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Topic: Signs of the Times

Do Clothes Make the Man?

by Darrel Cline

Do Clothes Make the Man?

In this day of "dress down Friday", grunge, wrinkled t-shirts and threadbare jeans as normal wear, a series of questions arise. First, why do people wear clothes? Second, why do people wear different kinds of clothes in different settings? Third, does God care about people's external appearances? Fourth, does the Church of God have anything to say about the way people dress? Fifth, what impact (if any) do "appearances" have upon others? Sixth, what impact do appearances have upon ourselves? Is there any value to taking a bath? Why would anyone comb the tangles out of his/her hair, shave, wash the sleep out of his/her eyes, wipe the food off his/her chin, or do any of the countless things that people do that affect their appearance? Why do people get offended if others make deprecatory comments about their appearance? And finally, why do the same people who got offended when others criticized their appearance glow with satisfaction if someone raves about something they are wearing?

Why Do People Wear Clothes?

So, let's start at the beginning. Why do people wear clothes? To begin to answer, let's recognize the presence of a continuum that has both a minimalist extreme (nudism) and a maximist extreme (head-to-foot garments with only eye and nose slits to enable sight and breath).

Let's continue our inquiry by starting at the minimalist end of the spectrum: some folks don't wear clothes. Nudists make quite a thing out of living in the buff. This is the way they came into the world, so why change it? Nude is natural.

But nude isn't typical in most cultures in the world. Why isn't it? Why is it that even in those cultures where the nakedness of most of the body is routine (bare heads, arms, legs, and torso), loin-coverings are still worn? Why doesn't the nudist mindset represent the majority viewpoint? It did once.

The Bible says that, in the beginning, Adam and Eve lived naked in the Garden of Eden. It says that they did so without "shame" [Genesis 2:25].

What changed?

An attitude.

When nudism was "in", so was a particular attitude. The attitude was of grateful enthusiasm for life in the occasional (daily?) presence of the Creator God. The Bible says that Adam and Eve had regular interaction with God "in the cool of the day" [Genesis 1 and 2 in comparison with 3:8]. Apparently they didn't need clothes because of the weather and they felt no need for clothes in the presence of God.

This attitude was crucial. It had to do with the legitimate responses of creatures to a Creator. As long as the distinctions between Creator and creature were maintained, nudism was "in".

However, the attitude changed. It's change was wrought by a thought. The thought was this: I should not have to be guided by the desires of someone else. The record is really very simple and clear. God told Adam and Eve that it was His desire that they restrain themselves from eating the fruit of one of the trees in the Garden. His desire was strong enough that He actually had the temerity to "command" them to restrain themselves from eating that particular fruit. And initially, that was apparently "OK" with both Adam and Eve. But when the issue was pressed and the temptation was put forward in the form of "God has lied to you to keep you under His thumb", this thought arose: "Why should I be under anyone's set of desires except my own? Why shouldn't I be free to be a 'god' unto myself?" And when that thought was entertained and accepted, the attitude change was complete. But at that point, nudism was no longer a comfortable position. The text tells us that "shame" had entered the picture. The universal principle of "the acquisition of the opposite by the pursuit of the expected" had set in: those whose expectation was to be free of submission to the desires of "others" suddenly became the slaves of the expectations of others. With the arrival of shame, came the desire for clothes.


What does internal shame have to do with external covering? Answer that question, and you will know why people wear clothes. There is an observation that we need to make at this point. The very fact that an internal attitude created an external action tells us that today's radical position that clothes are not important is a lie. The fact is that choices about clothes reflect internal attitudes, and the specific decisions that follow flow out of those attitudes. Whether a person wears clothes or not does tell others something real about the person.

For example, the nudist claims that he is both naked and unashamed. The fact is, however, that there is something else going on here. Before the world got complicated, nakedness was linked to the absence of shame and clothes were linked to the presence of shame. But the issues of shame were directly related to a genuine and knowledgeable relationship between the Creator God and His created persons. In that real relationship, the creatures knew the glory and joy of uninhibited freedom under unresented submission to both the desires of their Creator and each other. And in that real relationship, the creatures suddenly profoundly knew the loss of both the glory and joy and the absence of resentment when they entertained resentment to the point of rebellion. With the freedom from submission came the absence of the uninhibited freedom of joy in the glory. This generated within them the panic of the loss and the "shame" of the sense of willful selfishness.

Today the situation has dramatically changed. People who have never had the knowledge of the glory and joy and have never understood the freedom of submission are suddenly trying to define life within the context of unrestrained selfishness. So, wanting to be free to undress as it suits them ("as it suits them" is, by definition, selfishness), they dismiss any claim that their nudism might be morally impeachable. Not because they know that it is not morally impeachable, but because they simply want to do as they please. This is the triumph of selfishness over knowledge. And thus, because they refuse to question their selfishness, they refuse to feel shame in their nakedness. So it may be true that they are both naked and unashamed, but it is also true that the nakedness and the lack of shame are simply testaments to their absence of any kind of real understanding of the real relationship that can exist between creature and Creator. Thus, the issue of clothing (or, in this case, the lack of it) speaks clearly to those observing of the ignorance, selfishness, and alienation from the Creator that characterizes the nudist.

Way back, when nakedness was coupled to the real absence of shame, the inner attitude was an enthusiastic and joyful submission of one's "right to be free from the desires of others" to the desires of Another (God).

Today, however, nudism is an "in your face" statement that "I don't care what you think or want, I am going to do what I want to do even if it makes you uncomfortable". Thus, the attitude of selfishness is entrenched and shame is denied. Nudism in this setting is simply a radical perversion of the original freedom. Nudism is an external attempt to recover the shamelessness while wallowing in the internal, shameful attitude. That is partially why most people don't buy into nudism: they intuitively recognize that external nudism will not provide any real freedom from the shame of godless selfishness. In other words, people wear clothes because they still have some shame to hide. Reverting to the external condition of shamelessness (nudism) does nothing to impact the continuing internal condition of shame (selfishness). In other words, clothes do not make the man; rather, the attitudes of the man make the clothes (or lack of them).

My conclusion here is this: most people wear clothes because they are addicted to some method of escape from the shame. Be aware, however, that there is another side to the "shame" coin. It is "glory". To escape shame is to possess glory. To have no glory is to experience shame. Because the coin has two sides, many folks have never realized that their dressing for eye appeal and to look good might be just another way of saying that they dress to escape shame.

That brings us to this next consideration:

Why Do People Wear Different Clothes on Different Occasions?

It is observationally true that people wear different clothes for different occasions. Even in minimalist settings where only a loincloth is normal wear, people still adjust their attire for different occasions. Even if the loincloth is retained as the primary cloth of covering, there is the painting of the skin, the alterations of hair style, perhaps the addition of a headdress of some kind, the insertion of bones into the skin, etc. Beyond the minimalist settings, people run a gamut of different wear for different occasions. Sometimes the alterations are simple (a man buttons the top button of his shirt and adds a tie) and sometimes the alterations are complex (the hair is styled, the tux is rented, the facial hair is trimmed or shaved off, the shoes are polished to glittering perfection, and even the belt has a special buckle installed).


Because people universally recognize that some occasions are more significant than others. Normal wear is for normal circumstances; but significant circumstances call for abnormal wear. The bride does not show up at the wedding in her everyday dress; the groom does not show up shirtless in his cutoffs (except for those increasing occasions when the pair have a "statement" to make). Woe to the job-seeker who shows up for his interview without taking a bath, applying some deodorant, trimming his facial hair, combing his hair, and wearing clothes that will fit the occasion! The in-your-face rebel might do that; but he typically remains unemployed; not because dress is the issue, but because dress reveals an attitude that makes for conflict in the workplace.

Defense attorneys know this principle well. They will take a grubby, unshaven, stinking slob who is guilty of a heinous crime and make him take a shower, shave, comb his hair, don decent clothes, and sit up quietly and respectfully. Why? Because the jury will make some decisions on the sole basis of the clothes and demeanor of the accused. It is ingrained in every culture that some forms of dress are unacceptable in some settings in life and perfectly acceptable in others. The reason? Because clothes are an expression of inner attitudes and everyone knows it. Thus, in every setting, people alter their attire according to their circumstances. Even the beggar on the street knows better than to look too prosperous; it would cut into the profits!

That brings us to the next question...

Does God Care About People's External Appearances?

The short answer here is "yes". But short answers don't meet the demands of "publish or perish", nor do they spur any thought.

There are several reasons for an affirmative answer to this question. First is the reality that God doesn't maintain our dichotomy about internal and external things. We, who can only see external things, make a distinction between the invisible and the visible. God is not like us. He knows all and sees all simultaneously, so He clearly understands the inner workings of the human heart and mind and sees the precise linkage that it has with the external trappings. Thus, when people think that God doesn't care about appearances, they dismiss Him as the omniscient observer of all. Because God cares about motives, He also cares about what those motives produce. When the appearances are deceptive, God holds the deceiver accountable for his/her identity as a liar, and when the appearances are a reflection of the truth, God commends the person for integrity. So, God cares about our appearances because He cares about integrity.

Second, God cares about external appearances because He cares about what happens to those who are responding to them. We only have appearances to go by. We make decisions all the time on the basis of what we see and understand from the appearances of things. When those appearances are a deception about reality, our decisions take us down paths we didn't want to go. Therefore, when an appearance is deceptive, God cares because He knows that it will lead to bad decisions and that will lead to bad experiences. On the other hand, when the appearances are a valid expression of the hidden, we make good decisions that take us where we wanted to go. That pleases God.

Third, God cares about appearances because He cares about what happens to those who are generating them. God knows that people respond on the basis of appearance, so He wants us to be sure that we give the correct impressions so that people will be able to respond to us according to the truth.

Thus, because God cares about both the perpetrator of appearances and the responder to appearances, He cares about the appearances themselves. And as we said at the first, He knows no dichotomy between what to us is invisible and what is visible.

That brings us to the fourth question...

Does the Church Have Anything to Say About the Way People Dress?

It has to. It is the "body" of Christ. His speech in the world comes primarily through the Church. Without its lips, He does not speak. So, what should It say? Many things...

It should say to the one who dresses casual that casual dress says a great deal about a casual attitude. It should say to the one who over-dresses that ostentation is self-promoting, not God-promoting. It should say to the slovenly that slovenliness is not a virtue in God's eyes. It should say to the meticulous that perfectionism is impossible for men and denotes a delusion about what we are really like. It should say to the seductively dressed that seduction is anathema to God. It should say to the outlandish that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. It should say to the insecure that God accepts us according to what we have to wear, not what others have to wear. It should say to the arrogant that clothes cannot compensate for the evil that is a part of our warp and woof. In other words, the Church should hold us to the reality that God sees all: He knows, on every occasion, both what we choose to wear and why.


In these days of "dress down Friday", grunge, wringled t-shirts and deliberately threadbare jeans, the Church as the people of God have an obligation to dress according to reality. The Church is not called to call attention to itself, so its method of dress should be bland enough, modest enough, conformist enough, and respectful enough to fit its occasions. If its members are intent on a target audience that is characterized by long hair, bushy beards, and black leathers, it ought not to show up in a carefully groomed three-piece suit. But if its target audience is characterized by carefully groomed three-piece suits, it ought not to show up in wrinkled t-shirts and bare feet. At no time should the dress considerations be "with what am I most comfortable?" with the exception of personally private settings. The consideration should always be "with what will my observers be most comfortable within the boundaries of modesty?" without forgetting that God is the Primary Observer.

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This is article #238.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.