Feminine Fashions

Feminine Fashions

Dr. James Naismith

In this article Dr. Naismith has complied with the request that there be published some ministry on this very important topic. We are grateful for the spiritual discernment and yet the practical approach to the tendency of worldliness in dress.

We live in a rapidly changing world. “Change and decay in all around I see.” Among the changes to which we are exposed, few occur more frequently than in the realm of fashions. Whether in cars, carpets or clothes, variations are constantly taking place. What was revolutionary yesterday is accepted today and will be out-dated tomorrow. Mercifully, some of the more shocking of fashions — “topless dresses,” for instance — are very short-lived; but unfortunately, others, only slightly less shocking, seem to persist despite the protests of many. To keep abreast of changing fashions is no easy task — and demands more financial ability than most of us possess. But is it right for a Christian to endeavour to do so? Certainly, to endeavour to be old-fashioned is not fitting for children of God. Yet we are exhorted to be transformed, not conformed; different, not the same (Rom: 12:2).

The fashions of a God-hostile world should surely not be the guide for a God-loving saint. But where are we to draw the line? Particularly are our younger (and perhaps older) sisters faced with this problem. How are they to dress? What adornment should they wear? What principles should guide them? For, let it be clear at the outset, the Scriptures state the basic principles by which we should be regulated: they do not go into details of the kind of clothes we should wear. Nor should we expect them to: obviously none of us today dresses as Paul and Peter and believers of their time would dress—or as our Saviour did. Moreover, fashions vary not only from time to time, but from place to place, and we generally dress more or less in accordance with the customs of the community in which we live — otherwise we certainly would be drawing attention to ourselves.

Both Paul and Peter present some of the principles that should apply in these matters, in our day as in theirs. Let us examine their brief but helpful comments.

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet. 3:1-4).

These verses, addressed primarily to the believing wives of unsaved husbands, have an application to all Christians in respect to their contacts with unbelievers. How can these husbands be won for the Lord? How can we all influence our unsaved colleagues and neighbours? By all means let us speak “the Word” to them. But, if they “obey not the Word,” what then? Should we keep on nagging them, preaching at them? No! In these circumstances, the unbelieving husband “may without a word (as it should be) be won by the conversation of the wives” —and, likewise, our unsaved friends may be brought to Christ by the silent testimony of Christlike lives without a word being spoken. Actions speak louder than words. Our practice outpoints our preaching. By her submissive attitude, her utter faithfulness and chastity, and her godly fear, a Christian wife can be more effective than a hundred sermons.

What about her dress and accessories? By the attractiveness of her appearance, she might reason, she could influence her unsaved husband. Should she not, therefore, dress “in the height of fashion and the mould of form? Would glittering jewellery and the most modern hair-do contribute to this end? Her modern counterparts — Christian women of today — might likewise state a case for expensive and fashionable apparel, dazzling ornamentation, and costly coiffure. What is Peter’s answer? “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart…a meek and quiet spirit.” Does this mean that our sisters should wear no jewellery and have completely plain hair-styles? Is Peter forbidding outward adorning completely? No more than our Lord was forbidding work when He said, “Labournot for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life” (John 6:27). He was there clearly emphasizing the greater importance of the spiritual and eternal and urging His hearers to devote their efforts to things which have enduring values. So, here, Peter is not prohibiting external adornment (he includes “putting on of apparel,” and obviously would not forbid this!) but is emphasizing the supreme importance of internal —spiritual — adornment.

The Christian should not seek to make herself attractive by what she wears outside so much as by what she wears inside. Not the outer adorning, but the hidden man of the heart should be the secret of her attraction. The spirit of meekness and quietness is far more effective adornment than glamorous apparel or glittering ornaments. The latter are costly in human values; the former is “in the sight of God of great price.” The latter are perishable goods — soon outdated and outworn: the former is “incorruptible” — never old-fashioned, never decaying. What a lesson on relative values! We tend to give so much thought to wherewithal we shall be clothed, and forget that inner clothing, like inner cleanliness, comes first.

“I want that adorning divine
That only Thy grace can bestow.
I want in those beautiful garments to shine
Which distinguished Thy household below.”

“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel. with shamefacedness and sobriety: not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but which becometh women professing godliness with good works” 1 Tim. 2:910).

Into these two short verses, Paul compresses his teaching, under the Holy Spirit’s direction, on the apparel and adornment of sisters. Four important guiding principles can be discerned:

Importance of Tidiness and Taste

Importance of tidiness and taste is suggested by the phrase, “adorn themselves in modest apparel.” Adorn” means to put in order, arrange; and “modest” also implies well-arranged, orderly, in good taste with modesty and good sense. There is no virtue in a shabby, frumpish old-fashioned appearance in a Christian. An untidy Christian —especially at gatherings of the church is a poor testimony for her — or his — Lord.

Maintenance of Modesty and Morals

“With shamefacedness and sobriety.” “Shamefacedness” should really, as Trench explains in his “Synonyms of the New Testament,” be “Shamefastness” (similar to bedfast, bedridden; weather-fast, weather bound) and implies what has been established, made fast, by a sense of shame. Trench defines it as shrinking “from overpassing the limits of womanly reserve and modesty.” “Sobriety,” he describes as “that habitual inner self-government, with its constant rein on all the passions and desires.”

Today’s fashions so frequently transgress the boundaries of propriety and enter the realm of indecency. A Christian should beware and should never dress “suggestively,” but, at all times, and especially in public places and gatherings, with becoming modesty and morality. Christian sisters should be ashamed to be seen in some of the attire that passes in many circles around us, but should in all circumstances, be characterized by proper reserve and sound spiritual judgment — in clothing as in conduct. Anything less is unbecoming to them and dishonouring to their Lord.

Avoidance of Extravagance and Extremes

“Not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.” When Paul wrote, there was a prevalent custom of interweaving in the hair gold, silver, pearls, causing it to flash brilliantly and dazzling in the light, with the object of drawing attention to the wearer. Such extravagances and excesses of personal adornment are unbecoming for a child of God, who should wish to draw attention to her Lord rather than herself. Good clothing, fashionable and in good taste, will enhance a sister’s appearance and testimony. Ostentatious display will only detract from it and should be avoided.

Pre-Eminence of Deeds Over Dress

Pre-eminence of deeds over dress, of character over coiffure! “Not with broided hair … but … with good works.” “A virtuous life is the best adornment” (Knox’s translation) far surpassing glittering jewels and expensive attire. What we do is more important than what we wear.

Thus both Peter and Paul, in dealing with the subject of feminine fashions, emphasize the priority of inner, spiritual adornment — a meek and quiet spirit, manifesting itself in good works. May we too seek this “adorning divine”!