“Dress code” comes up a lot in Christian circles. What should the Christian woman wear? we ask, debating the inherent morality of yoga pants with the vehemence Luther once used to debate against indulgences and transubstantiation. Yet our (Christians’) concerns over what women should and shouldn’t wear is a reaction against the world’s horrendous treatment of the female body as ad-fodder or public property. The clothing and fashions marketed for women don’t measure up to our standards or our beliefs about women’s innate value, so what are we to do? How are we, as Christian women, to carry ourselves, dress ourselves as members of a culture so determined to objectify us?
The Bible doesn’t itemize a dress code. There’s no injunction against leggings or shorts or crop tops. In fact, specific garments other than headgear (jewelry, veils, and hairstyles) never come up at all. (I don’t consider Deuteronomy 22:5 to be a condemnation of women in pants because, frankly, nobody wore pants when Deuteronomy was written.) The Bible doesn’t list do’s or don’ts about what women should wear; it chooses rather to focus on how women should “clothe” their inner selves.
I found a testament to God’s perspective on women’s dignity and clothing in an unlikely location: I Peter 3:3-4. The verses stand out in the context of a discussion on the dynamic between Christian husbands and wives, a discussion belonging to a larger context in 1 Peter about how the church should operate in a culture opposed to Christ. In these verses, Peter makes the point that women have no reason to prioritize externals. Her dignity and beauty don’t depend on her uniform. While some have taken the verses as a command against jewelry or elaborate hairstyles, the verses merely intend to redirect the Christian woman’s priorities. There’s nothing wrong with looking nice or making an effort to look nice, but it’s more important to maintain “the imperishable quality of a meek and quiet spirit.”
That is not to say a woman should strive to become a mousey doormat. Quite the opposite. Gentleness and meekness are characteristics of Christ, who was far from mousey—he was Kingly. He was quiet-spirited and others-focused. A confident woman who rests in the knowledge of God’s grace knows that her worth doesn’t depend on her body, her beauty, her hair, her clothing, or even her talents.
Another verse, this time from the Old Testament, affirms feminine dignity separate from externals. One of the notorious “pink” passages, Proverbs 31, profiles the Wise Woman, or, more famously, the “Proverbs 31 Woman.” She’s no June Cleaver. She’s a business owner, physically strong and multi-skilled, who provides generously for her family and anyone else who sets foot in her house with the profits earned from her various industries. The passage says not a single word about what she wears other than the uniform described in verse 25: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.” Her clothing does not define her; the passage never mentions her face or figure, either (unless you count her strong arms). Quite the opposite; the passage measures her by the works of her hands and the strength of her character. The passage admits her worth is unquantifiable; she’s worth far more than jewels, at least (v. 10).
Yet I know my worth in the eyes of my heavenly Father rest in a quality that transcends how human beings tend to quantify the value of other human beings (appearance and utility). My worth is woven into the fabric of my essence by the Master-Weaver.
When God made human beings, He made them in his own image, after His own likeness (Gen. 5:1-2). I will leave in-depth explanations of what “the image of God” to better writers—there are plenty out there. Suffice it to say that because humans bear God’s image, we’re set apart from other creatures such as trees or dogs. We resemble Him in character and attribute the way children, though different from their parents, unmistakably resemble them. Passages like Psalm 139:13 suggest that God handcrafts each human being from the moment of conception. Not only are women made in the image of God, we are each works of His artistry. Author and theologian Carolyn Custis James condenses God’s definition of woman into the phrase “Image bearer; created in God’s image and likeness; called to be fruitful and multiply, to rule and subdue” (Gospel of Ruth, James 65). James adds that because woman bears God’s image, “any slight of her is a personal affront to God, an insult to His kingdom” (Gospel of Ruth, 65).
Therefore, I have confidence existing in a world that tries to boil me down to the sum of my parts by living in the knowledge that I am handcrafted by a loving God. I am more than my cup size or my waistline or my wardrobe or my hairstyle. I am more than my fertility or marital status. I am more than my intelligence or my talents or my taste. My value rests in the hands of my Creator, Whose image I bear, who weighs my essence against all the jewels in the world and declares my worth is far greater. He surrendered His own life for my sake. I am worth that much to Him.
God’s esteem for women makes the world’s treatment of them seem especially egregious. How dare we tell her she’s only good for that “one thing” all men are supposedly after? How dare we call a woman a burden because she hasn’t married? How dare we demean her for her struggle with infertility? How dare we reduce the strength of her character to the length of her skirt or the exposure of her shoulders?
How dare we devalue and debase those that the King of all creation surrendered His life to redeem?
I resolve to allow my knowledge of God’s design to inform my assumptions of other people and my own harsh judgement of myself. I am sometimes tempted to measure myself by the world’s unrealistic, objectifying standards. I fall short. Other women fall short. We will always fall short.
But in God’s eyes, we are priceless. Redeemed. Whole.