Apparel: Why More than just Clothing?

Why do you clothe yourself?  Not with just anything that fits, but you want fashionable clothing that states who you are.  What causes you to instinctively need to wear clothing, not just to stay warm but also to express yourself visually?

Isn’t it odd that you find the same instinct across the planet, no matter what people’s language, race, education, religion is?  Women perhaps more than men, but they also display the same tendency.  In 2016 the global textile industry exported $1.3 Trillion USD.

The instinct to clothe ourselves feels so utterly normal and natural that many don’t often stop to ask, “Why?”. 

We put forth theories as to where the earth came from, where people came from, why the continents drift apart. But have you ever read a theory as to where our need for clothing comes from?

Only Humans – but not just for warmth

Let’s start with the obvious.  Animals certainly do not have this instinct.  They are all perfectly happy to be stark naked in front of us, and others all the time.  This is true even for higher animals.  If we are simply higher than higher animals this does not seem to add up.

Our need to be clothed comes not just from our need for warmth. We know this because much of our fashion and clothing comes from places with almost unbearable heat.  Clothing is functional, keeping us warm and protecting us. But these reasons do not answer our instinctive needs for modesty, gender expression and self-identity.

Clothing – from the Hebrew Scriptures

The one account explaining why we clothe ourselves, and seek to do it tastefully, comes from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures.  These Scriptures place you and me into a story that claims to be historical. It offers insight into who you are, why you do what you do, and what is in store for your future.  This story goes back to the dawn of mankind yet also explains everyday phenomena like why you clothe yourself.  Becoming familiar with this account is worthwhile since it offers many insights about yourself, guiding you to more abundant living. Here we look at the Biblical account through the lens of clothing.

We have been looking at the ancient creation account from the Bible. We started with the beginning of mankind and the world. Then we looked at the primeval showdown between two great adversaries. Now we look at these events from a slightly different perspective, which explains mundane events like shopping for fashionable clothes.

Made In the Image of God

We explored here that God had made the cosmos and then

Biblical series, The Creation of the World, the sixth day, finally humans, made in the image of God were created

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

In creation God fully expressed himself artistically through the beauty of creation.  Think of sunsets, flowers, tropical birds and landscape vistas.  Because God is artistic, you also, made ‘in his image’, will instinctively, without even consciously knowing ‘why’, likewise express yourself aesthetically. 

Fir0002GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

We saw that God is a person.  God is a ‘he’, not an ‘it’.  Therefore, it is only natural that you also want to express yourself both visually and personally.  Clothing, jewellery, colors and cosmetics (make-up, tattoos etc) is thus a prominent way for you to express yourself aesthetically as well as individually.

Male and Female

God also made humans in the image of God as ‘male and female’.  From this we also understand why you create your ‘look’, by your clothing ,fashion, through your hairstyle and etc. This we naturally and easily recognize as male or female.  This goes deeper than cultural fashion.  If you see fashion and clothing from a culture you have never seen before you will generally generally be able to distinguish male and female clothing in that culture.. 

Wellcome Library, LondonCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thus your creation in the image of God as male or female begins explaining your clothing instincts.  But this Creation account continues with some subsequent historical events which further explains clothing and you.

Covering our Shame

God gave the first humans the choice to obey or disobey Him in their primeval paradise.  They chose to disobey and when they did the creation account tells us that:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Genesis 3:7

This tells us that from this point on humans lost their innocence before each other and before their Creator.  Ever since then we instinctively have felt shame about being naked and have desired to cover our own nakedness.  Beyond the need to stay warm and protected, we feel exposed, vulnerable and ashamed when naked in front of others.  Mankind’s choice to disobey God unleashed this in us.  It also unleashed the world of suffering, pain, tears and death that we all know so well.

Extending Mercy: A Promise and some clothes

God, in his mercy for us, then did two things.  First, He uttered a Promise in riddle form that would direct human history.  In this riddle He promised the coming redeemer, Jesus. God would send him to help us, to defeat his enemy, and to conquer death for us.

The second thing that God did was:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

Genesis 3:21
Adam and Eve being clothed

God provided clothing to cover their nakedness.  God did so to address their shame.  Ever since that day, we, the children of these human ancestors, instinctively clothe ourselves as a result of these events. 

Clothing of Skin – A Visual Aid

God clothed them in a specific way to illustrate a principle for us.  The clothing that God provided was not a cotton blouse or denim shorts but ‘garments of skin’.  This meant that God killed an animal in order to make skins to cover their nakedness.  They had tried to cover themselves with leaves, but these were insufficient and so skins were required.  In the creation account, up to this time, no animal had ever died.  That primeval world had not experienced death.  But now God sacrificed an animal to cover their nakedness and shield their shame.

This began a tradition, practised by their descendants, running through all cultures, of animal sacrifice.  Eventually people forgot the truth that this sacrifice tradition illustrated. But it was preserved in the Bible.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23
Sacrificed lamb

This states that the consequence of sin is death, and it must be paid.  We can pay it ourselves with our own death, or someone else can pay for it on our behalf.  The sacrificed animals continually illustrated this concept.  But they were only illustrations, visual aids pointing to the real sacrifice that would one day free us of sin.  This was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus who willingly sacrificed himself for us.  This great victory has ensured that

The last enemy to be destroyed is death

1 Corinthians 15:26

The Coming Wedding Feast – Wedding Clothes compulsory

Jesus likened this coming day, when He destroys death, to a great wedding feast.  He told the following parable

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 22: 8 -13

In this story that Jesus told, everyone is invited to this festival.  People will come from every nation.  And because Jesus paid for everyone’s sin he also gives out the clothes for this festival.  The clothing here represents his merit which sufficiently covers our shame.  Though the wedding invitations go far and wide, and the king distributes wedding clothes free-of-charge, he still requires them.  We need his payment to cover our sin.  The man who did not clothe himself with the wedding clothes was rejected from the festival.  This is why Jesus says later on:

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Revelation 3:18

God built on this initial visual aid of animal skins covering our nakedness by pre-enacting the coming sacrifice of Jesus in remarkable ways. He tested Abraham in the exact place and in a manner illustrating the Real coming sacrifice. He also instituted Passover which indicated the exact day and also further illustrated the Real coming sacrifice. But, given how we have seen clothing first come up right in the creation account, it is intriguing that creation also pre-enacted Jesus’ work.