Keeping Up Appearances

“For the apparel oft proclaims the man,…” Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

“Clothes make the man.” Mark Twain

Question: Do clothes and appearances make the Christian?

I am a person who enjoys fashion and clothes (and at my age, you want me to be wearing clothes!) and I have worked at a variety of fashion retail stores. But at times, my love of fashion and clothing has seemed to be at odds with what some Christians have been teaching and hold to be true, especially for Christian women.

I am an earnest Christian woman who sincerely desires to please God and bring honour to Him by the way that I live my life, so I have done a lot of searching and thinking about this issue.

Is a true Christian defined by what they wear and how they look? Should a person’s appearance be the standard by which we judge whether or not they are a Christian?

If I desire to be a Christian woman, do I have to have long hair, cover my head, wear long skirts, and be free from any “bling” and “smoke and mirrors” (my husband’s term for makeup)? Are only certain colours and styles of clothing acceptable to God?

In my previous post “Will the real Christian please stand up”  I wrote about my thoughts on what I believe defines a “Christian”. I can’t find any scriptures which support the idea that a person is a true Christian based upon their choice of wardrobe. Being a Christian is a matter of “heart” not dress. God himself said that He does not judge man by outward appearance but by the state of the inner heart.

1Sa 16:7 But Jehovah said to Samuel, Do not look on his face, nor on his height, because I have refused him. For He does not see as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looks on the heart.

Yes, there are scriptures which discuss the desired or preferred way for Godly women to dress – but – the reader must understand the time, culture and audience for whom these instructions were given.

1Pe 3:1-5 Wives, be ruled by your husbands; so that even if some of them give no attention to the word, their hearts may be changed by the behaviour of their wives, when they see your holy behaviour in the fear of God. Do not let your ornaments be those of the body such as dressing of the hair, or putting on of jewels of gold or fair clothing; But let them be those of the unseen man of the heart, the ever-shining ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great price in the eyes of God. And these were the ornaments of the holy women of the past, whose hope was in God, being ruled by their husbands:.. (BBE)

1Ti 2:9, 10 In the same way also, I desire that women adorn themselves in decent clothing, with modesty and sensibleness, not adorned with braiding, or gold, or pearls, or costly clothing, but with good works, which becomes women professing godliness.

I don’t believe that the above scriptures are saying that women shouldn’t dress nicely or attractively for their husbands. I believe that the lesson is that our loving, gentle, and kind hearts should be what gives us true beauty in the eyes of God and man. We should be more concerned about inner beauty than exterior beauty. We should not put our confidence and self-value in artificial and superficial methods such as jewelry and cosmetics. However, I don’t believe that it is wrong for me to wear a little jewelry or make-up either. I mean, what hubby wants their wife walking around with a “sack-cloth and ashes” attitude?

I have tried the “plain Jane” approach but I looked and felt miserable. For myself, I like fun, sporty clothes in bright colours. It is part of my personality – of who God made me to be. I try to dress decently, sensibly and with my interpretation of modesty. While some of my clothes do have some ‘sparkle’ they are not adorned with gold or pearls or made from costly fabrics. When I look around at all the incredibly beautiful things that God has created – birds, butterflies, flowers, dew drops, rainbows and sunsets etc., I don’t believe that God is offended by a bit of colour and sparkle. (

A person can affect “holiness” by dressing in dark-colours, long sleeved shirts, long skirts and hats but still have an unsaved heart inside. A plain binding does not make a pornographic book any cleaner.

Jesus warned about being like the Pharisees who were more concerned with, and took pride in, their “holy” outward appearances.

Mat 23:1-5 Then Jesus spoke to the crowd and to His disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do. But do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy and hard-to-carry burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders. But they will not move them with one of their fingers. But they do all their works in order to be seen of men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.

Mat 23:27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which indeed appear beautiful outside, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

Jesus also warned us to be careful about people who may look good on the outside but who are evil inside.

Mat 7:15 Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

Paul tells us that we are not to boast in our appearance – we should not have confidence that it is our clothing and appearance which makes us holier than someone else.

2Co 5:12 For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but are giving you occasion to glory on our behalf, so that you may have it to answer those boasting in appearance, and not in heart.

2Co 10:7 Is it outward appearances you look to? 

We are plainly told that we are not to judge others by what we see.

Joh 7:24 Do not judge according to sight, but judge righteous judgment.

One of the important things that Jesus died for was to give freedom to those who believe in him.

Joh 8:36 Therefore if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. 

But we are not to use that freedom as an excuse for sinful living or to do whatever we feel like.

1Pe 2:15,16 For such is the will of God, doing good to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, and not having freedom as a cover of evil, but as servants of God.

Therefore, even though I believe that I have been made free from trying to obtain righteousness by the way I dress, I still believe that we should dress in a manner which is pleasing and honouring to God.

1Th 5:22 Abstain from every appearance of evil.

It is very important that I, as a Christian woman, don’t dress in such a way as to lead another person, especially a man (although highly unlikely at my age – LOL) into temptation or sin. And if I know that the way I dress may cause offence to someone who believes that we should be dressing a certain way, in the love of God, I would do my best to dress so as not to cause them offence.

Rom 14:13 Then let us not judge one another any more, but rather judge this, not to put a stumbling-block or an offense toward his brother.

I have some very dear sisters-in-Christ who feel that one of the ways that they can obey and honour God is to dress very modestly in long skirts etc. When we are all together, I think we focus on each other’s heart for God rather than our clothing.

I believe that whatever you do (or wear), if you have sought out God about the matter and have received peace over the situation, then that is what is right for you.

1Co 10:31 Therefore whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1Jn 3:21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have perfect confidence towards God;

All of this to say “no – I don’t think that clothes and appearance make the Christian”. We are not saved, sanctified, made righteous and holy by what we wear or how we look. BUT – how we choose to look may reflect our personal relationship with God.