Fashion and dress, to a large degree, set the pace and tone for society, they keep certain lines of retailers going. Some of the biggest pledges after the Notre Dame Cathedral fire were from French billionaire fashion companies. But this is also a subject that brings a lot of discussion, even turning conversations into hot debate. And this has been a troubling topic within many clubs, churches and families.

In the beginning, there was no dress as we know it. Adam and Eve wore robes of soft light. “A beautiful soft light, the light of God, enshrouded the holy pair. This robe of light was a symbol of their spiritual garments of heavenly innocence.” —COL.p 310,311. But as they fell, that beautiful robe disappeared, because the robe of clothing they wore was also relative to their spiritual condition. “But when sin entered, they severed their connection with God, and the light that had encircled them departed. Naked and ashamed, they tried to supply the place of the heavenly garments by sewing together fig leaves for a covering.” —Ibid.

And ever since that day, humanity has worn clothing to cover their nakedness. But still to this day, and most probably especially for this day, the dress worn is still an indicator of the spiritual condition of the wearer. “There will be earnest, anxious seeking for the inward adorning, the Christian graces – the fruits of the Spirit of God... If the heart is reformed, it will be seen in outward appearance.” —1T, p.162

But this topic is important and does definitely demand some of our time and attention. “This is no trivial matter to be passed off with a jest. The subject of dress demands serious reflection and much prayer.” —4T, p.461. But on the other hand “there is no need to make the dress question the main point of your religion. There is something richer to speak of. Talk of Christ and when the heart is converted, everything that is out of harmony with the Word of God will drop off.” —Ev, p.272

Fortunately there is inspired counsel that sets the basic principles for everyone as we see the dress and fashions changing in all manner of shapes and styles.  Here is one to start with: “Chaste simplicity in dress, when united with modesty of demeanour, will go far toward surrounding a young woman with that atmosphere of sacred reserve which will be to her a shield from a thousand perils.” —Ed. p.248

There is counsel for us as to quality and style that we can draw from. “In dress, we should see that which is simple, comfortable, convenient and appropriate.” “Our clothing, while modest and simple, should be of good quality, of becoming colours, and suited for service. It should be chosen for durability rather than display. It should provide warmth and proper protection… It should have...grace...natural simplicity… and natural beauty.” — OHC, p.270; MH, p.288,289

So how is our dress to relate to those in our general society? “We believe it wrong to differ from others unless it be necessary to differ in order to be right.” “Many dress like the world in order to have an influence over unbelievers, but here they make a mistake. If they would have a true and saving influence, let them… make distinction plain between the Christian and the worldly.” —RH April 14, 1868; 4T, p.633

Fashion and the Church

So there is certainly counsel in regards to our choice of clothing, but how does this affect the Christian and the church? Well it stands to reason that it is, to a degree, the duty of the church to ensure that “all should be taught to be neat, clean and orderly in their dress, but not to indulge in that adorning which is wholly inappropriate for the sanctuary. When a church has been raised up and left uninstructed on these points, the minister has neglected his duty and will have to give an account to God for impressions he allowed to prevail.” —5T. p.499,500.

“How can one that has ever tasted the love of Christ be satisfied with the frivolities of fashion?… They do not enjoy a religious life. We see steadily gaining ground in the church an evil which the word of God condemns. What is the duty of those in authority in regard to this matter? Will the influence of the church be what it should be, while many of its members obey the dictates of fashion rather than the clearly expressed will of God? How can we expect the presence and aid of the Holy Spirit while we suffer these things to exist among us? Can we remain silent while the teachings of Christ are set aside by His professed followers? These things bring grief and perplexity to those who have the oversight of the church of God.” —MYP p.355,356

Custom and the Christian

As a Christian, this topic will even affect our personal spiritual journey as “hours... are worse than thrown away in studying this or that fashion to decorate the poor mortal body. While you make yourselves like the world, and as beautiful as you can, remember that the same body may in a few days be food for worms. And while you adorn it to your taste, to please the eye, you are dying spiritually.” —1T. p.134  “Our faith if carried out, will lead us to be so plain in dress… that we shall be marked as peculiar.”—1T. p.275,276

There is no one right type of clothing for all time or all people. The standards and customs of your particular society will have some reflection in your attire but should be tempered by principle. You should “dress plainly… modest, appropriate for this age” but also “becoming to your age and station in life.” —Ev. p.273; 4T p.142 “Wherever principle is not compromised, consideration of others will lead to a compliance with accepted customs...”—Ed p.240

Not like a Scare-crow

While we shouldn’t absorb much time in choosing (or condemning) certain fashions of the world, neither does it mean making a ‘fashion’ of wearing clothes that are very uninteresting and like a sack! No, there will be a natural balance. Because “when we lose taste for order and neatness in dress, we virtually leave the truth; for the truth never degrades, but elevates.” —1T. p.275,276

Even clothes prepared “for work should manifest taste and neatness… Have it… fit the form nicely. Even if it is a working dress, it should be made becoming and should be cut after a pattern. Sisters when about their work should not put on clothing which would make them look like images to frighten the crows from the corn. It is more gratifying to their husbands and children to see them in a becoming, well-fitting attire.” —1T p.464

The same thoughts also apply to the way we dress our children. Many of us may look back in horror to how we were dressed by our parents, although in reality it probably never bothered us then and it is simply the fashions that have changed. But this is something to take into consideration for our children today. We should “furnish them with becoming garments, that they may not be mortified by their appearance, for this would be injurious to their self-respect.” —4T p.142

During the time when Ellen G White wrote so much on this topic in the late 1800s and early 1900s, she found that there were not only extremes between the ‘worldly’ fashions and Christian principles, but even within the current fashions themselves. She writes this interesting passage trying to find balance: “My views were calculated to correct the present fashion, the extreme long dress, trailing upon the ground, and also to correct the extreme short dress, reaching about the knees… I was shown that we should shun both extremes.” “There is medium position in these things. Oh that we all might wisely find that position and keep it.” —1T p.464; 1T p.425

She also wrote specifically on the topic of colour: “Taste should be manifested as to colors. Uniformity in this respect is desirable as convenient. Complexion, however, may be taken into account. Modest colors should be sought for. When figured material is used, figures that are large and fiery, showing vanity and shallow pride in those who choose them, should be avoided, and a fantastic taste in putting on different colors is bad.”  —CG p.420

Not like a Peacock

The principles we have been discussing extend into the topic of jewelry too. Ellen White also took up this topic with somewhat humourous, yet sensible, comments: “To dress plainly, and abstain from display of jewelry and ornaments of every kind is in keeping with our faith… I have seen a vanity in dress and a levity in conduct that have grieved the dear Saviour and have been a reproach to the cause of God. I have marked with pain your religious declension and your disposition to trim and ornament your apparel. Some have been so unfortunate as to come into possession of gold chains or pins, or both, and have shown bad taste in exhibiting them, making them conspicuous to attract attention. I can but associate these characters with the vain peacock, that displays his gorgeous feathers for admiration. It is all this poor bird has to attract attention, for his voice and form are anything but attractive… endeavor to excel in speaking for the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, a jewel of inestimable value that may be worn with heavenly grace.” —3T p.366,367

The spiritual parallel of ‘the jewel of inestimable value’ comes from Scripture itself in the story of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45,46). It refers to prioritising what is really of value. Many of us “do not realize the value of the pearl offered to them, and cast it away, rendering to their Redeemer only insult and mockery. Many a woman decks herself with rings and bracelets, thinking to gain admiration, but she refuses to accept the pearl of great price, which would secure for her sanctification, honor, and eternal riches. What an infatuation is upon the minds of many! They are more charmed with earthly baubles, which glitter and shine, than with the crown of immortal life, God's reward for loyalty. "Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number" (Jeremiah 2:32). — 1SM p.400

“To wear gold and artificial display will not recommend to others your religion or the truth that you profess. People of discernment will look upon your attempt to beautify the external as proof of weak minds and proud heart.” —3T p.376

In Scripture God speaks displeasingly about those who do themselves up to look good but despise Him, (Isaiah 3:16-21). Instead, we have the example that when in humility before God, the people put away their jewelry and ornaments. (Exodus 33:3-6)

Trinkets with Meaning

Jewelry is often linked with significant meaning, especially wedding rings and friendship bands. Ellen White picks up on this topic too, mentioning that “some have had a burden in regard to the wearing of a marriage ring… We need not wear the sign, for we are not untrue to our marriage vow, and the wearing of the ring would be no evidence that we were true. I feel deeply over this leavening process which seems to be going on among us, in the conformity to custom and fashion. Not one penny should be spent for a circlet of gold to testify that we are married.” Although she refers to it as conformity to custom and fashion, she again shows that principle is more important than rules: “In countries where the custom is imperative, we have no burden to condemn those who have their marriage ring; let them wear it if they can do so conscientiously.” —TM p.180,181

The Influence

It is easy to find excuses but this last passage speaks of the conscience as a factor. Part of this conscientiousness is the consideration of how my choices may affect others. “That ring encircling your finger may be very plain, but it is useless and the wearing of it has a wrong influence upon others.” —4T p.630

An example is given: “A sister… before accepting the truth, had followed the fashions of the world in her dress, and had worn costly jewelry and other ornaments; but upon deciding to obey the Word of God, she felt that its teachings required her to lay aside all extravagant and superfluous adorning… When she saw among those who profess the faith such a wide departure from Bible simplicity, she felt bewildered. Had they not the same Bible which she had been studying, and to which she had endeavored to conform her life?  We inquire, Is this in accordance with the teachings of Christ? Are we to follow the Word of God, or the customs of the world? Our sister decided that it was the safest to adhere to the Bible standard. Will... others who pursue a similar course be pleased to meet the result of their influence, in that day when every man shall receive according to his works? Conformity to the world is a sin which is sapping the spirituality of our people, and seriously interfering with their usefulness.” —Ev p.270,271

This and other quotations when discussing these topics, refer primarily to women, but in a society like we have today it would be advised to take a much broader view of these passages.

How about you?

Finally, the question must be asked: “Are you neglecting the inner adornment, and devoting probationary time to the decoration of your apparel? In this way you make it manifest that you do not appreciate the inward adorning of a meek and quiet spirit, which is of great price in the sight of God. Shall not those who believe present truth, cease from idolatry? Put away your idols, and humble your hearts before God.

“The church is weakened, her power is enfeebled, her influence is limited, because church-members fail to live in accordance with the directions of the Bible. The example of those who follow the fashions of the world has a disastrous effect upon other members of the church. Many seek to imitate the dress of those who go into extravagance on this matter. Those who cannot afford to make the display, feel that the contrast between their simplicity and the fashion of their sisters is too sharply defined. In seeking to make the contrast less striking, they conform to the world, and expend their little all on dress. They give time and effort to make an appearance which they consider more respectable, and often sacrifice health, happiness, and the favor of God for the sake of dressing as do others who are not following the directions of the word of God. Some of our sisters have been so sensitive over the contrast between their appearance and that of their more dressy sisters, that they have refused to come to church on the Sabbath day.” —RH June 2, 1891

Pretty strong counsel to say the least! But Scripture gives a good simple summary of the principles in 1 Peter 3:3-5: “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.”

Caution On How We Judge

You can’t talk about these topics without talking about judgment. Unfortunately “all the religion a few poor souls have consists in watching the garments and acts of others, and finding fault with them.” I love the way this quote finishes: “Unless they reform, there will be no place in heaven for them, for they would find fault with the Lord Himself.” —1T p.145. Instead if they were “to behold Christ in His loveliness; then they will be torn from everything that would draw their affections away from Him. This is the principle of the Saviour's dealing with men; it is the principle that must be brought into the church.” —6T p.54

May God keep you as you strive to reflect His principles in your life and appearance!

We realise this editorial does not cover anywhere near all the information on the subject, there is sufficient to realise the importance of the topic and we encourage you to prayerfully look at this topic in more depth yourself. The references we have provided are a good starting point and we have a great selection of other resources on the topic in our web store!