When I was a boy, I remember my parents talking about the way the “new generation” was dressing and looked. The Beatles had just started the “me generation,” the hippie generation, the long hair, bell bottoms, braless, tie died, shaggy look. Rock and roll took on a whole new meaning, drugs were everywhere, free love and dropping out were in style. The Viet Nam war and all that went with it were in full swing and I thought it was so cool—groovy, actually. My parents, at least my mother, thought it was dirty, ungodly, and dangerous. All of it. There was nothing good about the new mood.
I remember that sometime around 1969 or 70 my father began to let his hair grow down over his ears and grew some sideburns, but until then we were pretty much a flat-top and crewcut kind of family. In high school, some of us wanted to let our hair grow down into our eyes, but our coaches frowned on that and until we threatened to boycott our tennis matches. We had to have our hair short. I don’t know why that bothered him, but our tennis coach finally relented, and let us wear our hair longer. I also remember that I couldn’t play tennis as well with my hair in my eyes, so I pushed it up under a hat, but with the hat on, I looked just like I had with short hair. Pretty silly when I think about it now.
The fall after graduation from High School found me joining the Navy. The first thing they did, after waking us up at 4:30 in the morning (to the sound of a stick running around in a mettle trashcan), was to give us haircuts. There went our individuality and our “cool.” Next came uniforms, rules, schedules, and a whole new culture. We had to box up everything we had brought with us from the “old life” and send it home to our parents, or wherever. Nothing that came with us, but our dirty old hearts, was allowed to stay in boot camp. The Navy wanted to remold us and shape us into United States Sailors.
After boot camp and on into the Navy, there were badges on our arms that told people where we were in the hierarchy of the Navy. The more stripes, the more shiny, and more stuff on your uniform, the higher in rank you were. There were additions to the rank insignia that proclaimed what job you did. Mine looked like a little ship’s steering wheel. It signified that I was in navigation.
When we were stationed on our various ships, things that signified which part of the military we were began showing up. We were sailors, but some of us wore dolphins on our chest. This proclaimed to the ordinary sailor that we were special because we were stationed on and were “qualified” submariners. Other folks had things that told everyone that they jumped out of airplanes, or were into scuba. There were medals that showed we had achieved something as units or as individuals (fired guns, traveled into places where not many others had traveled, etc.). There were ships patches, hats, and other things that narrowed everyone’s uniqueness and in various ways, bound the smaller units together in comradery and solidarity. Of course, what you did with others also bound you together in interesting ways. I remember one snowy day, a bunch of us were loading nuclear weapons on to our submarine. As you might imagine it is a very dangerous and scary job. The men in our little group, ordinarily wouldn’t have had much to do with one another before that day. But a few weeks after one of these loading parties, I got into a small ruckus with a fellow on shore. One of the “hard” guys of our loading group defended me and made a big deal about our ‘friendship.’ Some of it was because we were both submariners, some because we were on the same ship, but mostly because we had shared the burden of loading nuclear torpedoes in the snow.
But I digress.
As I look back on my life and as I look around at others now, I see a tremendous relationship between what we wear, how we act and with whom we associate. I remember that as I dressed more and more like the hippies of my day, I began to think and act more and more like the hippies of the day. I remember distinctly thinking I looked better with longer hair but with my hair short, I was more humble about how I looked. I have no idea if anyone else noticed it, but I felt different and I can’t imagine that I didn’t act differently.
When I put on a tie, I feel different than when I don’t. When I wear a tux, I hold myself differently; I move differently, I think about myself differently. When I see people dressed up, they act in line with what they are wearing. They just do. There’s something about how we look that changes how we think about ourselves and how we act with regard to that. I knew a fellow back in my seminary days who went to class in his jeans and t-shirts, but when he came back to his room, he put on a three piece suit. When asked about it he said he simply studied better when he was dressed up.
This thought process carries over into what we think of others when they dress in particular ways. When I see a police officer in uniform, I think certain things about him. When I see a homeless man, dressed in rags, or a fellow with skinny jeans, shaved head, and a big scruffy beard, I think something about him. When I see someone with tattoos, nose rings, ear lobe holes it says something about them. My guess is that if we asked the right questions, each of these fellows thinks certain things about himself and it shows in how he is dressed. And how he is dressed shapes how he thinks and acts. They are trying to portray themselves in a certain ways by dressing the way they do.
I know I’ve written for a long time and you’re wondering where I’m going with all this. Well here it is: Clothing makes the man. What you wear declares, and in a strong way, determines who you are: what you think and how you behave. It reveals your heart. You cannot dress like a hoodlum and not become a hoodlum. You might think you can, but give it some time and unless you are working diligently to be different, you will soon be living just like everyone else who wears that “uniform.” What you wear drives you to be like who you look like. If you dress like a rock star, you will act like a rock star. The uniform forms you.
I know there are some in ministry who believe that looking like those they are trying to reach is a strength. “They won’t accept me unless I look like them.” But people are more impressed by people who are genuine and love them than they are by people who are lying to them by trying to “look” like them. Also, if you want the people you are ministering to to become like Jesus, shouldn’t you be more like Jesus than they are? The most effective ministers I know are men and women who love Jesus and love the people and they look like they are trying to please Christ, not to be like those who are living in sin and rebellion.
Further, everyone around you will treat you like you look. If you wear a nose ring, people will assume you are the kind of person who wears nose rings and will treat you like that. If you wear your makeup like a prostitute, everyone will begin treating you like you look. If you dress like a homeless man, people will assume you are homeless man. If you wear a tuxedo, people will treat you like James Bond. What you wear determines how you will live and how others will treat you.
Whether you like it or not, what you wear says something about you. Whether you like it or not, what you wear connects you to others who dress that same way. Whether you like it not, you will become what you wear.
We are Christians. We care about who we are, what others think about us, who we are becoming—what we wear. This is why Paul tells us to put on Christ (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27). What does this mean? Well, it means to dress with Christ as your clothing, as your model, as your goal. You want to look like Christ. You want others to see Christ when they look at you. You want others to treat you like they would treat Christ were he standing in front of them. Am I talking about wearing a robe? No! If Jesus were living here with us, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be wearing a robe. But would he look like a hipster? Would he look like a hippie? What would he look like?
As I said before, we act like what we look like. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, tells us to not walk like the Gentiles around us (4:17). The point is that we don’t want to live like people who are in rebellion against God. We want, as I’ve just said, to look like Jesus. So, what do the Gentiles do, what do they look like doing it? How does their lifestyle produce what they wear? Paul goes on to say that the Gentiles “walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (4:17-19). And all these behaviors come in a package. People who live like this look like something. They look like what their particular kind of rebelliousness looks like. People who abuse certain drugs, look like others who abuse those same drugs. People who express themselves by riding really fancy motorcycles, look like everyone else who has that bent. “Birds of a feather,” don’cha know. People work hard to look like those they are like. And the Bible tells us to do the same, but to not go after being like the world. Put on Christ, because you are a Christ-ian.
What we tend to do is to be impressed in various ways by the people around us, and then we copy, or mimic the way they dress. Then, when someone says, “why are you dressing like that rebel?” We respond with, “I’m not living like the rebel, I just like how he looks.” “I’m dressing to look good.” But you are dressing in a way that reflects his being, not just his “look.” And soon, you will be living like he is living.
So, find someone Godly, who is not tied to the culture. Find someone who loves Jesus with all his heart, who doesn’t give a rip what he is wearing other than he wants others to see Jesus in him. You probably need to change what you think cool is from what the world says to what God says is cool. Now there’s an idea.
Above all, rejoice in the Lord, strive to serve him, to reflect him, to be like him, to give him the glory. Blessings.
A short note about tattoos: first tattoos are something you wear—permanently. There’s nothing positive about tattoos in the Bible. Nothing. And when it does talk about tattoos, it is always negative and evil. Here’s a link to a website that does a pretty good job on the topic.