Clothing has played a major role in the history of God’s interactions with humanity and is featured prominently from Genesis (3:7) to Revelation (22:14). Outward attire sometimes symbolizes inward realities, and in the Bible clothing often has spiritual significance.
The first mention of clothing is in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned, their eyes were opened (Genesis 3:6–7), which means they had a new awareness that they were naked. The accompanying shame propelled them to fashion the very first clothing—they sewed fig leaves together to try to cover their bodies. So, even from the beginning, clothing has symbolized the need to cover our sin and shame. God, in His mercy, killed an animal and made garments for Adam and Eve from the skin of the animal (Genesis 3:21). This act of God serves as a picture of our inability to effectively atone for our own sin. The fact that an animal had to die—blood had to be shed—in order to cover Adam and Eve’s shame is a foreshadowing of the later sacrifice of Christ. Our inability to cover our own sin necessitated God’s Son coming to earth to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves (Philippians 2:6–8; Titus 3:5).
Throughout human history, clothing styles and colors have been indicators of a person’s status, wealth, position, and gender. The Bible contains many examples of clothing used to communicate different things. Royal robes were worn by kings to distinguish them from commoners (2 Chronicles 18:9; Esther 6:8; 1 Kings 22:30). Sackcloth, a coarse material that was uncomfortable to wear, was worn during times of grief and mourning to symbolize the inner pain someone felt at the loss of a loved one (Joel 1:8), to show repentance (Jonah 3:5), or to mourn a political tragedy (Joel 1:13; 2 Kings 19:1). Prostitutes had a certain manner of dress and could be recognized by their clothing (Genesis 38:14–15; Proverbs 7:10). Leather belts were a sign of poverty or asceticism; Elijah and John the Baptist both wore leather belts (2 Kings 1:8; Mark 1:6). Men and women were commanded in the Mosaic Law to wear only gender-appropriate clothing (Deuteronomy 22:5), because wearing the clothing of the opposite sex conveyed rebellion against God’s design.
Throughout the Bible, white clothing symbolizes purity. At the Transfiguration, Jesus’ clothing “became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). In the book of Revelation, Jesus describes the attire of those who had been found worthy to rule with Him in His eternal kingdom—the clothing is white (Revelation 3:18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9). Jesus is usually seen wearing white in prophetic visions (Daniel 7:9; Mark 9:2). And angels are often described as wearing white robes (Matthew 28:3; John 20:12).
Clothing is one of the basic necessities of life (1 Timothy 6:8). Jesus taught His followers, those who seek first His kingdom, not to worry about having clothes to wear because the One who clothes the grass of the field will also clothe His children (Matthew 6:28–33). The universal standard for clothing is modesty: “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with . . . expensive clothes, but with good deeds” (1 Timothy 2:9–10). Much more valuable than pricey outfits and famous name brands are the good works that flow from a life committed to the Lord.
Clothing has been a major part of human history and began as a response to mankind’s sin. Clothing is good because of our need to keep our bodies covered, both for protection and for modesty. God pronounced judgments upon those who “uncovered the nakedness” of others improperly (Exodus 20:26; Leviticus 18:6; Isaiah 47:3). In Scripture, nakedness is almost always associated with sexual sin and/or shame. Not only are our eternal robes significant, but God considers our earthly attire significant as well.