Different Styles🔗

The history of clothing, from the days of the Stone Age when people still wore animal skins the way God had put them on Adam and Eve, to the present mass-produced togs, is a fascinating one. Fashions are constantly changing.

The first garments were indeed made of animal skins. But those skins and furs went out of style when people invented spinning and weaving to make cloth, a much more pliable material. Ancient dec­orations on Egyptian walls provide a good indication of the mode of dress in those days. In Europe, due to a different climate, another style developed.

Not only did every clan or nation have its own distinctive life-style at dif­ferent times, but there was also a differ­ence between rich and poor, the nobles and the working class. All this is reflect­ed in the style of dress. The rich usually set the trend.

In the Middle Ages there was a vari­ety of fashions, but only among the well-to-do. Dress was regulated by strict codes. Certain materials were only to be worn by nobility of a particular rank or by royalty. Gold cloth, for example, was re­stricted to the highest ranks in Britain's society. The matter of pointed shoes for men was also well regulated, allowing dif­ferent lengths for gentlemen than for commoners. The poorer people wore a simple costume, with less ornamentation. After all, they had to work. As their work did not change, neither did their fashions, at least not very much.

The Queen Elizabeth Style🔗

Especially the queens played impor­tant roles in the development of the fash­ions. For example, we know of the Eliz­abethan age, from 1558 to 1603. In her days Queen Elizabeth set the trend; the rich followed, and gradually it trickled through to the lower classes. Today's mass media make this trend-following more direct and immediate. Think, for example, of the "Lady Di hairstyle."

Political Clothes🔗

In 1649 there were even political clothes. There was a lot of animosity be­tween King Charles II and Oliver Crom­well, between the cavaliers and the Puri­tans. The Puritans marked their opposi­tion to the cavaliers or royalists by dress­ing in plain dark colors in contrast to the large patterns and splendor of the royal­ists. There, too, we are more direct and to the point nowadays, with our T-shirts like billboards that praise the virtues of Mulroney or Turner, depending on the direction of the wind.

When Mary and William became Queen and King of England in 1688, a new reign brought new fashions, and clothes became rich and colorful again. Ladies began to display elaborate hair­dos, pinning up their own curls high over horsehair pads. It was greased and treat­ed with flour. It may have looked grand, but to me it does not seem to be the most hygienic style. Men's fashions were of importance in those days as well. Beau Bremell, a friend of the prince of Wales, had a great influence on men's styles. But, again, only the very rich could af­ford to follow his example.


By 1830 men's fashions had devel­oped to what is being worn today. The ladies still had very tiny waists and full-length skirts.

Then came the Victorian era, from 1837 to 1900. Life-styles changed in many ways. Factories were built, new machinery was being invented and put to use, and people began to move from the country to the city, as railroads began to spread across the land. More people could earn more money, and more peo­ple began to buy better clothes. Men in those days began to cultivate their whis­kers. There were square beards, long mus­taches, and curly side-whiskers.

The latest in fine fashions for ladies was invented when the crinoline made its entry, an elaborate affair with steel hoops and yards of cloth. The women looked elegant and complicated. Perhaps we sometimes may feel the urge to follow that example, but the idea is to be dis­couraged. Imagine the room it would take up on Sundays. We would have to double the size of our churches!

Country folk did not follow the fash­ions with the same passion as city people. Farmers were often old-fashioned, pre­ferring quality over frills. The farmers' wives may have wanted to be in touch with the latest, but they were restrained, by having to make their own finery. A farm was no gold mine.

World War I🔗

When World War I was over in 1918, the difference between rich and poor, between dignitaries and laborers, became less and less pronounced. The ladies began to shorten their skirts as well as their hairdos and — shocking! — took to smoking cigarettes: the Roaring Twen­ties. Men and women began to go about without hats. For formal occasions, how­ever, there was little change.

Present-day Fashions🔗

The main characteristics of modern dress are comfort, and good colors. A major change in recent years took place in children's clothes. For quite some time young boys and girls were dressed up like miniature adults: the boys complete with suits and ties and the girls in dresses and flowered hats. Now this has changed, and children's clothes are again designed for comfort and freedom of movement. The mothers of these children wear pants. Their grandparents would have been shocked out of their minds if they had seen it in their days.

Looking back we can conclude that we now dress more like the people of the earlier ages again. Instead of using clothes for decoration, we use it to keep warm and comfortable.

When looking at the latest fashions, we begin to notice the influence of the spirit of equalization. Not only is the dif­ference between rich and poor disappear­ing, but the distinction between the sexes is fading as well, as women dress like men and men's clothing is becoming ap­preciably feminine. Hairstylists sum it up: "unisex."

Do we Follow the Fashions?🔗

We sure do. As a matter of fact, we can hardly prevent it! Nobody would dress up in the "Victorian style" today. Sometimes we may feel the urge to go on such a nostalgia trip, but it was anything but comfortable in those days, with three layers of underwear, narrow sleeves, stiff corsets, and tight, high-neck collars.

Older people may have a tendency to cling more to what was fashionable in an earlier age. Some famous statesmen, for example, continued to wear knee breeches well after younger, fashion-conscious gentlemen had donned trousers or pantalons. But we can never remain very far behind. Whether we like it or not, what we wear is dictated by the particular style of our particular time.

The Language of Clothes🔗

Clothing tells us a great deal about a person as an individual. The more youth­ful or outgoing an elderly person is, the more he or she will adopt the new style. That is what you can see when Grandma dresses like a teenager and drives a sports car when she does not have enough wind anymore to pedal-push a ten-speed.

But clothes convey more informa­tion than that. They portray one's mood, be it sad or happy; they indicate whether a person is well or ill, whether he is re­laxing or working, where he went, how he travelled, and what the weather is like.

The latest fashions speak to us of the rebellious mood of the people, the rudderless society in which we live, the ungodly climate of the world of enter­tainment where everything goes. Colors that at one time were considered to be clashing are now combined. The wilder, the better, or so it seems. That first necessity of clothing, the containing ef­fect it must have on sin, is hardly taken into account. I often wonder if our clothes still tell clearly that we belong to Christ, that we are Reformed people, children of the Lord. Therefore it is very impor­tant in what manner we follow the fash­ions.

Clothes and Character🔗

So, then, clothing speaks its own language, revealing what is within us. How then shall we dress?

Proverbs 31 speaks of the "good wife." She pays full attention to the needs of husband and children, but she does not neglect herself. Quite the opposite. She dresses splendidly (v. 22), even wear­ing purple, something that was mainly used by royalty in those days. She is not austere in the choice of her clothing. Why not? Probably she loves things of beauty, as her entire life-style is a display of hard work and good taste. But that is not all. She also knows that it is of im­portance to adapt herself in her appear­ance to her husband who is a highly re­spected citizen.

A woman should pay attention to her appearance. That does not mean she should show off, as the apostle Paul no­ticed some did, with elaborate hairdos, costly clothes, and expensive jewelry. Our ornament and beauty must be the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of the Lord.

Someone once said that those who make their costume the most important part of their own being, cannot become more true on account of their clothes. It is a sad thing if we leave behind no other impression than the clothes we were wearing. If we really understand the meaning of life, we will not be inclined to show off. Beauty is deceptive; a pret­ty face does not remain pretty if behind it there is emptiness or even an ugly mind.

Clothes, jewelry, makeup — they have their proper place if we make them useful for the task we have to fulfill in this world. Clothes do speak a language. Also therein must we bring honor to the Name of God.

Clothes and Budgets🔗

You may say, "It is fine and dandy to say that we busy wives must not ne­glect ourselves, but not everyone lives in such privileged circumstances as the lady of Proverbs 31." Does that give us permission to spend as much money on our wardrobe as we manage to scrape togeth­er? We must not overlook that the Lord has placed each of us in our own partic­ular circumstances. There are not very many among us who can spend large amounts of money on clothing. Too much money is needed for church and school, leaving very few of us with unlimited spending power to apply to clothing.

But that does not mean that we can­not dress well. Attractive clothes need not be expensive. With a little dexterity and a good sense of taste we can dress very well for very little money. Let us be­ware lest we violate the tenth command­ment. Be grateful for what you have re­ceived and remember that in the eyes of the Lord clothes are not the all-important thing. Then we won't rush to the store to buy a new hat because an acquaintance has a new one too, or a new dress because our neighbor just showed up with some­thing fancy. Instead, we will act respon­sibly going our own way, and refusing to buy everything that the ladies' maga­zines try to sell us as the height of fash­ion. That is the only way to follow the pattern of Proverbs 31!

Should a Housewife Dress Up?🔗

There are people among us who be­lieve that, except, for special occasions, proper appearance is not all that impor­tant. The children are running around and there is a lot of work to be done in and around the house; why should I dress up? It isn't worth it! But I believe that it isn't only worth it, it is of vital importance! The sense, the awareness, of having a proper appearance even when dressed for work, is important for a housewife. An apron can prevent many a disaster. Does nobody see you anyway? What about your husband; what about your children; what about someone at the door? A student teacher is told to dress in a cheerful way when facing elementary grades. And would that then not apply to a mother in front of her own children? I believe that good appearance is a valuable boost for your self-esteem. How many women walk day in, day out in those impersonal jeans, that worldwide uniform of dull-mindedness! Is it really true that they are such a comfortable fit? Or is it so that these women would rather not be different? But … weren't we supposed to be different?

And what about the girls? How many still wear dresses to school? I know of families where girls must wear skirts four days a week. But as soon as they are home, it is all over. At one time girls coming out of high school, even public high school, showed a colorful variety of dresses. Now they all look the same, like a gang of coal miners coming off shift!

Let us not moralize in these matters. Let us act responsibly when we choose how to dress and keep an eye open for the danger of blindly following the style of this world. We should talk about these things together and not be afraid to set a good example. Apostasy arises in the church only when those inside accept the style of the world outside.

Bathing Suits🔗

A few words about a very special kind of clothing: swimwear. When I com­pare the attire that was worn when peo­ple began to take to the beaches with what is put on nowadays, I have many questions. Swimwear was more compli­cated and covered much more of the human anatomy than is the case present­ly. People changed in bathing carts, dress­ing rooms on wheels, which were then drawn by horses to the edge of the sea. There the people would open the door and bathe, very privately.

Things are different today. More than slightly different. Bathing suits hard­ly function as a real covering anymore. Near nudity is in.

What, now, do we do? Do we go along? Is it true that you can't buy a de­cent bathing suit anymore? Or have we slowly but surely given up our own life­style and gotten used to the less-than-­adequate swimwear? If that is so, Satan is chuckling. Therefore, if we can't get anything decent, maybe we should start to sew our own bathing suits. Patterns are available and we can probably make ten for the price of one. It might be a worthwhile project for the women's so­cieties: making bathing suits for ourselves and our daughters. The topic for the discussion could then be: "Dare to be different, cover yourself."

At the same time we could also dis­cuss the value of clothing: it is a gift of God's grace to restrain the evil one, so that eventually we may wear the white clothes of righteousness, washed in the blood of Christ, to the honor of God the Father.

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