What the Way You Dress Tells About You
Helpful facts that young people want to know
“MERE man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Sam. 16:7) Since God looks at our heart, does it really matter what our outward appearance is like?
Yes, it does. Because, just as it is true that Jehovah sees the heart, it is also true that “man sees what appears to the eyes.” People are initially guided by what one’s outward appearance tells.
And, really, the way you dress can even tell something of what is in your heart. How is this?
WHAT THE WAY YOU DRESS REVEALS
When you were very small, your parents picked out your clothes for you. (Compare 1 Samuel 2:18, 19.) They probably combed your hair in a certain way for you also. But as you grew older they likely allowed you to have more to say about selecting clothing, as well as your hairstyle. The more your own choice came into play, the more the way you dressed reflected what you are like inside, your own personality. So, then, what does your dress tell about you?
Does it show you to be proud and vain, extremely style-conscious and wanting to “outshine” others? (Compare Isaiah 3:16-23.) Or does it show instead that you have a “don’t care” attitude about how you look, wearing sloppy clothing, with no thought of the effect it has on others?
Or—in between these two extremes—does your way of dress show you to be modest and considerate of others, while still manifesting good taste and intelligent choice in your clothing and other things having to do with your appearance? Really, what does your heart motivate you to do in all this?
Some young persons may complain that unless they ‘keep up with the styles’ they will make themselves conspicuous, appear “old-fashioned.” But there is always a happy medium or middle ground you can hold to, neither being “ultraconservative” nor very “mod.” Stop and think, too. Who benefits from your becoming very style-conscious? Basically, styles are set or at least encouraged by the commercial world. They have just one main interest: to make money. When you play into their hands you are not really benefiting yourself in any genuine or lasting way.
On the other hand, we should not want to become slovenly in our appearance. True, many persons have little money. They do not have much choice in what they can afford. But even then, if a person keeps his clothes neat and clean, this shows he has self-respect and a measure of dignity. It shows he is not guilty of a “don’t care” attitude. Generally this earns him increased respect from others.
A good rule to follow in all life’s affairs is found in the Bible at Romans 15:2: “Let each of us please his neighbor in what is good for his upbuilding.” Other people look at us more than we look at ourselves. Since that is so, should we not try to give them something they will find pleasant to look at? Not something that makes them feel inferior or self-conscious because of their own appearance, but something that shows we care about them and their feelings.
YOUR APPEARANCE CAN CONNECT YOU WITH OTHERS
The way you dress tells something about you in another way. It can identify you with a certain group or class. This was true even thousands of years ago, when the Bible was being written.
For example, in the book of Second Kings we read of messengers reporting back to King Ahaziah and telling of meeting a man who gave them a certain message. The king asked: “What was the appearance of the man?” When they described his garments, the king said immediately: “It was Elijah.” How did he know? Because Elijah wore the distinctive garment of a prophet.—2 Ki. 1:2, 7, 8; compare 2 Kings 2:13, 14; Matthew 3:4.
To be identified as a prophet was an honorable thing. But one’s dress could also link one up with that which is dishonorable. To attain a certain purpose, Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar took off garments identifying her as a widow and put on a shawl and veil and sat alongside the road. When Judah came along, the record says that “he at once took her for a harlot, because she had covered her face [with the veil].” Her dress gave her the appearance of a prostitute.—Gen. 38:13-15.
Today, just as back then, the way we dress can link us up with certain classes of persons, even though we may not practice what they practice or believe what they believe. People assume that we at least sympathize with the class of persons who dress that way. Can we blame them?
Manner of dress not only distinguishes policemen, firemen, or nurses; it also distinguishes people whose occupation is dishonorable. Today prostitutes seldom wear shawls or veils as they did in Canaan some three thousand years ago. However, their revealing, suggestive clothing now points even more plainly to the profession they practice. Among men, those who favor revolt or radical political action have their distinctive styles; so do many homosexuals.
Do we want to be linked up with any of these? And if we dress like them and have problems as a result—as when trying to get employment or in enjoying certain privileges in a Christian congregation—who is to blame?
WHAT SHOULD DETERMINE HAIRSTYLES
We cannot very well change the shape of our face or the size of our ears or the length of our neck. But our hair does allow for considerable arranging and control. It can contribute a lot toward an attractive appearance.
Hairdressing has a very ancient history. Down through the centuries, hairstyles have varied from country to country and from one period to another. Sometimes human pride has produced very extreme hairstyles. Back in the first century the apostles Paul and Peter found it necessary to counsel Christian women not to be extravagant or put too much importance on hairstyles. (1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:3) Today, however, many boys, by their very long hair and sideburns, draw most attention.
Did not men in Bible times generally wear their hair longer than is customary in most lands today? Undoubtedly they did. But something else is equally certain. What? That men’s hair was still consistently shorter than that of the women. That is why the apostle Paul could write to the congregation at Corinth, Greece, and say: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him; but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?” (1 Cor. 11:14, 15) How does “nature” teach us this?
Paul’s statement does not mean that men cannot grow long hair like a woman’s, for they can, and today quite a number do. Commenting on Paul’s use of the word “nature” here, Bible scholar Albert Barnes said: “The word . . . denotes evidently that sense of propriety which all men have . . . It is such as is demanded by the natural sense of fitness among men. . . . The word . . . refers to a deep internal sense of what is proper and right.”—Notes on the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, pp. 225, 226; see also Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 1207.
So people then recognized that it was the “natural” thing—the proper and fitting thing—for men to cut their hair to a moderate length, shorter than that of women. We, today, ought to recognize what is “natural” also. A man could let his fingernails grow to a length of several inches—but it is “natural” for him to cut them, since this makes it easier for him to pick things up and do work. A person could go without washing his hands or body for a year at a time—but the “natural” (as well as considerate and healthful) thing to do is to bathe more frequently. Even animals do this.
So, just because something is possible, that does not make it natural, according to the Bible’s definition. For a man or a boy to wear his hair so that he looks like a girl is still “contrary to nature.” It is typical of an age (and lands) where homosexuality is on the increase. And the Bible shows that homosexuality is also “contrary to nature,” both unfitting and detestable in God’s sight.—Rom. 1:26, 27.
Does this severely limit us? No, for just as with clothes, so with hairstyles there is a wide variety of ways of arranging one’s hair that are pleasing and attractive without being immodest or unnatural. There can still be refreshing variety without going beyond the bounds of what is right in God’s eyes.
WHAT ABOUT COSMETICS?
Are cosmetics also ruled out as unnatural? The Bible does not say so. Even as people use clothes not merely to cover the body but also to produce an attractive appearance, and just as the ancient Hebrews often used perfume to make their bodily presence more pleasant, so certain cosmetics, particularly ointments, were evidently used among the Hebrew women to combat dryness of skin and to improve their appearance.
What, then, should be the guide for young women today who want to do what brings God’s approval? They need to follow the good advice to do all things “with modesty and soundness [or, healthfulness] of mind,” letting the main 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.”—1 Tim. 2:9, 10; 1 Pet. 3:3, 4.
Of course, it is good for young girls to realize that cosmetics can often do more harm than good. They can ruin a good complexion or make a poor one worse. Besides this, cosmetics frequently mask the freshness of youth that is really of far greater beauty than the artificial effect cosmetics create.
Overuse of cosmetics by girls often only draws attention to weak points. Worse, it may prevent any beauty of personality (which is actually more attractive than good looks and far longer lasting) from showing through or being noticed. Overuse of cosmetics can pervert your personality in the eyes of others and, in time, can even tend to mold your personality into the cheapened image you thereby present.—Compare 2 Kings 9:30.
FOLLOWING RIGHT GUIDELINES
In God’s Word there are no specific rules on these things, but, instead, fine guidelines are provided. Young people should seek to get a balanced outlook, and the Bible will help them to do that.
Your parents have the natural right to set down supplementary guidelines. If the house you live in were painted with a wild or weird combination of colors, people would wonder if the head of the house (or his wife) had any sense. Or, if the house were neglected and became run down in appearance, they would have little respect for the house owner. You represent your parents even more than the house does. You bear their name and, just as what you do and say reflects on the training they give you and the kind of people they are, so does the way you look. More importantly, if you claim to be one of God’s servants you also represent him. Does your appearance fit your claim?
Think of Jesus’ words: “If you know these things, happy you are if you do them.” (John 13:17) Are you able to discern for yourself the sense of what the Bible counsels? Or are you the kind of person who always waits for someone else to tell him exactly what he should do? You can show you have real insight and strength of personality by putting the Bible’s counsel to work in your life. Then you will have the happiness of knowing that you are pleasing in the sight of God, his Son, and all who love and serve them.