Fashion and Beauty · Tara Jane

The problem with modesty

Photo: Wardrobe by Jen Collins on Flickr
Photo: Wardrobe by Jen Collins on Flickr

The tricky thing about being a Christian is figuring out what to do with freedoms. I am thankful that God gives us freedom in lots of different ways, that we have the option to choose whether we go on to further study or start working straight away after school, that we can wear our hair long or short, that we can choose what we want to eat for dinner etc. But with great freedom comes great responsibility.

We’ve been chatting beauty and modesty at church lately. We had a women’s teaching brunch where we heard two very challenging talks exploring what the Bible has to say about beauty and modesty. In summary: grow in godliness rather than in vain, and dress wisely so you can glorify God with your clothing regardless of situation.

Since then, I’ve become hyper aware of just how hard it is to pin down modesty. How do we define modesty? Can we describe what it looks like to dress modestly without being legalistic? If modesty is subjective, how can we ever know if we are being modest?

This makes it difficult to work out what we do when it comes to clothes. If nobody can agree on what makes clothing modest, then how will we work it out? And it doesn’t help that thrown into that mix we all have different body shapes and sizes and types and so what’s modest on one person might not be modest on another.

I’m in the process of clearing out my wardrobe (where do all these clothes come from? And even though my wardrobe struggles to close, why do I feel like I have nothing to wear?) and so I’m trying to think through modesty and godliness and the clothes I pick carefully. I’ve started thinking things through in three ways:

Culture – How is this item of clothing influenced by culture? What does it say to the people around me? Does this clothing unnecessarily offend people in this culture?

Context – Where would I wear this? How versatile is this item of clothing? If I wear this how will others react? Will I unnecessarily offend people with this outfit?

Clothing – Do I like it? Does it fit well? Am I wearing it appropriately or am I wearing it in a way that is unloving? Is it fun? (That last question is just something I ask for me. Bright colours, patterns etc make my heart sing).

Sometimes I get hung up on the idea that others might be offended by what I’m wearing. “It’s my right!” I cry. “It’s my right to have  bright pink hair and ABC item of clothing and I can wear them where I like because I have the right!” But the reality is that I have been given the freedom to choose my clothing, I’ve been given this freedom by God in order to be free to love those around me. And so I am free to choose clothing that will love others as opposed to love myself.

If the elderly ladies at our early morning congregation would be offended by me wearing thongs or my gym gear to their church service, then does it really hurt for me to wear a skirt and flats? It might hurt my pride, but that’s what humility is: sucking it up and serving others before ourselves.  And if I’m asked to dress tidy when I’m up the front of church making announcements etc, well then that’s fine too. I can still wear in fashion clothes, I can still look fun. But what’s more important to me: being free to be fashionable, or being free to love others?

We have the ultimate example of how to use our freedoms in Christ, in Christ. He freely gave up his freedoms in order to serve us when he died on the cross. Philippians 2 tells of Christ’s outrageous humility, as he submitted to death on the cross. How can we possibly cling to our rights and our freedoms in light of this? Surely the only appropriate response is to do the same. We are free in Christ, and we are free to give up our rights for the sake of others. This applies to clothes too.

As for defining what is modest and what isn’t, I’m still not sure…

What do other people think?

 

Here are some other questions I am thinking through. If you have any answers or insights I would love to hear them.

  • How can you determine whether someone is being immodest if we struggle to define modesty?
  • What do you do if someone pulls other people up on their choice of clothes, but they’re the only one who is concerned?
  • Does this mean there’s no room to challenge people about what they believe about clothes and legalism etc?
  • At what point is something just immodest because it’s not in your culture (i.e. some cultures just wear lots of makeup and that’s normal, other cultures don’t and that’s normal for them etc)?
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6 thoughts on “The problem with modesty

  1. Any time we are talking about what we should or shouldn’t do in regard to hotly debated topics, I am reminded of Romans 14 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+14). I think there are more layers when we start talking about modesty because, while eating meat is pretty black-and-white as to whether you do or don’t do it, modesty is very subjective.

    One of my favorite articles written on modesty is this one: http://qideas.org/articles/modesty-i-dont-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means/ .

    There is a duality to our responsibility as Christians: on one hand “If anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.” (Romans 14:14-15). On the other hand “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall.” (Romans 14:4). If there was 100% no judgement between us, we would be 100% unoffending. If we were 100% unoffending, we would have 100% no judgement between us. Overall, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of *food*” (Romans 14:19)

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    1. Hi Jamie 🙂 Great comment.
      I was just about to use that verse to write about haloween, lol.
      So true about subjectivity making it difficult. It’s so transient between different cultures.
      That article you linked highlights a real problem with modesty – that the onus is put on women and with that comes guilt, when really it should be framed as a respect thing. In my opinion – as a tall girl on whom everything is too short, there often is not enough grace on the side of the rebuker either. Just to further complicate the issue.
      Still keen to have you blog for us btw 🙂
      – Alie

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    2. Thank you so much for your thoughts! Romans 14 is so helpful and encouraging – I can’t believe I didn’t jump to that chapter earlier. And thanks for the link to that modesty blog, I’ve read a few but I hadn’t read that one. It was a really interesting read and very helpful!
      – Tara

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  2. This is a really great post! The hard thing about modesty is that sometimes it feels like it would be a million times easier to just have simple rules about skirt length, pants, swimwear etc. But I guess working all that out for ourselves helps us grow. Once I had a male friend picking me up for church. I thought my top was fine, but he asked me to change. That definitely hurt my pride! Looking back, I think he really was just looking out for me, and part of our difference of opinion was cultural. I came from the shire where having a bra strap showing was no big deal. He was a country boy and the glimpse of bra strap was shocking! These days I er on the side of caution and if I think something *might* be immodest I just get changed.

    I live with three other girls and we occasionally give each other feedback about our outfits. I think it’s helpful to have friends who have agreed with you to have the freedom to challenge each other without anyone getting offended. Two are better than one! etc. It’s funny because we have different cultural backgrounds and don’t always agree on what is modest, but even having those discussions together has helped us grow in understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that you have friends who you openly discuss this with! We were talking the other day about how important it is to have the humility to listen to our sisters in Christ when they mention clothing – because at the end of the day they’re not trying to hurt us but help us to be godly. Instead of being proud of our selves, we should be proud we have such loving friends (for me though, this is much easier said than done!).

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights with us!
      -Tara

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