What Our Women Wear

memory carClothes shopping has been a big pain for our family. Stressful trips to Target followed by fights about the size of the final price is something that we’ve just got used to in our marriage. Multiply that by five kids and you have material for a reality TV show.

Here are some elements from our story.

Kami. Doesn’t really like to spend money. Doesn’t really like to shop. Constantly has a nagging feeling like she’s not dressed as well as those around her. Goes to Target (or the mall or Victoria’s Secret) feeling fine, leaves feeling like a pile of crap. Takes her cues on what to wear based upon what she sees on the racks in the store or latest magazine covers.

Ben. Feels like any money spent on clothes is a waste. Thinks fashion and trends are stupid. Hates Target and everything it stands for but has no viable alternative. Hates the idea of malls even more. Overall you can conclude has a pretty bad attitude of the idea of investing in wardrobe.

I share these perspectives not to make fun of either of us but to give you an honest cross-section that some of you may be able to relate to. But a few things have made me re-think clothes in the last few years. One of those things is that Wes, who lives with us wears some shirts and a jacket that his grandpa wore. What? I didn’t know you could do that with clothes. What would it look like to look beyond trends, beyond price and beyond immediate practicalness? Can clothes be something more? In the last year I’ve made some changes. I’ve bought a bag that is supposed to outlast my lifetime that I plan on giving to one of my grandkids. I bought a jacket with the same goal. And even a few shirts. These purchases would have seemed crazy to me 5 years ago.

But still there’s those blasted Target receipts that keep on rolling in. Every receipt is a battle. For both Kami and I. But I’ve started to realize that the battle is not with each other.

I believe that we will live into the story that we know. For female fashion that story is depressing. For some, you may  wonder why a male is writing about female fashion. As a husband and father of four daughters I feel like it is my job to learn a thing or two or at least care. If I do not learn a thing or two or care my wife and daughters will get sucked into the loudest or most popular story around them. This is scary. One walk through the mall, Victoria’s Secret, past a magazine rack, or Target and you can see what the most important parts of those stories are. Here’s a few that stand out to me.

  • Sexiness. My wife is constantly telling me how skimpy the swimsuits at Target have become and she has difficulty finding an option that she feels comfortable wearing.
  • Trendy. SEE ALSO: “cute” Styles changes. Seems like every six months. This emphasizes new and fitting in. Peer pressure and feeling relevant are important. This also costs money and seems to work out very well for retailers who profit off of new trends.
  • Price. Sales racks, 50% off. These things make the world go around. If it’s sexy, trendy, and on sale you’ll see it it’s as good as bought.

I don’t think the things on this list are bad. I wonder if they are the best, though. The male counterpart list of values is not that different and equally unfulfilling. Is there a better option? If there is, I wasn’t picking it up from my long walks in the mall. In fact, I wasn’t picking it up anywhere. In thinking about women’s clothing I started thinking about some sections I’ve heard from that one book. You know, the Bible. The same book that the people at the Creation Museum use to justify wearing denim jumpers. These are some excerpts that seem to be some of the most popular on the subject.

“…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” (Timothy)

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (Peter)

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels . . .  Strength and dignity are her clothing . . . Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs)

People use these Bible passages to defend all sorts of things. Some say women should not wear bikinis. This passage certainly does seem to make a case for modesty. Modesty get’s a bad rap in every regard. The definition of modesty is “unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities or achievements.” In other words, Modesty means you’re not using all your fire power. This does not mean wear denim jumpers. This does not mean dress like crap. One of the things these passages are saying is that It is important to know that women can dress so that the are taking full advantage of their allure and sexuality in a way that garners temporary attention and results in exploitation. Exploitation is bad for everyone. While this is helpful it’s not the main point of these passages.

Some use these same passages as a justification to not spend money or even think about women’s clothes. That’s probably more the camp that I fell into. But these verses are not meant to be a treatise against gold or fancy clothes. They are about prioritization. They say that you can focus on looking fancy or you can focus on being fancy. They way the Bible teaches you to be fancy is starting with the inside out: good works, beauty of the spirit, and fear of a the most loving and powerful God of the universe. I believe that these things are far more attractive to men than any article of clothing you can purchase at Victoria’s Secret.

So God, Peter, Paul, and Proverbs seem to all indicate that in regards to women’s clothing, priority should happen on the inside and and therefore, not try and draw a ton of attention to their bodies – that were actually designed by God to attract. But this doesn’t seem to offer much practical help on how to shop.

This beings me to this really strange Bible passage in Ezekiel. The context is that God’s chosen people in Jerusalem were being described as a helpless child found in a field. When he finds them this is how God reacts. (Look for how he dresses them.)

“I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body . . . I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments.  I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose,earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.  So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.  And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty,because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect.”

The God of the Bible doesn’t seem to shy away from extravagance when he’s doing the dressing.  In fact, the way the story goes, God dresses the woman of Jerusalem far more extravagantly than she would ever go and dress herself. We know this because in the analogy the story continues that the woman (Jerusalem) is actually a prostitute and goes on self-disgracing and devaluing herself and her body. This story may seem like an odd analogy but the concept is not original. The first act of God’s blessing in the Biblical story after human rebellion involved clothing. Remember the story of Adam and Eve covering themselves in fig leaves? They probably got them at Target off the discount rack. But God decided that they weren’t adequate. He provided something more extravagant. Something less efficient. Something more suitable. This clothing, made of animal skins, required death. He dressed them up. The story of the Bible ends with a picture. The picture is a wedding. God is the husband and his people are the bride. And guess what? Yep. He dresses them up. This time the bride is dressed dazzlingly in white presented “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing… holy and without blemish.”

To summarize, here are three principles I have been learning from these passages

1. A woman’s clothing should be an outward reflection of her dignity, respect, love, and strength.

2. To be clothed well generally is costly and requires sacrifice. How much should it cost? I don’t know. What brand? I’m not sure. The covering of nakedness was not a haphazard afterthought to God and maybe it shouldn’t be to us either. We have the freedom to wear whatever but the clothing values we chose for ourselves and our family members teach us who God is and how valuable we are. If he thinks we’re worth it maybe we should to. What is on the discount rack can be a factor but not the driver.

3. When God dresses you he dresses you better than you could ever imagine to dress yourself. The reason very simply is that we always tend to apply less dignity and value to ourselves than God does, at least in the ways that matter the most.

It’s this last point that I want to camp out on because for me, it has been the most applicable. Thinking about this topic has lead to the following conclusion:

Husbands and fathers have a significant role in the clothing of their wives and daughters.

In other words, for the women we love, it’s time to start re-writing the story that they are hearing. About clothing. About themselves. This role is not for the purpose of fulfilling our preferences. It is for the purpose of instilling into our wives and daughters the very high value and dignity of what lies underneath the clothing and broadcasting that value to the world. One trend that you’ll find in the scriptures is that where it is not cool to be wearing fancy clothes for the purpose of showing yourself off there are numerous times where it was very cool to be wearing fancy clothes when someone else was showing you off. Same value but in one case you are valuing yourself and in another case someone else is doing the valuing. This is why it would be very strange for a woman to go out and buy some expensive jewelry for herself but very normal for her to receive it as a gift. In every good example we see the value ascribed from the outside loving source was actually higher than what was being self-ascribed. It seems like it takes an outside force to re-write the stories of ourselves. With my wife and daughters it has not been hard to imagine why. The inner self-esteem issues and competition with peers combined with the pressure of media and marketing all says one thing “you’re not good enough.” “Buy more!” This is not a corporate battle and the stakes are much more than financial. It is a spiritual identity battle and it cannot be fought along.  Daughters look to fathers to find out how special they are. Very few things communicate this better than clothing. We as fathers, have given up on this battle.

There’s more that us men can do besides funding a shopping a budget. We can play a role in emphasizing value. A value that is higher than what a greedy corporation will give our women and a value that is so high that it could never be self-realized. We can also begin instilling ideals besides sexiness and trendiness. As we fight for clothing that speaks of dignity, value, beauty, and purity, we may find that the women wearing the clothing start to change before our very eyes and become more of the very things they were made for.

IMAGE: By Joe of Memory in Cincinnati