Naked and ashamed—that’s what they were. Eve bit into the proverbial apple, and Adam followed suit. Their eyes were opened, and the view was not entirely pleasant. In a pinch, they used fig leaves, not Abercrombie & Fitch. And when God showed up in the Garden, it was time to turn tail and hide in the bushes. Where are you? God inquired. I heard you and hid because I was naked and therefore afraid, Adam replied.
Then the remarkable happened. God made clothes: he replaced the fig leaves with garments of animal skin. Adam and Eve made the first fashion statement in human history.
And what was that statement? When the first couple put on suits of animal skin, their attire spoke volumes. Their wearing of clothes testified loudly to the new order of things. After Adam and Eve sinned, there was, in fact, much of which to be ashamed. Sin tainted the image of God in Adam and Eve. They were no longer comfortable without clothes. Now there was a gap between who they were created to be and who they really were. The first couple was alienated—alienated from their God and alienated from each other. Naked and ashamed. Certain body parts now needed to be covered, and God himself made the clothes. When Adam and Eve paraded through the garden wearing their new outfits, their attire testified both to the grace of God and to the wages of sin. Animals had to die because of Adam’s sin. Clothes, by God’s design, are important for what they conceal: they cover the shame, the nakedness, the sheer embarrassment of God’s children.
And now, a few thousand or tens of thousands of years later, we have to decide what to wear on Monday morning—and how far from the Garden we’ve come! Our fashion designers have reversed God’s gracious purpose for clothing. Clothes, particularly for women, become important not for what they conceal, but for what they reveal. For the most part, women’s clothes are designed to draw attention to her body. The right clothes let her “strut her stuff.” They let her show what she’s got. Little is concealed; little is left to the imagination. Roxy is emblazoned across her bathing suit bottom. Can you handle this? is scrawled across the front of her T-shirt. Can anyone argue that what is “fashionable” is synonymous with that which titillates and stimulates?
Of course there is a rub for those who take their discipleship seriously. Speaking through the apostles, God calls for Christian women to dress with modesty and simplicity (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:4-5) while our society pushes on us clothes designed to highlight every curve and to stimulate everyone with eyes. Perhaps this issue is more difficult for women than for men. And, perhaps again, this is more difficult still for young women than for those who are older. And perhaps you think me a little crazy? Maybe you are thinking, “Are you really saying, Reed, that I shouldn’t dress like everyone else at school or at work? I’m nineteen years old; I’m in my prime. Are you really suggesting I should cover up?”
I’m saying two things. First, we should take God’s instruction seriously. When God enjoins us to dress modestly, he means it and he means it for our own good (more on that below). Second, I’m saying that we should think about joining the modesty movement that seems to be growing in the Western world.
Are you familiar with the growing body of literature and the growing numbers of women in our country who are beginning to say no to immodesty? Wearing clothes that actually fit and are not three sizes too small seems to be gaining support from considerable segments of our population. Consider the following:
• Wendy Shalit’s Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to Be Good is selling nicely and creating a stir among feminist columnists because the author has the nerve to advocate dressing modestly and waiting until marriage for sex.
• Carol Platt Liebau’s Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!) says it all in the title.
• The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has made a startling discovery. According to its survey, twice as many adults as teens answered yes to the question, “Do you think it is embarrassing for teens to admit they are virgins?” Could we be on the leading edge of a cultural return to virginity?
• The Anscombe Society at Princeton University is named after Gertrude Anscombe, a philosopher at Cambridge University. During the last century, she argued on philosophical grounds that all sex is profoundly significant. There is no such thing as casual sex, because sex is inextricably tied to “the transmission of human life.” The Anscombe Society’s Web site makes a case for modesty and chastity that doesn’t rely on Scripture or even on a belief in God. The society is growing at Princeton, and other chapters are springing up in various universities.
• Harvard College is the home of an organization called The True Love Revolution, which promotes premarital sexual abstinence as a positive lifestyle alternative for personal, spiritual, and health reasons.
• Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield has made something of a splash with his book Manliness, where he also argues for a return to modesty. Women, he writes, play the men’s game, which they are bound to lose. Without modesty, there is no romance—[immodesty] isn’t so attractive or so erotic [to men].
Perhaps there is a fresh wind of modesty blowing across our ever-coarsening cultural landscape. Perhaps, almost four decades after the sexual revolution, we are having second thoughts—and disciples of Christ should be among the first to say, Amen! Immodesty in our dress and promiscuity in our behavior aren’t good for anyone. Immodest fashion encourages young girls to try to look as if they are twenty-four, and it makes older women feel bad that they don’t look fourteen. Furthermore, when women dress to titillate and when their clothes clearly advertise what is underneath, they are preying on men’s vulnerability to lust. Yes, we men are responsible for the second look, but why should the fairer sex make things so difficult for the male of the species? And why should the woman who has the body that our advertisers deem perfect make women with less perfect bodies feel bad about themselves?
A return to modesty? Let’s hope so. And let those of us who worship the King have the courage to dress accordingly.