The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club: Chapter 12: Clothing

We’re discussing The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer a chapter at a time at  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris.

Chapter 12 discusses clothing, and Edith brings out many important points to consider. Some consider certain colors or patterns to be wrong, some feel it is more spiritual to dress in styles just before the current times. For some time conservative Christians in my area looked like they stepped off the set of Little House on the Prairie. How does one discern what is truly pleasing to the Lord in our clothing?

Edith brings out first of all that Jesus said, “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Luke 12:27-28). She then spends several paragraphs considering flowers of the field, their variety and beauty, and reasons that the God who designed them must not have intended for His children to be dressed dowdily. He who could have made the world simply utilitarian also made it beautiful and filled it with variety. She points out, too, that the Proverbs 31 woman “maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple,” not burlap or drab attire.

These thoughts helped me as a newly saved young woman years ago when I struggled with some of these questions. I also struggled with whether it was right or wrong or “worldly” to want to be in style. Edith discusses that, too. She points out with a bit of humor that those who dress ten years behind the times to avoid worldliness don’t stop to consider that ten years ago others would have considered that style worldly. There was a time when it was risque to show ankles. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates dressing out of accord with one’s times is more spiritual and less worldly, and practically speaking, dressing in an obvious out-of-style way can cause more negative that positive attention for Christ. All things must be kept in balance, of course, and we have to be careful not to spend too much time, money, and attention on clothing. She is not advocating that we dump our wardrobe for a new one every season, and even if we need to go among those in a higher economic class than ourselves, we can dress tastefully without having to go buy a lot of expensive new items. (On the other hand, of course, sometimes what is in style can be immodest or inappropriate for a Christian. Modesty would be the higher principle here. We shouldn’t run after the latest styles just because they’re the latest styles if there is something wrong with them.)

If I can go off on a side trail here, I agree with her on this, but it has bothered me for a long time that the world in general or sometimes Christians in particular decide that a style is suddenly old and unworthy any more. For instance, some years ago someone called denim jumpers “home school mom’s uniforms,” and then suddenly it was uncool to wear denim jumpers. I loved them for their durability and continued to wear them until I couldn’t find them any more. When I was growing up, a “comb-over” was what we called the hairstyle when a balding man tried to comb a few strands of hair over his bald spot, but for a while it was what some people called it when a man parted his hair on the side, and it was deemed too conservative and straight-laced, We can be silly with some of this kind of thing, and we have to be careful not to judge people unfairly on one side or the other. But yes, I do think that dressing deliberately and obviously out of style and out of touch with the times is not something that in and of itself glorifies God.

Back to Edith’s book: she also discusses appropriateness and how it can vary depending on what country, area of the country, and community one lives in. She touches on modesty briefly, but not as much as I would have thought: she mainly advocates not dressing in a way that would tempt anyone else, and remembering Whom you represent. Those two principles taken seriously and thoughtfully would take care of much of the problem.

She also deals with pants, a big consideration in some conservative Christian circles. The first pastor I had as a Christian taught that Deuteronomy 22:5 (“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”) referred to women wearing pants. Around that time I saw a “Big Valley” episode in which it was scandalous when Audra wore pants, and I thought that sounded reasonable. Then I got to a Christian college, and one of my teachers pointed out that both men and women wore long, loose-fitting robes in those days. Hmm. Okay (though I am not entirely sure about that since the Bible also discusses “breeches“, at least for the priests, but that seems to have been worn under the robe anyway). And then, as Edith describes here, her father went as a missionary to China at a time when women wore trousers and men wore long tunics. Would it have helped or harmed the cause of Christ to cling to an understanding that women weren’t to wear pants in that context, especially when that passage is not talking about pants? The general principle carries over that men should dress obviously as men and women as women, but to distil this verse down just to wearing pants does it a disservice. For the record, I do wear dresses out of preference, and I think they are generally more modest: pants tend to outline everything you’ve got. I’ve seen more than I wanted to and more than I thought was appropriate via some women’s pants, though I admit I have also seen immodest dresses and very modest pants. I’ve worn pants during childbirth classes, and though I’m not a hiking or mountain climbing person, if I were, I’d have no trouble wearing modest pants for those activities or any other when they’d be more modest and appropriate than a dress. But I don’t judge those who are more comfortable wearing modest pants.

Overall I enjoyed this chapter, both the truths that Edith brought out as well as the balance.

I think frumpiness can sometimes be in the eye of the beholder

(Forewarning to male readers, of which I have a few: some of this is more explicit that what I usually write here, so you might want to bypass this one).

Let me say at the outset that I don’t think stylishness is a sin. Like so many other things in life, there is a balance. We don’t have to look like we stepped out of the Little House on the Prairie books to be godly and modest. But on the other hand, chasing after and striving to keep up with “the latest” fads and fashions can be too time-consuming and expensive and can be a misplaced priority.

It seems like lately on many fronts I have seen parts of or references to shows, blogs, and assorted experts who take it upon themselves to tell women what’s “in” and how to dress. I guess in one sense it’s nothing new, but the multiplicity of media available these days makes this topic seem like it’s everywhere.

I started watching some of the fashion-advice shows on TV that I had seen reference to. Usually the people involved really benefit from the help. Often they’re either stuck in sloppy over-sized t-shirts and jeans, or they are at the opposite end of the spectrum and, in an effort to be flamboyant and different are too revealing, and the stylists do help to achieve some balance. I was actually pleasantly surprised that they do advocate classic rather than trendy styles generally, and a lot of their tips for camouflaging certain body flaws and making the most of your best features do make sense.

However, as a Christian I object that the goal (or at least one main goal) on these shows seems to be sexiness. Now, of course, I know these are not Christian shows and don’t operate under Christian principles, but I am evaluating the principles as a Christian viewing them after seeing so many Christians advocate them.

I don’t believe a Christian woman’s goal in dress and appearance should be sexiness. If the Bible warns men not to lust, I think it’s implied that women shouldn’t dress in a way to entice lust. I don’t think a Christian woman should ever show cleavage publicly. After all, what is cleavage but showing parts of one’s breasts? No one needs to see that but a husband and the doctor.

I Timothy 2:9a says, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.” I know modesty is a complicated issue: I’ve read various Christian message board discussions where people try to hash out exactly what it means, and good people differ on exactly where to draw the lines. And, as I said earlier, I don’t think modesty means a woman should always wear turtlenecks or prairie dresses. Nor does modesty equal dowdy. But I think we can agree there should not be an over-emphasis on certain womanly body parts in our dress.

Even on those shows, I have a problem with a man discussing a woman’s chest or bottom and waving his hand around those areas to demonstrate what he’s talking about.

This post is not about modesty per se: I am going to link to some good posts on that subject at the end. But it has to be mentioned when Christian women consider fashion.

At the other extreme, I don’t think it honors the Lord for us to be sloppy. Look at His creation. I mentioned recently in regard to decorating that I used to struggle with wanting things to look pretty and thought maybe I should just concentrate on functionality, until I realized that God could have made the universe just functional, but He also chose to make it beautiful. The same is true in our dress: it’s not wrong to want to look the best we can within our means. The Proverbs 31 woman “maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple” (verse 22). An unkempt appearance seems to indicate that no one cares, and that’s not a good testimony.

So, as I said at the beginning, there is a balance.

However, I don’t see that what is sometimes considered frumpy or “old” actually is.

Holiday sweaters are considered big frumpy age-adding garments, but I don’t know why. Even on a game show recently they were mentioned scornfully. Sure, they can be overdone and over-embellished, but I don’t see what’s wrong with them as a general concept. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone was wearing them, from children to young moms and all the way up. How did they get relegated to senior-only wear in the eyes of the fashion world?

I even heard a beautiful floral jacket referred to as “old” or “granny wear” just this week.

I’ve also heard and read “granny panties” mentioned as frumpy. Well, you know, what kind of underwear anyone wears isn’t really the fashion industry’s business, but I’d much rather have granny panties than the kind that come halfway up the bottom leaving an indention that can’t help but draw attention to one’s derrière (which is actually why some people wear them). And thongs….let’s not even go there except to say that unless you’re very young and firm, if all you have is a piece of fabric from your dress or pants between you and the world, you are going to jiggle, and, in pants especially, you’ll reveal much more than you want to. I’ll take granny panties over that any day.

The following list of clothes that supposedly should be removed from closets is from How Not To Look Old by Charla Krump, which I have not read but I have seen reference to in various places:

  1. Holiday sweaters with bells and appliqués (reindeers, teddy bears, bumblebees, pumpkins).
  2. Granny necklaces that tell how many grandchildren you have.
  3. Souvenir T-shirts.
  4. T-shirts with meant-to-be funny sayings.
  5. Overalls.
  6. Acid-washed jeans.
  7. Ripped jeans.
  8. Shoulder pads.
  9. Flannel shirts.
  10. Muumuus.
  11. Photo handbags (the older you get, the more sophisticated your accessories should be).
  12. Flesh-colored hose.
  13. Penny loafers.
  14. Oversize blazers.
  15. Mommy robes.
  16. Thin gold chain necklaces.
  17. Elastic-waist pants.
  18. Granny undies.
  19. Baggy sweats.
  20. Bearlike, full-length fur coats.
  21. Short shorts.
  22. Cargo pants.
  23. Stockings with reinforced toes.
  24. Three-piece suits with vests.
  25. Backpacks.

Now, some of this I agree with: baggy sweatpants, unless you’re doing laundry or jogging, short shorts, ripped jeans, muumuus. But flesh-colored hose? So what do the fashion mavens advocate instead? Some years back it was stylish to wear ivory colored hose, which I thought made ladies’ legs look like they had no circulation in their lower limbs. And I always thought it looked kind of funny to wear “suntan” hose when no other part of the body looked suntanned. I always thought flesh-colored hose looked the most natural and least noticeable. Actually I don’t know too many ladies who wear hose any more.

And thin gold chains make one look “old”? So I am supposed to dispose of my beauitful, delicate, feminine jewelry and get big, clunky stuff, even though I don’t like it, just to be “in”? Does that not seem silly to anyone but me?

Really, though, my purpose is not to nitpick all of these points or to rant against any one program, author, or expert. I just want to caution us against this judgmental, condescending attitude that certain neutral items — and the people who wear them — are frumpy. To me frumpy means sloppy and unkempt. It’s ok to strive not to be frumpy, but I don’t think we need to strive to be fashionistas who chase after every fad and live by what the current fashion experts say, either. It’s not wrong to wear something that is currently in style, but it’s not right to think of everyone else who does so as “in” and anyone who doesn’t as somehow defective.

Balance. It all comes back to balance.

And grace.

Other good blog posts abut dress and modesty:

How Shall We Then Dress by Mrs. Wilt at The Sparrow’s Nest.

Three Cheers For Modesty at Biblical Womanhood.

Dress Codes by Nancy Wilson at Femina.

Clothing and the Christian Woman at Faith and Family.