Secular histories of clothing will tell you that clothes evolved as people had need of them. Cro-magnon man (or whatever they're calling him these days) supposedly sauntered about in the nude before learning that discreetly positioned scraps of animal skin were sufficient to guard against unwanted injury. From there, he learned to sheath his arms, legs, torso, feet, and head, eventually even making his own material from organic substances like flax and cotton.
That's a bunch of hogwash. We know from the book of Genesis that clothes were in fact God's invention, designed to protect men and women from the shame of nakedness after sin entered the world. The first clothes were sewn fig leaves made in haste by Adam and Eve to hide themselves from God; but God replaced their leaves with animal skins left over from the first sacrifice. So the origins of clothing are both positive and negative, hiding us from each other but necessary only due to our sinfulness.
People have done their best since then to forget the original purpose of clothing. It's nothing new: humans have perennially sought to accentuate, rather than conceal, their form with whatever they put on. Culture instructs us to do this by urging everyone toward an outrageous body image few (if any) can achieve, then playing to our vanity by marketing the most flattering and expensive outfits available. These outfits are known somewhat mystically as "Fashion."
There's nothing wrong with wanting to look nice. Far from it—by making ourselves look put together and attractive, we honor the vessel God hasgiven us and exert our stewardship in a highly visible way. A smart, colorful, varied wardrobe is as much a gift from God as tasty food, a warm house, or rousing music. It's only when we begin to use the gift in ways God never intended that we sin, and this manifests itself in two ways.
The first is simple: clothes are often used to incite lust. Immodest dress is just as offensive as nudity, and just as destructive to our own self-image and the moral uprightness of others. The second is a little less obvious: clothes can become an idol. When we're so consumed with our hipness that we have to own the latest fashions right away, we've passed from using clothes in their God-ordained way and for protection, and begun to worship a strange god.
At the same time, neglecting our wardrobe can be just as bad. Sometimes our situation requires that we forego replenishing our stock of outfits, but often we do this simply out of laziness. God intends for us to be clothed, and He intends us to take joy in attending to even this detail of our lives. The books in this section are devoted primarily to the history of fashion and clothing, but we encourage you to keep these things in mind as you peruse our selection.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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