Practical Considerations About Modesty (Biblical Modesty, Pt. 4)

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{This is the 4th article in a series about modesty.

 

But this fourth and final part is where I fear this discussion could get tense.

Because with modesty (just like the original text goes beyond a mere discussion of heart and attitude to specifics like “gold” and “braids”), it’s not just about the heart.

Our hearts are reflected in the actual CLOTHING CHOICES we make.

And those choices affect everyone around us.

When we go to worship, which is the specific consideration Paul had in mind when writing about it, these choices are particularly worthy of intentionality on our part. Because while our clothing is unlikely to *help* someone else in their approach to God in worship, our clothing can most certainly grab attention *away* from approaching God in worship. 

Here are some practical areas we need to consider, as women:

  • Are there any body parts that, because of my particular size/shape, I need to personally be mindful of, so that I don’t draw unnecessary attention to them?
  • When I bend over in front of a mirror, can my cleavage, breasts, and/or bra be seen?
  • See-through fabrics– what am I encouraging when I wear these?
  • Are the style of pants I’m wearing exposing my underwear when I sit down?
  • If there is a slit in my skirt/dress, what happens when I sit in a chair? How much of my legs are exposed?
  • If someone was sitting directly opposite of me, would they be able to see up my skirt/dress?
  • Am I making myself taller so that my legs (if exposed) appear even longer and “in your face” to the people around me?
  • Are people around me getting a flash of breast/nipple when I am nursing a baby?
  • Are my pants tight enough that they are giving a full picture of what my bottom and private areas look like, and thus drawing attention to these private areas?
  • Are there event-specific challenges (swimsuits at summer camp? lots of bending over/reaching/etc on a church workday?)
  • When someone is standing behind me, what will they be seeing?
  • What activities/body motions will I be doing in these clothes?

Practical thoughts on that last Q:

  • bending over to pick up a baby? does my cleavage show? does my shirt ride up and expose half my back? do my pants drop down and expose my undies? does my skirt ride up and expose half my thigh?
  • raising up my hands in worship? do my arm holes expose my bra/breasts? does my shirt ride up and expose my tummy or lower back?
  • will I be up on stage? How long does my skirt need to be so that I can move freely without exposing my thighs/upper legs to my Brothers and Sisters in Christ? Does the lighting on stage change the way the fabrics look? (i.e., is it a fabric that is see-through? Are there any lights behind me that would make the exact shape of my legs and thighs obvious through my skirt fabric?)

Check these things when you are at home.

Bend over FARTHER than you think you would in real life, and look in the mirror. Raise your hands up higher than you anticipate doing in service. Squat down, or sit without adjusting your clothes. Does anything show?

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“BUT IT’S ‘CUTE’!!!”

Very often, when the topic of modesty comes up, females focus on the idea that a clothing item or trend is “cute,” even if it’s not particularly what they would call “modest.”

Some things to consider about prioritizing this idea of “cute” above everything else:

  • Am I then purposefully being a distraction to others? In a setting of worship, this is particularly important to consider. The whole point of worship is to be able to gather together with the Body of Christ to hear truth and focus our worship on the Lord. Is my focus on “cute” drawing attention away from the entire reason people are coming together?
  • Am I seeking attention from others? {Note: Worship is not the time for this. This is a heart issue that needs to be addressed NOT through seeking attention from the Body of Christ when it gathers for worship, but rather, through counseling ourselves rightly. Spend time pondering: what is it that rightly deserves people’s attention during that Sunday morning hour? How can I best support that by not drawing attention away from that most-important focus?)

 

HOW DO WE DETERMINE– IS IT APPROPRIATE/FITTING?

  • To context– the local “culture” we find ourselves in?
  • To the event/activity (swimming vs. awards dinner vs. church worship)
  • To the people who are participating (i.e., PJs at a ladies’ retreat)
  • To my body type (For the specific body God has given me, are my clothes too tight? Too loose? Too tight on certain parts of my body?)

 

A FEW ULTRA-PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS:

  • Wear a camisole/undershirt that hugs your chest near your neck, so it won’t expose your top even if you bend over.
  • Safety pin your neckline if you need to make it higher
  • Wear a slip so your skirt isn’t see-through
  • Wear a cardigan that hangs lower and covers up your bottom/undies when you bend over and sit
  • If you’ll be up on stage, wear a skirt that comes to mid-shin or lower, or wear pants.
  • When you are in the shape-shifting season of pregnancies and postpartum life, choose skirts with elastic, and use cardigans, or layered tops, to help your clothing stretch through various sizes

 

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While it can be challenging to “be modest,” especially in this modern time,

  • it IS POSSIBLE to pursue the biblical standard of wearing “respectable” clothes.
  • It IS POSSIBLE to dress in a way that is appropriate for the purpose of a worship service.
  • It IS POSSIBLE to work to defer, and seek to wear clothes that are not “loud” and distracting.

Even if it’s challenging in a certain season or culture, dressing modestly IS possible, and as Christian women, it’s what we’re called to do.

 

CONTINUE LEARNING/READING ON THIS TOPIC:

 

 

IN THE COMMENTS, if you’re willing, share: 

What practical considerations have helped you learn to dress modestly, and defer to others, when it comes to gathering together with the Body of Christ?

And what resources have helped you think about this issue biblically?

 

All photos from our trip to Maine, 2011.

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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10 Responses

  1. Laura says:

    Great series! Lots of food for thought. I grew up in (and still attend) a super conservative church. It’s always been: women in skirts on Sunday, heads covered, men in ties, etc. VERY conservative. Often, in this kind of setting, there is a lot of superiority and ‘feeling offended’ if someone doesn’t dress to form. However, thankfully, there is a lot of grace in my church, so although over the years styles have relaxed a lot, for the most part people are gracious to one another. I still can’t bring myself to wear a pair of pants to church because I know without a doubt it would cause undue stress in certain people. It is not worth it to me. I would rather keep the peace than wear pants, although I do feel I’m much more a pants person and that is all I wear during the week. Which brings me to my question: You focused on modesty in the church setting, but what about all week long? For example, there are people I know who are skirts only all the time, but I’m not. On Sunday I will wear a skirt out of love to them, but am I also supposed to only wear a skirt whenever I see them? What if my husband likes me in jeans that fit, does this mean I am supposed to worry about every Tom, Dick and Harry at the grocery store who might see me in them? Also, ear piercing: I was not allowed to get my ears pierced growing up, but I did get them done a couple years ago (at age 35). I know there are people who were confused by my choice; but if I prayerfully made this decision, with my husband on board (actually he was the one who bought me earrings and told me to go get it done), does this mean I am not ever to pierce my ears because a couple of individuals at church would never do it? These are the kinds of things I wrestle with.

    Also, I feel like I am a mature enough Christian to realize that it’s not about me on Sunday morning, and I will dress a certain way to make sure I don’t cause others to stumble. But, recently there was a young man, still finding his way in life, not making the best of choices, who would show up with a man bun, low riding jeans, and this caused such undue tension in another brother in Christ at church. Now, I know, at 37 years of age that those clothing choices were probably selfish of the young man considering the conservative setting. But he, in his confused state couldn’t see this and ultimately left church because the offended brother was making him feel unloved. This whole situation confused me. Where was the love? The grace? The understanding that sometimes people go through things and that we need to give them room to grow? If a man is constantly harping on the clothing choices of a young man, who is not his son, what does this mean? It upset me so very much. The parents of the young man just wanted their son to keep coming to church. If he was there, he was there, man bun and all, and they hoped he’d at least hear something encouraging while he attended. Now he won’t even come.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts that I have been mulling over. Stewing over, more like it :)

  2. Kondwani says:

    I often say that ‘nobody is ever offended by something that is too modest’ – we live in Africa and standards are quite different. I often advise people that just because you ‘can’ wear something does not mean that you ought to, and you are better to err on the side of too covered up.

    One thing I have noticed is that some Christian women think modesty must also mean frumpy and dull. Again, living in Africa, we have access to some very vibrant prints, and the women here tend to dress modestly but very colourfully. Of course even there one might need to question appropriateness – I have some outfits that are just too bold to wear at home without screaming, ‘Look at me, I am different, I have been to Africa’ or otherwise distracting attention.

    I once heard a Christian minister talking about why he wore the clothes he did (very middle of the road, middle-aged man clothes). His argument was that he didn’t want people to even notice his clothes, or for them to be a distraction.

    That can sometimes be a challenge when one is seeking modesty also. What I mean is this: I remember once at a Christian conference, there was a girl who must have been Mennonite or something (American, very conservative and wearing something that looked like a dress from 200 years ago with a little white cap). That drew a HUGE amount of attention, so much so that I almost wanted to ask her why she wore those clothes, and whether she was not being immodest by drawing every eye in the room to her. I am not saying we should follow fashion closely, especially when it results in exposing way too much of your body, but I think we should take care to wear clothes that are both modest and culturally appropriate.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Thanks Jess for this series, I appreciate your honesty! This is an area I have grown in over the years, although I was never too immodest just because I wasn’t comfortable that way, but I definitely have increased my standards over the years. I also love the point of being modest for the situation you’re in. Some skirts can still be immodest if they cause you to expose more than normal because of lighting or the activity involved, and so many don’t take the time to think about that. I am also generally shocked by the level of cleavage Christian women are comfortable exposing, and I think this series is a good reminder to us to always be conscious of how we’re presenting ourselves in all situations.

    Before I was married I think I was a little more lenient with my dressing, trying to impress others too much, but now I realize how this affects other people, and quite honestly I don’t want any other man’s attentions or to cause problems, so I’d rather stay covered up! I love winter time because I can wear my sweaters and be comfortable. The summer months are hard to find a balance between modesty and comfort. I’m usually wearing 3 shirts even in the summer because it seems so hard to find a layering tank top that is high necked and long enough to tuck in and cover the mid-section for bending over/etc. And the choices for pregnant moms is discouraging as well! It’s like clothing manufacturers think that since we have big bellies we need to show off all our extra cleavage with low-cut tops. That’s kind of my personal pet-peeve=)

    Thanks for your challenge and encouragement in this area!

  4. Charisa says:

    Thanks for this series! It’s something I’ve had in the drafts on my blog for years, but haven’t been able to find the words to be clear but not judgemental. One book I’ve read is Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ “The Look: Does God Really Care What I Wear?”

    One practical tip that helps me so much is to layer, layer, layer. Most days when I am nursing a baby I end up wearing three shirts (high-neck camisole, really low camisole to cover my tummy while nursing, plus whatever is on top). Yes sometimes modesty is difficult or inconvenient, but as a child of God I don’t expect my life in this world to be easy, or for me to look the same as everyone else.

    I really was challenged by your point about deflecting in the worship service. That’s something I hadn’t thought about. My clothing my be modest (covering), but is it bright and flashy and causing people to notice me? Food for thought. Thanks.

  5. Katie says:

    I agree with you when it comes to wearing respectable clothing. And, yes, there are Scriptures that point us to what modesty is. But ultimately, we are to be walking by the Spirit and seeking His wisdom in this (just like other convictions and actions). Even though I agree with you about modesty, I must admit I’m so sick of what seems like the wrong focus – what we should or shouldn’t wear – rather than being Spirit-led. You have made the point that you’re not trying to make rules about what to wear because it changes based on culture, etc. You have also offered practical advice, which is great, but why are people so caught up with modesty? Why aren’t we more caught up with sharing the Gospel?

    Also, I realize you can’t do an exhaustive study of every Scripture that mentions nakedness or modesty, but there are a few that I thought of where less clothing seems okay (at least for men):

    John 21:7 – Peter was naked for work (fishing).

    John 13:4 – Jesus took off his garments and wore a towel for washing his disciples’ feet.

    Another passage is when the disciple John ran away naked during Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane.

    Then there’s Noah, whose passing out drunk and naked was shameful, but that wasn’t okay.

    James addresses clothing in the book of James, too, talking about it from the point of favoritism and not favoring the rich just because they’re so well dressed. Does this fit into the modesty discussion? Like, don’t give more of less attention to people just because of how they’re dressed?

    It’d be helpful for those who need discernment in things like modesty to hear more stories from people who have lived in other cultures. For example, I lived in India and was firmly told to not show my legs above the knee, preferably not even my knees. I took that seriously and did not wear anything shorter than capri-length pants, but often wore the traditional ladies’ clothing (which was super comfortable!). The only time I wore long shorts was to swim on private property. Another issue that came up for me was the length of my hair. I had short hair when first going to India and no one told me to grow it long, but I heard that the general Hindu population understood that short hair on a woman meant she had cut off her long hair to offer as a sacrifice to the gods. So, I decided to grow my hair long. Now, in India the ladies wear saris which shows the midriff. Most sari blouses are skin tight and show the bra-straps through the back (the front of the blouse is covered by the sari dress). In the West we consider showing the midriff as inappropriate, and showing legs is no problem.

    Thanks for your insight. I know this issue frustrates me because it’d be nice to just focus on Jesus and the Gospel, but I realize some women may not actually be aware of how their clothing effects others. One of the reasons I am so turned off by going to church is because it seems like women (and some men) dress to get attention and it just feels like a show.

    • Stephanie says:

      I agree that we should be focused on the gospel, and I think Jess’s posts direct us toward that so that we are reflecting Christ and not detracting by our clothing, whether through showing too much skin or flaunting wealth for attention. I think it’s all relevant to how we present the gospel to others. We want them to see Christ in us, not be distracted by our skin or excessive show. Her posts are directed to Christian women; we don’t preach modesty to the world because they are of the world and wouldn’t receive our message. People need Christ first, and then conviction of personal actions will come as a natural result I think.

      With regards to the verses you point out about men wearing less clothing, these were instances where it was not mixed company. Peter fishing would have been just him & the other men on the boat most likely, and when he jumped into the water it says he put on his clothes, so he dressed for the situation when leaving the boat. Same with Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, this was just the men present from what I understand of reading the Bible. The passage you refer to of John running away naked in the Garden of Gethsemane, I can only find reference to this in Mark 14:51, which does not specifically name John, but rather in the KJV says “a certain young man.” To me it almost seems as though the other young men in the crowd were trying to have inappropriate physical relations with the young man, as it says “and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.” Even if it wasn’t inappropriate physical contact they were after, the young man fled to get away from those who were trying to catch him, and leaving his clothes behind was the way he got away. It reminds me of when Joseph fled and left his coat in order to avoid an inappropriate situation with his employer’s wife. So these examples were not normal in mixed company situations.

      I think in the church we need to be loving and respectful of others without making it the forefront of our discussion, but this blog is more about serving Christian women so I think it has a place here. In my church women generally wear skirts to the service, however if someone decides to come and wear pants we treat them the same as anyone else. We would never ask them to wear a skirt, even if everyone else does. If anything I feel uncomfortable and hope they know that we don’t care what they wear, we just have a conviction in ourselves to wear skirts to church, even though we wear pants other times. If there was a flagrant modesty situation that absolutely needed addressed, then I think it would be up to a mentor of that person or someone that person related to closely to politely mention something about the specific issue, however it would have to be sever I think for this to happen.

      I liked your examples from India, I hadn’t heard of many of those!

        • Katie says:

          The context of the young man running away naked is that Jesus was being arrested. Taken in context, this is not inappropriate physical contact, but the Bible says that Jesus’ disciples scattered from him – they ran away to avoid arrest.

          I don’t think you can say with certainty that fishermen were only seen by other men or that there weren’t women there when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus had female disciples that traveled with him to care for practical needs. It doesn’t say there weren’t women around when he washed their feet. Men often strip off shirts for manual labor (construction, concrete work, field work, yard work). There are plenty of women around who see them working. It’s just normal.

          Men and women should dress respectably, yes, but there seems to be an over-sexualization of clothing within our Christian subculture. If a man chooses to lust after a woman, dressing respectably isn’t going to stop him. That’s no excuse for a woman to dress immodestly, it’s just the truth.

          It seems to me that modesty is an area where Christians think that others should dress like them and follow their rules. We are dead to the law and sin, set free by the blood of Jesus so that we can walk by the Spirit. The Spirit will convict and guide those Christian women who need to dress more modestly, and that direction can come through the advice and admonition of other believers. It just bothers me that this issue gets as much attention as it does. Too often it falls under the category of “biting and devouring one another.” (Galatians 5)

  6. Diana says:

    This was a great post, Jess! Thank you so much for addressing this issue so honestly and courageously!!

  1. May 13, 2017

    […] About Modesty Among Differences of Opinion and Practical Considerations About Modesty, 3 and 4 in a […]

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