In an age of fast fashion and overconsumption, we might be tempted to view our clothes as devoid of value or spiritual insight. Perhaps we even view our clothes as disposable. But scripture suggests our clothes can reflect spiritual and ethical realities, bearing wisdom throughout the Abrahamic faith traditions.
The following passages encourage believers to consider the deeper meanings of clothing. These passages offer spiritual insight into our own wardrobes.
Genesis 3:21: “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife and clothed them.”
When I first think of clothing in the Bible, my mind instantly goes to the Garden of Eden. I think of how Adam and Eve scrambled to dress themselves, opting for fig leaves. The first couple clothed themselves in natural materials because of their shame. How do the garments we clothe ourselves in today bear resemblance to the clothes in this narrative?
In Genesis 3:21, God fashions more suitable clothing for Adam and Eve using skin as garments — an act that should invigorate our understanding of clothes. In her book Wearing God, theologian and associate professor of Christian spirituality at Duke Divinity School Lauren F. Winner notes that some scholars dispute the kinds of skins used. Did God clothe Adam and Eve in animal skins or in their own skin? Regardless of the interpretation, what remains constant is that God clothed the couple. Winner suggests that by clothing them, God demonstrates more than the shame of nudity: “Perhaps God’s dressing Adam and Eve does not speak to anything other than God’s care.” God, then, clothes Adam and Eve for their earthly journey, shrouding them in loving care.
Deuteronomy 22:11: “You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together.”
The Old Testament stipulates that wearing garments of blended fabric, also known as shatnez, is prohibited by Jewish law (Leviticus 19:19). This rule, admits Rabbi Joseph S. Ozarowski, seems to defy rational observation, as most clothing is made of more than one fabric. Observant Jews, he says, “accept it on faith as God’s words.”
Today, blended fabrics present a shocking environmental cost, that should move contemporary wearers to consider “greener” options. Many of the clothes we purchase and wear today are made of two or more kinds of fabric. It’s more cost-effective for clothing brands — but blended fabric bears a jarring environmental cost.
Though we may not pay much attention to the fiber content of our garments, recycling blended clothes is difficult and nearly impossible to execute. Blended fabrics make sustainability in fashion complex and costly. I am compelled by the thought that God calls us to avoid blended fabric to show regard for the planet. Eco-conscious Christians should consider purchasing garments of a single fabric.
1 Timothy 2:9: “… also that the women should dress themselves in moderate clothing with reverence and self-control, not with their hair braided or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes …”
Bible studies and online discussions are dominated by questions of women’s clothing and modesty requirements. These discussions not only prove unproductive and sexist but also fail to address the economic and social dimensions of attire. In this passage, Paul exhorts women of faith to dress in ways that exude modesty. But the modesty that Paul upholds here is economic and social in nature. He urges Christian women to eschew lavish displays of wealth, to swap sartorial showboating for humility.
Paul’s words challenge Christians today to resist the allure of conspicuous consumption, reminding us that lavish goods generate a desire to show off.
1 Peter 3:4: “… rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.”
Self-expression is a gift to the self. We may use garments and other fineries to “prove” our worthiness to our peers, but God sees through our fancy wardrobe and our worn disguises, encountering our hearts in their truest form (1 Samuel 16:7).
This Petrine passage urges the faithful to cease using clothing as an easy disguise. We cannot lean on our clothes, or other wares, to maintain an illusion of beauty and reputation. We must do the difficult work of character building, which requires greater attention to our habits, desires, and priorities.
Galatians 3:26-27: “… for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
In Galatians, Paul makes use of clothing imagery to explain what it means to be Christian. New Testament scholar Jung Hoon Kim writes in The Significance of Clothing Imagery in the Pauline Corpus that just as “a garment reveals its wearer’s character, so Christ reveals a Christian’s character.” To be baptized is to wear Christ; and when Christ is worn like a garment by Christians, his life and ministry adorn every aspect of their lives.
Ephesians 6:10-18: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God …”
Paul writes in Ephesians that Christians should wear the full armor of God (6:10-18). Each adornment communicates the mores of faith and the virtuous commitments believers should aspire to uphold. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes grounding the wearer in the gospel of peace, and the other armor pieces bespeak deeper, spiritual realities. Paul’s belt of truth reminds me of the exhortation to gird ourselves with strength (Proverbs 31:17). A girdle, as a belt, prepares us for action and steadies us in the truth of God’s word. The shoes of peace ground us amid the chaos of our world, quelling our fears with each step. And the breastplate guards our heart, while also guiding it toward virtuous ends.
Our garments do more than protect us from the world’s woes — they also enable us to amplify our commitments. To wear clothes, then, is to convey one’s spiritual, social, and even ethical priorities.
Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
Both Paul and Peter understand the act of dressing oneself as more than skin-deep (1 Peter 5:5). Believers not only wear Christ but also wear Christ-like attributes. Christians, then, should strive to “wear” virtues visibly when they interact with friends and strangers each day, through good acts and deeds.
Today, believers can strive to keep their priorities consistent with their dress. Before purchasing a Jesus T-shirt, wearers should consider if the garment was made under safe and fair working conditions. Believers can use their voice to pressure beloved clothing brands to respect the dignity of garment workers, through living wages and good working conditions. Believers can also wear clothes that reflect the dignity of the earth, choosing clothes from eco-conscious brands, or just by buying second-hand.
Luke 3:11: “... ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none’ …”
Luke highlights the need to give to those in need. In doing so, we follow the call to clothe the naked.
Luke’s message poses another challenge to our culture of excess. Spring cleaning often fills us with sorrow at all that we have accumulated, wasted, and now seek to discard. So to counterbalance our impulse to accumulate, we give away our excess. It is good to give. But it is also good to resist accumulating things and then donating them to moralize our disordered consumption patterns. Otherwise, our clothing donations end up countries away, polluting the lands and livelihoods of the vulnerable.
When our clothes have outgrown us, literally or metaphorically, we should endeavor to give in ways that address needs in our communities.
These passages gesture toward the dynamic meanings behind our clothes, in their literal form and symbolic usage. Today, clothing and clothing consumption present humanitarian and environmental challenges. When responding to the spiritual and ethical challenges posed by contemporary dress, Christians should start by taking their clothes seriously.