Modesty is a concept which can seem quite alien in today’s culture of skinny jeans, mini-skirts, bikinis, and tank tops. Most teenagers scarcely give it the slightest consideration, going out of their way – it seems – to wear the most revealing clothes they can find.
However, modesty can still be important to some youth and adults today. There are lots of reasons someone may choose to dress modestly, from religion to comfort and on. Actually, I was going to do a “Why Modesty?” post, until I realised that I couldn’t really get my reasons down in a coherent manner. My modest dress started of mostly subconscious, just wearing what I felt was more comfortable, but eventually gained some religious aspects to it, too.
I’m not going to dwell too much on the “Why?” of modest dressing; I’d rather get down to the “How?” and “What?” as quickly as possible. But for those interested in Bible verses relating to modesty, here are some good ones to look up: 1 Timothy 2:9, Deuteronomy 22:5, 2 Corinthians 6:17, 1 Peter 3:5, and Romans 12:1-2.
So, what is “modesty”? Well, the three generally-accepted definitions of the word “modest” are “inexpensive”, “doesn’t draw attention”, and “isn’t revealing”. In my opinion, clothing should be all three of these things – and particularly so for Christians. In fact, 1 Timothy 2:9 says that Christians should dress, “… in modest apparel, with humbleness and sobriety, not with… costly array…” (paraphrased).
There are a couple of rules for buying clothes which are generally taught to girls in most Christian churches – but unfortunately not often followed! They are: 1) necklines should not reach more than four fingers below the collarbone), 2) shorts or skirts shouldn’t come higher than where your middle finger is when your arms are hanging straight down your sides, 3) if you bend over, people shouldn’t be able to see your underwear, or the outline of your underwear, 4) bra straps shouldn’t be showing, 5) when you lift your arms above your head, one shouldn’t be able to see your midriff, 6) gently press the shirt between your boobs. If you can’t do it with minimal force, or if your shirt springs back out immediately, it’s too tight.
I think these are good standards for anyone to keep to, but they still leave room for some pretty immodest clothing. In the absence of any specific verse detailing exactly what to wear, I turn to the Jewish definition for modesty in clothing. Judaism is, after all, where Christianity comes from; and Paul, being a Jew himself, probably had these standards in mind when he was writing. According to the Jewish standards of modesty (to my understanding), one’s shoulders, collarbone, upper arms (to the elbow), torso and thighs (to the knees) should be covered. It’s also interesting that the Bible seems to consider, in a number of places, that “nakedness” and “nudity” are two different things. “Nudity” the complete absence of any clothing at all. “Nakedness”, on the other hand, is when any of the abovementioned body parts are showing, even if one isn’t entirely nude.
These still seem pretty reasonable standards for anyone, I’m sure you’ll agree. There are lots of clothes which might not be accepted by some modest-dressing churches which fit these standards, such as cargo pants and t-shirts. Anyone can keep to these standards easily.
But a lot of modest-dressing Christians and Jews advocate skirts-only for women. There are a couple of reasons for this:
One is Deuteronomy 22:5; “Woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man; neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God.” While many Christians would say that this, being Old Testament law, is not longer applicable to us today, one has got to consider the strong wording used! Surely anything which was an “abomination” to God in the Old Testament times would still be something He doesn’t like today? Some also say that, in our culture, trousers can be women’s clothing as well as men’s – they are often made specifically for women and not for men. But consider how this became so – it was because women wanted to usurp the headship order (see “Why Headcovering?”)! Only 100 years ago, it was considered a scandal for a woman or girl to wear trousers. Don’t you think it’s odd that, today, women can wear trousers and no-one will bat an eyelid, but when men wear skirts, it’s considered strange, improper, even outright wrong?
Another reason is that skirts simply look nicer. The female shape is built for a skirt, not trousers – it’s curvier and trousers simply don’t cater for that unless they are very tight and fitted. Consider how trousers fit on a woman. “Modest”, that is loose, trousers often look ill-fitting and awkward, particularly at the back, and tight and shaped trousers simply aren’t modest. (There are some exceptions to this, like most culottes, which are designed to look like a skirt). Trousers draw the eye to a woman’s midsection, which, if she’s being modest, is not where she wants people looking.
Yet another reason some women choose to wear only skirts or dresses is that they find it more comfortable. I have to agree – this is my main reason for wearing skirts. They are also a lot cooler in summer (consider it that you have your own personal breeze with you) than even shorts, and with the right undergarments, a lot warmer in winter!
Well, this post is now getting very long, so I’m going to split it into two parts. I hope it makes sense to people. I’ll finish up by doing a quick re-cap of what I’ve talked about:
1) The definition of “modesty”, and how it pertains to 1 Timothy 2:9.
2) The generally-accepted rules of modesty taught in most churches but almost never applied.
3) The Jewish standards of modesty in clothing.
4) The reasons for going skirts-only.
Well, I hope that I have made sense so far, and I will post Part Two tomorrow.