Do My Clothes Reveal the Real Me?
“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. And perhaps you have been the center of a similar controversy when a parent, a teacher, or an employer criticized some outfit that you loved. You called it casual; they called it sloppy. You called it chic; they called it gaudy or suggestive.
Admittedly, tastes vary, and you do have a right to your opinions. But should this mean that ‘anything goes’ when it comes to how you dress?
The Right Message?
“What you wear,” says a girl named 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 even serve as a form of identification. Some youths use ripped clothing, punk styles, or expensive designer clothes as a type of trademark. Others use clothing to attract the opposite sex or to make themselves appear older than they really are.
It is thus easy to see why clothing is so important to many youths. However, John T. Molloy, author of Dress for Success, cautions: “The way we dress has a remarkable impact on the people we meet and greatly affects how they treat us.”
No wonder your parents are so concerned about how you dress! To them it is more than an issue of personal taste. They want you to send out the right message, one that projects you as a balanced, responsible person. Does the way you dress, however, accomplish this? What guides your selection of clothes?
“I Do Whatever My Friends Want to Do”
For many youths, clothing is a statement of their independence and individuality. But as a youth, your personality is still in a state of flux—still developing, still changing. So while you want to make a statement concerning yourself, you may not be too sure what that statement should say or how to say it. Some youths thus adorn themselves in bizarre, outrageous attire. Instead of establishing their ‘individuality,’ however, they are merely calling attention to their immaturity—not to mention embarrassing their parents.
Other youths simply choose to dress like their peers; it seems to give them a sense of security and identity with a group. Of course, it’s not necessarily wrong to want to blend in with people. (Compare 1 Corinthians 9:22.) But would a Christian really want to be identified with unbelieving youths? And 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.” But 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.
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.”—Adolescence: Transition From Childhood to Maturity.
But how qualified are your friends to give such advice? (Compare Matthew 15:14.) Are they not suffering the same emotional growing pains that you are? Is it wise, then, meekly to let them set your standards—even when such go against your common sense or the values and the wishes of your parents?
“In” Today—“Out” Tomorrow
Other youths are guided by the winds of fashion. But how temperamental those winds are! We are reminded of the Bible’s words: “The scene of this world is changing.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) What is “in” today can thus become obsolete tomorrow with astonishing (not to mention expensive) suddenness. Hemlines rise and fall, trouser legs flare and taper, all to the benefit of manufacturers and clothing designers who reap rich profits from an easily manipulated public.
Consider, for example, the designer-jean fad of a few years back. Jeans suddenly became high fashion. People paid extravagant prices to be walking billboards bearing such names as Calvin Klein and Gloria Vanderbilt. “People want a name,” explained Eli Kaplan, president of the company manufacturing “Sergio Valente” jeans. Who, though, is this Mr. Valente, whose prestigious name is so conspicuously sewn on jeans’ pockets? “He doesn’t exist,” reported Newsweek. And in explanation Kaplan himself asked: “Who was going to buy Eli Kaplan jeans?”
‘But is it wrong to be in style?’ you might ask. Not necessarily. Servants of God in Bible times attired themselves according to local tastes. For example, the Bible says that Tamar wore a striped robe, “for that was the way the daughters of the king, the virgins, used to dress” in those days.—2 Samuel 13:18.
But should one be enslaved to style? One young girl lamented: “You see in a store a great pair of pants that everybody else has and you say, ‘Mom, get me those pants,’ and she says, ‘No, I can make them at home.’ I say, ‘But you don’t understand. I want these pants.’” Really, though, doesn’t your being a pawn of fashion designers strip you of your individuality and obscure the real you? Why should you be controlled by provocative ads, slogans, and designer names?
The Bible tells us at Romans 12:2: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” What is the ‘acceptable will of God’ when it comes to your choice of clothing?
‘Modest and Well Arranged’
First Timothy 2:9 encourages Christians to “adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind.” “Well-arranged dress” would naturally be neat and clean. “Modesty” takes circumstances into consideration. A well-tailored suit may be appropriate for a job, but it is out of place at the beach! Conversely, a swimsuit would be considered ludicrous in an office.
Young witnesses of Jehovah would thus be concerned that what they wear at Christian meetings or in the work of preaching to others is not overly casual but identifies them as young ministers of God. Recall Paul’s words at 2 Corinthians 6:3, 4: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers.”
Modesty also takes into consideration the feelings of others. As the apostle Paul put it, a Christian’s actions should take into account not only his own conscience “but that of the other person.” (1 Corinthians 10:29) Should you not be particularly concerned with the conscience of your parents?
The Benefits of Dressing Appropriately
The Bible tells of a time when Queen Esther needed to appear before her husband, the king. However, such an unbidden appearance could be a capital offense! No doubt Esther fervently prayed for God’s help. But she also paid attention to her appearance by “dressing up royally”—in a manner suitable for the occasion! And “as soon as the king saw Esther the queen standing in the courtyard, she gained favor in his eyes.”—Esther 5:1, 2.
Your being dressed in an attractive but modest manner might help you to make a good impression at a job interview. Vicki L. Baum, director of a Career Development Center, observes: “Some women get confused when they go for an interview. They think it’s like going on a date, and they look seductive.” The results? “It takes away from your professionalism.” She advises against wearing “things that are tight or suggestive.”
Young men, too, should strive to wear well-arranged clothing when job hunting. John T. Molloy notes that businessmen “have their hair combed and their shoes shined. And they expect the same of other men.”
Immodest attire, though, can damage your relationships with others. Psychology Today referred to a survey taken among adolescents that showed that “a lowcut top, shorts, tight jeans, or no bra” would likely be interpreted by males as a sexual come-on. One young man confessed: “I personally find it rather hard to think only pure thoughts about younger women when I see the way they dress.” Modest attire allows people to appreciate your inner qualities. If you’re not sure a certain outfit is modest, ask your parents for advice.
Dressing Up “the Inner Man”
The apostle Peter encouraged Christians to let their adornment be “the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God”—yes, and in the eyes of others! (1 Peter 3:4) Fashionable dress may dazzle some of your peers. But clothes do not win hearts or make real friends. This is accomplished by dressing up “the inner man”—working on the person you are inside. (2 Corinthians 4:16, The Jerusalem Bible) A person who is inwardly beautiful will always be attractive to others, even if his or her clothes are not the latest style or “tattooed” with silly designer labels.
Who knows what fad will next send youths stampeding into the stores. You, however, can think for yourself. Hold to high standards of dress. Avoid faddish attire and clothes that stress sexuality. Be on the conservative side, not being the first—nor necessarily the last—to jump on the fashion bandwagon. Look for quality garments that will last—not quickly drop out of fashion. Be sure that your clothes send out the right message, displaying, not some image conjured up by the media or peers, but the real you!
Questions for Discussion
□ How does clothing send out a message?
□ Why do some youths lean toward the bizarre in their choice of clothes?
□ How much are you influenced by your peers when it comes to choice of clothing?
□ What are some disadvantages of always trying to be in style?
□ What determines if a style is ‘modest and well arranged’?
[Blurb on page 94]
“What you wear is really who you are and how you feel about yourself”
[Picture on page 91]
Parents often clash with their children over what they wear. Are the parents simply being old-fashioned?
[Picture on page 92]
Many youths try to assert their individuality through outlandish attire
[Pictures on page 93]
Dress in a manner appropriate to the circumstances. Clothing sends out a message about you!