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A Brief History of Clothing

February 27th, 2008 | 5 min read

By Anodos

The Sword and the Shaving Brush

Towards a Biblical understanding of fashion

By Timothy Bartel

Part II - A Brief History of Clothing

The wool dress I saw at Biola began to work on my mind. The idea of such an ungroomed garment could not long remain in my imagination before I connected it with the Bible. I don’t mean merely the associations of dressing up like a “sheep gone astray” or even of the Pauline assertion that we are clothed in the white righteousness of Christ. As contemporary Christians we are often too quick to transform all physical actions and objects into figures for metaphysical or spiritual truths. Strangely, the first association I made with the wool dress was Genesis 3. As we remember, Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit and consequently realize a strange thing. They are naked. Verse 7 reads: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” When God later asks Adam why he is hiding from Him, Adam answers: “Because I was naked”. It is interesting that Adam’s and Eve’s attempts to fashion clothing for themselves proves insufficient in providing a sense of adequate covering. Surely there a many lessons here to learn about the nature and effects of sin. For our purposes, this lesson may be gleaned: that sin makes one aware of one’s physical nature and the shame associated with nakedness. This leads to the creative activity of garment making, yet for Adam and Eve the covering of nakedness does not provide the desired consolation. But God intervenes. In verse 21 we learn that “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” These verses constitute the first mention of clothing in the Bible, and the starting place, I believe, for any discussion of the art of fashion.

It is interesting that sufficient clothing is not found until it is created by God for Man. God is the victorious tailor of the first fashion show, if you will. And now I may return to the wool dress, for I wondered what such “garments of skin” looked like until I saw it. Perhaps the designer captured in the wool and sticks and splendor the aspect of those first garments. Yet perhaps they were unlike any clothing we have yet seen. Whatever they were, I believe that they must have served their purpose perfectly. Could they also have been beautiful, even the most beautiful clothes ever made?

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