The church often feels the influence of the world. Whether it is music, technology, or fashion, the church is not isolated from the trends of society. The music you like probably doesn’t sound like the music your grandparents listened to. You may not care for the good old days of radio; you’d rather watch YouTube on your phone. Your taste in cars is probably no longer for the landsharks of the fifties.
In apparel, the world is governed by fashion. To an extent, the church rides these trends as well. Bell-bottoms are out. Wide collars are making a comeback. Denim jeans have become everyone’s clothes, not just the workingman’s. And so on. So long as a Christian’s taste and participation in fashion trends remain pure, the influence is innocuous. God commands no uniform for the Christian.
On the other hand, there are many fashion trends that are disgraceful. A walk in the mall will demonstrate the basic mantra of the fashion industry: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” No trend is worth following if it leads a person away from the Lord, even though the pressure to follow is great.
People imitate the crowd because of a strong desire to be accepted. But God calls His saints to be different from the world. “Do not be conformed to this world,” God says in Romans 12:2. “Do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world,” God says in 1 John 2:15. “Come out from their midst and be separate … and do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you” (2 Corinthians 6:17–18). Therefore, just because the world is hooked on Fifty Shades does not mean God shrugs His shoulders when Christians fall for the same. Just because J-Lo is shaking it at the Superbowl, doesn’t mean God’s people should, too. When the trends are sinful, non-conformity, abhorrence, and separation is the response God expects from His holy people (1 Peter 1:15–16).
So, what does the Bible prescribe for suitable clothing? In 1 Peter 3:3–4, God speaks about the clothing pleasing to His eyes:
Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
This passage is not an absolute prohibition on jewelry, makeup, or a nice hairstyle any more than it is an absolute prohibition against wearing dresses. Rather, it points out where the Christian’s focus must be—not on displaying the external physical qualities, but on displaying the internal spiritual qualities.
Now, it is often pointed out that Peter’s real focus here (and Paul’s in the passage below) is on expensive and extravagant displays of clothing, hair, and makeup. That’s true. But there is a lot of overlap. Sensual clothing has the effect of attracting one’s mind to the outer person instead of the inner person. Women and men, show off your Christian spirit and good works! Sexuality is for one’s spouse alone to appreciate and possess.
Likewise, 1 Timothy 2:9–10 says,
I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.
In the old KJV, the word “modestly” is “with shamefastness,” a sense of godly shame that is rooted fast in the character. It’s the ability to blush. A basic definition of immodest clothing is attire worn without a healthy sense of shame. People have just lost a healthy sense of decency.
Whether or not the above two passages refer to sexually immodest dress, the following most certainly do. Romans 13:13 says, “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.” This word “sensuality” (Greek, aselgia, also translated “licentiousness,” “lasciviousness,” or “indecency” by various translations) refers to conduct which excites the sexual appetite. Sensuality is a work of the flesh in Galatians 5:19; it is that which the “slaves of corruption” use to entice “fleshly desires” in 2 Peter 2:18. When men or women wear clothing that is very enticing to the opposite sex, this is sensuality by definition, and is frowned upon in God’s word.
Sex sells. Much of the clothing available today is designed to show off rather than to conceal. Often, men and women buy clothes for the very purpose of stunning others with their physical beauty, with an attitude of selfish pride. Read Isaiah 3:16–26, and see how a haughty attitude in apparel became a sign of wickedness for the Israelites.
Many protest that the problem is with men who ogle. It’s true that a man will be judged for what he seeks out with his eyes and dwells upon (Matthew 5:28, Job 31:1). But it is also true that those who place stumbling blocks will be called to answer for them (Matthew 18:6–7). Anyone can see that this is a two-way street. Since we love Christ and we love others, we will be careful what we put before people’s eyes. —John Guzzetta