Modesty-A Journey of the Heart Part 2

Posted By on June 30, 2010

What does it mean to dress modestly? As a teenager, I was made aware of a desire in some Christian circles to return to the modest dress. Modesty means different things to different people. There are those who feel certain colors are okay to wear but others are considered too flashy. Some only wears skirts and jumpers at all times, while other ladies feel they can wear shorts, jeans, and swimming suits. In the midst of all this can come a judgment in the hearts of women looking at each other. “Can you believe so and so showed up in jeans today?” “How legalistic to think you shouldn’t wear shorts on a hot day like today!”

I have seen this backbiting and hardness of hearts, and it’s not pretty. My own heart needs to be submitted to the love of Christ in this matter, as it says in Galations 5: “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another…” Our prayer for each other should be that God would give each of us a modest heart. If we have a heart that desires modesty this will be reflected in the outward appearance of our clothing and in the spirit that we carry with us. Someone won’t have to stand over us with a list of do’s and don’ts.From personal experience, I can share the workings of God upon my heart. As a little girl and teenager I was considered a tomboy. I wasn’t some rough and tumble little girl, but I enjoyed playing with boys more than girls. I didn’t like playing dolls all morning long. I wanted to be out riding my bike, playing soccer, or touch football with the boys on my street. After moving to the country, I learned to enjoy our huge trampoline, horseback riding, climbing trees, hiking, and caring for our animals. Through this all I wore shorts or jeans exclusively. I couldn’t stand to wear a dress. My parents made me wear a dress to church, but as soon as church was over, I changed back into my jeans.

As I moved into my teen years, I kept this up. I noticed other girls started to dress in certain ways and heard them talking about trying to attract some guy’s attention. I wasn’t interested in such behavior. I just wanted my clothes to be clean and comfortable. Otherwise, I didn’t think much about it. As for modesty itself, I didn’t consider myself immodest at all. My parents were pretty strict about how long my shorts had to be, no tight tank tops, and so on. In the youth group I was in for a short time, the other girls were feeling sorry for me because I had to dress so conservatively. My parents wouldn’t let me wear my Sunday dress above my knees. Poor Jennifer!

When I was 16, my Mom came across writing about modesty and came to believe it was best for my younger sister and me to wear dresses and skirts for everyday life. The issue of modesty really struck a cord with my Mom. Before she became a Christian, she spent her youth wearing clothes to gain the attention of the men around her. She knew first-hand how important it was in God’s plan to dress in such a way that you do not cause your brother to stumble, let alone trying to make him stumble on purpose!

As I was asked to wear the dresses and skirts, I was horrified. Give up my jeans? No way would this work! We lived next to a horse farm at the time, and I would go into the stalls, climb up to the top of the stalls, and walk on top of the stall edges to the end of the barn. Do that in a dress? I listened to my Mom and changed my clothing selections, but inwardly my heart was stewing. I was mad and feeling rebellious. This nonsense would end someday!

In the next few months, I decided to pray about this whole modesty and clothing thing. Surely God would be fair to me! What did he expect of me? I started looking for scriptures about clothing and modesty. I began in Genesis with Adam and Eve sinning and realizing they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together to make aprons for themselves. I thought, “just like all the pictures I have seen in our Bible story books.” Several verses later I read that God himself came along and saw those aprons. He decided to clothe Adam and Eve himself and replaced the aprons with coats of skins. That sure impressed me! God really cared how they were dressed? I had never thought about God himself wanting me to dress in a certain way.

I read in Isaiah 47 about God’s judgment upon Babylon and Chaldea. As part of the curse upon them He would “make bare the leg, and uncover the thigh.” I went on to the New Testament to read that God asked women to adorn themselves in modest apparel and wear the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. As I continued searching and found more verses that spoke of the need for a modest outward appearance and spirit, I began to be convicted in my heart. God used a situation from a few years previous to this to help me understand my need to protect my brother from stumbling. Sometimes I would wear pretty tight jeans (looking back on it, I realized that) and didn’t think anything of it. One day I turned around to see a man looking at me, and I knew in my heart I didn’t want to wear this pair of jeans around him again! As I prayed, God brought that moment back to my mind. The study and prayer became a time to ask God to help me have a modest heart.

From that day, I have continued to pray and strive to have a spirit of modesty in my heart. God never gave me a “thou shalt not” list that showed me down to the dotted “i” and crossed “t” what I should and should not wear. He didn’t give me a list of colors I could or couldn’t wear. He didn’t tell me to look like a picture right out of the 1800s, or the 1700s, or 1950. I never found I could only wear a denim jean jumper to be a modest woman, or only calico fabric for that matter. What God did do was change my heart.

I went from a teenager bent on living out what I thought was best to having a desire for righteousness and holiness. My spirit changed as I strove to have a meek and quiet spirit. That spirit within me changed the clothes I desired to wear. I decided I wouldn’t be involved in a sport if it required me to dress immodestly. I wouldn’t try to dress in a way that stoked lust in the men about me, but in a way that showed them I was a lady and, above all, a Christian. I would try on certain clothes and feel uncomfortable with how a shirt gaped or a how tight a skirt was when I bent over.

I questioned my swimsuit habits. Did I really want to walk down the beach or go to the pool in a suit that covered less than my underclothes? Why was I willing to wear a “modest” swimsuit with a little skirt attached that was shorter than a tiny mini skirt and feel it was okay because men would see me at a pool instead of the pew at church? What was God’s definition of nakedness? Did I desire to wear expensive clothes that would cause pride in my heart and others to stumble as they coveted what I was wearing? As I was striving to walk with God, my clothing wasn’t really an issue of “me” anymore, because my desire had changed. The desire of my heart was now, “God I want to be a woman after your own heart. I am willing to wear your coat of skins instead of the aprons I wanted for myself.” That’s what God wants–our hearts.

When your heart is in the right place, it won’t be about you; it will be about God, a modest heart, and the brethren around you. With that spirit of God within. you will become a Christian women whom others see as chaste, meek, and loving. We are called to be a peculiar people. That means you are to be a peculiar woman, full of love.“For they will know you are Christians by your love.” Do you love your God and your brother? Your outward appearance will reflect the love that is in your heart. God delights in the woman with a modest heart.

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Clothing:

Deuteronomy 22:5 “The woman shall not wear that which pertained unto a man, neither shall a man put on a women’s garment; for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God,”

1 Timothy 2:9,10 “ In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”

1 Peter 3:3 “Let your adorning be not that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, or wearing of gold, or putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”

Definitions of words I strive for in spirit and dress:

Modest-2887 Greek says: orderly, of good behavior.

Neat- very clean, pure, well adjusted

Comely-decent, suitable, proper, becoming, suited to time, place, circumstances, or persons.

Sober-pure, chaste, temperate

Plain-void of ornament, simple.

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About The Author

Jennifer Allen is a wife and homemaker. She is a homeschool graduate with a passion for home, family, and serving God. Through the journey of life she has been a dental assistant, business owner, and office manager, but she is always happiest working at home. She is a blogger at TheModestMomBlog.com and a seamstress for TheModestMom.com. She loves writing, sewing, baking, gardening, books, and spending time with her wonderful husband.

Comments

8 Responses to “Modesty-A Journey of the Heart Part 2”

  1. jennalynn says:

    Thank you for this post. The most touching part in it, to me, is that you describe your journey without describing your particular rules for dress. I appreciate this series as God reshapes my heart towards modesty — by explaining your reasons but not your rules, I don’t feel guilty that I, myself, am still searching. Beautiful!

  2. Tiana Krenz says:

    This is great, Jennifer!

    I’ve changed a lot about how I dress over the past year. I know that some people think I’m being legalistic, but I’ve really been convicted that the way I dress says something about the God I serve, and what it means to be a woman.

    While I haven’t gotten up the courage to get rid of all of my jeans (yet), I find that wearing long, feminine skirts does something powerful in my heart. It makes me more conscious of my femininity, and reminds me of the kind of attitude and spirit God expects of me.

    Blessings!

    :)Tiana

  3. Tess Bomac says:

    A really great book on modesty is “A Return to Modesty” by Wendy Shalit, a Jewish scholar. This book gave me the words to express what I was feeling about the very immodest, unfeminine, unchaste culture I was trapped in during high school.

    The swimsuit question is really interesting, because on the one hand, modesty is contextual, and swimming is/can be an intense sport. In some cultures, the women are totally naked, except for their arms, which are always covered–men spying on these women with their bracelets off are put to death! In our culture, the line has been pushed pretty far over, and women can and do wear tight, revealing clothes, with nary a complaint from their elders.

    So, how does a Christian figure out what modesty means, especially since many Christians don’t have a modern day “centralized authority”? (Just look at how many different standards are embraced within the LAF community–if you follow blog links. Some people are practically in historical costumes, while other people wear regular American casual wear, while others wear skirts, but are fine bearing legs, etc.) Do we really think we should be wearing the same style tunic and mantle that women in Christ’s day wore?

    I believe the question is context. Is it really immodest to wear pearls? Not nowadays, not in a wealthy area of the world where pearls are not that special. How about a huge diamond ring? Maybe that’s pushing the line because it is still so extraordinary compared to the norm. How about wearing pearls in a devastatingly poor area? That could be immodest, especially since it may be done to distance oneself from “lesser” people.

    For clothing, I think a good rule of thumb is that it should still be modest even if one bends over and then reaches up high quickly…meaning, no undies showing in the back, no belly showing in the front, no cleavage falling out of place. If one can’t sit down and stand up without having to readjust, the clothes are probably too tight (or in the rare case, way too loose).

    Should women wear skirts every day, or avoid certain colors, or never go swimming? Or only go swimming in a “burqini”? I don’t know if there is a Biblical basis for saying so. True men and women shouldn’t cross dress, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have some clothing items with similar functions. (Some people insist that women must wear skirts so as to not wear pants that men wore. Back in the ancient world, men and women wore skirt-like tunics. Nowadays, we both wear shirts, and there are no complaints about that.)

    I believe that a woman has to make her decisions based on her context, although she certainly shouldn’t use low values around her as an excuse to have low values herself.

    For swimsuits: I’m not a fan of them, but I do like to swim laps, especially when I’m pregnant. I opt for a suit that covers cleavage, belly, bottom, and then wear a swim skirt that comes a few inches from the knee. I tend to hop in and out of the pool, huge towel waiting for me, as quickly and gracefully as I can. Would I wear my swimsuit to church? No, but I also wouldn’t wear my flannel pajamas, my gardening clothes, my wedding dress (again), or a huge number of other items. I’m personally opposed to wearing anything to church with writing on the back…it’s sort of distracting to see the punchline to an unknown joke throughout service.

    Is there ever a time and a place for string bikinis? Maybe if you’re doing research on skin cancer in a private yard….but for most of us, a swimsuit should cover enough to be modest and not so much as to be impractical or appear ridiculous.

    It’s important to note that dressing in an extreme manner can alienate people who don’t understand Christians or their beliefs. It’s better to wear a normal one piece + cover up and demonstrate normalcy, beauty, etc. than to cover a few extra inches of knee and convince strangers that “those homeschoolers sure are weird. Someone ought to force them to get exposed to other ideas via public school.”

    This same idea is why it is also really important for Christian women to dress beautifully. People are not attracted to us by our ideas, but by their first impression, and then our ideas. If we smell, have mustaches, raggedy hair, bizarre garments, and rough skin, people will judge the book by its cover and lose out on the chance to see the beauty of Christianity. The same thing can happen when we are hypocritical and dress as though our bodies are wares for sale–nobody believes we are daughters of an awesome God, when we dress like the many people who have no hope, no faith, no love.

    It’s definitely a balance, but I like the way you renew the question. It’s always good to check in and see if our wardrobe choices really reflect our dignity. This question helped me start dressing much more nicely and to start putting in a few minutes worth of effort each to make sure my skin and hair look fresh and clean. Life’s a lot easier when I’m not feeling insecure about being under-dressed or sloppy. :) It took me a long time to reconcile wanting to avoid being a temptation to others with treating my body with the care and dignity that I should.

  4. snvarbor says:

    “This same idea is why it is also really important for Christian women to dress beautifully. People are not attracted to us by our ideas, but by their first impression, and then our ideas. If we smell, have mustaches, raggedy hair, bizarre garments, and rough skin, people will judge the book by its cover and lose out on the chance to see the beauty of Christianity. The same thing can happen when we are hypocritical and dress as though our bodies are wares for sale–nobody believes we are daughters of an awesome God, when we dress like the many people who have no hope, no faith, no love.”

    Well I must say if any of my fellow homeschool moms had mustaches I would be wondering about their health. That being said, I guess most Christians must live in those parts of the country where it is never hot, windy, or dusty, and probably don’t work in the trades that might rough up their skin a bit. Since my family is allergic to most artificial fragrances and hair glues we ALL smell something like old spice or garlic and have sand in our teeth(blowing dust), and rough skin(working outside).
    For swimming, try swimming with people who swim, and not frolic and sunbathe, you get a different attitude from them for you gear and attire. Then again there’s always wet suits, lots of coverage.
    ha,ha,ha, reminds me of a time….

  5. I’ve loved this series! I’ve read countless modesty books over the years, but you put a fresh spin on things and hit the nail on the head. Random sidenote: my husband and I would *love* it if we could get away with wearing “Bible robes” in this day and age–so much more simple and comfortable, and completely modest to boot! Oh well.

  6. Your posts have been interesting! I agree with your ideas about modesty–it’s not just about hem lengths or style, but about holding yourself with dignity and also being neat and not flashy.

    I’m on my own “modesty journey”. I’ve started covering my hair and not showing too much cleavage. I can’t even remember the last time I wore pants! I actually put on tights the other day for work because the thought of going to my job with bare legs really bothered me! lol! My whole outlook is changed when I wear clothes that are modest and when I cover my head. I feel protected, feminine, more patient, kinder, prettier…I don’t know…it’s not a judgmental or holier-than-thou feeling, just different! There’s something about this modesty thing!

  7. J says:

    I came across this, and just had to throw in some thoughts…

    I, for one, am not a dress/skirt wearer. Now, I have nothing against this preference, mind you. One of my good friends has elected to wear skirts, as well as have her daughters wear skirts to accentuate their femininity. I admire this decision.

    That having been said, I choose not to wear skirts for a couple of reasons. First, I work in a doctor’s office as a tech, and at my place of employment we must were scrubs. Skirts would not fly. Second, and probably most importantly, I was not a Christian until my mid-20’s. Not even remotely close. Not even raised in a Christian home. And guess who got tattoos when she turned 21? Yep. That’s right. One covers the whole outside of my right leg. I would like to say it is a rather unoffensive image for what it is, but it’s not.

    Now, I have been fortunate this last winter that tights were “back in style”, because it afforded me the privilege of being able to where skirts that aren’t ankle length or longer. Alas, springtime is swiftly upon us, and those skirts and tights will be moved to the back of the closet to hopefully (fingers crossed!) be pulled out in the winter. While I have a couple of ultra long skirts, I don’t have many (and, in all honesty, my husband hates them! Awkward!).

    I have chosen, in the situation I find myself in regarding my tattoos, to place feminine pants ahead of the possible confusion/offense that could be caused to someone at the inadvertent sight of my largely tattooed leg. Mind you, I do believe that femininity can still be accentuated while wearing pants. I also believe it can be masked. There is a huge difference between a feminine ruffled blouse, and a white shirt with a men’s tie and vest. It takes discretion and Godly direction to be able to “work with what you’ve got”, so to speak.

    I would also encourage many here to keep this story in mind the next time they see a woman wearing pants at church or a church function. I don’t wish to imply that there would be a prejudice towards such a woman from anyone here. From what I’ve read, I don’t feel that would be the case. I have seen such behavior from other circles though, so I like to give people a little insight to remind them to keep and open mind. Many people may have received the chain email that has a variation of a quote from Plato, “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” One may look at me, a married woman with tattoos, no children and who works full time, as a borderline – if not full-fledged – feminist. In reality, I am a Christian woman, and a cancer caregiver to my husband who cannot work. My husband and I are unable to have children, and this pains me daily. I work full time to pay the bills he cannot pay, and I carry about sins just like you, it’s just that some of them are printed on my flesh. Praise God above, those sins, and those tattoos, are all covered by the blood of Christ! And God, in his sovereignty, has placed me in this situation, where beautiful womanhood is turned upside down, and often far from beautiful. He’s put me here, and I will serve Him with everything I’ve got, by His grace.

  8. Thank you for this excellent comment, J. You are totally right about clothing needing to be appropriate to the position/situation — and to cover what must be covered. There are wonderful, feminine styles from the mid-East, India, and Africa (I live in Kenya) that include long, flowing trousers with a beautiful, feminine tunic over top. The real beef I have with women’s trousers in the west is that they usually have to be super-fitted to look “feminine” compared to men’s trousers–and that means drawing the eye to the private parts in a way we don’t want to do as Christian women. But baggy, shapeless trousers tend to look so masculine. So I love how Eastern women pair flowing trousers with gorgeous tunics (usually hip-length) that are thoroughly feminine but also very practical and workable. There are a lot of ways to be feminine and still cover up what you need to.

    And, yes, it is SO important to be charitable towards others and understand that the issue of dress isn’t a life or death one! We should make it our goal to look every person in the eye with warmth and genuine friendliness rather than getting hung up on what they are wearing (or, sometimes, not wearing!). Thanks for this timely reminder.

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