Is this bow tie too much?” asks Paul George of his Indiana Pacers teammate Joseph Young as the two NBA players sit down for a press conference. Young studies George’s spiffy ensemble through his large-framed glasses and replies, “No, man. Good. You good.” Breathing a sigh of relief, George wastes no time summarizing Young’s choice to sport a comic book jacket with big, bold words that harken back to the original Batman television show. “You look awful,” he says.
Young’s face drops for a moment, but he shrugs it off as he is clearly comfortable with his clothing choices—even if he does look like a hip 2018 version of Steve Urkel.
Sense of Style
At a young age we are told to “be yourself.” So, in trying to do that, we pick out our own clothes and evolve—or don’t—with the styles. With time and age and education, we pick a career that suits our intellect and skills. The right clothing follows. Style informs the basis of our individuality in Christ.
Now we undoubtedly take our cues from other people when it comes to matters of dress—be it Paul George, or Kanye West, or Kate Middleton—but developing your own sense of style is a worthwhile endeavor as it emphasizes uniqueness instead of conformity.
From shirts to sneakers, blazers to boots, ties to trousers, fashion is a direct reflection of our personal creativity—and creator. Incidentally, another man named Joseph, whose story unfolds in the book of Genesis, may very well be the first man in the Bible associated with style.
Life in Technicolor
The story of Joseph starts out like this: “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him.”
Though we can only speculate what an ornate robe of this kind looked like in ancient Egypt, a Google image search for the famous “technicolor dreamcoat” provides us with a glimpse of the vibrant robe that’s used in the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Joseph’s special coat—and enigmatic dream—naturally spurred discord between him and his siblings.
Joseph’s brothers hated him, and his fancy coat added insult to their mounting disgust. So they devised a scheme to kill him, but instead sold to him to merchants as a slave after further deliberation. What’s more, the brothers covered Joseph’s once vibrant robe with the blood of a slaughtered goat to convince their father that a wild animal devoured him.
Confident that nothing would come of his grand dreams, the Lord was with Joseph despite the ill intentions of his kin as he languished behind bars in dejection. God graciously restored those lost years in prison, and he elevated Joseph to second in command, eclipsed only in power by the pharaoh. And after putting him in charge of Egypt, the pharaoh gifted Joseph with—what else?—a new robe.
A far cry from Joseph and his ornate robe, John the Baptist gravitated toward simplicity. “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist,” writes Matthew.
John the Baptist raised eyebrows based on his dress—and pungent smell no doubt as he opted to cover his skin with hair from the likes of camels. Eating locusts didn’t help either, though the scriptures are clear that John didn’t dwell on the quality of his garments. Numerous people approached him, confessed their sins, and asked John to baptize them in the Jordan River.
At this time, Pharisees and Sadducees, who may still have been judging others by their outward appearance like they did in the time of David (1 Samuel 16:7), were rebuked by John to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” He implored them to move beyond the rigors of the law and clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience—a theme Paul would continue in his letter to Colossae (Colossians 3:12). Sadly, they demurred. John would be beheaded by King Herod, but scripture promises a crown to complete his camel’s hair garments.
Joseph and John the Baptist reside on opposite ends of the fashion spectrum. Where is Jesus? Depictions of his clothes in film are skewed according to some experts, which suggests that he’s likely nearer to John than Joseph as the son of a carpenter and a man who traveled frequently “with no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Along with sandals, Jesus, like John, stuck with simple threads, i.e., a basic tunic.
With the scriptures offering minimal attention to what Jesus wore, this leaves us with an invitation to concentrate on what we wear in light of his teaching about spiritual formation. For instance, Jesus spoke of the incompatibility of serving both God and money (Matthew 6). The same can be said of serving both God and clothes. Or God and shoes. Fashion, like money or sports or status, is susceptible to idolatry.
Yet, as John Bloom writes, “All clothing—formal, casual, work, sport, beachwear, sleepwear, underwear, headwear, every other kind of wear—can be a source of great pride. There isn’t a clothing item or style that we can’t turn into an expression of self-centered, self-exalting self-worship.” Conversely, if we clothe ourselves in Christ, rejecting conceit and vanity, pride in one’s self will inevitably give way to a pride in Jesus alone. “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord,” writes Paul. “God doesn’t specify what external clothes honor him most, because he cares what our hearts wear,” adds Bloom.
We are the body of Christ, fearfully and wonderfully made to glorify his namesake. Be it in blue jeans or a blazer, a white tee or Chuck T’s.
Even a comic book jacket.
Cover image by Igor Ovsyannykov.