The Bible’s Viewpoint
Your Dress and Grooming—Does It Matter to God?
“As the index tells the contents of the book, . . . even so do the outward habit and garments, in man or woman, give us a taste of the spirit.”—English playwright Philip Massinger.
IN THE third century C.E., church writer Titus Clemens drew up a long list of rules governing dress and grooming. Ornaments and luxurious or colorful fabrics were prohibited. Women were not to dye their hair nor to “smear their faces with the ensnaring devices of wily cunning,” that is, “painting the face.” Men were instructed to shave the hair on their heads because “a cropped head . . . shows a man to be grave,” but the hair on the chin was not to be disturbed, for it “lends to the face dignity and paternal terror.”a
Centuries later Protestant leader John Calvin enacted laws specifying the color and type of clothing his followers might wear. Jewelry and lace were frowned upon, and a woman could be jailed for arranging her hair to an “immoral height.”
Such radical viewpoints, espoused by religious leaders over the years, have caused many sincere individuals to wonder, Does it really matter to God what I wear? Does he disapprove of certain fashions or the use of makeup? What does the Bible teach?
A Personal Matter
Interestingly, as recorded at John 8:31, 32, Jesus said to his disciples: “If you remain in my word, . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Yes, the truths taught by Jesus were intended to liberate people from the oppressive burdens created by tradition and false teachings. They were designed to refresh those “toiling and loaded down.” (Matthew 11:28) Neither Jesus nor his Father, Jehovah God, has any desire to control people’s lives to the extent that individuals can no longer take initiative and exercise their own reasoning on personal matters. Jehovah wants them to become mature people who “through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Hebrews 5:14.
Thus, the Bible provides no detailed laws governing dress and grooming or the use of cosmetics, other than some specific clothing requirements imposed on the Jews by the Mosaic Law, which were intended to help them keep separate from the surrounding nations and their immoral influence. (Numbers 15:38-41; Deuteronomy 22:5) Within the Christian arrangement, dress and grooming are basically a matter of personal taste.
That is not to suggest, however, that God is indifferent to what we wear or that ‘anything goes.’ On the contrary, the Bible contains reasonable guidelines that reflect God’s viewpoint on dress and grooming.
“With Modesty and Soundness of Mind”
The apostle Paul wrote that Christian women should “adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind, not with styles of hair braiding and gold or pearls or very expensive garb.” Similarly, Peter counsels against “the external braiding of the hair and of the putting on of gold ornaments.”—1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3.
Are Peter and Paul indicating that Christian women and men should avoid enhancing their appearance? Not at all! In fact, the Bible mentions faithful men and women who used jewelry or cosmetic oils and perfumes. Before her audience with King Ahasuerus, Esther underwent an extensive beauty regimen involving perfumed oils and massage. And Joseph was clothed with garments of fine linen and a necklace of gold.—Genesis 41:42; Exodus 32:2, 3; Esther 2:7, 12, 15.
The phrase “soundness of mind,” as used by Paul, helps us to understand the admonition. The original Greek word denotes being temperate and self-controlled. It implies thinking of oneself soberly, not drawing undue attention. Other Bible translations render this word as “discreetly,” “sensibly,” “refined,” or “with self-restraint.” This quality is an important requirement for Christian elders.—1 Timothy 3:2.
So, in telling us that our dress and grooming should be modest and well arranged, the Scriptures encourage us to avoid any extreme styles that would offend others and bring reproach upon our reputation and that of the Christian congregation. Rather than drawing attention to their appearance through physical adornment, those professing reverence for God should display soundness of mind and put the emphasis on “the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit.” This, Peter concludes, “is of great value in the eyes of God.”—1 Peter 3:4.
Christians are “a theatrical spectacle to the world.” They need to be aware of the impression that they give to others, especially in light of the mandate they have to preach the good news. (1 Corinthians 4:9; Matthew 24:14) They would therefore not want to let anything, including their appearance, distract others from listening to that vital message.—2 Corinthians 4:2.
While styles vary widely from one place to another, the Bible offers individuals clear, reasonable guidelines that enable them to choose wisely. As long as people adhere to these principles, God freely and lovingly allows all to express personal taste in their dress and grooming.
a An attempt was made to bolster these interdictions by twisting the Scriptures. Though the Bible says no such thing, the influential theologian Tertullian taught that since a woman was the cause “of the first sin, and the odium . . . of human perdition,” women should walk “about as Eve mourning and repentant.” In fact, he insisted that a naturally beautiful woman should even go so far as to hide her beauty.—Compare Romans 5:12-14; 1 Timothy 2:13, 14.