Is Modesty A Lost Commodity?

Fashion is a 1.2 trillion dollar industry with approx. $250 billion spent annually in the US. Clothes are a necessity of life, so it’s understandable the amount of time and money we spend dressing ourselves every day. We want to put our best self forward. After all, they say your appearance counts for 75% of what someone thinks about you the first time they meet you. I’ve grown up in church my whole life. The word modesty was apart of daily vernacular in our Christian social circles. I’ve stood in front of classes full of students at school while the teacher measured my shorts with a yardstick on my very long and lanky legs in 5th grade. I was forced to wear another girl’s clothes at youth camp because my dresses came centimeters above my knees. I once had another mother in church growing up tell my mother that my sister and I should dress more appropriately because it was causing her husband to lust after us.

All of these scenarios were an attempt to teach us young women about modesty, but unfortunately the effect was quite the opposite. I grew up disgusted with the embarrassment tied to the way I was dressed. The shame I felt as I stood there in front of everyone while my skirts were measured. All I wanted to do was rebel.

That rebellion led to a total shift in the way I saw myself and the way I wanted others to see me.

I thought in order for men to notice me I had to dress for attention. I remember one afternoon in high school I went to lunch off campus with friends. I went home, while my parents were away, and changed into a skimpy outfit. An outfit that would have very easily gotten me sent home from school. I had to go home and change back into the outfit I had on before I could return to class. I remember feeling so attractive in that outfit. No doubt the boys would like it and I would get many “compliments.” Today, those kinds of compliments make me cringe.

I believe Rachel Held Evans said it best when she said:

What I’ve only just begun to realize is that these two extremes represent different sides of the same coin. While popular culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to get men to look at them, the modesty culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to keep men from looking at them. In both cases, the impetus is placed on the woman to accommodate her clothing or her body to the (varied and culturally relative) expectations of men. In both cases, it becomes the womans job to manage the sexual desires of men, and thus it is seen as her fault if a man ignores her on the one hand or objectifies her on the other. 

When I started this piece I had a lot of self-righteous things to say about what women should wear with a lot of biblical references taken way out of context to back it up. Truth is, I had no idea what modesty meant. As I began to do some research, I was surprised with what I found.

Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with  elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel.- 1 Timothy 2:9

The word modesty here is from the Greek word kosmios, which means “orderly and well arranged.” In order for us to really understand what this passage means, we have to look at the whole scripture and it’s context. Paul is speaking to the Christians of the time about the practice of corporate prayer. Back then, it was indecent to braid one’s hair and wear gold jewelry for a prayer meeting. It was considered inappropriate.

Many Christian women today believe elaborate hairstyles, jewelry and expensive clothes are sinful according to this scripture and that’s simply not the case. Those expectations cannot be translated over to today’s worship settings simply because of the changes in culture and practice. Similarly, for me growing up, it was inappropriate to wear shorts to church. That was then and this is now. This passage is not deeming braided hair and expensive clothing as sinful; it is an example of respect for the culture and corporate prayer at the time.

That doesn’t mean this important passage has no effect on the way we dress today. The same principles apply. We are following the rules of modesty when we ask ourselves if what we are wearing is of propriety and moderation. Is it appropriate for the occasion? Is it too muchor too little according to the time, place and culture?

In certain cultures, covering everything but the eyes is appropriate and in others it’s okay to sunbathe nude. What’s not okay is the shame tied to our disagreement with either of those cultures and the way they dress. Just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean we have a free pass to judge. This is where I believe we have sadly turned what could be a chance to draw women in, into a way to shun them out.

My friend Jamie Jones has an outreach program called “No Strings Attached.” She and a few of her friends gather together to visit strip clubs in her local area. They take the girls small gifts and talk with them, in an attempt to build relationships with the end result being to share the love of Jesus. Jamie doesn’t go into the strip clubs and tell the girls to cover up. She doesn’t tell them to respect themselves and get a decent job. She doesn’t push her beliefs, values and morals on the girls. She sees them as Jesus sees them; loved, valued and cherished just the way they are.

This isn’t meant to imply that Jesus approves of taking your clothes off for money, so let’s not even jump off that cliff. The message is intended to be one of empowerment and encouragement for women everywhere to know, you don’t have to clean yourself up before you come to Jesus. All you have to do is come.

So how do we as women, find a balance within it all? What should we choose to wear and what is appropriate?

I believe that answer lies in motive. My motive with the way I dress, as with every other part of my life, is to honor God and myself. The clothes I choose to wear are a direct reflection of the love and respect I have for Him.