Revenge Dresses and Righteous Responses

On June 29, 1994, a set of images made headlines around the world. After a European prince publicly admitted he had been unfaithful, his wife arrived to a camera-filled event in an off-the-shoulder, silk number that quickly became known as a “revenge dress.” With a giant smile on her face, the sun glowing behind her, and the world applauding her every move, the woman didn’t have to say a word. Reporters spoke for her in their commentary, making it clear that no one should ever reject a woman like that.

It’s been almost thirty years since that moment, but the term “revenge dress” is back online, trending again among a new generation. You may not be the target audience for those videos, articles, and advertisements featuring modern-day revenge dresses—but could it be that you’ve been responding to rejection in your own life by putting on your own subtle form of retaliation?

New Creation > New Habits

Most of us have never been publicly humiliated by a member of the royal family, but if you’ve been quietly rejected by someone you cared about, you know what it’s like to feel shame, embarrassment, or anger when you think of how they’ve treated you. You may know what it’s like for 

  • A man you’re interested in to ghost you 
  • A family member to make hurtful comments about your children 
  • A coworker to make you feel inadequate
  • A friend to talk about you behind your back 
  • An ex-boyfriend to start dating someone younger than you

What is the best way to respond in these scenarios? Popular advice suggests using rejection as motivation for personal growth. You may have taken that advice in the past, using your hurt feelings as fuel to press harder into self-improvement strategies: working out more, deepening your spiritual life, updating your wardrobe, or growing your skills within your career field. None of those activities are sinful in and of themselves—but we can approach them with the wrong motives. Have you ever tried to lose weight, become better at your job, or get more involved in your church because . . . 

  • You hoped someone would notice and realize they underestimated you?
  • You wanted someone to think that they’re missing out by not having you in their life?
  • You thought it would prove your value, beauty, or intelligence to those watching? 

You may not have tried to make someone regret rejecting you by wearing a slinky black dress, but if your heart was on full display, what would it reveal?Bitterness that leads to new habits is still bitterness—and no matter how you wear it, pride is never pretty.

Wear Christ’s Clothes 

As followers of Christ, we’re given a different model for handling rejection. If anyone had reason to assert His worth it was Jesus—

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.

—Philippians 2:6–8 

In Colossians 3, we’re told that as followers of Jesus, our life is hidden with Christ (v. 3). We died with Him, and we were raised with Him (vv. 1–3). Because of this, we’re not commanded to merely cover up our anger, wrath, or malice—we’re to put it to death. Christ Himself didn’t humble Himself to the point of death in order to make us better or better looking: He died to make us brand new (v. 10). 

As a new creation seeking to put to death what belongs to your earthly nature, you are called to put off revenge altogether. Here are three ways you are to wear Christ’s attitude instead:

Put on the Gospel (Col. 3:10)

If you’ve tried to get the attention of someone who has already rejected you, you know how futile and exhausting it can be. You keep performing in order to get approval, but you never measure up. 

The gospel offers good news to the one trying to behave a certain way in order to be accepted. In his book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Timothy Keller explains it this way: 

Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? . . . In Christianity, the verdict leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict. In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Or take Romans 8:1, which says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into his family. In other words, God can say to us just as he once said to Christ, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”1

If you are in Christ, you are fully accepted and fully loved. Isn’t it time to live like you believe that’s true? 

Put on Forgiveness (Col. 3:12)

At the root of revenge is a refusal to forgive. But when you’ve realized the weight of the gospel—that you were unworthy and yet were accepted by Christ, how could you not offer to those who have rejected you what you’ve been given yourself? 

In Choosing Forgiveness, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “True forgiveness goes a lot further than just saying, ‘I’ve forgiven him.’”2 She goes on to share a quote from seventeenth century Puritan pastor Thomas Watson, who shows the extent of true forgiveness. 

When do we forgive others? When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them. This is gospel-forgiving.”3

In response, Nancy points out what a high standard this is:

How has God forgiven us? He didn’t just say to us, “You’re forgiven.” He gave His Son’s life for us when we were His enemies. Pursued us when we wanted nothing to do with Him. Adopted us into His family. Made us joint-heirs with Christ. Has promised never to leave or forsake us. Comforts us and meets our needs. “Daily loads us with benefits” (Psalm 68:19 nkjv). That kind of extravagant, undeserved grace models the way we are to forgive.4 (pp. 178–179)

Put on Love (Col. 3:14

Christ models how to accept the unworthy and forgive those who have rejected us—He also shows how we are to love them. One of the most countercultural aspects of Christ’s love is that it’s not self-seeking, and that it does not keep a record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5). In Philippians 2, Paul commands believers to

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others. —Philippians 2:3–4

Our culture shares more advice about how to get attention than to give it, which is why there are more posts online about how to dress than there are about how to embrace a humble attitude. But I can remember once reading an article that described two different ways you can walk into a room: you can be a woman whose presence says, “Here I am!” or one who looks for others and says, “There you are!” 

Instead of waiting to be noticed and respected, what difference would it make to be a woman who makes it her aim to notice others first—even those who have hurt you—and outdo them in showing honor and love as Romans 12:10 instructs?

Wear Freedom

The “revenge dress” photograph from decades ago captured a moment of victory for the princess. It was clear to the world that she had “won”—but what did she win? Attention that was based on her appearance? Validation that she was somehow better than the woman her husband has chosen? The moment didn’t erase the wrongs done to her, and that single successful act of “revenge” didn’t put her on the path to healing. 

But forgiveness could have. As Nancy says, forgiveness brings you “the kind of freedom that radiates His light and love from your smile to your handshake to the very soles of your feet.”5 With this kind of freedom, the woman is no longer focused on how others respond to her—instead, her eyes are on the Savior who was rejected, who declares her accepted, and allows her to wear His worth. And when a woman like that has her eyes on Jesus, the world will want to know more about the Designer she’s wearing. 

There’s a side of Jesus that feels familiar: His love, His miracles, His sacrifice . . . but what about the other side of Jesus? The angry side? The funny side? The lonely side? In six brand-new episodes of The Deep Well with Erin Davis podcast, Erin will help you open your Bible and see some sides of Jesus that you might have missed or misunderstood before.  

The entire season drops today! So open your Bible and open your heart. It’s time to explore the other side of Jesus. 


Timothy J. Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy (Farington, UK: 10Publishing, 2014), 38–39.

2 Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Choosing Forgiveness: Moving from Hurt to Hope (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2022), 178.

3 Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Choosing Forgiveness, 178.

4 Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Choosing Forgiveness, 178–179.

5 Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Choosing Forgiveness, 178.

About the Author

Katie Laitkep

Katie Laitkep

Katie Laitkep was working as a hospital teacher when God called her to join Revive Our Hearts as a staff writer. She serves remotely from Houston, Texas, where God sustains her through saltwater beaches, Scripture, and her local church. Katie's … read more …

Join the Discussion