In matter of clothing we find many references in the Bible, starting at the beginning: after they disobeyed the first and only commandment mentioned in the Bible that God had given them, Adam and Eve realized their nakedness and "they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings" (Genesis 3:6-7). But "the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them”." (v.21)
From this we learn the precious lesson that, having become sinners, our early ancestors had to cover themselves in God's presence, with clothing provided by God, resulting from the death of an innocent being. It was an evident illustration of the salvation provided by God to the sinner through the sacrifice of the innocent life of His Son on Calvary, without which he cannot come into His holy presence.
Once expelled from the Garden of Eden, they could no more present themselves physically in the presence of God, but the symbolism of spiritual reality remained. All other references concerning clothing apply almost entirely to the priesthood within the people of Israel, all of it being highly symbolic of spiritual realities, bringing us also precious lessons.
We do not address this aspect in this article, which is only intended to answer questions we have received with respect to women's apparel, especially in church meetings, where it is not unusual to exist strong and sometimes almost irreconcilable opinions. The reason is that the Word of God simply does not give instructions on style, colour, length and width, the kind of tissue, and any other details about how women, servants of Christ, should dress in or out of the building of the assembly where they meet.
In the absence of specific instructions, the overseeing brethren seek to ensure that the general principles applicable to this matter by the saints are complied with, having regard to the customs of their community. When they go on to set rules, they may find resistance, creating discord and refractoriness because they are subjective and easily moved by simple personal preferences.
In Deuteronomy 22, we find two commandments on clothing within the people of Israel. The first is found in verse 5: "A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the LORD your God." Dressing in clothes of the opposite sex is an abomination before God. It is inconceivable that a thing which is abominable, hideous, repulsive to God in the people of Israel might become acceptable in His church.
The Word of God, wisely, does not define what is a man´s garment or a woman´s dress. In principle, it is not a prohibition in a general way of the use by a woman of long trousers admittedly proper for women to wear, or of the use by a man of robes or skirts considered proper for men to wear in his culture, or when traditionally used by his people for military ceremonies, for example. Men´s long trousers only appeared in the Christian era, in the West of the northern hemisphere, yet were and still are used traditionally by women in the East.
In any community, and at any time, men are distinguished from women by their way of dressing. It is abominable before God for a man to disguise himself as a woman or for a woman to disguise herself as a man by their attire, pretending to be of the opposite gender. This is transvestism.
The second commandment is in verse 11: "You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together". The reason is not given, but it is well known that once the cloth is moistened, the wool will shrink while the linen will continue as it is, thus ruining the garment. It is quite different from the commandment that we have just seen, in that it is not stated to be "an abomination unto the LORD your God," but it fits in well with the two commandments which precede it: "You shall not sow your vineyard with different kinds of seed" and "You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey together."
The two kinds of seed suggest an addition to pure teaching of the Word of God. The two different animals describe unequal yoke in service. The two different threads in the fabric tell us of mixing justice and injustice in the practical life of the believer.
Now examining the New Testament we find the wish of Paul and the recommendation of Peter regarding the ways in which women who profess to worship God should be attired. It is noteworthy that, contrary to what happens in some churches, these two Apostles are not setting out detailed rules, but just informing the general principles which should guide sisters in their clothing. They will do well to adopt them.
Let us see in what they consist, as we learn from 1Timothy 2:9-10 "in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” and 1 Peter 3: 3-5: "Do not let your adornment (kosmos - cosmetics) be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves."
Note that in both cases, the two apostles transfer their focus from what is material to what is moral and spiritual, i.e. from the subject of clothing and adornment of women, when in prayer (Paul) but also in general (Peter), to good works and the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Neither clothes nor ornaments are being banned, but the use of flashy, expensive clothes and showy and precious jewellery should be avoided in public.
Considering the two together, we find the following guidelines:
1. Women ought to dress respectably, and that involves:
Decency: The first and main reason for clothing is to cover the nakedness of the body. The woman of the world tends to increasingly uncover herself to become more physically attractive to men, but Christian women should avoid suggestive clothes, provocative of lust (which can happen even without uncovering much). Social pressure can be great, but she must “swim against the tide" like every Christian, and dress in a manner that befits the Gospel (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23).
Dignity and integrity: there is no virtue in sloppiness, untidiness and dirt in the presentation of a believer to the world, let alone in the presence of the church. Whenever possible she should prefer the use of garments in good condition, well looked after and suitable to the place where she is in.
2. They also ought to attire themselves with:
Modesty: Modesty is the absence of vanity about one's own value, unpretentiousness. Among other things, modesty requires a woman to avoid standing out, in order not to attract attention to herself by the way she dresses, whether by her luxury, or by her carelessness.
Sobriety: the luxury of buying expensive or excessive clothes is reprehensible. In its place, the money should be used in good works. Even being in a good financial condition, it is necessary to consider the most basic needs of our brothers and sisters, close or distant.
3. They should restrict their ornaments, avoiding those which are more pretentious or expensive:
“Not with braided hair” (the two apostles mention it). Certainly they had in view flashy, expensive hairstyles, covered with nets of gold and pearls much used in their time. Applying this to our day, it would mean exaggerated expenditure on hairdressing and hairstyling in order to satisfy vanity and motivated by showmanship.
“Or gold or pearls or costly clothing or putting on fine apparel”. We find a detailed description of this kind of vanity in antiquity in Isaiah 3:16 to 20. The display of expensive, snobbish ornaments is not appropriate for a Christian woman.
In contrast, rather than be distracted by this type of clothing in which the world so applies itself, and which may cause envy in others, encouraging them to follow their example, Christian women should adorn “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God”, and to engage in the exercise of “good works”, which are an important theme in the Scriptures and supplement sound doctrine so well, because they consist in its practice.