We’ve talked a lot about modesty. The problem is that finding a hard and fast definition of exactly what is modest is a hard thing to do. Depending on who you are, what you are, and where you were raised makes a big difference in how you interpret what you see and what you think is modest.
Lauren, at Chastity Online, had this initial reaction when she thought about modesty and the Christian life:
I remember hearing this term used for the first time and thinking “Oh no. Now i have to dress like an Amish farm girl with a skirt down to my ankles and long sleeves.”
She goes on to say that she’s not currently dressing like that, but that was the thought. So, what are some rules that men and women think of when they think modest apparel, and what can we learn from it?
The Hand Rule
Emily from the Unfurling Flower gives this advice:
Another principle I have found helpful to guide me when I’m dressing is to say that it shouldn’t really be an issue for a male friend to place a hand (in an appropriate way) on any parts of flesh that are left bare. This can be useful when deciding on whether a top is appropriate or too low or if a skirt is too short, for example. Now, I’m not suggesting you all must use this principle – as for some girls, it may not prove to be helpful at all – and I am fully aware that it doesn’t deal with other immodesty issues such as clothing being too tight/see-through/etc. I just think it’s something else interesting to consider if you are a bit unsure of whether something covers you up enough, which often works for me :).
The Modesty Survey
1.7% of the guys surveyed feel strongly that girls shouldn’t show their calves. Is it now Burkha Day for all well-meaning Christian women? Absolutely not! In reading through the survey, you might have trouble finding a single item of clothing that someone, somewhere, doesn’t have a problem with. So where do we draw the line?
Well, the fact is that 98.3% guys DO NOT feel strongly that girls shouldn’t show their calves. If you look at the survey results you will find that 99.9% of the guys take full responsibility for themselves, and don’t expect women to cover every inch of skin — they’re just asking for help.
What you will see here is that no matter the category, some man labeled it immodest:
- Denim jackets with faded sections on the chest draw too much attention to the bust- Survey says, 31.9% agree.
- Showing bra-straps, even unintentionally is a stumbling block- Survey says 57.4% agree.
- Tank tops are generally immodest- Survey says 57.6% agree.
- Sleeveless shirts or dresses (bare arms) are immodest- Survey says 21% agree.
- V-neck shirts or dresses are a stumbling block, even if they are not revealing- Survey says 34.4% agree.
- Shirts with messages across the front draw too much attention to the bust- Survey says 47% agree.
Modesty vs. Fashion
I don’t know how many times that I’ve heard someone express the frustration with current fashion and their desire to be modest. No woman (or man for that manner) wants to be out of the times– in some ways that draws even more attention than wearing what the world does! At the same time, since modesty and fashion are at odds, there seems to be less outlets to get something that is both modern and modest.
The relationship between fashion and modesty appears to be straightforward, even immutable. Fashion is the constant enemy of modesty. The former seeks to attract attention, notice, and comment. The latter, by contrast, is the rejection of such theatrics. Modesty in dress is about turning oneself out with consideration for occasion, taste, and economy.
A piece of clothing, though, is just a piece of clothing. It does not become an expression of modesty or immodesty until it is worn. A long skirt paired with a long-sleeved shirt covers the body, but they must be worn with the intention of modesty. Consider the flowing, tiered skirts of yesteryear’s hippies, which were often worn with a loose, long-sleeved shirt in the same style. A woman in such an outfit would have most of her skin hidden, but this costume of the 1970s was intended to attract notice. Modesty was for fuddy-duddies, and even though the style wasn’t revealing, it challenged the existing culture of dress. Such outfits communicated inclusion in the youth-friendly counterculture, whose fashion message might be summed up as: “No sweater-sets and pearls for me.”
Is the Clothing the Real Problem?
It’s often not the skin that is the problem as much as the ability to see what shouldn’t be seen. I believe that all temptation can be partially traced to the same root that tempted Eve– the forbidden. If something is forbidden, then we want it– and when it comes to the lust of the flesh, it’s the suggestion that I may see something that I shouldn’t be seeing that’s the stumbling block.
As for the wearer, the real problem is in the heart attitude rather than what the person is wearing. Any individual item of clothing can be worn in such a way that it is immodest or modest. What is reflected, however, is what the wearer wants to be seen.