Young People Ask . . .
Does It Really Matter What I Wear?
“IT’S not too short,” Peggy cried to her parents. “You’re just being old-fashioned!” Off she ran to her room—the grand finale to a quarrel over a skirt she wanted to wear.
Perhaps you have been the center of such a controversy. A parent, a teacher or an employer may have criticized an outfit that you loved. You called it casual; they called it sloppy. You called it chic; they called it gaudy and suggestive.
“That’s unfair,” you say. “I’m entitled to my opinion.” And indeed you are. Why, throughout the world, attitudes toward dress vary greatly. Even your peers may clash when it comes to clothes. The hippie-style youth of the 1960’s may no longer be typical of young people in your area. A U.S. newspaper reports that “after decades of pushing for more lenient standards of dress and personal grooming, students are toning down what they wear and . . . growing more conservative.”
A group of youths confirmed that while some still “come to school with ripped-up clothing,” many come neatly dressed. In some areas it is in vogue to come all dressed up. “You can come to school looking any way you want,” said one youth, “and it’s accepted.”
So does it really matter how you dress? Are parents being unreasonable when they object to certain styles? These are valid questions. First, however, let’s explore youthful attitudes toward clothing.
A Means of Self-Expression
“What you wear,” says 12-year-old Pam, “is really who you are and how you feel about yourself.” Yes, clothing sends out a message, a statement to others about you. Clothing can whisper conscientiousness, stability, high moral standards. Or it can shout rebellion and discontent. It can mark you as trustworthy or, without your realizing it, brand you as worthless.
In Bible times, clothing identified different types of people. Solomon, for example, looked out the window one day and immediately recognized a woman as a prostitute! He recognized her clothing as “the garment of a prostitute.” (Proverbs 7:6-10) No self-respecting woman dressed that way.
Similarly, the Bible shows that when people were sad they appropriately wore “garments of mourning.” (2 Samuel 14:2) Prominence-seeking religious leaders were easily recognized by their distinctive long robes. And Jesus condemned them for calling attention to themselves in this way.—Luke 20:46.
Also, today you will often be judged (fair or unfair, right or wrong) on the basis of how you dress and groom yourself. Your parents may, therefore, rightly object to your wearing certain styles; to them it is more than an issue of personal taste. They want you to send out the right “message”—one that truly reflects your personality. So you may disagree with your parents over style. Nevertheless, you may be very anxious about your dress. Have you ever wondered why?
Probably it is because the teen years can be a time of such emotional turmoil. In so short a time your physical appearance changes from that of child to budding adult. Though people may treat you a little differently, you may still have some of the “traits of a babe” to wrestle with. (1 Corinthians 13:11) At times you nearly explode with new feelings, urges and desires. Through trial and error you try to discover just who you are. Restless, impatient, eager to explore, you try hard to juggle these new emotions. “Relax,” your parents say, “these are the normal agonies of growing up.”
Still, you may feel uncomfortable as a semiadult. While some youths enjoy their new adult form, others feel awkward and unattractive. Either way it’s easy to become self-conscious, obsessed with your personal appearance.
This is part of the reason why clothing is so important to many youths. Clothing is their symbol of independence and individuality. The only problem is that, as a youth, your personality is still in a state of flux, still developing, still changing. You want to make a statement concerning your individuality, but you may not be too sure either what that statement should say or how to say it.
“I Do Whatever My Friends Want to Do”
No wonder some youths cling to their peers for support. Dressing like and talking like their friends seem to give some of them a sense of identity. Of course, it is not necessarily wrong to want to blend in with people. The apostle Paul said: “I have become all things to people of all sorts.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) He was adaptable. But is it wise to seek peer approval at any cost?
One young girl confessed: “I do whatever my friends want to do just so they won’t say something.” What do you call someone who is at the beck and call of someone else, who gives in to someone else’s whim and fancy? The Bible answers: “Do you not know that if you keep presenting yourselves to anyone . . . to obey him, you are slaves of him because you obey him?”—Romans 6:16.
The authors of Adolescence: Transition From Childhood to Maturity studied the results of research done among young people. They concluded that among young people “the emphasis on compliance can become so strong that group members almost seem to be prisoners of group norms, depending on them [their peers] for advice on how to dress, how to talk, what to do, and even what to think and believe.” While this may not be true of you, you probably know youths who really have become “slaves” to their peers.
But when you think of it, are not your friends suffering the same emotional growing pains that you are? Are they really qualified to ‘guide’ you? (See Matthew 15:14.) Is it wise meekly to follow standards set by others, even when they go against your own common sense, values and the wishes of your parents?
The Best Kind of “Clothes”
You may, however, resent the implication that you dress merely to please your friends. Sharon, a teenage youth, asserts: “These days young people dress for themselves. They want to be individuals.” That may be true in your case.
Nevertheless, some, in their quest for individuality, feel compelled to create an “image” by means of their clothing. They may pride themselves on creating novel ways of self-expression, even at the cost of embarrassing their parents.
The Bible, however, suggests self-expression by means of a different kind of “clothing.” “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.” (Colossians 3:12) Fashionable dress may dazzle your friends, even cause them to admire your individuality. But clothes do not win hearts—or good friends. What does?
Jesus, who had many loyal friends, said invitingly: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, . . . for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:28, 29) Christ wore the best kind of “clothing,” qualities such as compassion and kindness that made him irresistibly attractive to many. So can you! By working primarily on the person you are inside you not only express your individuality but also make loyal friends.
You can start with a thorough study and application of the principles of the Bible. In this way you build up the “inner man”; you gain depth and self-confidence. (2 Corinthians 4:16, The Jerusalem Bible) Your sojourn through youth will be far less rocky as a result. By following the Bible’s guidelines, you’ll also be far better equipped to decide how best to clothe the person you are outside. Jehovah’s Witnesses are pleased to help you begin such an examination of God’s Word.
Still, you may wonder, what are the Bible’s standards for dress and grooming? Is it safe to follow the styles of today? And how can clothing reflect this spiritual “inner man” you want to develop? These are questions we will consider in a future issue.
[Blurb on page 14]
“These days young people dress for themselves,” says one teenage youth. “They want to be individuals”
[Picture on page 13]
Clothing sends out a message about you!
[Picture on page 15]
Concentrate your efforts on developing the person you are inside