Here’s the deal, whether or not we want to admit it, clothes both identify us and shape our identity.
First, they communicate who we are because we choose them. Even if we don’t choose them, if they’re gifts or hand-me-downs, we choose how best to arrange them. To a certain degree, our self is the sum total of our choices.
Your clothes, for better or worse, communicate to others something about you, about who you are and what you value.
A few weeks after my brother Bobby, a notorious clothes horse, died my mom started getting requests from his friends.
"Would it be too much to ask for Bobby’s Goat Roast t-shirt?"
"It would mean so much to me if I could just have those shoes he and I won on Ebay."
"Bobby always looked so ridiculous in that PoBoy shirt. Is it weird to ask if I might… have it?"
My mom sorted through Bobby’s clothes and doled out the pieces, each item a memory. We all looked at those clothes and remembered not the clothes exactly but Bobby in the clothes. The clothes, in some weird way, were Bobby and having the clothes meant having a piece of him.
I have his board shorts sitting on a shelf at the top of my closet. When I wear them (and I often do) I feel freer, younger, relaxed—more like my brother.
Clothes don’t only reflect identity. They alter it, too. John Harvey, in his book Clothes, says that clothes have a way of seeping into the skin so that we become what we wear.
I’ve witnessed this over the last year. I am a different person for wearing different clothes, undoubtedly.
The principle can work to our disadvantage as well. Try wearing sweatpants and stained t-shirts every day for a month (I’ve done that) and see if you aren’t changed, dulled. Or consider “club clothes.” There is a reason women dress provocatively for certain occasions; we muster the courage to be loose, the opposite of buttoned up.
I was surprised, in my study of clothes in the Bible, to find Jesus’ identity closely tied to what He wore.
In the interaction between Jesus and the woman with the issue of blood, the woman reaches out to touch Jesus’ garment, knowing that if she can just touch the hem of His robe she’ll be healed. When she does and she is, Jesus says “Who touched me?” Me.
On the mount of transfiguration, when Jesus is transformed, the text describes not just the transformation of Christ, but the alteration of His clothes as well. When He changes, so does His robe, His once dirty now pure white robe.
As Jesus hangs on the cross, soldiers divide up His clothes and cast lots for His garment, “seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom” as was prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus’s birth. One cannot help but see some truth about Christ wrapped up in that cloth, some message about who he is, as if even this cross, even death, will not tear Him apart.