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Apparel: Why More Than Just Clothing?

Why do you clothe yourself? Not with just anything that fits, but you want fashionable clothing that expresses 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 one’s language, race, education, religion? Women perhaps more than men, but they also display the same tendency. In 2016 the global textile industry exported $1.3 Trillion USD.

The instinctive need 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, and 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

Kai Pilger, Public domain, via Pexels

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 since much of our fashion and clothing comes from places with almost unbearable heat. Though clothing is functional, keeping us warm and protecting us, these reasons do not answer our instinctive needs for modesty, gender expression, and self-identity.

Clothing – From the Hebrew Scriptures

The one account that explains why we clothe ourselves, and do it tastefully, comes from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. These Scriptures place you and me into a story claiming 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.

We have been looking at the ancient creation account from the Hebrew Scriptures, often called the Bible, having started with the beginning of mankind and the world. We explore its pivotal events since then which echo down to today, explaining mundane events like shopping for fashionable clothes.

Made In the Image of God

We explored here that The Creator God had made the cosmos and then:

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

Genesis 1:27
Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”
Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Using the lens of magnificent Buddha statues throughout Asia we saw that 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. 

We saw that The Creator 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 artistically, as well as individually.

Male and Female

Mart Production, Public domain, via Pexels

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 your relationship with clothing.

The Creator God also made humans in the image of God as ‘male and female’. Here also we see in your clothing and fashion, through your hairstyle, why you create your ‘look’ which we all naturally and easily recognize as male or female. This goes deeper than culture and fashion. If you see fashion and clothing from a culture you have never seen before you will generally recognize what is male and what is female clothing in that culture. 

Antoni Shraba, Public domain, via Pexels

Covering Our Shame

The Creator 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 if we are naked in front of others. Mankind’s choice to disobey God unleashed this in us. It also unleashed the cycle of attachments, wrong thinking, discord, and death, which are ever present realities of our lives. 

Extending Mercy: A Promise and Some Clothes

The Creator 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 form He promised the coming Saviour, Jesus. We can think of him as a Boddhisattva Maitreya. The Creator God would send him to help us, to defeat his enemy, and to conquer death for us.

The second thing that The Creator God did was:

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

Genesis 3:21

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, have been instinctively clothing ourselves as a result of these events. 

Adam and Eve Being Clothed
Anonymous, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Clothing of Skin – A Visual Aid of Karma

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 the Creator 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 the Creator God sacrificed an animal to cover their nakedness and shield their shame.  This began a tradition, practiced by their descendants and running through all cultures, of animal sacrifice. Eventually people forgot the truth that this ritual illustrated, but preserved in the Bible which states:

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

Romans 6:23

This states that Karma operates such that for all actions there are consequences. For sin, the consequence 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 animal sacrificed for us illustrated this concept. But it was only an illustration, a visual aid pointing to the real sacrifice that would one day free the world of sin. This was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus who willingly sacrificed himself for us. This great victory has ensured that:

26 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 the karma for anyone’s sin, he also gives out the clothes for this festival. The clothing here represents his merit, which can cover any karma. 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 bad karma. The man who did not clothe himself was ejected from the festival. This is why Jesus says later on:

The Man Without a Wedding Garment
Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

18 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

How events unfold from the dawn of history up to this victory and how to be ‘clothed’ we continue exploring. We look at the next historic event, the Great Flood, recorded in the Bible which affects you and me today.

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