On Faith + Fashion
"She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future."
Faith and fashion.
Ah... somehow, this feels like a touchy subject. Two rather wildly different things that are -- quite honestly -- not really talked about all that much in our Christian culture. Oh, we have always talked about modesty. But, there's not been a lot of talk -- that I can find -- about fashion and how the Christian woman relates to it. And yet, that's sort of strange to me. And sad. And semi-confusing. As a writer and blogger, I've been wanting to talk about it... for a while now. And yet somehow, it's this sort of hush-hush subject. But.... if ya look back at my track record, who am I to dodge any awkward/hush-hush topics? ;) (Remember when I wrote about saving sex for marriage? The book "50 Shades of Grey"? When breastfeeding doesn't work out and how no one talks about it?) Soooo, grab your favorite hot drink in your prettiest mug -- here are some thoughts on my heart, sweet sisters. (This isn't some theological piece or essay, thorough paper or sermon. Just a sister's thoughts, over coffee. So take it as that. Not the end-all-be-all.)
As a thirty-year-old Christian woman, a new wife, a new mama, I love Jesus. I grew up as a typical 90's-2000's "Christian Girl." I was a pastor's kid. Homeschooled from first grade through twelfth. A worship leader. A youth group leader. A women's ministry leader. I attended a (pretty conservative) Christian college and majored in Home Economics-Family and Consumer Sciences, with a minor in Bible (and I graduated.....just shy of one internship... long story!!) I've been through being part of the leadership of a 4,000 member megachurch, a heart-wrenching church split, the nitty-gritty of planting a church, every single ministry situation you can imagine. I've counseled thousands of women (in person and on the Internet) about every single issue (from sexual abuse to doubt about faith to every relationship/dating issue in the book.) In my four college years, I spent three in the dorms and one in leadership over about 25 girls on a dorm wing. I've written this blog about my heart and faith in Jesus, for 4-ish years, and have spoken at colleges, conferences, events, and communicated through Skype and e-mail and books to hundreds of women. I'm not saying I know it all - I really don't (and somehow, the mix of turning thirty and becoming a mom have made me all the more aware of it!) It's just... I have seen a looooooot (in Christian culture, especially). I've seen the girls who absolutely love Jesus who feel comfortable sporting mini skirts at the beach without blinking an eye and I've seen the girls who absolutely love Jesus and feel very convicted to wear full-coverage denim skirts, inches past their ankles.
In my 4+ years of blogging about my heart, faith, and life, I have received countless emails from young women who ask questions like: How should I dress? You post outfits, Erin -- is it okay that I like clothes and styling and makeup and hair and fashion? Or is it wrong? What are your thoughts on modesty?
And, I haven't ever really addressed those questions. Ever. Quite honestly, it's because there are just so many differing views and opinions, and I don't want to step on any toes, come off like I know it all, and I want to always be super-careful with my words and influence -- because I am always learning and growing. But, for several reasons, I feel led to finally write it all -- my thoughts on fashion and all it entails. So! Here are some things on my heart about fashion and the Christian woman. Like I said, these are just my thoughts (shaped by all the years and experiences mentioned before) and I am excited to finally share a bit of my heart on it and really just a random string of thoughts on faith + fashion with you.
1. Fashion can be so fun, joyful, an expression of creativity and art, and a gift of beauty in this world from the Lord.
When I started blogging, there was no app called Instagram. No "Like To Know It" or bloggers who boast 1 million + followers and make millions on their blogs and social media. It was basically just a gaggle of sometimes-seen-as "out-there" fashion/photography/word-loving ladies who were brave enough to put our amateur styling, writing, and photos on the Internet for the world to see and comment on, in hopes of connecting with other women, building businesses, starting shops, making money to support our families, having fun, and using our voices (free speech, y'all!) It's been insane to watch as thousands of new gals have hopped on the blogging "wagon" and many have created flawless and beautiful brands, multi-million dollar businesses, and we've all (to some extent) found likeminded sistahs who have become real-life friends here on the Internet. I have been incredibly, gratefully, life-alteringly (is that a word?) blessed by the "blog world." Heck, I met my husband on Instagram through my blog! I've met real-life best friends here on the Internet. And have been able to (hopefully) encourage women with my story and heart, publish several books, tell my story, pursue my dream of writing, and make money through my blog. It's the best! From day one of my blog, I shared "fashion posts." Outfits I put together (on a very, very tight budget at the time) and my mom and dad (bless them!) would take photoshoots with my iPhone THREE in our yard for my blog and I would haphazardly edit the photos on a little website called PicMonkey (I dare you to go search those old posts ...oh my ;) I've always enjoyed fashion and styling outfits to wear. Always! As a little girl, Barbies and doll-playing was my favorite. Sister and I would spend hours picking out outfits for them to wear, cutting up old fabric and tying it on them to create new looks. One of my fondest life memories is my grandma Dot taking me every birthday from the age of 3 to the mall, letting me try on scores of dresses, and buying one as my birthday gift. I always picked out the most glamorous, over-the-top, extremely impractical, sometimes ridiculous gowns -- often floor-length (a favorite was an all-denim skin-tight dress with sequins on it...think, Britney and Justin. Haha! Not the most subtle and I really only wore it as dress up. Where does a pre-teen have an occasion for that kind of get-up? But I loooooved it!) As a pastor's kid who grew up on The Ranch (kinda like a YWAM school in the mountains of Southern California) we never had a ton of money. But, picking out clothes as I entered my teen years, playing with makeup, painting my nails, and doing my hair was a passion of mine. It was joyful, a hobby, and fun! I am a creative person and learning a new way to curl my hair, finding a new shade of pink nail polish to paint on for a summer day, or spraying on hair-glitter as a young teen made me feel confident and it was just so fun! I believe the Lord truly created us in His image, and desires for us -- His girls -- to be joy-filled, to be free, to have fun and soak up all the good, good things on this broken but beautiful world we live in. Things that are a small, faded picture of heaven and eternity. He gives us life and good gifts -- not to trudge through life in fear with our heads down, but to live and revel in every day in His grace as we live for and serve and love Him! "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10
Something I've found interesting as the "blog world" has expanded is the obvious lack of Christian bloggers talking about fashion. There are a few, but not many. It's unsaid, but I have always felt this "vibe" from our Christian blogging culture that fashion blogging just isn't godly, holy, "mature" or worthwhile enough to write about... it feels, at times, looked down upon or taken the wrong way, perhaps? Misunderstood, maybe? Fashion and styling isn't every woman's jam, and that's great! But I've always picked up on a noticeable trend in the Christian blogging culture -- posting anything even remotely related to fashion isn't done very often. And further, it always kind of felt like the ones who did post outfit pictures, talk about a new favorite lipstick, or did a hair tutorial were sort of looked upon as being....I don't know... immature, not godly, maybe a little "immodest" or "wild", or just kind of....fluffy? There are several Christian magazines and blogs out there today, and clothing is (markedly) not a part of their publications. You'll find recipes and food! Travel articles! Relationships! Devotionals! Art! Photography! Pieces on finances! Technology! Good reads! Great movies! Music! And of course, home decor! And even DIY crafts! But, no sign of style or fashion or clothes. It's honestly so weird to me! We as Christian women must find inspiration, direction, and ideas for what clothing to wear.... elsewhere. There are a few Christian fashion bloggers, but -- few and far between. InStyle magazine, Pinterest, and popular fashion blogs are our go-to.
Clothing is a gift. It's a must-have, actually. Whether you own ten pairs of jeans or one pair, whether you shop at thrift shops and Target or Nordstrom (I do both). Whether you enjoy the structured tops at J.Crew or the flowy dresses at Anthropologie. Whether you truly enjoy styling an outfit for an event or dread it. Whether you would rather spend that 50 extra dollars on new shoes or would rather buy a nice dinner out, clothes are part of our lives. And I don't think there is anything wrong with enjoying this gift. Just like we as Christians shamelessly enjoy taking trips to see beautiful places God created and taking time to enjoy tasting delicious varieties of food He's given us to eat.
2. Fashion is temporary and frivolous, but it can also be meaningful, significant, and eternal.
A fashion blogger (and fellow Christian gal) I enjoy reading said this about clothing:
"Although clothing can be frivolous, I love how certain pieces coincide with our memories and take us back to the place we were when we wear them. That’s how I imagine our wardrobes will be when we are older. Not closets full of “stuff” but rather, closets filled with weddings, job interviews, trips and kisses on the Michigan Avenue Bridge."
- Katey McFarlan, Chronicles of Frivolity
We as Christian women wear clothes. Every day. Whether meager or abundant, we have closets and budgets and wardrobes for each season. And yet, the whole topic of clothing (aside for how it relates to modesty) is not really talked about! And I think it should be. Because, clothing is more than just fabric stitched together to cover our bodies (which all started with Adam and Eve in Scripture, anyway) -- it is important because it represents so much more: money we have to spend that we have worked hard for and that the Lord has so graciously provided, clothing represents an outward sign of our inward hearts: they make first impressions at job interviews and are the first thing everyone sees about us as we walk down the street and live our lives, our personal creativity -- our likes and dislikes, our beautifully unique personalities! Fashion can be an expression of creativity. And to me, it's really no different at all the other arts we enjoy. Maybe styling outfits, choosing fabrics, picking out accessories, or curling hair isn't every woman's cup of tea, but if it is -- I believe there's no shame in enjoying it.
I've heard Christians say they don't really see where fashion fits into the Christian life. I don't agree -- yes, fashion is temporary. Just like the delicious caramel latte I enjoyed the other day, the yummy lemon chicken and potatoes I made and we devoured the other night, or the artistic movie we went to see on a recent date night that made us think. But it's a gift -- that can be frilly and silly, or significant and meaningful. We could eat the same bland thing every single day and survive. We can all wear the same article of clothing every single day and be absolutely fine. But, our kind God gave us variety in all of life: food that is sweet, spicy, tangy, crunchy, juicy, crispy, salty! Weather that is freezing, stifling, dry-hot, humid-hot, balmy, cool, warm! Hair that is curly, straight, course, black, blonde, white, red! Conversations that are small-talk in line at the grocery store, laugh so hard you snort at the girl's night out with friends, sitting across from someone you love and bearing your soul and telling your secrets, confrontational honesty that stings but feels good to say, listening to someone talk and not saying a word. Fabrics that are cashmere soft, burlap rough, cotton comfy, denim sturdy. Just go to the zoo (new mama example, ha) and check out the incredibly unique and varied types of animals: a monkey is nothing like a giraffe, a hippo is so vastly different from a flamingo. All so creatively and wonderfully made. Our God certainly could never be called boring. The beauty of clothing and style is that there are so many options, so much fun to be had, so much creativity to be tapped into.
And it must be handled with care, thoughtfulness, and awareness. Fashion, like any other material thing on this earth is not eternal. It is temporary. It's all going to burn someday. Scripture says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV) We will not take any of this "stuff" with us when we die.
If ever my "treasure" is in my closet, my living room decor, my car, my passport stamps, my garage, my jewelry box, my Instagram follower count, my refrigerator, the technology I own, or my bank account -- oh Lord, change me. I desire my heart to be set on Jesus, on heaven, on eternity. On people. How chilling is the thought that we would come to the end of our lives and look back, realizing we spent all our time running around selfishly trying to gain likes, followers, people who adore us because we try to make everyone like us, build closets, bank accounts, cute houses, and travel logs, only to realize we never spent time or effort speaking or knowing truth, sharing the Gospel, loving the unlovely in the dirty and messy, unseen and broken, worshipping Him, or knowing Him.
That being said -- I believe clothing, bank accounts and budgets, how we spend our time, the homes we build, the trips we take, our relationships with food, and how we handle, carry and present ourselves as women of God does carry eternal value because these are gifts given to us to be stewarded. And this can be messy and so hard to steward! It's not cut and dry. Every single person is unique -- in our struggles, loves, callings, gifting, stories, and resources. The Lord hands us each the gift of a life and a story, and we are given the free choice to do handle it and walk it out. And we are not perfect. But, we can try and with His help, honor Him with our lives and with our stewardship of the people, money, time, energy, etc. that He gives so graciously.
This past week, I watched on TV the transfer of power from one president to a new one, I heard a news anchor (can't remember exactly who) say this about anticipating the new First Lady's fashion choice for the evening ball: "Some people would say, oh that's sort of the frivolous part of the day. But it's not necessarily: there is a message that is being sent by who she chooses to wear and what she chooses to wear. She represents us, as Americans. And what she wears speaks about who she is." I could not agree more, for you and for me, too, in our lives, callings and stories. Our clothing speaks to who we are. When I ignore my wardrobe, I end up overspending on things I don't need (too many pink lip glosses, too many designer dresses that require unrealistic dry cleaning, too many white tees) and lacking things I practically need to function (jeans that fit, socks that don't have holes, bras that aren't ripped, a decent coat, etc.) due to neglecting stewardship of my closet. It matters. Just like planning your menu according to your schedule and budget for the week and creating your grocery list instead of just popping in Trader Joe's whenever you realize your pantry is empty and buying whatever looks good in the moment (mostly for me that would be chocolate, chips, coffee and smoothie drinks, and probably some sparkly wine!) It all falls under the category of gifts given to us to steward that are frivolous but have eternal heart-value attached to them.
3. Fashion represents who we are and our inward hearts (AKA also: my thoughts on the modesty question)
"Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak."
- Rachel Zoe
It is much easier to create blanket-statement rules than to delve into the colorful array of free choice we are given as Jesus-followers, if you stop and think about it.
Cut and dry, straight-forward rules are easy. A to-do list that says: "If you complete A, B, and C you are guaranteed to be blessed" is easy. A graph printed out and handed to you that states all the garment and hair styles you are allowed to wear is easy. An exact measurement for what is acceptable and checks the box of "godly" when it comes to "modest" clothing is easy: you can wear jeans but no tights. You can wear black but no white. You can wear skirts but no pants. You can wear tank tops with a 2 1/2 inch thick strap, but no spaghetti straps. You can wear your hair down and curly but you can't wear red lipstick. You can wear tankinis but you cannot wear bikinis. You can wear Bermuda shorts but you cannot wear cut-off shorts. It would be easy to start dating a guy and a get a list that says: "Things that are okay: hand holding, sitting side by side, laying a head on shoulder." and "Things that are not okay: kissing, being alone together in a room, sit face to face, etc."
To my heart and mind, these specific lists of rules leaves no room for real-life or real-hearts. For each individual situation. For each person's personality, story, history, and struggles. For nuance. For setting. And honestly, I have seen it with my own eyes: it does not work. It leaves you feeling trapped and strangled, bound and confused, mindless and completely devoid of wholeheartedness, intimacy with the Lord and others, and basically creates a rule-following mind that is not linked to meaning or purpose, devotion or heart.
There are obvious things that we all hold as right and wrong. But, in the middle of that there is so much freedom. And that is messy! And it looks different for everyone. Because we all have a different story, different personality, different setting, different life, different heart, different mind, different relationships.
So, sweet girls who have emailed me for the past 4 years asking, "Is it okay to wear a shorter skirt? What do you think about bikinis? What about crop tops? What about cleavage?" Dear sister. I am not going to answer that. I'm not going to give you a list of specific guidelines for what will and won't get you "into trouble" or what is right before the Lord. Only you know. And I know that it is a big, sometimes-scary responsibility to embrace, but we should all - individually - open up our hands and hearts to Him, and ask. And be led. And sometimes look back and say, "Hmmm, maybe I wouldn't wear that now." But to be willing to step out and walk it out, in freedom and joy, openness and a humble heart. I don't really feel led to go into graphic detail or create guidelines about the whole modesty topic. But, here's what I will say -- after years of being asked:
Honestly? Be classy. Have style. (My friend Kymberly, who has a great blog, recently said that to me about this topic and -- it's so my heart) Think it through. Use wisdom. Take each situation carefully in mind and just try to be a lady. For instance: I own bikinis. But where and when I choose to wear them is key for me. Do I throw one on when I attend a get-together at the beach where I'm playing volleyball with a bunch of guy friends from church (which is totally not gonna happen for me because I'm the least sporty person ever and I legit run from all sports balls....plus, I have no clue how to play volleyball, as embarrassing as that would be for most people but I literally don't even care #sportswatchernotplayer, but that's neither here nor there, this is just a random example -- lol) -- I'd choose to probably wear a one-piece or tankini just because: boppin' around playing a sport like that in that small amount of fabric is awkward and a bit TMI for everyone, and just not appropriate for the situation, for several reasons. But: hubby and I go on our honeymoon to a secluded beach island? Heck yeah I wore a bikini with him. It was a whole different setting.
And sometimes, you'll look back and feel like you didn't get it right. That's okay! I chose this one outfit for our family's Texas Thanksgiving this past year and it was hilarious because I had it in my mind as being so classy and appropriate: a long sleeved, shorter-length Free People dress that was black and brown with a higher collar, paired with these suede over-the-knee boots. I put on the outfit and, out the door I went. When we got to Daniel's sweet grandparent's house I started to realize: A. I was overdressed. B. It was humid and the suede/nylon combo was far from comfy, plus -- what the heck was I thinking! I am now taking care of a 4 month old! And C. Uhhhh oh.... this outfit has a semi-"Pretty Woman" stripper vibe goin' on somehow and uhhhhhhhh, oh no -- this is not the right setting for it. Ha! The outfit was fine, really. But I just suddenly felt uncomfortable, not right for the setting (Grandparent's home with cousins and uncles and aunts and babies) We took family pictures and then changed into some sandals later, and it all worked out. Looking back, I would have chosen something different: more comfortable and understated, and less, well -- like I was gonna meet Richard Gere? (insert some shocked-face emoji) But oh well. My heart wasn't to look like a stripper, obviously! I was just trying to look fabulous as a post-partum mama who missed her old boots! And it was fine in the end. I hope that example makes sense; this is what I mean: do your best, be yourself, think it through, and just have fun, give your heart to the Lord in it over and over, and don't stress too much.
Be classy, tasteful, appropriate, elegant, refined, smart, and thoughtful. Freedom, not shame or fear. Be graceful and be you.
That's my motto and that's my heart on the topic.
4. Fashion can be a tool to connect with the world.
A huge reason I have shared outfits, pretty things, and style on this blog and my social media (from day one) is because it's a very powerful tool to connect with the world. It draws people in. More than just black and white words on a page. Pretty photographs, trendy outfits, lovely graphic design, interesting content -- it all draws the eye, and can create a "feeling" that sets the tone for and creates warmth on a blog or social media. I truly believe our blogs and Instagram feeds (or Snapchat or whatever your favorite form of social media is) can be like our online living rooms. A place that is our turf, where we can welcome people in, share our hearts, be hospitable, open up and be vulnerable, and also a place where we can set boundaries, talk about what we want, let in what we allow, and love on people.
I'm not a 100% full-time fashion blogger. I'm a creative and a writing storyteller who loves beautiful photography, beautiful gifts (home, travel, food, clothing, etc!), telling my story, sharing my joys and struggles, but most of all I love Jesus and encouraging women to know how much He loves them. This is my heart in all I do (whether it be sharing a post about newborn tips to help moms, writing a devotional to encourage girls, designing a printable that is inspirational, sharing a favorite recipe, being honest about my struggles or my joys in life, posting pictures of beautiful creation or good food from a trip I was blessed to take with my boys, or posting an outfit I put together and shot to give ideas for putting together an outfit!) I pray that whatever I post -- and it all comes from my heart and is always born out of passions and things I love -- inspires you to know how loved you are and how graceful He is. Life is beautiful, and a gift. And I hope my blog screams that -- in every thing I post.
5. Fashion can be a picture of our hope and confidence.
My sweet friend and fellow blogger who loves Jesus, Jessica Sheppard, recently wrote this and it mulled in my mind for about a week:
"Dressing is a form of hope in and of itself…
you’re expecting something wonderful to happen.
I mean, if you dressed for the occasion, why wouldn’t it?
Dress for what you expect."
Wow! Clothing is powerful. It is important. It means something. It represents a whole lot. It's a gift to be stewarded. And it can be a picture of hope.
I am all about yoga pants / messy hair / no makeup days, especially as a new mom! Seriously, I roll around town half the time in an old baseball cap and yoga pants. But, I do honestly find that when I take fifteen minutes and brush my teeth, brush my hair, put on a little bit of makeup, and clean clothes, I have a better attitude. It's self care. It means something. I don't feel dumpy and frazzled. I act more like myself, more like "it" matters. The dishes and feeding Weston his baby food and the reading books to him... it matters, oh so much. And when I am put together -- even a little bit -- it changes my mind and attitude and helps me to act in hope. That's just me! I have found this to be true.
Clothes can give us confidence and make us feel beautiful. We are incredibly loved by our Creator, made in His image, and there is nothing wrong with looking and feeling beautiful! *I've edited this post to include a comment on this post from a sweet reader that I just loved and is so the heartbeat of what I am saying:
"I'm going to rock my pretty sweater, my skinny work pants, cute boots and makeup because I feel beautiful, I feel confident in who I am. I can hear the truth louder and the lies are quieter." - Stephanie Hart
The Proverbs 31 woman in the Bible "...seeks wool and flax and works with willing hands" (vs. 13), she "dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong" (vs 17), "is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in sacrlet." (vs. 21), "makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple." (vs. 22), "She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant." (vs.24), "strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future." (vs. 25). (NASB)
"Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain. But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised."
May we be women of depth and character, who are free to enjoy the frivolous fun of fashion but whose minds, hearts, and eyes are set on God and His work, carefully handling the joys of this life with thought and attentiveness for what they represent and mean.
Be classy, be stylish, be ladylike, be free, be you, and think it all through.
What a joy to live in abundance, freedom, and grace, knowing we are always loved, we are safe, and when we are not perfect, He gives grace upon grace.
This is my heart, as I post fashion on this blog.
Thank you for reading!