There are many events in a person’s life that they will never forget. Times where they want to look their best. Times when they want pictures and the memories to last forever. It is at these times that we think most about what we wear. We spend days searching through catalogues trying to find the perfect dress. We spend money on a suit that we’ll only wear for a short time. We make sure our teeth are cleaned, our hair just so, and our nails polished. Well, if we’re a girl.
One of these events that we want to remember is our wedding day. This year, my brother is getting married, and just like any other bride, his wife will spend lots of time and money (and already has) making sure the special day is right, but nothing compares to how much time and “surprise” is built into the dress. Why else would it cost so much, need alterations, and does the groom be told that he can’t see it or her in it until the wedding day?
In other cases, it’s the prom, the graduation, the special dinner out, the anniversary dinner– it’s at these times that we actually stop to think and consider what we are wearing and what effect it will have. The problem is that we should be paying attention to what we wear every day– not just on these special occasions.
We Cannot Effect How Our Clothing Impacts Others
There is an inherent problem with a conversation about modesty. Primarily, that clothing effects people in different ways depending on the culture, sex, sensitivity.
Times change, and the culture changes with it. It would have been common in the Old Testament period for men to wear skirts, and long flowing robes. Even as early as the Middle Ages we see men in what would look like skirts. Times have changed to have men now wear pants and ladies skirts– just look at the non-written indicators for restrooms– but that is not to say we should just absolutes purely based on culture.
Whether you are a man or a woman has a lot to do with how clothing effects you. For a man, clothing can react in an attraction way– it can appeal to lust and cause temptation. The same article on the person could be simply repugnant to the woman.
And sensitivity is one of the key factors here. If you check out the Modesty Survey besides finding some really interesting answers to questions you will see a common theme repeated. That even in the questions where an overwhelming majority find something modest, there will be a group that disagrees. Now this can partly be explained by the fact that answering a dry question versus seeing an article of clothing on a person can be two different things, but I think that it is also the case that each person has their own sense of what is modest and some may be more conservative that others.
My point is that we can dress in such a way that some think is modest, and yet still fail to be modest by someone else’s standard. Ladies can dress in long flowing dresses and wear a vail or head covering, and men may still fantasize about them. We have no control over what others do in their minds. We do have some control of how much we give them to look at, and whether we encourage the glances, but that cannot be our only reason to dress modest.
Inside a Reflection of the Outside
Modesty must first come from within a person. It springs from a heart of humility– one that desires someone else or something else be elevated. It’s a heart that yearns for attention not on self, but on something or someone else.
Take a quick look around the Internet or mall and you’ll see why modesty is such a big problem. Humans are born with a desire for attention. From the smallest baby to the oldest adult we want people to notice us– and for a majority of the people that we come in contact with they will only see how we look. And there is much attention showered on those that will show, that will tease, that will display their bodies.
But there is also freedom in modesty. A freedom that states that who you are as a person is not judged by what you look like, but for who you are. It’s more about how you think than how you can put on makeup. It’s more about your passion than displaying body parts.
That’s what Peter is talking about when he says:
Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of [braiding] the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
A. W. Tozer has something great to say about this passage in his book I Call It Heresy where he states:
[T]he teaching is plain: don’t let your apparel be your true attractiveness. Don’t try to substitute gold jewelry for the true beauty of the being!
Peter and Tozer are both saying the same thing– you should be more interested in your character– on your inner man/woman– than you are in your clothing and what you look like. For some of us, that would take some doing.
So, Then How do I dress?
The point is not that we should dress in sack-cloth and ashes, but that our dress should not be the thing that draws our attention as much as it is a reflection of who we are on the inside. We should not neglect showering or wear smelly clothes because “it’s the inside that counts,” but the point is also not to seek to draw attention because we’re baring our navel, wearing expensive clothes, or showing off our muscles/cleavage.
Tozer sums it up in four words: “clean, neat, modest, appropriate.”
We’re not to dress to draw attention to our form, to our looks, or toward the outward appearance. We can’t control what others will think of what we wear, but we can control what we show them. And we should attempt to be modest and show our inner person, not our outer.