Sometimes modesty is simply thinking about whether other should notice that you’re there. Since modesty isn’t only about clothes but about conduct, it’s important that we ask ourselves if we’re drawing attention to ourselves with what we wear, and thereby making the situation worse?
I think modesty also involves blending in with those around you, as in, “not drawing undue attention to yourself.” I respect the values families exhibit when the mom and all the daughters are wearing long skirts and athletic shoes, but it does draw attention to them because it’s so odd in our culture. All should be in context.
For example, my daughter and I spent a couple of summers trying to find modest swimwear and it was an uphill battle. Where do you draw the line between practicality and modesty? We finally decided that the most modest thing for us to wear was a one piece bathing suit with swim shorts — rather than something so modest it looks like it came from the 1800’s– because at a public pool that is proper in context and doesn’t draw undue attention, and therefore we look modestly dressed. By contrast, someone wearing a swimsuit at the grocery store (like we’ve seen some women do in our small town) looks embarrassingly un-dressed. It’s out of context, and draws undue attention.
By the same token, we found that when we spend time hanging out in the river it feels more modest and appropriate to wear t-shirts and cutoffs, rather than a swimsuit, because, once again, a swimsuit feels out of context, and therefore immodest. And we found that clothes that are appropriate and modest in the context of gardening or picnicking are not the same ones that are appropriate and modest for a church service or a wedding. (although sometimes I’m embarrassed by how undressed the bridal parties often seem to be….My boys think it looks like someone gave all the bridesmaids’ dresses a hard yank, leaving too much dress at the bottom and not enough at the top…)
We found that if we looked carefully, we could find fashionable clothes that are still modest. Or alternatively, we could make them modest by layering or wearing undershirts (check out this site: shadeclothing.com)
This is a lot more fun and interesting than wearing oddball clothes simply for their “modesty,” and no one is staring at us.
So, there’s definitely something about not drawing attention to oneself, but at the same token we can’t be all going naked because everyone else is. This is one of those slippery areas where there needs to be firm standards, but there also needs to be care such that we do not draw negative attention to the cause of Christ.