Yesterday, I discussed a couple of “rules” – first, the three definitions of modesty and how they apply to 1 Timothy 2:9; next, the rules which many mainline churches teach to their teenagers but which are rarely applied, and thirdly, the Jewish rules of modesty in clothing.
All three can probably be summed up as such, to create a list of guidelines to consider in clothing:
1) Clothing should be inexpensive.
2) One oughtn’t dress to draw attention.
3) Wear a high neckline. Preferably cover your collarbone; never go more than four fingers below your collarbone. If you’re female, bend over in front of a mirror – can your cleavage be seen?
4) Cover your knees. This is especially important with skirts, because if it is knee-length or shorter, it will be very awkward to sit down without giving people a view up your skirt.
5) Clothes should be reasonable loose. Loose clothing is simply more comfortable. For skirts or trousers, check that when you bend over, your underwear or the outline of your underwear isn’t visible (for males, particularly check that we can’t see your jocks above your trousers. It’s disturbing). For shirts, women and teenage girls should gently press their shirt between their boobs. If it springs back out, it’s probably too tight.
6) Wear sleeves, even if they’re short ones.
7) Cover your midriff. Is it still covered when you lift your arms above your head?
Christians should also be wary of wearing clothes with logos on them. What do the logos say? What do they represent? What are you advertising? Is it something that helps your witness as a Christian, or does it hinder it? Does the logo draw attention to parts of your anatomy that you don’t really want attention drawn to?
Some Christians recommend avoiding patterns, too, but I think that is a personal choice. Certainly patterns with non-Christian things in them should be avoided. Very big or loud patterns can also draw unwanted attention.
Certainly, with these standards I have already discussed, it’s more than easy enough to dress modestly whilst continuing to look contemporary, even buying from the same shops as everyone else. Modesty is certainly attainable for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be frumpy. However, the Bible does say to “Be separate [from the non-Christians]” (2 Corinthians 6:17) and to “Be not conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1-2), so some Christians do dress in a manner which immediately sets them apart from everyone else. It doesn’t have to be major and obvious, like the Amish or a nun, but dressing in a manner which is immediately unlike the world is a concept which can certainly be found in the Bible.
For myself, I have a couple of rules. I don’t necessarily say that everyone else should follow them, but they are the ones I use when choosing my clothing:
1) The neckline should cover my collarbone, or be very close to it. Your collarbone is lower than you think – most shirts with collars or even t-shirts cover it.
2) Skirts or dresses should reach to my ankle. I used to wear them shorter (mid-calf), but I simply find ankle-length to be more comfortable.
3) Sleeves should come to the crease of my elbow. Again, this is more comfortable. Shorter sleeves will ride up and bunch in the armpit.
4) All clothing should be reasonably loose – see the tests in #5 above.
5) For shirts, I like to make sure that it will stay tucked in when I lift my arms above my head.
6) Are there any logos? What’s in the pattern? What does the logo or pattern say about you? I try to avoid brand logos, and t-shirts with pictures or slogans on the front.
7) Clothing should be opaque. Can I see my bra through my shirt if I look in the mirror? Can someone see my legs through my skirt if it’s sunny? Layers are good for this; wearing a petticoat under a skirt or a singlet under a shirt can eliminate pretty much any see-through quality in your clothing.
I hope that I have made sense with this. These are all just guidelines, but I think they are all very sensible ones which can be easily kept to. Use your common sense.
There is no real classically “Christian” style of modest dress. You might see Amish or Mennonite women in cape dresses both plain and patterned, Quaker women in a dark dress and shawl, or the Duggars in skirts and shirts that really look no different from what anyone else would wear. There is less variety for men; long trousers or jeans and collared shirts (button-down or polo) are common for all modest-dressing Christian men. Use your sense and wear what feels comfortable for you.