People are more important than things. We all know that. But at times we are all tempted to prioritize things over people. Why is that?
Here’s one reason: We all want to be appreciated and respected. In our world, appearances matter. The things you own, including the clothes you wear, influence the way other people perceive you. As a result, when we are trying to impress others, we can become inordinately focused on the things we own, particularly the things we wear.
Throughout the Book of Mormon, prophets warn us against the dangers of wearing “costly apparel.”
- In Nephi’s commentary on Isaiah, he prophesies of a time when wealthy people will “rob the poor because of their fine clothing.” He went on to describe these people as wearing “stiff necks and high heads,” which suggests to me that they are so self-conscious about their appearance that they may not even notice the poor around them (2 Nephi 28:13-14). (See also 2 Nephi 13:13-17, Isaiah 3:13-17.)
- Nephi’s brother Jacob later used similar language to rebuke his own people: “ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they” (Jacob 2:13).
- Teachers of false doctrine such as Nehor and the wealthy Zoramites are characterized as wearing “costly apparel” and persecuting other people whose clothing is more common (Alma 1:6, Alma 31:28, Alma 32:2, Helaman 13:26-28).
- The choice to not wear costly apparel distinguished members of the church from other people during the second year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi (Alma 1:27, 32).
- When members of the church began to wear costly apparel, Alma became concerned and began to travel among the members, preaching the word of God among them, to “pull down…[their] pride” (Alma 4:6, 19, Alma 5:53).
- Near the end of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni writes that he has seen our day. Most of us, he said, are lifted up in pride “unto the wearing of very fine apparel.” He saw that we love money and our fine apparel more than we love “the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted” (Mormon 8:36-37).
So why is expensive clothing so bad? One reason is because it is a distraction from things that are much more important. We all have finite resources. When we spend inordinate time, energy, and money on clothing intended to impress other people, we have fewer resources to help the people around us. We may also be less motivated to do so.
The alternative is not sloppiness in dress. It’s simplicity. In the second year of the reign of the judges, the members of the church “did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely” (Alma 1:27). Our appearance can be respectable but not garish. We can pay sufficient attention to our appearance to demonstrate respect for ourselves and for the people around us without becoming obsessed with the impression we are making on others.
Today, I will remember the Book of Mormon warning against “costly apparel.” I will dress in a way that is appropriate to the activities of the day, and then I will strive to forget about myself and concentrate on doing my work well and serving the people around me unselfishly.