Yes, you can be a faithful fashionista!

It’s hard to imagine how Jules Cole’s interest in fashion flourished while growing up in the strict, pious environment of a Brethren Church in Sydney in the 1950s and 60s.

“It still amazes me to this day how I managed to survive in that environment,” says the fashionista who has worked as a designer and teacher for 50 years in Australia and the US.

Thankfully for Jules, her mother and sister also loved fashion – and it was a passion shared by the other women in their church. In an environment where women had to be silent, they found an outlet to express themselves by dressing in the latest styles.

“There were new outfits every Sunday and I couldn’t wait to get there to see what the new outfit was that someone was wearing. People would always have the colour for the season and beautiful hats and all of that sort of thing,” recalls Jules.

“And my parents were very hospitable, so when people came to our house for Sunday lunch, they’d put their hats on the bed and take their stiletto shoes off because of the wooden floorboards. My sister and I would try on all the hats and put the shoes on – and we had a wonderful time.”

Jules Cole in her happy place.

Jules has brought her accumulated fashion wisdom to bear in a new book called Faith and Fashion: How High is a Holy Hemline? The book is co-written with her husband, Graham Cole, a former principal of Ridley College in Melbourne, who provides theological reflections after each chapter.

The book explains what a fashion designer does and offers practical advice on making wise and responsible fashion choices while seeking to honour the God of the Bible who values beauty. The discussion culminates in considering the ultimate wardrobe change – fashions come and go, but to be clothed with Christ is never out of date.

“I used to sit up in my seat and say, ‘Come on, I’m in gospel ministry doing fashion.’” – Jules Cole

Jules was prompted to bring together the wisdom of her 50-year fashion career to show the doubters that her work in clothing people is as much gospel ministry as anything else. She sees her work as gospel ministry because “you are a reflection of Christ in whatever you do.” While Jules has never copped criticism for being frivolous or too worldly, she felt her fashion job was not taken seriously in the church.

“My husband’s an Anglican minister and at the Anglican church we went to in Melbourne, I always felt like I was a second-class citizen because if you are in gospel ministry, you are up here, but if you weren’t, you were down there,” she says.

“And I used to sit up in my seat and say, ‘Come on, I’m in gospel ministry doing fashion.’ The fact is we all have to wear clothes. If you don’t have fashion designers, who’s going to make the clothes? I think it’s all about your perspective. If you are in fashion or whatever your great love is, if it comes before loving God and having God as the centre of your life, then it’s a problem.”

Jules Cole at her 1971 wedding with her bridesmaids. She designed and made all the dresses.


Jules continues, “I taught in fashion design programs for ten years, and how many people would get a chance to work with cross-dressers – people who are one day a male, the next day female – and lots of gay people? I had the opportunity to work with these people and show them love. The gospel didn’t come up, but I know that they loved me and they knew that they were valued.”

Even today, working in bridal couture in Melbourne, Jules has the chance to be an ambassador for God’s love.

“I work with really interesting people in the fashion industry now, who are all so woke. I say very little because if I speak, I want it to be appropriate and have an impact. So I listen. I don’t criticise their ideas, but occasionally I get an opportunity to say one thing,” she says.

Recently she asked to write a verse from Proverbs about wisdom on the whiteboard during a meeting and “several people said, ‘Jules, I took a photo of that – it was beautiful.’ So you get little opportunities like that.”

Jules makes no apology for enjoying clothes for their beauty as much as their function and sees that enjoyment of beautiful garments and fabrics reflected in the Bible.

“The Bible doesn’t address fashion, but it addresses wisdom and also creativity. Look at Solomon’s temple, the creative arts – it wasn’t a no-no; it was valued. Not everything had a particular purpose, but it was there for beauty and enjoyment. And look what God has created in our gorgeous environment for us to enjoy! … Don’t you enjoy seeing someone in a lovely outfit or a beautiful dress?”

A key issue the book delves into is how to look our best in a wise, responsible way, and avoid guilt, vanity and immodesty.

“I think modesty is essential. The issue is where your eyes go when you see someone. You see the whole person if you wear clothes that suit you and your makeup is attractive. And does that not make the gospel attractive?”

Jules recalls seeing a picture of a friend’s daughter’s beautiful beaded wedding gown, but the neckline was so low that her eyes went to the breasts, not to the dress. “So where do your eyes go when you see someone? Does it go to a particular part of the body? Is the hemline too short? Is someone walking around pulling their dress down because it’s too short and they’re uncomfortable?”

This brings us to practicalities, such as differences in body type, the challenge of finding the best fit and building a wardrobe in an environmentally sustainable way.

“It’s not about a size and it’s not about losing weight. It’s about dressing to your body type and what suits your frame. I’m five 10 [177.8cm] tall, so I dress in a way that cuts my height. I have to use the horizontal line, whereas someone shorter needs the vertical line.”

“As Christians, we need to be very aware of landfill and our earth and how it’s treated.”

Fit is another essential principle in buying clothes “because if it fits you properly, you will look fantastic in it.”

“So when you try something on, you need to look at every angle, take the shoes in, take other garments you want to wear with it.”

Jules is passionate about sustainability and buying good quality garments in colours that suit you in sustainably produced fabrics.

“One of my issues with fashion is people do not know what fabrics they are wearing. Some people buy whatever they like without considering whether the fibres are sustainable. I never wear polyester, but I don’t mind if there’s a mix of polyester in the fabrics because that can add something very positive to it,” she says.

“You’ve probably heard of fast fashion, like throwaway clothes. They’re made instantly. They’re so poorly made, the fabric’s not quality and you wear them for six months and throw them out. Well, that’s all going into landfill. And as Christians, we need to be very aware of landfill and our earth and how it’s treated. That’s an aspect of being a Christian because it’s God’s earth.”

Jules strongly advocates the French way of dressing, which she says is about having minimal clothes of good quality that mix and match. She says one of her daughters-in-law, who is Greek, follows this pattern and has a minimal wardrobe.

“You need excellent basics like a jacket, skirt, and pants in colours that suit you. When you wear the right colours, it brightens your face. So my advice is to take the advice of how French women dress. They have few clothes of really good basics. And then you can update each season with what I call your mixes, which may be cheaper.

“My mantra is if I get one new item, I have to get rid of one. And that’s the way I keep control of my clothes. And then I take it to an op shop or recycling of some description. That’s part of sustainable fashion – in the fibres you wear, not owning too many clothes and throwing them out into landfills.”

“I’m a great think-about-it person as to whether I buy something.”

As someone who could easily buy something new every day, Jules is the perfect person to advise on controlling a fashion shopping addiction. These are her top tips:

  • Analyse your colour palette (summer, winter, autumn, spring). “That will help you control the number of clothes you buy because you can go into a store and scan it and go, ‘Well, there’s nothing here for me because it doesn’t go with my existing clothes.’”
  • Look at what you need for your lifestyle based on the climate where you live and the type of work you’re doing. “If you’re a stay-at-home mum, you probably don’t need many glamorous clothes. Don’t buy a gorgeous evening gown because you might get invited to something – it just takes up storage room.”
  • When shopping for clothes, pray that the Lord will give you the wisdom to make wise purchases.
  • Put something on hold for a day or two while considering whether you need it. “I’m a great think-about-it person as to whether I buy something. And if I’m buying online, I might put something in my bag but I don’t purchase it. I leave it for a couple of days. And the company will send you a voucher offering 10 per cent off.”

On the other side of the coin, Jules says Christians don’t need to feel guilty for enjoying fashion.

“I think it’s important as a Christian to look attractive to people. Dressing in nice clothes and having nice makeup on can attract people to the Christian faith,” she says.

“Dowdiness would turn people off the Christian faith and think, ‘If I put my faith in Christ, do I have to look like that?’ No, you can put your faith in Christ and look fantastic and dress in an eccentric way or a modern way – we all have different personalities. God has created us who we are. I’m an ultimate extrovert, and I’m not going to change that.

“So I love clothes, and I just think God has given me that love of clothes. I have to be careful that I don’t indulge in it too much. But I don’t feel guilty, ever.”