Here’s the scene—I was in Thailand on vacation last week, struggling with myself over whether I should find some nice Thai silk dresses to buy. I had already tried some on, but for one reason or another, they didn’t fit, they weren’t a color I wanted, or the style didn’t work. I had already gotten some nice things as souvenirs and had told myself that was enough, but I kept finding myself yearning for some fine silk clothes, yet also feeling guilty for that yearning and trying harder to be content, then being annoyed that I had to try so hard.
My rational mind could come up with plenty of reasons why I should not think twice about buying what I wanted. 1) “You’ll never get another chance.” (That was the biggest one.) 2) “It will be so nice.” 3) “You love pretty things.” Yet my spiritually sensitive self got annoyed about it as a sign of materialism. And then the other part of me wondered, why should this be made into a spiritual issue? I just like nice clothes; what is wrong with getting nice clothes?
Well, the Lord led me to a number of scriptures in the Book of Mormon where the state of lifting one’s self up in the pride of one’s eyes was followed very quickly by wearing fine or costly apparel.
And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they. (Jacob 2:13, emphasis added)There were quite a few scriptures besides these I have shown, and after reading them all, I felt roundly rebuked. Not that the Thai silk clothes would be expensive--clothes are much cheaper there--but they would definitely be “fine apparel.” So I had to ask the Lord just how fine or costly apparel was connected to pride and how to know if I was really in a bad way. Some questions came into my mind to ask myself, which I will share with you.
Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish. (Alma 31:28)
36 And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. (Mormon 8:36-37)
- Is your clothing a significant means of self-expression for you?
- Do you try to set yourself apart from everyone else merely by the clothes you wear?
- Are you trying to wow people with your fashion and style?
- Do you want people to be impressed by you on the basis of your clothes?
- Do you judge yourself by your clothing? Is your clothing a gauge of your worth and legitimacy?
- Are you embarrassed if you run into someone else wearing the same outfit or who matches you to a startling degree?
- Do you measure yourself by others or compare your fashion and look to others’ fashion?
- Do you judge others by their clothing?
- Do you find yourself dismissing others on no other grounds than the clothes they wear?
- Does your clothing contradict principles of physical comfort (makes you cold in winter, or too hot in summer, pinched, restrained, physically unstable, etc.) and you put up with it because it is stylish?
- Do you like shopping, wearing fine clothes, decorating, and all your stuff more than you like helping the poor and needy, the sick and the afflicted?
Yet, I’ve also found myself wondering what is the right attitude to take about my clothes and the right thing to do, since it seems like it would be a mistake to wear ugly clothes and completely neglect how I look. I’ve done a lot of pondering. I already know about the principles of modesty, physical comfort, and situational appropriateness. I wondered what other principles could help me avoid pride in relation to my clothes.
Thankfully, I found the solution also in the Book of Mormon.
And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely. (Alma 1:27)There are three keys here--avoiding costly apparel, dressing neatly, being comely.
I think “costly” can be defined to mean a price that takes an undue chunk out of your budget so that other important needs are short-changed. From a worldly perspective, low cost clothes are great because then you can have more of them, but that’s not the goal from a Zion perspective. The Zion perspective is that low cost clothes are great because then you have more money available to help others. (That requires not just thriftiness, but unselfishness. Clearly, that perspective is a higher standard.)
Second, be “neat.” The dictionary says “neat” means:
- arranged in an orderly, tidy way
- (of a person) habitually tidy, well groomed, or well organized
- having a pleasing shape or appearance; well formed or regular
- very good or excellent; pleasant
- done with or demonstrating skill or efficiency
- (typically of a woman) pleasant to look at; attractive
- agreeable; suitable
Image: Dressaday.com, http://www.dressaday.com/2005/09/it-started-off-being-about-a-dress-anyway.html.