During my career, my officemates laughed that they could hear me coming by the clack, clack of my heels on the marble floor. I took ‘business casual’ as more business than casual! I’ve been described as ‘curls and heels’ to many a retail clerk when my husband loses me in a shopping mall. I love classic pieces and a good Belk sale.
For a long time, I struggled with how to balance my enjoyment of style with my understanding of vanity. I didn’t want to be vain about my appearance, but I also wanted to honor my career, my self, and my marriage by looking my best.
There was a time in my teens where my appearance was an idol in my life. I didn’t understand the balance needed on this delicate issue. But as my walk with God grew, I learned how to take a healthy pride in my appearance without letting appearance be the end-all. Below are five reasons I prioritize my appearance, as a professional, wife, mom, and woman.
1. Looking nice jump starts my work ethic.
If you’ve followed this series at all (the other posts are linked at the bottom, if not) you will notice a trend: my husband and I have a plan for everything. Do things always go according to plan? No! But having a plan in place is the first step to intentional living.
I prioritize my appearance because getting up early, taking a shower, arranging my hair and putting on some makeup tells my self: “It’s time to work.” While I do this every day for the 8-5, I also do this on weekends – the days I spend vacuuming, dusting, and meal planning. Sure, there are days when I’m cleaning my house in my yoga pants post-PiYo work out (and yes, I do wear yoga pants at home, for those who follow my modesty posts), but I try to have my hair done and some light makeup on while I do so.
I once read a book that said of all the verses describing the Proverbs 31 woman, only ONE verse of the 24 described her appearance. Only 1/24th of her ‘self’ was concentrated on the outward. Five years ago I made it my goal to spend no more than an hour a day on my appearance – from showering, to dressing, to makeup and hair. Now the whole routine takes me 45 minutes at most – usually a half an hour. I have specifically regulated this time because I want to create a habit that is manageable for when we have children. My goal is to continue maintaining my appearance when we have children by creating a manageable, realistic beauty routine before we have kids. I can easily do so in half an hour.
2. A professional appearance encourages me to act like a lady.
I believe it is a Christian woman’s responsibility to behave like a lady regardless of her appearance, but dressing the part certainly helps! By “lady”, I mean maintaining the courtesy, manners, and decorum of a woman of God.
My personal style is very classic. I wear sheath dresses, heels, pearls or silver jewelry, red lipstick and up-dos. My casual wear leans preppy. Some of my friends have a very different style: I have hipster friends and hippie friends and friends who love flats. The point is not that one style is ‘the best’, but that it represents a commitment to be a woman of God in every area of my life.
This post isn’t dealing with the issue of modesty, and I don’t plan to get into that topic here (you can read my other posts for that discussion). But a woman who dresses respectfully out of a grace-driven heart commands the respect of others. Though my personal appearance is a conviction of my own, I have reaped countless career and relational benefits from those convictions – from being noted for promotions to being treated with chivalry.
3. I want to give my husband the best of me.
My husband tells me I am beautiful when I haven’t a stitch of makeup on. While I see the acne scars and scant eyebrows, I do know that God has made me an individual with specific features that I am to embrace, not condemn in comparison to unattainable cultural standards.
So my husband isn’t the one asking me to look a certain way. He loves me no matter what.
But because he loves me, I want to look my best for him! Even if I am in jeans and a t-shirt, it’s not going to be my Liberty University gym shirt, and I’m going to have some lipstick on. Why? Because I want him to know that I made some effort.
I don’t have to spend a lot of time to give this gift to my husband. As previously mentioned, I spend 30-45 minutes on my appearance a day. If you include a half hour workout, that’s still approximately an hour – and I usually work out every day with my at-home PiYo program (another thing I implemented to create a pre-kid habit).
This ‘effort’ takes little time, but it tells my husband I enjoy his appreciation for my beauty. It shows him that even when my face isn’t out in the working world, I still want to be beautiful – for his sake. (And for mine, because hey – who doesn’t like to look pretty?)
4. I represent myself, my family, and Christ.
Today’s culture says a woman represents only herself, so she should be able to dress how she wants, when she wants, in whatever manner she wants. If you’re a Christian woman – and especially a Christian wife and mom – that’s simply not true. Like it or not, you not only represent yourself, but you represent your whole family. The Proverbs 31 woman is perfect example of this. Her husband was known in the gates – but SHE was known in the community.
We also live in a visual culture. We will be judged by our appearances – regardless of how shallow that may be. While we should not be bound by the opinions of others, we do need to accept the consequences – good or bad – for how we present ourselves to the community. This can apply to modesty, but it can also apply to sloppy, grungy, or out-of-context dress.
This isn’t about putting on a parade for people. It is about honoring my family (and setting an example for my children) by representing us well in word, action, and appearance. Do I fail at this? Definitely! Appearance is only a small part of accomplishing this goal. But appearance is what this post is about, so that’s what we are dealing with at the moment.
I choose to prioritize my appearance to reflect 1) my identity as a God-graced, confident woman in Christ; 2) my role as my husband’s name-bearer and the second half of our union; and 3) my ministry as Christ’s witness to His love and provision in our lives.
5. It allows me to express both my personality and my freedom in Christ as a woman of God.
True style is timeless, which is generally why I stick to classic pieces that steer away from shifting and revealing cultural trends. I have a responsibility as a woman of God, but I also have freedom as a woman of God. In that freedom I try to make choices that 1) flatter my particular body type (no empire waists or military jackets for this girl!) 2) prove to the world that I worship a holy God; and 3) are fitting to the occasion in which I am in attendance.
Below are a few of my own beauty rituals, habits, and guidelines. These are my personal guidelines of dress, some decided by prayer and others based on a classic approach to style, which works with my career path and taste. If you aren’t sure where to start, I recommend checking out Stacy London’s books on style.
- Work dresses should be no higher than an inch above the knee. If you bend over and the upper thigh is visible, it’s too short for work. My favorite work outfit inspiration comes from the secular style site, Classy Cubicle. I’ve come to work in dresses that were too short before – too short for my own personal standards and my former office dress code – in one of those ‘run out the door’ moments we all have! My kind supervisor made a good point – that with moving, bending, and lifting, what seems like a small space above the knee ends up showing a lot more skin than you’d think.
- I don’t wear white or linen prior to Easter or after Labor Day. Linen is an airy, loose weave fabric that is fitting for warm weather; wool, leather, and tweed are fitting for fall and winter weather. These days white has been extended for use year-round, but I don’t use it past Labor Day unless in winter – using an ‘off-white’ or winter white color. White shoes are not worn before Easter or after Labor Day; they are seasonal.
- Find cheap ways to accomplish the beauty looks you want. I used to go tanning (yup!) and now use a self tanner. I am naturally tan, and I get very dark in the summer! Because of a skin issue, I went tanning to clear up my adult acne (which helped), but when I cancelled my membership I bought a Loreal tanning lotion that works well and is not ‘oompaloompa’ in coloration. I try out new foundations, blushes, bronzers, mascaras, and eyeliners. I learned the best way to do my makeup for day, for night, and for formal events (there IS a difference) by watching YouTube videos.
- Create a consistent fitness routine. I used to go to the gym before work at 5 AM. Over the years my fitness routine has morphed and changed with my career and motherhood journey. Taking care of my body encourages me to eat well, gives me energy, and also jump starts my morning so I get more work done.
- Err on the side of ‘dressy’. At work, for a volunteer party, for a dinner with friends – I usually err on the side of “dressed up”. I don’t mean showing up in a floor length gown! But have that little black dress handy, or dark jeans and a blazer, or whatever means ‘dressed up’ for you. I believe in not only dressing for the job you want (not the one you have!) but also dressing for the respect you want, whether or not you get it. Dressing well shows that you took thought for the occasion and thought it special enough to take extra care for your appearance.
- Dress for the occasion. On that note, if you know the occasion you are attending, dress appropriately. For instance, don’t wear a dress to work in the church nursery unless it’s long enough to pick up babies without flashing the other workers. Think through the occasion and dress to meet it.
- Find brands that consistently produce quality, flattering clothing for your body type. My favorites are Lilly Pulitzer, Ann Taylor, LOFT, J. Crew, Talbots, Lands End, New York & Company, White House Black Market, and Coldwater Creek. But I RARELY buy retail. I simply look for these quality brands in consignment stores and Goodwill, wash them, mend them, and I have expensive items for less than $10 – and no one knows the difference.
I’m not the only one who abides by these principles. One of my own blog readers, Abi, talked about this in her own post 5 Reasons I am Glad My Mom Taught Me the Importance of My Appearance. It matters whether you are single or married.
Women are extremely sensitive about their dress because they see any questioning of their fashion choices as a direct affront to their identity. This should encourage us to choose carefully how we present our identities to the world, because whether we like it or not, we are judged first by appearances. The world looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). A beautiful, well-dressed woman with a vain, prideful heart is ‘like a gold ring in a pig’s snout’ (Prov. 11:22). But a holy heart and outward beauty are NOT mutually exclusive.
“Your adornment must not be merely external– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” 1 Pet. 3:3-4
Note that he said MERELY. Peter was not saying we shouldn’t style our hair, wear jewelry or sport our latest buy from Francesca’s. He was saying not to prioritize these things ABOVE the thing that God considers precious – a gentle, humble, and trusting heart.
So while I prioritize my appearance for the aforementioned reasons, I make every effort to keep those priorities far below my walk with God. My morning routine starts with breakfast, then a work out, then my devotions – and THEN my beauty routine. That’s how it should stay.