The Robe of His Righteousness
A shot was fired a few miles from my home, February of 2012. That gunshot, which resulted in the death of a young African American, marked the beginning of a disquieting conversation over race. For a while however, people argued over a different question—would the young man still be alive if he wasn’t wearing a hoodie? One controversial comment was made by Geraldo Rivera: “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was” (Fung, 2012). The comment quickly found opposition: “I will never look suspicious to you. Even if I have a black hoodie… because of one thing and one thing only. The color of my skin. I am white” (Skolnik, 2012). How important are our clothes?
Regardless of your stance on the controversy, clothes can be symbols of discrimination. A hijab, a hoodie, even a Make America Great Again hat, can all influence our perceptions of a person long before we’ve met them. It makes us categorize people into boxes, and expect certain behaviors from them. Studies have found that our perception of a student’s intelligence is influenced by the student’s style of dress (Behling & Williams, 1991); they’ve found that women which dress masculine are more likely to be hired (Forsythe, 1990). Truly, “a person’s character is judged by his style of dress” (White, Education, 1903, p. 248).
Besides the sociopolitical aspects of clothing, psychologists are interested in a different question—how they affect our minds. Clothes carry information, those cultural stigmas and social symbolisms with which they are associated. When an artifact of clothing is worn, it influences the wearer’s behavior and cognition, making them likely to “embody” those associative attributes (Adam & Galinsky, 2012). For example, researchers found that wearing white makes people see themselves as more moral than when they wore black (Uebayashi, Tao’oka, Ishii, & Murata, 2016).
What comes to mind when you think of a lab coat? Most likely a doctor or scientist—professions which require intellect, focus, and attentiveness. In one study, participants were divided into two groups; both were given lab coats, but one group was told the coats belonged to medical doctors, and the other was told they belonged to painters. Both groups then performed a visual search task, which involves finding small differences in two otherwise identical images. Interestingly, results showed that those told they were wearing a doctor’s coat were significantly better at spotting the differences than those who weren’t.
The psychology of how dress affects behavior is termed Enclothed Cognition. How interesting that we see this same embodiment in our spiritual lives. Our current apparel consists of filthy garments, and to no surprise so does our behavior and character (Isaiah 64:6). But like the doctor’s coat, which imparts its influence upon the wearer, we are offered a heavenly coat made of fine linen, clean and white (Revelation 19:8); a robe which when worn, also imparts its attributes on the wearer: “the white robe of character, which is the righteousness of Christ” (White, 1952, p. 518). As Christians, we can take off our filthy rags and be clothed with the coat of our Heavenly Doctor. When we decide to do so, we will be influenced to behave accordingly, reflecting Christ’s character.
“For He has clothed me with garments of Salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His Righteousness.”
- Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 918-925.
- Behling, D. U., & Williams, E. A. (1991). Influence of dress on perception of intelligence and expectations of scholatic achievement. Clothing & Textiles Research Journal, 1-7.
- Forsythe, S. M. (1990). Effect of applicant’s clothing on interviewer’s decision to hire. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1579-1595.
- Fung, K. (2012, March 23). Geraldo Rivera: Trayvon Martin’s ‘Hoodie Is As Much Responsible For [His] Death As George Zimmerman’. Retrieved from The Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/geraldo-rivera-trayvon-martin-hoodie_n_1375080.html
- Skolnik, M. (2012, March 19). White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin! Retrieved from Global Grind: https://globalgrind.cassiuslife.com/1807268/michael-skolnik-trayvon-martin-george-zimmerman-race-sanford-florida-photos-pictures/
- Uebayashi, K., Tao’oka, Y., Ishii, K., & Murata, K. (2016). The effet of black or white clothing on self-perception of morality. Japanese Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 130-138.
- White, E. G. (1903). Education. Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
- White, E. G. (1952). The Adventist Home. Hagerstown: Review and Herald Publishing Association.