By Ruth Rieder
Moral decay is rampant, and the spirit of sensuality holds sway in our society. Nudity has become commonplace as the fashion industry systematically churns out provocative apparel that seduces and appeals to the lust of the flesh. What would have been deemed scandalous attire a few, short years ago is now run-of-the-mill. How did this come about?
The process of desensitization did not happen in one days’ time. It has taken over two centuries to demolish the walls of conservatism in clothing. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, apparel remained modest for both men and women. Styles changed from time to time, but skirts stayed ankle or floor length for women. A woman who showed her ankles was considered a loose woman.
Men’s and women’s clothing continued to show marked distinction in their characteristics. Women always wore dresses while men wore trousers. It was unthinkable to even conceive of a woman’s wearing men’s attire. Nevertheless, in 1850 the first assault was made on the conventional dress code as feminists dared to wear trousers beneath short dresses. These garments were dubbed “bloomers” after feminist editor Amelia Bloomer. America was not quite ready for such a radical departure from traditional values, and a public outcry ensued. For the time being, Turkish trousers on women remained unacceptable; however, the idea had been broached. Next time, people would not be so violently opposed.
In 1890 Charles Dana Gibson, a cartoonist, created the likeness of a beautiful woman that epitomized the Victorian feminine ideal. An all-American icon, the “Gibson Girl” would retain popularity for over twenty years. During the same decade, another attempt was made to introduce more masculine clothing for women. The new fashion designed for female bicyclists was called the “divided skirt”. Public outrage was not as great over this tangent, and eventually the style was generally accepted.
Skirts remained long and hats large though makeup was virtually nonexistent at the onset of the twentieth century. Fashions were relatively unchanged until the revolution and rebellion of the Roaring Twenties. Several factors contributed to the fanatical deviation from previous feminine behavior and attire.
First, “actresses and professional beauties were no longer seen as women of questionable morality, but rather as celebrities and stars.”‘ Women began to emulate their makeup, hairstyles, and fashions. They imitated women such as “Vampire” Theda Bara, the original sex goddess, who seduced and ruined men. She was famous for her seductive clothing, hypnotic kohl-rimmed eyes, and heavy barbaric looking jewelry. Actors and actresses heavily influenced behavior and fashions. This trend would persist with the onset of Hollywood and larger than life movie stars.
The passage of women’s suffrage also had a terrific bearing on the female mind-set. Suddenly liberated from all former political restraints, women began casting their votes. Unfortunately, they cast aside their morals and virtues as well. The “flapper” openly necked in parked cars, smoked cigarettes, and danced the night away in roadhouses.
Another agent of change was the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Women painted their faces and cut their hair as they copied the fashions of Egypt. They wore Egyptian style tunics, slave bracelets, and serpent headbands. Ironically, in their quest for freedom, they actually adopted clothing that symbolized bondage.
Finally, the fourth major factor that contributed to moral demise was the First World War. “During the war years, fashions remained conservative, though skirts rose slowly from floor level to just above the ankle, easing the life of the many women now working outside the home or serving as nurses or members of the auxiliary corps. After peace broke out hems continued to rise rapidly.”2 Women seemed driven to break away completely from all former traditions as they bobbed their hair, wore short dresses, and openly painted their faces. Along with these revolutionary changes came the wearing of pants and shorts. The seeds that had been sown seventy years earlier with the introduction of “bloomers” finally blossomed into maturity.
The 1930s brought back longer skirts; however, another style was introduced at this time that would have a great bearing on future fashions. It was called the “cut up” skirt. Actresses such as blonde bombshell Jean Harlow, a famous sex symbol during the ’30s, wore these cuts or “slits” to underscore her sex appeal. Clothing would never return to former levels of modesty as the ’40s and ’50s followed the fashion trends that were started in the ’20s—short skirts, heavy makeup, and cut hair. During World War II, trousers became totally acceptable as a form of feminine attire while women progressed further in their quest for liberation and equality with men. Subsequent decades would reap a harvest of moral destruction from the seeds sown many years earlier.
The fashions of the ’20s came full circle in the ’60s, but this time the desensitizing process allowed for greater excess in nudity and sensuality. The ’20s flapper with her mannish figure bobbed her hair, had kohl-rimmed eyes, and wore knee grazing dresses. The ’60s ideal, embodied in Twiggy’s boyish looks and stick thin figure, also had bobbed hair and kohl-rimmed eyes. However, she took clothing to a new level of immodesty with the inception of the miniskirt. While the flappers openly necked in parked cars, smoked cigarettes, and danced the night away in roadhouses, the children of the ’60s and ’70s would become involved with psychedelic drugs, marijuana, love-ins, and nudist colonies. The sexual revolution that began forty years earlier bore bitter fruit, resulting in the complete destruction of moral values.
Avant fashion designers such as Rudi Gernreich “continued to design articles of clothing intended to chisel away at the national prudery.”3 He generated styles such as the topless bathing suit in 1964, see-through blouses, and mini dresses inset with clear vinyl strips. The “cut up” skirt of the 1930s resurfaced as skin revealing slits in the midi skirt. Popular new fashions such as bikinis, hot pants, and halter tops swept the marketplace as modesty exited out the door, and the country perpetuated its downward spiral. As inhibitions were consistently lowered, people grew accustomed to exposing their flesh.
THE MORAL DESTRUCTION OF A NATION WAS REVEALED IN THE CLOTHING WORN BY ITS CITIZENS!! “As James Laver has remarked, modes are but the reflection of the manners of the time.” Likewise, the moral condition of the Church will be manifested by the styles that are adopted and embraced by its constituents. Clothing is merely an outward indication of an inward condition. “Clothing is inevitable. They are nothing less than the furniture of the mind made visible.”‘
For thousands of years, human beings have been communicating with one another in the language of dress. Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting, or at a party, you announce your sex, age, and class through what you are wearing. Important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions, tastes, sexual desires, and current mood is conveyed by your attire. I may not be able to put into words what I observe, yet the information is registered
subconsciously. By the time we meet and converse, we have already spoken to one another in an older and more universal tongue—the language of clothes.’
God understood the communication of clothing from the beginning. This concept is illustrated perfectly in the story of Adam and Eve. God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, placed him in the Garden of Eden, and created Eve to be a helpmeet for him. When God brought the first man and woman together, the Scripture says, “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. “6
In their state of innocence, shame was nonexistent between the first couple. Seduced by the serpents, Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, and sin intruded paradise. Purity of heart was shattered. “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”‘
The first repercussion of the fall of man was the awareness of nakedness. In the wake of disobedience, Adam and Eve constructed the first clothing of fig leaves. Nevertheless, their manmade aprons were insufficient, so God replaced the fig leaves sewn by Adam and Eve with a proper covering. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. “8 The Hebrew word for “coats” is kuttoneth (pronounced koot—to’ —neth), meaning a coat, garment, or robe to cover. God made coats that covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve, thereby setting forth a divine precept of modesty for mankind. Lust had gained admittance into the world, so humanity could no longer walk about unclothed because the destruction of innocence necessitated the covering of nakedness.
The erroneous argument that God is not concerned about the kinds of clothes people wear has absolutely no foundational support in Scripture. He cared enough to provide proper attire for the first man and woman! This account clearly demonstrates God’s criteria for clothing; He ordained that mankind should be properly covered.
Modesty cannot be defined by the current societal ideals. As the preceding historical commentary demonstrates, society has diminished and even eliminated former clothing restraints. God’s Church must be governed by the guidelines outlined in His Word. These precepts never change as the psalmist declared in Psalm 119:89 and 142, “For ever, 0 LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.”
Desensitization by the current culture has allowed carnal clothing to creep into the Church. It is commonplace today to attend the House of God and see openly exposed thighs and vulgar, skin tight apparel that is sexually provocative. The young and old freely wear clothing that reveals their flesh as the spirit of sensuality invades the Church.
A look at history confirms that knee grazing skirts and long slits, popular styles freely worn among God’s people, have their roots in rebellion and sexual enticement. When slits first invaded the Church, there was an uproar as we were told to sew them or pin them closed. However, over the process of time, people grew tired of addressing the issue, and slits crept higher and higher. At the same time, skirts have become shorter and shorter with the addition of indecent “cuts”. These styles have frequently been defended as many declare that such clothing was acceptable in days gone by. Again, it is imperative that we understand that our standard of righteousness cannot be predicated upon the standard of the world. The Word of God is our only legitimate measuring rod.
His Word commands in Exodus 20:26, “Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.” God is adamant
about modesty. He instructed His people not to make steps leading up to His altar because it was forbidden for their flesh to be exposed in the place of worship.
Isaiah 47:1-4 also clarifies how God views the uncovering of a woman’s legs and thighs. “Come down, and sit in the dust, 0 virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, 0 daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg. uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea. thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man. As for our redeemer, the LORD of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel.”
In this passage of Scripture, the Lord is declaring vengeance on Babylon and Chaldea. God’s judgment brought humiliation to the royal princesses, who were cast from their thrones. No longer women of refinement and dignity, they became slaves, exposing their flesh in the sight of common men.
Royal women of that day never exposed themselves in this manner. They wore veils and peered out of latticed windows.’ The humiliation of nakedness was one of the greatest punishments that could be inflicted upon these delicate women. History verifies that nakedness was associated with slavery while proper clothing was a sign of royalty. In ancient Egypt, for instance, slaves and servants often wore nothing or, at most, a brief loincloth, but aristocrats put on clothes to indicate rank. Even in colder climates and more Puritanical societies, it has generally been true that the more clothes someone wears, the higher his or her status or position. This principle can be viewed in Medieval and Renaissance art. Peasants wore relatively few garments while kings and queens were burdened with layers of gowns, robes, and mantles even in indoor scenes.10
Indeed, the secular world recognizes the correlation between bondage and nudity. Furthermore, nakedness is a shame, as well as a sign of slavery, in God’s sight. We are no longer enslaved by sin but have been made kings and priests unto God. The Church is spiritual royalty, a royal priesthood. Heaven’s royal family should never expose their flesh in view of common man!
We have taught on the essentiality of women not wearing things that pertain to a man. However, a woman can wear a dress and be indecent or even vulgar. One fashion commentator noted, “Clothes that simultaneously conceal and reveal, and—like a half-opened gift— invite us to imagine what lies beneath, are traditionally erotic in their effect.”11 The peek-a-boo effect produced by the slit skirt is very seductive. Slits worn open to or above the knee expose the thighs when the wearer walks and climbs steps. Here is some food for thought. If you cut off your skirt where the slit ends, would you still be able to wear it?
Should a saint of God be seen in an outfit that is low cut, form fitting, and so revealing nothing is left to the imagination? Here is the message communicated by seductive apparel: “The garment that is partially unfastened not only reveals more flesh but implies that total nakedness will be easily achieved.”12 Is that what you want your clothes to imply? Does this sort of attire glorify God or entice the flesh? What kind of effect will it have upon men who are attracted by what they see?
Jesus addressed this situation in Matthew 5:27-29. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
Under the Mosaic Law, the act of adultery was a sin punishable by death. However, New Testament grace is more demanding; looking and lusting constitute the sin of adultery. It would be easy to pass this off as being totally incumbent upon the men. Would that be fair?
Specific laws concerning adultery and rape are found in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22-29. A woman violated against her will was innocent. On the other hand, a woman who willingly participated in the adulterous act was held accountable and was put to death along with the man. If a woman wears clothing that incites a man to lust and commit adultery in his heart, she is also held accountable in the sight of God. If her pretty legs or attractive body outshine the light of the Holy Ghost, she has ceased to glorify God, and the Word asserts, “That no flesh should glory in his presence. “13
Our brethren should not have to pluck out their eyes or take off their glasses because of the clothing that is being worn to the House of God. This world has become a flesh parade. The Church must be a sanctuary of holiness where we are not assailed by nakedness and fleshly lusts!
The issue of immodesty was not unfamiliar to the New Testament Church. They were surrounded by the Greek culture where nakedness was ordinary. “In ancient
Egypt, Crete and Greece the naked body was not considered immodest; slaves and athletes habitually went without clothing, while people of high rank wore garments that were cut and draped so as to show a good deal when in motion.”‘ Paul alluded to the Olympian games and Grecian athletes in his writings. Clearly he was familiar with the heathen temples, rampant prostitution, nudity, and resulting moral decay in the Gentile society.
From this vantage point Apostle Paul addressed the issue of women’s attire. “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. s15 The word “modest” in the Greek is the word kosmios (pronounced kos’—mee—os). It means “orderly, decorous, of good behavior, modest.” Decorous means “proper, seemly, correct.” Women are being instructed to properly adorn themselves with appropriate attire in keeping with good behavior. Indecent clothing does not belong in the wardrobe of a godly woman.
Another key word in this Scripture is translated “shamefacedness”. The Greek word is aidos (pronounced ahec doce’). Its definition is “to have downcast eyes; bashfulness towards men, modesty, awe towards God, reverence.” There should be no brazenness in the actions of a godly woman. She is to be bashful or inclined to shrink from undue male attention. Modesty coupled with profound awe towards God govern a consecrated woman’s conduct and clothing choices. She reverences her high calling as a holy woman, and this is displayed in her outward appearance.
One more word that describes the attire of a holy woman is “sobriety”. That Greek word is sophrosune (pronounced so—fros—oo’–nay), meaning “soundness of mind, sanity, self control, soberness.” In the fear of God, women should seriously evaluate the clothes they wear. What language is being spoken—the language of lust or the language of holiness? Self-control and clear thinking will enable a saint of God to choose garments that speak of godliness rather than worldliness.
It is interesting to note that the word “adorn” is used in this particular portion of Scripture. To adorn means “to beautify”. God understands the woman’s desire to be beautiful. He created them in this manner. Nevertheless, the secret to true and lasting beauty is found in adornment that is in keeping with the Word of God.
“What? know ye not that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. “16 Paul likened the body of a believer to a temple. A temple is a building or place dedicated to the worship or the presence of a deity. The Greek word that was used for “temple” is vaos. This particular word refers to the Holiest of Holies where the shekinah glory of God dwelt. Our bodies have become God’s dwelling place, a sacred inner sanctum filled with His glory. Since we belong to God, we cannot allow anything to defile this place of worship.
The High Priest approached the Holy of Holies very cautiously. Careful attention was given to every aspect of his appearance. He had to wear holy garments made of pure linen as he ministered before the Lord. This was a matter of life and death. Unholy attire was never permissible in the holy place because his vesture symbolized God’s purity and the righteousness of the saints.
Likewise, our clothing should always exemplify holiness unto the Lord. Revelation 3:18 admonishes us to buy “white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear. . . .” We cannot mix the sensual fabric of the world with the pure linen of righteousness. It could be a matter of spiritual life or death. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. “17
As temples of glory dedicated to the worship of God, we cannot become desensitized by the licentious lifestyles that surround us. It is imperative that we keep our garments unspotted from the world. Non-believers are free to dress according to their own desires, but the children of God have been bought with a price. We are God’s property, and He determines the manner in which we dress. “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body”!!
- Hope in a Jar/The Making of America’s Beauty Culture, Kathy Peiss (Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1998) page 48
- The Language of Clothing, Alison Lurie (Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York) page 73
- New York Fashion, The Evolution of American Style, Caroline Rennolds Milbank (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, New York) page 223
- The Language of Clothing, Alison Lurie (Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York) page 11
- The Language of Clothing, Alison Lurie (Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York) page 3
- Genesis 2:25
- Genesis 3:7
- Genesis 3:21
- Genesis 24:65, Ruth 3:15, Song of Solomon 5:7, Judges 5:28
- The Language of Clothing, Alison Lurie (Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York) page 120
- The Language of Clothing, Alison Lurie (Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York) page 212
- The Language of Clothing, Alison Lurie (Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York) page 231
- I Corinthians 1:29
- The Language of Clothing, Alison Lurie (Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York) page 212
- I Timothy 2:9-10
- I Corinthians 6:19-20
- I Corinthians 3:16-17
The above article, “Temples of Glory” was written by Ruth Rieder. The article was excerpted from Rieder’s book, Reflecting the Glory.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.