Barclay on Apparel
Barclay is brief in his treatment of apparel. Not everyone needs to be clothed alike because that might not suit their bodies or their estate. He had no problem with the master having better clothes than the servant. The key item for him was that the clothing be sober and without superfluity. The clothes should also fit the country and the resources of that country. “So where silk abounds, it may be worn, as well as wool; and were we in those countries, or near unto them, where gold and silver were as common as iron or brass, the one might be used as well as the other.” The iniquity, to him, lies in two things. “First, when from a lust of vanity, and a desire to adorn themselves, men and women, not content with what their condition can bear, or their country easily affords, do stretch to have things, that from their rarity, and the price that's put upon them, seem to be be precious, and so feed their lust the more. Secondly, when man are not content to make a true use of the creation, whether the things be fine or course, and do not satisfy themselves with what need & conveniency calls for, but add thereunto things merely superfluous.” Superfluities include the use of ribbons and lace, painting the face and plaiting the hair.
His reasons for this is that, first of all, the use of clothes came originally from the fall so we should not take pride in that which is the fruit of our iniquity. To do so is a misuse of creation and therefore not lawful to Christians. Secondly, those who adorn themselves with items of no use but decorations show that the purpose of this is either to satisfy their desires or to gratify a vain, proud and ostentatious mind. They would rather beautify their bodies than their souls. Thirdly, Scripture reproves the practice. We should seek not outward adornment but the inward adornment of a meek and quiet spirit.
In his concern for the proper use of creation, I see a germ of what is now termed Earthcare Witness. Even before we get to superfluous decoration, how about the quantity of clothes that we own. Are our closets full of clothes that we don't wear? What is the reason for that? Is there a sentimental attachment? Are there clothes that we think will fit again someday? Are there clothes that represent different aspects of our lives? Does this represent a compartmentalization in our lives? I will be this person with one set of people and someone else with another? The early Quaker idea of an living with integrity involved being the same person to everyone. It was integrating all aspects of our lives and not living in little compartments. One of the implications of simple dress was that you were easily identifiable as a Quaker. Since Quaker ideals were well known, it was easy for anyone, Quaker or not, to see if you were behaving in a way counter to your ideals.
In our mass market world, how much of clothing advertisement and design is based on displaying our status based on the clothes we wear. What are we buying when we buy designer fashions?
It is not necessary to have a large wardrobe to run into issues around clothes. There was a time when I only owned a weeks worth of clothes. It was little enough that when I went to the laundromat, everything fit into one washer. I was living with the woman who is now my wife. One night we were awakened by the smell of smoke and a crackling sound in the wall. When we looked out the window we could see the light flames reflecting on the snow outside. Lynn ran out of the room to see if she could find out where the fire was. When she came back she found me standing stark naked in front of my closet, not moving. What was going through my head at that moment was this. “The whole house is burning and I will be out on the street with only the clothes on my back. I want to make sure I have the right clothes.” It turned out to be a chimney fire. There was no damage to the apartment or any of our belongings. We still laugh about my response to a moment of crisis. But the point is that even though I had only a few clothes, I had invested them with a lot of meaning. It was important that if I have the “right” ones. Why do we invest so much meaning into our garments? It isn't just the fashionistas. Those who practice plain dress are also making a statement with their apparel. Do any of us wear clothes just for modesty and protection from the elements? Is any of this simple?
Even the idea that clothes are suspect because they arose from the Fall, does not tell the whole story. Before God send Adam and Eve from the garden, he made them clothes of animal skins. They were not sent naked into the world but dressed in clothes sewn by the very fingers of God. Can even the lilies of the field claim that?