One time, my best friend and I decided we were going to do a podcast together. Our target audience would be women, and we made a blood oath never to discuss three things: [name redacted], modesty, and [topic redacted]. I figure this isn’t our podcast, so she’ll forgive me. And mostly, I’m only writing this because twenty-four people have inboxed me in the last two weeks and ask that we touch on the subject.
The entirety of my thoughts on modesty is this: be modest.
I know, it’s disappointing. Joy and I started Sheologians in the first place because we are convicted that there’s just so much out there, too much nuance in things that don’t require nuance, so much talk about things that don’t require half as much talk as they get. It’s simple.
But of course we’re a podcast for women! So people want us to talk about….clothes?
It’s funny, you know, how women so often want a seat at the theological table, or feel as if they aren’t even offered one to begin with, and then two women get microphones and the requests for a discussion about clothing come rolling in. Now, lest you think that I find this a lowly request, it’s not that my feelings are negative regarding the topic per se, I just can’t miss a chance to point out the irony. Further, the topic has been discussed and dissected ad nauseam. Brilliant theologians and wonderful, godly women have had much to say on the topic that is well-worth reading, thinking about, and living out. There is no gap for me to fill.
My ultimate conviction about modesty is that—and I’m willing to bet on this—the majority of women who are concerned with glorifying God in all aspects of their lives are already dressing modestly. I’m willing to cast a vote that says that women who have bothered themselves with studying, say, the Trinity, are convicted of Reformed theology, have an idea what they believe regarding eschatology, have taken the time to study baptism, can define the atonement, etc., you get the idea, are probably not the ones that feel lost when it comes to whether or not they should dress a certain way. That’s not to say that they are without flaw, but that one thing typically follows the other.
Knowing how to dress modestly is not the result of theological gymnastics or drawing a clear line from a text of Scripture. Dressing modestly is the outpouring of an understanding and commitment to honoring God. So many fudge on this topic, or feel uncomfortable with it, sometimes (or often?) because they have a bone to pick with sisters that don’t meet their personal standards or because they grew up in a setting where modesty was how many inches their skirt went past their fingertips. Frankly, if you think that’s what modesty is, then you are a part of the modesty problem in the church. If you think that modesty is only about the amount of skin you cover, even if you’re covered by today’s standards, the Puritans would still be blushing.
But we don’t like that, do we? We’re perfectly happy as Reformed folk to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the word “trinity” never appears in Scripture. We’re perfectly comfortable with plenty of systems of belief that aren’t spelled out for us in simple formulas, because the whole of Scripture testifies to their truth, but suddenly we have to determine from the whole of Scripture how we should dress and we’re lost. Some of us then do the worst thing possible, which is create our own personal standards and hold others to them—only in our heads though, because we would never walk up to a lady at church and let her know that her legging/tunic combo is unbiblical. We’ll just think it and be so thankful that at least we understand what qualifies as “respectable apparel” in 1 Timothy 2:9.
This is where you must indulge this old gal a moment to reminisce. I went to a private school once, and I distinctly remember the first time I witnessed a teacher approach a female student with a ruler. She made the student stand still while she measured how many inches were between the hem of the girl’s skirt and her knee. Now, I’m all for rules, and in case you’re unsure I am absolutely of the conviction that Christian women have a duty to dress modestly, but this student was a few centimeters short of the “two inch rule”, and she was sent to the office. I can’t help but wonder what she learned about holiness that day.
Maybe it seems a bit heavy handed to bring up serious, first-order doctrine in a discussion about clothing, but I am unsure how they can’t be related. Show me the woman who is serious about doctrine and I’ll bet she’s dressing modestly. Not all of us will like her style of dress. Maybe she has one too many ankle-length jean skirts in her closet or maybe she has a penchant for dying her hair a color you’re not a fan of. Maybe she wears too much makeup for your taste or maybe she doesn’t wear makeup at all and you’re unsure if you should have calmed down on the highlighting and contouring before you showed up to her birthday party. I don’t know. None of that matters. This woman that has honored God with her time by studying Scripture, by being a servant in her church, by loving her husband and children, by working to the glory of God, she’s not confused about her closet. Sure, she probably has moments like the rest of us when she’s frustrated at the store, because nothing seems to fit well and the way they cut clothes for women nowadays is appalling. But she’ll figure it out. Her goal will be to dress attractively, but not seductively. She’ll cover up without being frumpy (that’s the hardest part, isn’t it?).
I’m sympathetic. I’m a female, too, and yes, choosing clothes at the store can be difficult. But let’s not over-complicate the matter. Love God, love neighbor. Does that skirt you’re wearing bring honor to God? Wear it. Can you wear that shirt and love your neighbor? Wear it.
More than anything, let’s lay down our rolling pins the next time we see a sister whose clothing style we aren’t fans of. You want to encourage a sister in dressing modestly? Teach her how to love God. Come alongside her and talk about holiness. Study the Word with her. Focus on discipleship. You’ll be amazed to see just how quickly those first-order issues trickle down in to the smaller details of her life.
Amen! Why this is even an issue boggles my mind. I am too busy loving God and my neighbour to waste time criticizing another woman about her clothing.
I’m really curious about the other two topics you swore an oath to never discuss. 😀
LOL! I will never tell.
I don’t know.
Probably not haha
Well now, exactly! Just cover up and be modest. Don’t give me the females can’t wear pants and all that.
This is fantastic, thank you.
I love this. This issue has become a great source of anxiety for me in my walk. For over 15 years now I haven’t bought a single outfit without first examining whether or not it would honor God and edify the brethren. However, we recently became members of a very “liberty/conscience” strict church where I often feel the assessments I’ve made on what is holy with regards to modesty isn’t sufficient enough in many of the men and women’s eyes. It has grieved me because what used to be something that was an opportunity for me to worship my King has now been overshadowed by a paranoia of the brethren. I feel I’ve been robbed of my worship. Your thoughts here have encouraged me. Thank you.
What if someone feels they are still glorifying God in a mini skirt and a tube top?
They get the looks and such, but they show God’s love and mercy and don’t judge others, and they are a really Godly woman?
Does it really matter what you wear as long as you are glorifying God? Even if what others would shriek at you for looking like a hooker in church?
The point of this post was not that you can wear whatever you want and glorify God. Modesty glorifies God, so be modest.
The way they cut clothes for woman nowadays is appalling.
Choosing cloths at the store can be difficult.
It sure is. If I can’t find modest wear I wait and try another store another day.
Yes I agree when we love God study His word he convicts everything about us that does not honor Him.
I remember when I use to dress punk but still I would tell others about Jesus in school. One day I just stop dressing that way.
It’s a process that the believer goes through.
Also I recommend listening to a sermon Brother Paul Washer preaches about modesty.
I stumbled across your site today while looking for some like minded women oriented material and I can tell you right now: WE WOULD BE FRIENDS. In the real world. For real. I look forward to getting to know you better through your material. Keep up the good work!
*applause* very well said.
my favorite description of what is or is not modest comes from Mere Christianity, though I don’t have a copy of the book right here so I can’t give the exact quote. I really appreciated how he said that modesty in what it looks like changes, So young ladies don’t assume your mother, and grandmother are prudes, and older ladies don’t assume your daughters and granddaughters are libertine hussies.
Bossed it…well done
It’s funny how my taste in fashion changed after I became a mom. All of a sudden everything seemed too short or too low. I don’t know if it was because my body had changed so things just looked and felt different than before or if it was genuinely just my taste changing. Anyway, rant over. Great post!
Oh man, I just want to repeatedly high-five this post.
As a man who stumbled onto this page, I wish to remind the ladies that most clothing is designed by worldly folks who sell sex as fashion. Being an old hippie, I know many Christian women who wore mini-dresses. The woman who designed them said it was about easy access and to let men know she was ready anytime anywhere for sex. I do not believe the Christians wanted to send that message, but they wore them anyway. They still come back in style and Christian women wear them.
There is nothing new under the sun and styles just repeat themselves. Read Adam Clarke’s commentary on 1 Timothy 2:9 and you will see one style that is still somewhat popular today and it was worn by prostitutes back then I gather for easy access as well as for a lure/allure. He also shows what Paul would have deemed modest. When you think of art, some of those dresses create vanishing points that end right at areas you do not want men to look at, but they are a neon sign. I have even seen a pleated version that is basically a stylized pudenda especially the one with a button at the top. Remember, the designers design for sex appeal and will use subliminal art that you may not catch because they are attracting men.
Just being covered is not modest. Indeed modesty also carries a connotation of not drawing attention to yourself or your lady parts. Yoga pants cover, but they also accentuate parts you do not want men to look at and yet many ladies wear then shopping. Many women like to show their cleavage and then get mad when men look at then. True, men should not look, but realistically they will. Even the most dedicated man will struggle when there is a great display. Some women cannot stumble lest their breasts will jump out of the blouse and be fully exposed. We have developed a society where as long as the milk faucets are covered it is modest. Yet, I have learned that even in my small town it is legal for a women to walk downtown in nothing but a thong. O find it funny that women usually complain about their butt or their thunder thighs and then wear clothing that accentuates the parts they find less than pretty. I am a man and find that illogical to dye your gray hair but not hide those areas.
Tight pants that show all your nether crevasses cover you, but are not modest. One lady went to the platform to sing and her pants were so tight and of such material that a mole or wart on the side of her thigh was visible. The pastor never asked her to sing after that until he saw what she was wearing.
A pastor once did an experiment for his people. He held up a Barbie doll in evening dress and one nude. He asked which one was modest, Then he dipped the nude doll in paint up to her elbows and asked if she was now modest. The room was silent. Covered is not always modest.
A cartoon once showed a lady walking on a beach in a suit that might be described as four band-aids held together by floss. She goes into a beach changing room and forgets to lock the door. A man walks in after she has changed into her underwear which covers her a thousand times more than her suit did and she is covering herself screaming. Interesting how swimming makes a woman content with being nearly nude, but seeing her in her underwear causes panic.
While adult men have an obligation to deflect their eyes, hormonal teen age boys are not prepared to do that and few will do so. They are bombarded daily with sexual visuals on billboards and everywhere they turn. They should not have to fight as much in church or near their Christian sisters and mothers. Remember that at least for your church attire. If you go to the altar and pray, kneel upright or stand. Many ladies bend over and that will pose a problem if the dress is to short or the pants too tight if your pastor does not tell folks to bow and pray. That is a sexual presentation. Even if told to bow heads and close eyes those teen boys may well peek. Lead us not into temptation.
If your do not want men to want you just for your body then dress in a way that they are more drawn to your face and your mind not your bust or behind. If you want them to think you are beautiful and not your artist skills mellow out on the makeup. If a man cannot find you beautiful without your makeup you don’t need them. Save yourself some tome and money and just be real.
If you are married and you into the room dressed in a way that gives your husband that lets not go but lets go to the bedroom look you can be sure many other males are going to have the same reaction. If he is nonchalant and just says it is nice, pretty or OK then you may have found the modest dress. This world is so unbalanced that it is hard for some folks to find a balance between naked and a burka. Maybe the Mennonites are closer to that balance than many of us.
Well, I could go on, but there are enough of you who want to pummel me with your purses as it is. I just wanted to give you some things to ponder. Enjoy!
Old Sarg –
No pummeling here.
That was a fantastic comment.
You are spot on.
Yours might have just been the “mic drop”
excellent. I think you have spoken on this subject as well as any possibly could have for us men
Love this Article
I think you hit on some amazing points here! How modesty is about loving ourselves and our fellow women. I have a couple other thoughts as well that go along with that.
I also think of modesty of not only how we dress, but how we portray ourselves. Often in the scriptures they talk not only about how the women should cover up, but how she should show herself. Even avoiding extremes of trying to be seen and adored. (see: 1 Timothy 2:9 or 1 Peter 3:3) This isn’t only said in the bible, but in other books of scripture from other religions. (The Book of Mormon: Jacob 2:13, D&C 42:40 or the Quran 24:31)
I feel that often, as women and as a society, we get so caught up in the details of it, of the inches and rules that we forget the spirit of God’s law. The being true to ourselves as daughters of God. As portraying ourselves truly for what we are, not pretentiously trying to be what we are not. Now that I am older I feel that I am being modest when yes, I do cover up, but in a way that I feel like myself. That I am modest when I feel comfortable and beautiful. When I feel and look like myself, and when I like what is looking back at me at the mirror.
I feel modest when I show myself for who I am and respect other women for who they are. That modesty just as much about what you say as how you look. That it is being confident enough in yourself that you don’t have to boast with your voice or with your body, but rather have your beauty and personality show through naturally.
Just a few thoughts, but I love the idea of modesty being a personality trait, not just a choice of clothing.
I believe that dressing modestly is one of the requirements God intended for women. Not only is something like modest dresses, well, modest, but it also is empowering and demands respect for women. I am sickened by societies influence on women and the pressure to dress in a way that doesn’t please or respect their body or God.
I know I’m a little late to the game, but I just learned about Sheologians. I think modesty is a great topic for Christian women to talk about and shouldn’t be avoided. We should encourage each other in it, especially as it’s a Biblical characteristic. (Thank you, Paul.) Growing up, I knew about modesty, but I was always tempted to dress immodestly. All the girls who dressed more fashionably got more attention and got asked out. It was a struggle for the teenaged-me and I wish I had been encouraged more often in that regard.
It wasn’t until I got married that I understood how important it was to be modest. I’ll never forget how my husband thanked me for dressing the way that I dress. Ever since, out of love for my husband and love for my brothers in Christ, I have striven to dress modestly. I am more than happy to give up my freedom to wear what I please if it keeps a man from stumbling.
So, keep up writing articles about this and other topics! We need more women with sound, Biblical theology to encourage and challenge us!
By the way, baptism always makes for an interestingly heated discussion 😉