April 16, 2024

Modesty: A Look Into What We Wear and Why

What are you wearing?  No, seriously, stop to think about what you are wearing and how you chose the outfit you are wearing today and how you select what you will wear from the store.

What we wear says a lot about who we want people to think that we are.  The colors, styles and fit say more about us than we think– even if it says that we don’t think!  Because your clothing is what you are wearing at any given point in time, and since most of us have chosen what to wear since we were at least a teenager, we pick how we face the world.

With this new series we will be taking a look at the following topics:

  • Clothing’s effect on us and those around us.
  • Modesty and the cultural shift
  • What Bible passages challenge us to be modest.
  • Dual responsibility when it comes to temptation and sin
  • How to define a modest outfit
  • Modesty in more than clothing
  • Modest Clothing Resources
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29 thoughts on “Modesty: A Look Into What We Wear and Why

  1. As I stated on my blog yestarday, clothes confuse me. I think my main problem is what age I’m supposed to dress. I’m 25 so I’m an adult, but I’m short. I have a short torso and the things that fit me are in the Jrs. section. Also I look young in the face. People think I’m still a teenager. Which isn’t what I want, I think. If I do find something “adult” looking its too old. I’m sort of stuck in the middle somewhere.

  2. Well, I’m not sure that I’m exactly the fashion expert (unfortunately). For that, you’d have to ask Rebecca. I’m more discussing the mindset that goes into a modest lifestyle.

    As far as what age should you dress? I’m sorry that you’re caught in a strange “vortex”. Then again, I think more people in their 20s are trying to dress younger rather than older. It is quite the dilemma.

  3. Thanks for stopping by Anna. Your blog and others have really given me a great glimpse into the depth of this topic. I had started to write this series without even seeing just how much there is out there!

  4. Revka– it’s funny to think that I was actually conceiving this series long before I noticed just how popular a topic it is on the web. I’m hoping that this will lead us to some good discussion!

  5. Thanks for the mention, MIn! I too am looking forward to the series, a topic which is near and dear to my heart, as you know. And just in time for the hot weather.

    And I talk to alot of 25 year-old young moms who have the same issues as Bethanie.

    Now I’m off to post a link to this post and to have a look at the other ladies’ blogs!

  6. Rebecca, you’re the expert– I’m just a commentator. 🙂

    I’m surprised just how much conversation is out there on this topic– with people making their own clothes and everything. I’m really in awe of the ladies’ desire to serve the Lord and honor their husbands. It’s amazingly encouraging.

  7. Wow, I look forward to following the links to all these great comments…that I agree with! Even me, an almost 32 year old mother of 3, admits to sometimes waffling on the appearances thing. It’s so hard to stay consistent but so important. I’m still wearing shorts only at home, and haven’t come up with anything more modest than wearing shorts with a swim-suit…gotta do better now that summer is here in full heat…

    And being consistent in what I allow my 3 girls to wear…it gets hard esp when they’re given things that are borderline. My oldest is very conscientious, thankfully, even at 9!

    This is a topic that can’t be covered enough, imo. Good job, MIn.

  8. My parents think that me, a 16 year old, should not wear a bikini. The bathingsuit doesn’t show much clevage and I even wear shorts or a skirt with my bottoms because I sort of feel uncomfortable in my skin. I know that most teens wear bathingsuits like mine but does it really matter? I don’t really know if wearing that is appropriate or innappropriate. I am kinda at a cross-roads here. Could you give me a little advice on what to wear and not to wear. I mean, I dont wear the bathingsuit To make myself feel better or pretty. I already know that. My parents think that being a Christian girl means showing it, as in not wearing bikinis. Especially in public. They also say that wearing that type of clothing brings a guys attention. I have a wonderful boyfriend already so I am not trying to impress anyone. Give me some advice please?
    Thanks alot.

  9. @Brenna, Ask your parents why they want you to avoid wearing a bikini. Do a study with them on what is Biblical modesty and what it has been throughout history.
    You will find Biblical modesty has nothing to do with what body parts you have covered, but everything to do with you heart motives. If you are seeking attention to/for yourself, then you are immodest, even if you are wearing a long dress and a head covering. If you are seeking attention for your Creator, then you are modest, even if you are publicly naked.
    Above all, honor your parents, even if they disagree with you.

    1. @Brenna: There are multiple things to understand here. For most men, there is little difference between a bikini and underwear– in fact, many would say that a bikini is more revealing. If you would not be wearing your underwear out in public, why does the presence of water suggest that it’s acceptable? Because more people are doing it. And to be honest, setting can have an effect on whether or not something’s consider appropriate, but i can’t find a situation where wearing one’s underthings in public is acceptable.

      Should it matter what most teens are doing? Let me put it this way.

      The culture says that most teens are having extra-marital sex– should you?
      The culture says that it is ok to consume alcohol and get drunk (after a certain age) as long as you don’t drive– should you?

      The point is, you can’t look to the culture to be your guide. At this juncture in your life, your parents are to help you, and you should make sure that you heed their advice (even before listening to someone on some website).

      I understand that you aren’t wearing your bathing suit to look pretty or make yourself feel better (although I’m sure that you believe that you have the body to pull one off, and not everyone has that). I know that you’re not trying to get attention because you have a boyfriend, but you cannot control attention of others in that if you are dressed in a way that others find appealing, you will get that attention.

      @FatherOf4: I’m not sure how you can possibly claim public nudity is modest when I Tim 2 states that women should be dressed in modest apparel. Last time I checked, apparel meant clothing.

  10. @MinTheGap
    The common practice of the wealthy Roman women was to dress in ornamental and gaudy outfits (as if to display their wealth). Please note Matthew Henry’s explanation of the warning – http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/1-timothy/2.html?p=3. It is using modest apparel as a contrast to outlandish apparel, not specifying what is covered. (Specifying what body parts are covered doesn’t make sense in textual context, nor does it make sense in the culture in which Epistle to Timothy was written.) Also, the word translated ‘modest’ – [kosmios – G2887] is also translated ‘good behavior’ one chapter later (I Tim 3:2).

    1. And I agree with the concept that it was an effort in contrast– good works versus wearing gaudy apparel. That doesn’t say that public nudity is acceptable– otherwise we would have had Paul stating “Wear modest apparel, or go naked.” Then it would be obvious.

      You’re applying one of the logical fallacies, the argument from silence, if your continued quest to state the Bible accepts public nudity as an appropriate and modest state a person can be in, and yet the best argument not from silence that you’ve given relates to extra-biblical material. Again, show me an instance in the Bible where nakedness and shame are not linked after the fall, then we’ll have something to discuss.

  11. You are starting from the assumption the western societal restrictions laid down in the Victorian age (1800s) were from Biblically based and not derived out of the reformation (1600s). This, however, is the problem with assumptions.
    It was common for slaves to be sold naked. Some of these slaves were Christians. The Mikveh was and is to be practiced naked (therefore, Jesus was baptised naked) Pharoah’s daughter, who found Moses, was bathing in the Nile. Bathsheba was not ashamed to be naked. There was no surprise of King Saul’s or Isaiah’s nakedness while prophesying. Paul tells Timothy exercise (done naked in the culture) is of some value (I Tim 4:8). The early church went to the public baths and toilets were in the street corners.

    Please note, the Bible doesn’t say anything about driving a car, using the internet, wearing pants or a bra, taking antibiotics or visiting Canada. In fact, it doesn’t cover a lot of things. How does one determine the appropriateness of these actions?

    1. No, I’m starting from the Bible. Where God chose to clothe Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, instead of telling them that it was fine to remain naked. Where in Genesis 10, the reaction to the nakedness of Noah caused one of Noah’s grandchildren to be cursed. How in the prophets they went naked and were showing how Israel would be destitute and naked. It is you that are doing exactly what I stated you usually do– apply to extra-Biblical authority to justify your appeal to silence.

      If slaves were sold naked, so what?

      If Pharaoh’s Daughter, an unsaved woman was naked, so what? I mean, she was bathing– what other means did they have to get clean? Did you expect them to wear clothes while taking a shower. Furthermore, I’m aware that even in American culture “skinny dipping” wasn’t frowned upon, but this was hardly public nudity in that private areas were covered with water and when in public, there was a far more rigid dress code.

      According to Wikipedia on the Mikveh, there is no comment about being in public, and furthermore, this talked about ritual cleansing when the whole body was to be covered with water.

      Paul tells Timothy that exercise was profitable, but he did not say to do it naked, at the Roman gymnasium. Again, argument from silence. He did tell the women in Timothy to dress in modest clothing– not that it was fine to go naked as long as you had a modest heart.

      No proof to back up early church going to public baths or toilets, nor comments about whether or not this constituted public nudity or had privacy.

      You can’t make arguments from silence. The Bible has a lot to say about nakedness and clothing. Your argument rests totally on inferences made from silence– a logical fallacy. It’s blatantly wrong when taken in context of the rest of Scripture.

  12. In Genesis 3, did God ever say why he was providing clothing for Adam and Eve? or is this just understood? (and if it’s understood, by whom is it understood? or are you arguing from silence?)

    Genesis 9 – Noah was drunk and doing something shameful, not just naked. See the difference between H6172 and H6174, both of which are translated naked in English.

    Since we are discussing the potential modesty and appropriateness of public nudity, a Christian slave, could be sold and work naked. The slave auctions were public. Please explain how this slave is immodest and/or inappropriate.

    How was Saul showing that Israel was to be destitute? I Samuel 19:23-24. The content of Saul’s message is not recorded, just his apparel and actions and the peoples reaction to his prophesying.

    I do not claim Pharoah’s daughter was regenerate/saved. Just that she was bathing in the Nile. This brings other questions: where did the Israelites bathe? What about the transition from the water to dry land or dry land to water, for several seconds the bather would be exposed?

    Paul advises Timothy to exercise (gymnasia G1128)[the word means “the exercise of the body in a palaestra or school of athletics” ie gymnasium. Wikipedia states attendees at these were naked. In fact, the root word for gymnasia and gymnasium means naked.

    Naked Mixed Gender baptism

    Cyril of Jerusalem
    Hippolytus of Rome http://books.google.com/books?id=xC9GAdUGX5sC&pg=PA559&dq=Theodore+of+Mopsuestia+naked+Baptism&hl=en&ei=mFIeTvnrB4Ld0QHErY2fAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAg“Theodore of Mopsuestia

    Lack of Privacy for toilets

    1. Genesis 3: Did God say why He was providing clothing for Adam and Eve? In Gen 2:25 we see that neither Adam and Eve had shame while they were in a naked state before the fall. What is the first thing that we see that happens after the fall? Gen 3:7 states that their eyes were opened, they saw that they were naked, and in their shame they clothed themselves. However, they did it with fig leaves– things that would decay. In Gen 3:21, God clothed Adam and Eve. Obviously, if God had no problem with them being naked (He created them naked and didn’t have a problem with it at the time), then He could have just told them that they were fine naked. But sin had entered. They were afraid/ashamed because they were naked, and God showed that He would make a covering for them. Far from arguing from silence, God specifically created clothing to cover the two people instead of telling them the opposite– even though that was the previous state. These two were the closest to holiness and the only two living until their Cain and Able were born, so it would have made perfectly good sense why they could remain unclothed.

      Gen 9: Noah was drunk and uncovered in his tent. There is nothing in the text to suggest that he’s anything more than naked, for we read in Gen 9:24 that Noah didn’t even know what transpired, for he awoke and then knew what his youngest son had done. How did he know? Furthermore, we know that it was nakedness and not more than that for Shem and Japheth entered with the backs turned so as not to see their father’s nakedness. As far as the Hebrew words go, you have not made the argument that nakedness does not mean shame. Furthermore, “uncovered” in verse 21 is literally uncovered in the Hebrew is uncovered, revealed, or stripped. There’s nothing untoward mentioned there.

      A Christian slave was to obey his master. That’s correct. However, there’s nothing in there to state that this was public nudity, and I would say that, in fact, the slave did not have a choice in the matter. Clearly, Paul’s command in 1 Timothy for the woman to be covered in modest apparel would not apply to that person that did not have a choice.

      As far as Saul in 1 Sam 19:23, we know that the Holy Spirit over took him and he went into a trance. Now, was this parading publicly in the nude? No. He had prophesied with the prophets before (1 Sam 10) this time with his clothing intact. In fact, what we do know is that because he was naked and in a trance he was not in any condition to do what he was trying to do– namely capture and kill David. Hardly a passage to take as something defending nudity in public, this one states how God prevented a King– who would have been humiliated in public to be without his clothing– to accomplish his evil intent towards God’s chosen.

      I have not argued that nudity may or may not have been necessary for bathing. Obviously if one is to be cleaned, one needs to be naked. However, taking one’s clothing off to bathe is different than walking around in the nude. One can easily be submersed in water while bathing. In the case of David and Bathsheba, where was Bathsheba having her bath? In public, or on the roof of her house, where only the king (in a taller house) would be able to see her? Obviously, there was a sense of modesty– not of people parading around naked.

      As far as Paul advising Timothy to exercise, the only reference Paul makes toward bodily training, or encouraging it, is in 1 Tim 4:8, which states that bodily training is of some value– but godliness better value. Which is interesting, in that it’s the same argument that Paul’s making when he says that women should wear modest apparel. Same as Peter talking about women putting on sobriety and godliness. Not that they shouldn’t wear clothing, but that their clothing should be godly. And what clothing shows godliness? Both Paul and Peter agree that it’s modest clothing, humble clothing. Clothing that doesn’t draw attention to oneself. None of this fits public nudity. Oh, and 1 Tim 4:8 doesn’t use the word gymnasia but gumnasia meaning exercise or discipline. Paul is far from telling Timothy to exercise in a gym naked.

      As far as your other links about mixed gender baptism, these are external to the Bible, and for all we know it is something that the secular society imposed from without. And even if it weren’t you’d be hard pressed to prove that the body was not completely covered in the water, and that clothing was not worn before going into the water and used to dry off after coming out– I mean, think of how cold that would have been!

      And public toilets may not be private– however, neither are many of our modern toilets (for the men, anyway), but this is far from being naked in public. And the article you linked doesn’t state that people were naked to use the toilet, just that there was offered no privacy.

      You’ve provided nothing from the Bible that supports your case. Your strongest argument, Saul, is weak because it’s a great way to keep Saul from chasing and killing David, and it’s not something that Saul chose to do. You have failed to explain the many cases in the prophets where nakedness = destitution and shame. You’ve not taken into account how nakedness is used to indicate ruin in the Bible, nor why a God that didn’t mind the nakedness in the Garden of Eden chose to cloth his creations after the fall and that from the beginning of life after the fall, Adam and Eve knew that they were naked and were ashamed and afraid.

  13. Based on Biblical evidence alone, please tell me what Jesus was wearing at his Baptism and what he was wearing at his resurrection when he was found by Mary.

    BTW, we agree a streaker (one who is purposefully naked to draw attention to him or herself) is immodest. It is all about the intent, though, not about the clothes or lack thereof.

    1. The Baptism is irrelevant. I already discussed that should Jesus been naked for the baptism, you would find that he wouldn’t have been that way in public before entering or exiting the water.

      As far as the resurrection, we know that Mary thought that He was the gardener (John 20:15). Why would Mary think Jesus was the gardener if He was naked– unless you’re now making the argument that all gardening in the New Testament times was done without clothing?

      Nowhere in the Bible is a lack of clothes used to show anything but desolation or shame– I think I’ve made that argument pretty clearly.

  14. You have made exceptions – it’s ok to be naked immediately prior to and exiting the water for purposes of bathing or baptism, it’s ok for slaves to be naked during their auction and work duties, it’s ok to be exposed while using the toilet without privacy. It’s ok for Isaiah, Micah, and Saul to be naked while prophesying. But it’s not ok for anyone else, regardless of their reason.

    I would not argue all or never, since one exception invalidates the argument. I would argue some gardening in the Old Testament was done without clothes and it was common enough for Mary not to be shocked. There is no record of Jesus adorning apparel after the resurrection, but his grave clothes remained in the tomb (so he didn’t have those on.) Knowing that clothing had a good deal more monetary value than it does today (Mt 5:40, Mt 25:43, Jn 21:7), I’m doubtful he had anything on.

    While I am not a part, I can find no issue with this general theologygeneral theology, biblically, historically, or logically.

  15. I also have a dilemma. I’m a juniors size (and age), but I prefer the womens’ styles 1. becuase that’s my style, and 2. becuase they are more modest. Unfortunately, they don’t often carry my size. I don’t think they do 0’s, (although if they did they’d be to tight), but 2/4 is too big- to the point of exposure in some cases. Does anyone have a solution? It’s very hard to find modest juniors stuff.

  16. @Thouartmine42 – I would recommend (since you asked) you return to the original meaning of modest and wear clothes which, although they may look nice on you, you do not wear them to draw unrighteous attention (jealousy – “I’m richer than you.” , pride – “Look how holy I am by having so much covered.” sexual availability – “Boys, take special note of my physical assets.” etc.) Please judge your modesty by the intent of why you choose those particular clothes and not by how much skin you have covered.

  17. @MinTheGap
    Gen 2:25 Adam and Eve had nakedness (`arowm – H6174) and no shame before the fall.
    Gen 3:1 The serpent was crafty (`aruwm – H6175)…
    Gen 3:2-6 The fall (Eve is deceived (II Cor 11:3) and Adam is complacent.
    Gen 3:7 Adam and Eve were naked (`eyrom – H5903) and made fig leaf aprons
    Gen 3:8 Adam and Eve hide (together) from God
    Gen 3:9 God looks for Adam
    Gen 3:10 Adam answers he was afraid, naked (`eyrom – H5903) and hid (from God)
    Gen 3:11 God asks who told A&E they were naked (`eyrom – H5903) and if they ate of the tree.
    Gen 3:12 – 16 Blame shifting and the serpent and woman are cursed
    Gen 3:17 – 19 Adam is told he is now going to experience thorns and thistles while he provides food by the ‘sweat of his brow’
    Gen 3:20 – Adam names Eve
    Gen 3:21 God provides animal skins
    Gen 3:22 – 24 God expels them from the garden

    Please reference Ezekiel 23:29. This particular verse uses 3 different words for naked (`eryah H6181, `eyrom H5903, and `ervah H6172). In this verse H6181 and H5903 are used in parallel. Other Biblical uses of H5903 indicate a sense of shame as if one has been duped or ‘had’ or enslaved.

    Using the sense of shame from being duped follows the serpent being described as crafty. Also note that A&E maintained their fig leaf aprons until just before the garden expulsion, when God provided them animal skins. A potential practical reason for why God provided them animal skins is found in Adam’s curse (thorns and thistles).

    So if A&E are ashamed to have their body parts seen by each other, why do they go together to make their fig leaf aprons and hide? This doesn’t make sense.

    1. You have failed to show why Adam and Eve suddenly decided they were naked physically and how that related to now being in sin. And you’re answer for why God clothed them in skin versus their fig leaves is also found wanting. I could state that He used skin because He knew that the fig leaves would be dead within a day. I could say that is was a symbol of the covering that the shedding of the blood would provide until the promised Redeemer would arrive.

      I’m not sure that Adam and Eve were ashamed to show their naked body parts to each other. I do know that they were ashamed that they were naked and sought to cover. Why go together? Had they ever done anything that wasn’t together? We don’t know the full effect of sin at the time on their mind.

      Another interesting story is that of Peter in the latter chapters of John– after the resurrection. He’s out fishing, sans clothing, and when the Lord calls and He knew it was him, he didn’t just dive in the water and come ashore, he threw on some clothing to come see him. Why? Obviously Peter had been around the Lord for 3 years. So why was he clothing himself if he could be modest without clothing.

      The other question is why you avoided Christ’s crucifixion when listing all of your “when it was okay for the Savior to be naked” questions earlier? I mean, the Romans were obviously keyed into something when they chose to crucify all of their convicts in the nude, and I doubt it was because they were practical about burial or wanted the clothing. I’m sure it was for the shame of appearing naked in public.

      Again, you’ve failed to respond to why Paul’s command to Timothy was to wear “modest apparel” and not “no apparel will suffice.”

      Here’s another one for you: 1 Corinthians 12:23 I’ve linked to the concordance option.

      In this passage, Paul is comparing the body of Christ to the human body. Pray tell, what are the “uncomely” and “less honorable” parts upon whom we bestow honor? Matthew Henry states:

      Those parts which are not fit, like the rest, to be exposed to view, which are either deformed or shameful, we most carefully clothe and cover; whereas the comely parts have no such need.

      What parts would be shameful, and Henry believes “most carefully cover”? What parts are “shameful”?

  18. True – the fig leaves would be falling apart within a week. Therefore the animal skins would not only protect from thorns and thistles, but also last longer.

    If they are not ashamed to be with each other naked, then why/how do we, as a church, develop a doctrine of modesty (covered skin) from this passage, knowing that God looks at our heart? You are right, neither you, nor I, could possibly imagine going from a innocent state to a fallen nature.

    The interesting thing about Peter’s situation is he’s naked on the boat with a bunch of other fishermen (and possibly, but, unlikely, women.) When he recognizes Jesus on the shore, he puts on his clothes and dives in. The modesty argument doesn’t fit (if he’s worried about modesty, wouldn’t he wear his clothes on the boat as well, since he’s within sight, sound, and swimming distance from the shore.) My best guess is that he wanted to protect his clothes from theft or loss. (Recall that a cloak could be used as collateral for a loan Ex 22:26.) I’ve been to a few 3rd world countries and while the poor will bathe in streams, it is necessary to keep track of personal belongings, including clothes.

    I didn’t include Christ’s or anyone’s crucifixion, since the nakedness is forced by those performing the crucifixion. I also am not advocating forced nakedness as a result of capture, since both of these situations of public nakedness are forced upon the ‘victim’. In early America, criminals were thrown in stocks for public humiliation, usually they were fully clothed, but not always.

    We’ve discussed before the ‘modest’ which Paul is using is not related to how much skin is exposed, but to not stand out displaying riches (the belief at the time was the wealthy were more righteous – Job)

    I admit, the passage in I Cor 12 is a little confusing. I don’t know which part of the church should be covered or hidden because they are uncomely. Should we hide the mentally retarded? psychiatric patients? the handicapped? children? women? men? Paul doesn’t specify which part of the church is shameful, nor does he specify which body parts need to be covered. It could be internal organs just as well as genitalia.

    I found it interesting of the insistence of circumcision in both the Old and New Testament. I wonder how the Jews were able to tell who was circumcised and who wasn’t, if we are assuming the same/similar level of required skin coverage we have today.

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