This is a request post – a friend asked me my thoughts on dressing in a dignified manner. What a great question! Clothes are real and practical, but they are also the manifestation of our ideas. Dignity, honor, and clothing are all closely connected, but we can get so caught up in the practical that we don’t consider the ideals that shape us and our clothing.
This isn’t going to be in an Ashley Tries format, because it was hard to get up every morning, look for clothes, and think, “I’m going to be DIGNIFIED today.” Any success that happened was partial at best. But it was a definitely a good exercise, because it forced me to think outside my normal questions: Which clothes are clean? Does that top fit well right now? Does this print top need black jeans to balance it out? This week the questions shifted to broader questions: How would my coworkers describe this outfit? Is this outfit unquestionably appropriate? Do I look like a woman, not a little girl? As it turns out, the broader questions are harder to answer, because they encompass all the practical questions and then add perception and standards on top of that already substantial question pile.
I don’t know why it felt so pretentious to ask myself whether my outfit was “dignified” or not, but it really did. Probably because I don’t think of myself as a dignified person – I think of myself as a funny, slightly clumsy, sometimes stressed, usually happy person. I assign the term “dignified” to awe-inspiring people who are older and wiser and calmer than I am. But I’m thirty and I don’t believe in putting off being an adult, so it’s good to think beyond what clothes are cute and start thinking about what clothes reflect the woman I want to be.
One of the most common verses that comes up when you look up dignity in the Bible is Proverbs 31:25 – “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” That’s striking and beautiful image, isn’t it? It’s a good verse to remember when the future feels like NO LAUGHING MATTER. In Job 40:9-10 (ESV), the Lord asks Job, “Have you an arm like God? and can you thunder with a voice like His? Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; cloth yourself with glory and splendor.” In Esther, the king asks what “honor or dignity” has been bestowed on Mordecai for saving the king’s life (Esther 6:3) and the part of the honor that gives Mordecai is to dress him in royal robes. All of these verses speak about dignity as something that can be bestowed and put on. It has weight and it can be seen by other people.
We were born wanting honor, but we mess up in how we seek after it and we mess up in how we think it comes to us. We understand there is a link between clothing and honor, which is one of the reasons that clothes are so important to us. The bride on her wedding day, the graduation robe, the uncharacteristically professional interview suit, mourning black at a funeral – these all have built-in significance and backstory, but everything we put on has a backstory. Usually it isn’t as obvious as a wedding dress, but we all know that some clothes have more dignity or honor than others. But as I said earlier, we can really mess up what we consider honorable. Attention is not the same as honor. Approval does not equal dignity. We’ll settle for acceptance if we can’t get the honor we really want, because all it takes to gain acceptance is to find a group with the same blind spots. If nobody likes your posts, do you feel unlovely? Disappointed? Alone? That’s an indication that you’re really seeking after the approval of others. It has nothing to do with strength, dignity, or laughing at the the days to come. Don’t settle for counterfeit dignity.
A couple of practical applications
- Even though I wasn’t certain about what outfits were dignified this week, I knew that I could control how appropriate my outfits were this week. I avoided the the skirt that’s two inches too short when I sit down, the neckline that needs attention whenever I lean over, the jeans that are just a *little* bit too tight. I aimed for appropriate to the point of boring. It was a comfortable way to live, because I didn’t have any worry hanging around my clothes choices this week.
- There’s dignity in dressing for your age and your stage of life. In an age of perpetual adolescence, it’s beautiful to see a respectable woman in respectable clothes. I don’t want people to think I’m twenty. I’m thirty. I should be leaning into responsibility, not running away from it. My first impulse is to run away from responsibility and when it’s given to me, I immediately freak out. That isn’t mature of me and it’s an area where I need to routinely confess sin and fight against my first instincts. For all the moms out there, it’s just fine to look like a mom. There’s a ridiculous amount of pressure on moms to get back to where they were “pre-baby”, but everything changes post-baby and it’s a beautiful thing! Moms, you are amazing. You have an amazing job and it is fine to wear clothes that are appropriate for it. Don’t feel like you need to apologize for looking like a mom. That would be like me apologizing for looking like a data analyst.
- Shame shouldn’t be our default. Shame is the opposite of dignity and it should never be where we live. Shame can be a powerful driver, because the point of shame is to drive us away from our sin and to God and forgiveness. It is not a good place to settle down and build a house. If shame isn’t driving us to God, it’s driving us somewhere else. Shame can drive to self-loathing or self-aggrandizement, to hatred of others or idolatry of others. Get out of there.
- I want to be clothed in dignity. I want honor. That might seem completely obvious, but it’s not something I admit very often, even to myself. Because it’s “easier” to stay as I am right now. It’s “easier” to be whiny and petulant. It’s “easier” to live without the burden of responsibility. It’s “easier” to stay #Relatable and celebrate my flaws and my fails. It’s definitely easier to be worried about the days to come than to laugh at them. I’m afraid of failing. But going back to the idea of confidence, God is on my side. Why should I be afraid of anything? When I die, I want to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Why do I hold onto things that aren’t easier in the long run?
All that to say, I don’t know what dignified looks like on me, but I want to grow into it. I know what it looks like on other people. There’s dignity in honest work, in kindness, in formality, in reverence, and in loving God with everything I have and everything I make.