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William Perkins

on the

Right, Lawful, and Holy Use of Apparel.

[taken from his book Cases of Conscience]


What is the right, lawful, and holy use of apparel?

Answer: In the use of apparel, two things are to be considered: the preparation of it, when it is to be worn; and the wearing, when it is prepared.




In the right preparation of our apparel, two rules are propounded in Scripture, for our direction.


1st Rule: Our care for apparel, and the ornaments of our bodies, must be very moderate. This our Savior Christ teacheth at large, Matt 6:28-31, where, commanding men to take no thought for apparel, he forbids not all care, but the curious & immoderate care. The reason is added, because they which walk in their callings, and do the duty thereof with diligence, shall have by God’s blessing, all things needful, provided and prepared for them. He that dwells in a borrowed house, will not fall a trimming of it, and suffer his own hard by, to become ruinous. In like manner, our body is the house of our soul, borrowed of God, and by him lent unto us for a time, and we are but his tenants at-will: for we must depart out of it, at his commandment. And therefore our greatest care must be employed upon our souls; and the other which concerneth the adorning of our body, must be but moderate. Again, God in his providence, clotheth the very herbs of the field, therefore much more is he careful for man. And Paul saith, If we have food and raiment, we must therewith be content, I Tim.6:8, that is, if we have food, and raiment necessary for us and ours, we ought to quiet our hearts, and have no further care for our apparel.


It will be said, How shall we know what is necessary?


Answer: A thing is necessary two ways: first, in respect of nature, for the preservation of life and health: secondly, in respect of place, calling, and condition, for the upholding and maintenance thereof. Now we call that Necessary raiment, which is necessary both these ways. For example: that apparel is necessary for Scholar, the Tradesman, the Countryman, the Gentleman; which serveth not only to defend their bodies from cold, but which belongs also to the place, degree, calling, and condition of them all.


If it be asked, Who shall determine and judge, what is necessary to these persons and purposes? I answer: Vain and curious persons are not to be competent judges hereof; but in these things, we must regard the judgement and example of modest, grave, and frugal persons in every order and estate; who upon experience and knowledge, are best able to determine, what is necessary, and what is not. Again, though we must not seek for more than necessary apparel; yet if God of his goodness, give us ability to have and maintain more, we must thankfully receive it, and become good stewards of the same, for the good of men.


But some will say; It seems, that we ought not to keep abundance, when God gives it, because we may not have above one coat. For John gives this rule, Luk 3:11, Let him that hath two coats give to him that hath none. Answer: John’s meaning must needs be this: He that hath not only necessary raiments, but more than necessary, he must give of his abundance to them that want. For otherwise, his rule should not agree with Christ’s own practice, who had himself two coats, an inner, and an upper garment, which he kept and wore. Nor with S. Pauls, who had both a cloak and a coat.


This rule discovers the common sinful practice of many men in the World. The greater sort of men are exceedingly careful, by all means and ways to follow the fashion, and to take up every newfangled attire, whensoever it comes abroad. A course flat contrary to Christ’s doctrine, which commandeth an honest care , only for necessary ornaments, and condemneth the contrary, and that upon special reason; because this inordinate and affected care, is commonly a great pick-purse. It fills men’s heads, and hearts with vain and foolish thoughts: it makes them wastefully to abuse the blessings of God Given unto them, whereby they are disabled, from helping others that are in need. Whereas the first and principal care, ought to be for the adorning of the soul with grace, and putting on the Lord Jesus: and this is it, which will yield more comfort to the mind and conscience, than any external formality to the outward state of man.


2nd Rule: All apparel must be fitted to the body, in a comely and decent manner; such as becometh holiness, Tit 2:3.


If it be here demanded, How we should thus frame and fashion our attire? The answer is, By observing the rules of decency and comeliness, which are in number seven.


First, that it be according to the sex: for men must prepare apparel for men, women for women. This rule is not ceremonial, but grounded upon the law of nature, and common honesty, Deut. 22:5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth to unto man, neither shall a man put on womans raiment; for all that do so, are abomination to the Lord thy God.


Secondly, our apparel must be made according to our office; that is, such as may be fit and convenient for us, in respect of our calling; that it may not hinder or disable us, in the performance of the duties thereof. Whereupon comes justly to be condemned the kind of apparel (specially of women) that is used in this age. For it makes them like to an image in a frame, set bolt upright; whereby it comes to pass, that they cannot go well, and with ease or conveniency, about any good business, but must of necessity either sit, or stand still.


Thirdly, our attire must be according to our ability, and maintenance, either in lands, or in goods and substance. We must (as the common proverb is) shape our coat according to our cloth, that so we may not be in want, but have sufficient wherewith to maintain our families, and to release the poor. Which also serveth to condemn the sin of many persons, who lay upon their backs, whatsoever they can scrape and gather together; in the meanwhile, neglecting the honest maintenance of their own estate for time to come, and the necessary relief of them that are in distress and want.


Fourthly, it must be answerable to our estate and dignity, for distinction of order and degree in the societies of men. This use of attire stands by the very ordinance of God; who, as he hath not sorted all men to all places, so he will have men to fit themselves and their attire, to the quality of their proper places, to put a difference between themselves and others. Thus we read, that Joseph being by Pharaoh set over all the land of Egypt, was arrayed with garments of fine linen, and had a golden chain put upon his neck, to put a difference between him & the inferior Princes of Pharaoh, Gen 41:21. Thus in ancient times, the captains and chief of the armies did wear fine garments of diverse colors of needlework, to distinguish them from others, Judg. 5:30. Thus in Kings courts they went in soft raiment, and the poor people in baser and rougher attire, Matt. 11:8. By which it appears, that many in these days do greatly offend. For men keep not themselves within their own order: but the Artificer commonly goes clad like the Yeoman: the Yeoman like the Gentleman: the Gentleman as the Nobleman: the Nobleman as the Prince: which bringeth great confusion, and utterly overturneth the order, which God hath set in the states and conditions of men.


Fifthly, mens’ attire is to be framed a prepared, according to the ancient and received custom of the country, wherein they are brought up and dwell.


Touching this rule, it is demanded, Whether, if a man see a fashion used in other countries, he may not take it up here, and use it?


Answer. He may not. For God hath threatened to visit all such as are clothed with strange apparel, Zeph. 1:9. And Paul taxeth it as a great disorder in the Church of Corinth, and even against nature, that men went in long hair, and women went uncovered, I Cor. 11,13,14. And if this be so, then what disorder is that, when men of one country frame themselves to the fashions and attires, both of men and women of other nations? This one sin is so common among us, that it hath branded our English people with the black mark of the vainest and most new-fangled people under heaven. If a stranger comes into our land, he keeps his ancient and customable attire, without varying or alteration. We, on the contrary, can see no fashion used, either by the French, Italian, or Spanish, but we take it up, and use it as our own.


Sixthly, the garments that we make to cover our bodies, must be such as may express the virtues of our minds; specially the virtues of Modesty, Frugality, Shame-fastness. They should be as a book written with text letters, wherein, at the first, any man may read the graces that be in the heart. Thus Paul exorteth women, that they array themselves with comely apparel, in shamefastness and modesty, not with broidered hair, etc. but as becometh women that profess the fear of God with good works, I Tim. 2:9,10. And our Savior commandeth, that the light of our conversation, even in outward things should so shine unto men, that they seeing our good works, may glorify the Father which is in heaven, Matt. 5:16.


Seventhly, it must be framed to the example, not of the lighter and vainer sort, but of the gravest, and the most sober of our order and place, both of men and women. We have no express rule in Scripture, touching the measure and manner of our apparel: and therefore the wise and grave precedents of good and holy men, that are of the same, or like degree with ourselves, ought to stand for a rule of direction in this behalf. To which purpose Paul exhorteth, Whatsoever things are pure, honest, of good report, if there be any virtue, etc. think of these things which ye have both learned and received, and heard, and seen in me, those thing do, Phil. 4:9. Examples hereof we have many in the Word of God. Of John the Baptist, who had his garments of Camels’ hair, Matt. 3:4. Of Elias, who is said to be a hairy man, in respect of his attire, and to be girded (as John was) with a girdle of leather about his loins, II Kings 1:8. For these rough garments were the principle raiments of Prophets in those times and places, as we read, Zach. 13:4. And it was the ordinary fashion of the Jewish nation, to use goats-hair, nor only for the making of their apparel, but even of the curtains that were made for the use of the Sanctuary, Ex. 36:14. If this rule were practiced, it would serve to cut off many scandalous behaviors in the conversations of men. For now-a-days, men do strive who shall go before another, in the bravest and costliest attire; having little or no respect at all, to the examples of godly and sober persons of their degrees and places. And this their excessive pride and vanity, is ordinarily maintained by unjust dealing, in lying and deceit, by covetousness, and unmercifulness to the poor; sins which are so greatly dishonorable unto God, that the very Earth whereupon men do live, can hardly endure the same. Wherefore those that fear God , and have a care to serve him in holiness and righteousness, ought to hate & detest these courses, renouncing the curious vanity of the world, and testifying the graces and virtues of their minds, unto men, even by their grave and sober gesture and habits of their bodies.


Section II


The second thing to be considered in the right use of apparel, is the wearing, and putting of it on. Touching which, two special rules are to be observed.


Rule 1. That we wear and put on our apparel, for those proper ends, for which God hath ordained the same. The ends of apparel, are specially these:


First, for necessity sake; that is, for the defending of the body from the extremity of parching heat, and pinching cold, and consequently the preserving of life and health. This was the end, for which garments were first made after the fall. And the reason of it is this: Whilst man was yet in the state of Innocency, before his fall, there was a perfect temperature of the air, in respect of man’s body, and so there was no need of garments; and nakedness was then no shame unto man, but a glorious comeliness. Now after that Adam, & in him all mankind had sinned, vanity came upon all the creatures: and among the rest, upon the air a marvelous distemperature in respect of heat and cold. For the remedy whereof, it was ordained that Adam should wear apparel: which God having once made & appointed, he hath ever since blessed it as his own ordinance, as daily experience showeth. For, our attire which is void of heat and life, doth notwithstanding preserve man’s body in heat and life; which it could not do, if there were not a special providence of God attending upon it.


The second end of apparel, is Honesty. For to this end do we put it on, and wear it, for the covering and hiding of that deformity of our naked bodies, which immediately followed upon the transgression of our first parents: and in this respect also, were garments (after the fall) appointed by God, for the use of man.


It is objected, that Esay prophesied naked and bare-foot, Esay 20:2 and so did Saul, I Sam. 19:24. I answer: first, that which the Prophet did, was done by commandment, as may appear in the second verse of that chapter. For the Lord gave him commandment so to do. Again, he is said to be naked, because he put off his upper raiment, which was sackcloth, or some other rough garment, that the Prophets used to wear; but it cannot be proved, that he put off that garment which was next his flesh and skin.


Concerning Saul, there be two answers given: One, that he put off his upper garment, as Esay did; for we are not to imagine, that he prophesied naked, it being so unseemly a thing, and even against the Law of Nature, since the fall. The other answer, and that according to the true meaning of the text, is: that Saul, before the Spirit of Prophecy came upon him, had put on and worn this warlike attire, wherewith he went out to take David: but when the Spirit came upon him, then he put off his military habit, and went in other attire, after the manner and fashion of a Prophet, and so prophesied. And therefore whereas he is said to go naked, the meaning is, that he stripped himself of his armour; which both himself and his messengers used, in pursuing after David.


Now, touching the covering of the body with apparel, these things are to be remembered. First, that it must be covered in decent and seemly sort. Thus Joseph wrapped Christ’s body that was dead, in clean linen cloth, together with the spices, Matt 27:59. Secondly, the whole body must be covered, some only parts excepted, which (for necessity sake) are left open and bare, as the hands and face; because there is an ignominious shame, not only on some parts, but over the whole body. And here comes to be reproved the affected nakedness used of sundry persons, who are wont to have their garments made of such a fashion, as that their necks and breasts may be left for a great part uncovered: a practice full of vanity, and clean contrary to this Rule, grounded in corrupted nature. For if the whole body be overspread with shame, by sin, why should any man by such practice (as much as in him lies) uncover his shame to the view of the World? The end of attire is, to hide the shameful nakedness of the body from the sight of men: But such persons as these are, do hereby express the vanity and lightness of there minds, by leaving some parts of their bodies open and uncovered. Wherein what do they else, but even display and manifest unto men and Angels their own shame and ignominy? Nay, what do they else, but glory in that, which is (by the just judgement of God) reproachful unto them? Let all those that fear God, and are humbled in the consideration of their sins, which are the matter of the shame of mankind, be otherwise affected


A third End of apparel is, the honoring of the body. To this purpose, S. Paul saith, I Cor 12:23. Upon those members of the body which we think most unhonest, put we on the greater honor, &c. vers. 24. God hath tempered the body together, and given the more honor to that part which lacked. And in I Thess 4:4. It is the will of God &c. that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in holiness and honor. These words are spoken of chastity: but they are generally to be understood of any other virtue belonging to the body. Now the reason of this end is plain: For the body of every believer is the Temple of the Holy Ghost, and a member of Christ, in the kind and place, as well as the soul. Therefore it ought to be both holy and honorably used.


For the honoring of the body with outward ornaments, we must remember this distinction; some ornaments are inward, and some are borrowed: Inward, are the graces and gifts of God; these are our own: Borrowed, are gold, silver, pearls, and precious stones; and these are outward: And of the two, more special care ought to be had of the inward, than of the outward and borrowed; for these are indeed fair and honorable in the opinion and estimation of men, but the other are far more honorable in the sight of God. And therefore Saint Peter exhorteth women, that their apparel be not outward, as with broidered hair, and gold set about, or in sumptuous garments; but that the hidden man of the heart be uncorrupt, with a meek and quiet spirit, which is before God a thing precious. I Pet 3:3,4.


Now, that we may be able to use our apparel to the Ends before rehearsed, we are yet further to observe some special Rules, which may serve for our direction in the right adorning of the body.


First, every one must be content with their own natural favor and complexion that God hath given them, and account of it as a precious thing, be it better or be it worse: For the outward form and favor that man hath, is the work of God himself, fitted and proportioned unto him, in his conception, by his special providence. Being then the Lord’s own work, and his will thus to frame it, rather than otherwise; great reason there is, that man should rest contented with the same. Here comes to be justly reproved, the strange practice and behavior of some in these days, who being not contented with that form and fashion which God hath sorted unto them, do desire artificial forms and favors, to set upon their bodies and faces, by painting and colouring; thereby making themselves seem that which indeed thay are not. This practice is most abominable by the very light of Nature, and much more by the light of God’s Word; wherein we have but one only example thereof, and that is of wicked Jezabel, II Ki 9:30 who is noted by this mark of a notorious Harlot, that she painted her face. For what is this, but to find fault with God’s own workmanship? And to seek to correct the same, by a counterfeit work of our own deceiving; which cannot but be highly displeasing unto him.


A cunning Painter, when he hath once finished his work, if any man shall go about to correct the same, he is greatly offended. Much more then may God, the most wise and absolute Former and Creator of his Works, be highly offended with all those, that cannot content themselves with the favour and feature they have received from him; but will needs be calling his Work into question, and refining it according to their own humours and fancies. Tertullian in his Book De Habitu Mulierum, calls such persons, and that deservedly, The Devil’s handmaids.


But, may some say, if there be any deformity in the body, may we not labor to cover it? Answ. Yes: but we may not set any new form on the face, or habit on the body. Dissembling is condemned as well in deeds as in word: and such is this.


Secondly, we must place the principal ornament of our souls and bodies in virtue and good works, and not in any outward things. So would Paul have women to array themselves in comely apparel, with shamefastness and modesty, I Tim 2:9.


Thirdly, in using of ornaments before-named, we must be very sparing, and keep ourselves within the mean, Gen 24:22. Abraham’s servant gave Rebecca an habiliment of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets of ten shekels gold, which she put upon her forehead and hands, verse 47. All of which were of no great value, and therefore not excessive, but comely and moderate. And in the Old Testament, Kings’ daughters were clad but in party-coloured garments, II Sam 13:18. There was therefore, even amongst them, great plainness.


It will here be demanded, What is then the measure that must be used? Answer, The Scripture gives no rule for our direction in this point, but the example and judgement of the sagest and soberest persons in every order, age and condition: & as they do and judge, so must we. As for example: Whether a man should wear a Ruffle single, or double, or tripled, &c. the Scripture in particular gives no direction; only we must look upon the the example of the soberest and discreetest persons of our order, and age, and that ought to be our precedent for imitation.


Fourthly, ornaments must be used not always alike, but according to times and seasons. It is noted as a fault in the rich glutton, that he went every day in costly apparel, Luke 16:19. In the days of rejoicing, we may put on more outward ornaments: and so they used of ancient times, at marriages, to put on wedding garments, Matt 22. But in the days of mourning, baser and coarser attire is to be used, as fittest for the time.


Fifthly, we must adorn our bodies to a right end; to wit, that thereby we may honor them, and in them honor God. Against this Rule do those offend, that adorn their bodies to be praised, to be counted rich and great persons, and to purchase and procure unto themselves the love of strangers. This is the Harlot’s practice, described by Salomon at large, Prov 6:25 and 7:10,16. These are the Ends for which we must attire ourselves.


And so much of the first main Rule to be observed, in the wearing and putting on of Apparel.


The second main Rule followeth. We must make a spiritual use of the Apparel which we wear. How may that be done?


Answer. First, we must take occasion thereby to humble ourselves, and that in this manner. When we see the plaster upon the sore, we know there is a wound: and so, the cover of our bodies must put us in mind of our shame and nakedness, in regard of grace, and God’s favor, by reason of original sin. And we are to know, that it is a dangerous for any man to puff up himself in pride, upon the sight and use of his apparel. For this is to be proud of his own shame. Nay, it is as much, as if a thief should be proud of his bolts, and of the halter about his neck, garments being nothing else but the cover of our shame, and the sign of our sins.


Secondly, by the putting on of our garments, we must be admonished to put on Christ, Rom 13:14. Question. How shall we do that? Answer. Thus: We must conceive Christ’s obedience active and passive, as a covering; and therefore by prayer we are to come unto God in his name, and intreat him to accept this his obedience for us: yea, that Christ may be made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption: and we on the other side, made conformable to him in life and death in all moral duties. Lastly, that we may have the same mind, affection, and conversation that he had.


Thirdly, when we put off our clothes, we then are admonished of putting off the old man; that is, the mass and body of sinful corruption. And we then put him off, when we can by grace hate sin, and carry a resolute purpose in our hearts of not sinning.


Fourthly, when we clothe ourselves, and truss our attire to our bodies; this should teach us to gird up our loins, to have our lights burning, to prepare ourselves to meet Christ, whether by death, or by the last judgement. If we make not these uses, we do not rightly use, but rather abuse the same.


In a word, to shut up this point; we are all to be exhorted to make conscience of the practice of these Rules, and to take heed of pride in these outward things. And in way of motive hereunto; consider first, how great and heinous a sin pride is. The greatness of it may be discerned by four things.


First, in it, and the fruit thereof, superfluity of apparel, there is an abuse of our wealth, to needless and superfluous uses, which ought to be employed to uses more necessary, as to the good of the Church, commonwealth and family, and especially for the relief of the poor.


Secondly, in this sin there is an abuse of time. For they that give themselves to pride, spend so much time in the adorning of their bodies, that they have no leisure for the adorning and beautifying of the soul. Hence it comes to pass, that proud persons abound with ignorance, idleness, wantonness, and many other enormities.


Thirdly, in is this sin, there is an abuse of the attire itself in that it is made a sign of the vanity of the mind, and wantonness of the heart, which should be the sign of a heart religiously disposed.


Fourthly, in it there is a confusion of order in the estates and societies of men. For whereas one order of men should go thus attired, and another after another manner; by this it comes to pass that equal and superior are clothed both alike, and that which should be an occasion to humble us, is made an occasion to puff us up.


Fifthly, there is a great judgement threatened against this sin, Esay 2:11,12 Zeph 3:11.


The greatness of this vice, we are to endeavor, by all means possible, to redress in ourselves. For which purpose, we must be careful to see and feel, and withal to bewail the spiritual nakedness of our souls; which is a deprivation of the image of God, wherein we are created, according to him, in holiness and righteousness: the want of whereof makes us ugly and deformed in the eyes of God. And the true sense and experience of this, will turn our minds and thoughts from the trimming of the body, and make us especially to labour for the righteousness of Christ imputed, as the only covering which will keep us warm and safe from the storms and tempests of the wrath and fury of God.





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