We adult women have forgotten something that most little girls know instinctively: We are beautiful, by purpose and design, and our clothing should reflect that. Tomboys in the room, don’t come after me — I have spent many hours covered in barn dirt, shoveling manure, and riding sweaty animals until very little of me was not grimy, but those are exceptions to the rule. Barn clothes (or gym clothes, or clothes for whatever grubby activity you like) are for barn use. At our very basic physical design, the Lord has made us beautiful. Every little girl asks if she is pretty, if she can be a princess, if she is worthy of attraction and admiration. This is not wrong; rather, it is a gift.
When we dressed up as princesses and expected everyone to obey us simply because we wore Cinderella’s dress and held a magic wand, it was less because we were embodying Cinderella and more because deep inside we felt that we were worthy of that obedience and admiration. Now, I realize that is an extreme, and that is why we all probably stopped doing that before puberty. But it illustrates a point that we adult ladies have forgotten: Our clothing reflects ourselves to the world, and if we want to be admired, respected and seen as competent adults, we should dress the part.
Showing up for yourself and your family
Whether you are at a college class, a playdate with some other moms, or a business meeting, clothing is the first outward sign that tells others how to see you. It suggests what kind of person you are, what you like, whether you are more outgoing (cue my sister’s extremely colorful and quirky socks) or run on the more shy side (hello closetful of gray cardigans!). Humans are visual beings, so the way one dresses is the introduction of your soul to the outside world.
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Clothing affects how we feel. Little girls know this instinctively when they tell you that they must wear the Cinderella gown in order to be a princess. Your clothing also has an affect on your mood and self-image. When you see yourself in the uniform of someone well-dressed, confident and in control of her life, you will feel more like that person. On the other hand, gym clothes suggest sweat, strain and single-minded focus. That is not what we are called to do in our homes, dorms or professional spheres. We are called to be present to the constantly changing needs of our families, friends and coworkers. Yes, we might have sweat and strain, but it is not approached as labor in the same sense. Dressing the part helps us remember that the people with whom we interact each day are not weights to pull us down but gifts to build us up. God has put each one of those people into our paths for a reason. Looking nice also helps others to respect you. Just as employees of an upper crust law firm dress to represent their company, so should we dress to represent ourselves and our families.
Running out of clean clothes?
However, I understand the difficulties of keeping a tidy home. If my family is truly such a mess that decent street clothes cannot be sufficient, perhaps a cleaning lady is in order. I had cleaning help during a particularly challenging season, and it was worth every scrounged penny! But for most of us, instituting regular chores for both ourselves and/or our kids keeps the house clean enough that a blouse and skirt or jeans can survive it.
If you, like myself, struggle with finding time to clean and stay on top of laundry, there are so many resources available. Capsule wardrobes are amazing for reducing laundry time, and programs like the Fly Lady or The Cleaning Ninja give a daily cleaning schedule so that you rarely have to spend more than 15 minutes cleaning and yet always have a decently clean house. No matter what your position in life, it is possible to have enough clean clothes that you can wear an outfit that presents the best you to the outside world. And moms, teach your kids to do their own laundry. Folding is overrated, and even a four year old can take his basket of clean clothes and put them in the right drawers. It won’t be pretty, but it’s one less thing for you to do. Single ladies, Goodwill is your friend. Do not keep every article of clothing you have ever had. If it has not been worn regularly in at least two seasons, ditch it.
Getting kids’ attention
Not only will looking nice help other adults to respect you, but it will also encourage your children to see you as an authority. Whether you are a parent, teaching Sunday school, or an educator by trade, children need to see that the adult is an authority; decent clothing aids this.
Children assume a teacher in class is an authority, even though she has a fraction of the control in their lives that parents do; she used her visible attributes to give the impression of control. You can do this, too. A teacher is dressed well, walks with confidence, and always appears to have a plan. (I will tell you a secret, ladies. You don’t actually have to have a plan — just look and talk the part. Kids are easily persuaded.)
You fun aunties can pull this off as well; my sister has no children of her own, and yet she uses her auntie authority to wrap the hearts of my boys right around her finger, juggling carrot and stick quite admirably. Surprisingly, this bonding often starts with a question about some oddball piece of clothing she is wearing, like dress pants with Snoopy socks, or the like. Kids notice these things.
Dressing as evangelization
Our appearance is the only thing most of the world sees in order to get a glimpse into our lives. This is part of our evangelization, and we should use it to be honest about the joys, not just the hardships. If we are deep in the throes of family life, there are joys to be shown in that. It is not a sweaty grind requiring spandex and hoodies every day, but rather an occasionally messy gig that also offers opportunities for many moments of evangelization by how we conduct ourselves and our charges.
For those of you ladies in the working world or higher education, the goal is the same. Let your life — which at its core is striving for Christ and heaven — look less like a chore and more like something in which you can rejoice!
Athletic clothes, or other location-specific attire, are wonderful in the right place. I wear mine every morning to exercise and have for decades. But, they are tools, and like any tool, they must be used correctly to have the best result. Let us try to keep our athleisure for those times when we are actually being athletic, and put on our real clothes for the rest of the time.