Nora Allison is the wife of Dr. Gregg Allison, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. They have three grown children, Lauren, Hanell, and Luke and five, soon to be six, grandchildren. She co-leads the Women’s Ministry and is the East Campus Women's Director at Sojourn Community Church.
“. . . Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10
What Should I Wear?
I work at trying to understand and apply the Bible so that it is lived out in my life. So, in reading 1 Timothy 2:9-10 which clearly talks about women’s apparel, what should I wear? At first glance, I’d get rid of any gold or pearls and my one (mother-of-the-bride) dress that I would deem as “costly.” I can twist my hair in a clip as long as I don’t braid it and I can wear. . .good works. That would be embarrassing.
I love that God is deep enough so that we can’t simply understand this in a do’s and don'ts list kind of way (as in: modesty = no hemlines more than three inches above the knees, no cleavage, etc.) He requires us to read thoughtfully and think carefully in order to get what he is trying to say to us.
God says we are to wear “respectable apparel.” This is obviously totally relative and subjective to us:
Respectable to you isn’t necessarily respectable to me. Who decides what is respectable? Somehow my female counterpart in the Indigenous Afar Tribe of East Africa can understand and obey God in this while still topless. I can’t. (And neither can you!) But, this is apparently not relative and subjective to God. He’s doing something more important and foundational here than giving us a cultural dress code.
Respectable apparel is not first and foremost about the apparel, but is about the respectable character of the one wearing it. Proper clothing for us as women starts on the inside with our proper understanding of who made us and why. Similar to our verses in 1 Timothy, 1 Peter 3:3 instructs us to “let not your adorning be external—the braiding of the hair, the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with an imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which in God’s sight is very precious.” And Proverbs 31:25 explains that an excellent woman’s clothing is “strength and dignity.”
So “respectable” for Christian women is initially about revealing rather than covering up. We are to reveal the God who created us female. We are to reveal his Spirit who inhabits our hearts. We are to reveal his sovereign care for us through our fearless trust. We are to reveal the inner strength and dignity that he supplies. We are to reveal his character by carrying out the good works he has planned for us to do. We can even reveal his creativity with a varied wardrobe and vibrant colors!
We are most modest when God is most revealed in us.
Then, what’s up with the braided hair, gold, pearls, and costly attire? The point isn’t that all braids are bad and all gold and pearls are bad. . . in that case, all clothing would also be bad! The point is that in the first century (not unlike today) a great deal of attention and preoccupation by women was put on elaborate and expensive clothing. Their outward appearance was a testament to their position in life, to their feminine appeal, to their status. What God is telling us through Paul and Peter is what he wants to be a testament to our position in life as his daughters. It’s not our clothing or accessories; it’s our godly character, our good works, our gentle and quiet spirits that are precious to him.
How we “adorn our hearts” is what matters to God; beyond that, he gives us a lot of latitude in exactly what our outward adornment looks like. He doesn’t dictate what we should wear. A bohemian skirt and a tailored suit and jeans with a t-shirt covering a godly woman full of good works are equally pleasing to God. BUT, it is very possible and too often the case, by our dress and accessories—to detract from all the imperishable beauty he is at work to develop in us.
So, what should we wear?
When God created us female, he chose our wardrobe: an internal one of strength and dignity, kindness and gentleness and an external one of modesty, self-control, humility and good works.
Thus, we must spend the bulk of our time, our resources and our energies growing in our knowledge of God and how to please him. And then we must consciously wear what is modest and demonstrates self-control. We put on what best reveals our God and the good works he prepared for us to walk in.
We avoid clothing that tries to attract attention to our bodies rather than our hearts or causes our brothers to stumble. We wear what is appropriate for women who are at work for God.
So to answer our “what should we wear?” question, I am going to try to be godly and not tell you what to wear either. . . but I would challenge you to ask yourselves some questions as you dress:
What or who do you think about when you’re deciding what to wear?
Who are you trying to draw attention to when you look in the mirror?
What are your clothes saying about who you belong to and who you are serving?
Do your clothes reveal more of you or more of God?