Why should we try to raise the clothing tastes of our students in a Christian classical school?
Steve Elliott, 2010
Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are objective categories for God’s creation. These categories allow us better understand the world we live in by giving us ways of approaching the created order. God created all reality, and created it true, good, and beautiful. Most Christians today do not struggle with an objective view of truth or goodness. The modern evangelical still believes in objective truth derived from a study of God’s Word and from creation. He will also admit that Scripture provides objective means of determining what is good or evil. But many have fallen prey to the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that it is somehow less objective than the other two. I would assert that when such a view is held, the objectivity of both truth and goodness are in peril. We must develop and teach in our school an objective view of beauty, a Christian Aesthetic, if our students are to have any real ability to contemplate beauty along with truth and goodness.
We must accept that Beauty is objective, and that clothing is part of this beauty. Clothing is an outer display the student’s inner apprehension of propriety, discipline, and his care for his fellow man. In order to nurture in our students a godly understanding of beauty, we must include a thoughtful apologetic of how we ought to dress ourselves given our biblical view of beauty.
Let us begin by establishing the importance of our subject by asking whether the Bible speaks to this issue. Does God care what we wear? Starting our discussion here we can go straight to the beginning of Scripture to find our first evidence that what we wear matters to God. In Genesis God sends Adam and Eve back to the changing room after they seek to cover themselves with inappropriate dress.
“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” (Ge 3:7 ASV)
“And Jehovah God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skins, and clothed them.” (Ge 3:21 ASV)
In this passage, it is God’s own judgment that there is appropriate and inappropriate dress. The fig leaves were not sufficient; the skins were. Working from this passage we find a number of passages that also indicate an objective nature to the notion of “dressing up” or dressing for special occasions, and to denote one’s vocation.
“And Rebekah took the goodly garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son;” (Gen 27:15 ASV)
“These were thy traffickers in choice wares, in wrappings of blue and broidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords and made of cedar, among thy merchandise.” (Ez 27:24 ASV)
“When I saw among the spoil a goodly Babylonish mantle, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.” (Jos 7:21 ASV)
That Rebekah could denote certain clothing as “good” indicates an objective taste in dress. Ezekiel speaks of men who traffic in the best goods, including blue and embroidered work, and other such clothing that costs more indicating greater worth, and thus objectively “better.” And even a sinfully blind man such as Aachen, caught in his coveting and lust, still found opportunity to find goodly or “fine” Babylonian dress and then covet such. Objectively, as with Truth and Goodness, Beauty is an objective category.
In fact, I would contend that Christians must maintain objective standards for all three categories for any of them to be defensible. Our preservation of an objective view of Beauty is necessary to our Christian view of reality. The seat for our view of reality depends upon being upheld by all three legs of objective Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Our school depends upon these ideas to nourish our student’s souls so that they might gain wisdom and virtue.
Why should we teach students to dress up when they are simply going to school? Can we argue certain dress being not only good, but appropriate as well? I hope to find that I am preaching to the choir at this point, but let me set forth the idea: School is our students’ the vocation. It is apropos that they learn to dress themselves in a manner that is in keeping with this divine calling. A wise teacher will, when headed to the corn fields on a field trip, ask permission for normal school dress to be exchanged for t-shirts and jeans, because such clothing is more appropriate for the field. Most students do not need to be taught how to “dress down” but certainly need experience in learning how to behave when “dressed up.”
When is dressing up is appropriate? The Bible again informs us on this subject. Consider just a few of the possible passages below concerning specific times such as during grief or a wedding when everyone of that time knew about appropriate dress.
“And Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.” (Ge 37:34 ASV)
“And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes (now he was passing by upon the wall); and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh.” (2Ki 6:30 ASV)
“Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel; and he came into the house of Jehovah, and worshipped…” (2Sa 12:20a ASV)
“But when the king came in to behold the guests, he saw there a man who had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless.” (Mt 22:11-12 ASV)
I am not arguing the specifics of these passages, but rather seeking the principle embedded there: dress must be appropriate, and thus, dressing up is a biblically encouraged act. Rather than trying to get you to wear Ruth’s best clothes, or to dress for a wedding in the New Testament fashion, I am only stating that there are objective criteria for what constitutes proper dress.
A student’s dress should reflect what is appropriate. It should speak to their calling. We know this as a culture when we can immediately identify any of the following vocations simply by their uniform in most cases:
Ice Cream Truck drivers
And the list can go on. Even our culture understands the principle of propriety when it comes to dress. We can then move to asserting that we should teach our students how to appropriately dress not just at the normal or “dress down” level, but at the level of “dressing up” as well. Having days in which we dress “up” are a part of teaching our students a Christian view of Beauty.
In cultivating wisdom and virtue, we must teach our students how to dress in a manner that considers others, and not just our own comfort. The discipline of compassion is a Christian virtue, and when we teach our students to consider a situation and how to best dress for it, we are instructing them in that virtue. In short, our students should be more uncomfortable causing others discomfort with their dress than they are concerned about their own comfort level in a given set of clothes. Simply put, proper dress is part of good manners. To the extent that we teach it well, we increase the level of propriety and gentle manners in our students.
Many common objections are rallied against teaching students to dress up, such as the arguments of comfort, culture, and context. Such objections should be answered if we are to encourage support from our community of parents, teachers, and students.
The concerns with comfort are legitimate, but answerable. The objections rally around the fact that especially young children, but all students to some extent do not feel comfortable in dress up clothing. Many feel that dressing up will impede the classroom performance of our students by making them uncomfortable. The literature is divided on this subject when it comes to the studies conducted, but many strong studies support the idea that student performance increases when they dress up. Part of our task in training children is to teach them to become comfortable with dressing up. Just like with some of our other distinctions, choosing to have even young children dress up will slowly teach them how to behave in such clothing.
A second concern is that of our culture. How can we teach students to dress up when defining such dress is quite varied in our modern culture? Our Eastern Carolina culture of dress fits our proximity to the beach. Very few folks dress up. The objection to dressing up, then, is that of being counter to our culture in a manner that is difficult for public image. But being somewhat “counter-cultural” is part of the Christian life well-lived. We believe that a major part of cultivating wisdom and virtue is training children in appropriate choices, including how to dress up. We cannot do this without requiring them to do so from time to time, and some will find this counter-cultural training uncomfortable.
Finally, there is the objection of context. Folks understand that doctors, or UPS guys, etc. must wear a uniform, but how does this fit into our school? We do not require them to dress up every day or to wear a uniform, so how does this apply? In response, I would state that context is the exact idea we are seeking to inform them of, that certain times require certain dress. So I think it is best when we dress up for specific times of honor, importance, and celebration. In trying to work this out in our school, I feel this is where I can improve our practice. We should signify clearly for the students what we are “dressing up” for. That would mean scheduling dress up days on days of honor, importance, and significance.
Such days of honor, importance, and significance are natural to the school that is in love with such ideas. But our students must be properly trained in this form like in any other aspect of tradition and form. The ins and outs of doing this training can be improved, but the philosophical basis for dressing up must first be established. Our faculty must be of one mind so that our students receive a unified message that leads to forming a mind and life ordered around the forms God has created. I hope that the above thoughts spur further and sincere discussion as our school works its way toward a Christian aesthetic. May we seek beauty in ourselves and our students.
 Caruso, 1996.