In my College Writing class, I had to write a term paper related to my major. I was studying fashion merchandising, but didn’t revel in many topics related to the fashion world (my goal was to be a seamstress, not a fashionista). What was I going to research and write about for an entire semester?
Complete with an annotated bibliography, title page, and APA formatting, my paper delved into the topic of modesty. At first, I thought it related pretty well to fashion. But in my research, I discovered a depth of modesty I hadn’t thought much about before.
As I assumed at the outset of my research, a quick search online shows that many Christian blogs and resources about modesty focus on clothing. You can easily find guidelines on how long your skirt or shorts should be, how high your neck line should be, and how tight is too tight.
While these things are a consideration, my research showed me that modesty is much less about clothing than it is about character.
Modesty is like an onion in that it has many layers. The first layer is basic: clothing should cover the body. When they sinned and realized they were naked, Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7). Since these simple coverings weren’t sufficient, God provided whole-body garments so that they could stand before Him unashamed by their nakedness. God made clothes in order to cover our bodies.
Timothy adds another layer to the onion: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety” (1 Timothy 2:9) “Decency and propriety” means that our clothing should not draw attention to ourselves. Rather our character and humility should more noticeable to the world around us than clothing we wear.
We ought to give thought to what we wear to ensure it is appropriate for the image we want to portray. What image are you portraying? Your clothes tell a lot about you and your character. Just as a baseball jersey shows what team a player belongs to, your clothes should indicate whom you are serving.
When writing my paper, I surveyed my classmates about modesty. One student said modesty “is acting in a way that protects the innocence of the person acting as well as those watching.” This sums up a fundamental, though often overlooked, layer of the modesty onion: demeanor and carriage.
In spite of being fully covered by our clothing, we can still be immodest by the way we act or wear our clothing. While each person is ultimately responsible for his or her own thoughts, we as Christian women ought to act and dress in a way that does not purposefully stir up impure or sinful thoughts in the men around us. Modesty holds a power and allure that must be used wisely, and if it is not, can easily give away too much.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit . . . ? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (NIV). As daughters of the King, we have the privilege of displaying Him to a watching world.
Modesty in clothing, character, and carriage is rooted in our hearts. Is your heart walking on a path that strives after God even when it is an uphill battle? Or are you walking along on the smooth, easy path? (see my earlier blog about this). If we are truly trying to honor God the way we dress and the way we act, then figuring out the “line” of what shirt is high enough or what skirt is long enough is no longer our object. Our object is to glorify God in what we choose to wear and how we wear it.
Modesty doesn’t begin with rules and regulations of Christian fashion. Modesty begins in the heart and is an opportunity to display the humble character of a woman who loves the Jesus who first loved her. Only when we are right before God and when we are seeking Him with our whole lives can we truly display modesty.