“Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”
This great quote is attributed to Edith Head, top costume designer for both Paramount and Universal movie studios during the 20th century. Hundreds of films benefited from her creativity. Her statement here describes a way of dressing that can be summarized as “classy” or “tasteful.” And it illustrates the fact that modesty is not a uniform or a one-size-fits-all proposition.
Modesty, in terms of decent attire, involves following guidelines. These allow us to wear clothes that express our personal style and taste but that still properly cover us, are gender appropriate and are respectful of those who see us on a daily basis.
Let me pare this down into some effective exercises you and I can regularly use to achieve our own personal, modest style.
1. Ponder modesty
What are some of the elements of modesty? Modesty is a way of practicing outgoing love toward others. A woman who covers her body appropriately is showing regard for her male acquaintances by not tempting them to lust. Likewise, a man who wears clothes that fit well but are not too tight helps his female acquaintances pursue purity of thought.
What is modest on one person may not be modest on another. A dress that falls below the knee for a short woman can for a taller woman be too short, and therefore immodest. Thus, modesty is also an ability to discern appropriateness of personal style.
Modesty can also depend on the situation. Stretchy exercise shorts and a sleeveless top, while appropriate for freedom of movement and temperature comfort in a fitness class, are inappropriate for church services. In the Bible the priests at the temple of God in Jerusalem had special clothes to wear as part of worship services. This and other factors have led to the conclusion that we should maintain a high standard of dress in worship services today. That typically means wearing the best semiformal clothes we have available.
We need to be mindful that how we dress and carry ourselves will be connected to the message we represent as members of the Church of God. If we dress immodestly but talk about purity, we are guilty of a double standard!
2. Dress like … a work of art?
The ultimate master artist of all time is the Eternal Creator God. Under the direction of God the Father, Jesus Christ, long before He became human, made the entire physical universe and the spirit realm.
God shared some of His creative ability with us. Regarding the artisan Bezalel, who would construct the tabernacle of God in the wilderness, God stated, “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works ” (Exodus 31:3-4 Exodus 31:3-4 3 And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,
4 To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
American King James Version×, emphasis added). While this was a special case, all of us have been given certain talents.
So how do we employ whatever measure of artistic gifts we have to the way we dress ourselves and to modesty?
If you sew, apply those skills to adapt clothes that need a bit more coverage here or there. If you don’t, ask someone who does to help you. And try to learn more about how things are made. Buying well-made clothes that are not overly trendy is a wise investment.
3. A matter of inches, not feet: the mirror test
Finally, take a few minutes once you are dressed for the day to stand in front of the mirror. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging vanity! The mirror is your best tool to see what others will see when they look at you. Are you modest? Will you be disrespecting others and yourself if you go outside this way? Do you represent yourself, and your God, well?
Ladies, a few things to check:
- Is your chest area covered? Be cautious about cleavage. If needed, adapt a garment with a small swatch of fabric to make it modest.
- Are you showing midriff? Are your shorts too short? Is your skirt lingering far above the knee? If so, choose something longer. Likewise, if you have a nice skirt that is long enough while standing but rides up too high when you sit down, then carry a scarf or some other draping item with you to place over your legs while you are seated.
- Cover your shoulders or wear sleeveless tops with a wider strap as a means of showing respect at church services. Carry that scarf or a sweater with you for this purpose—besides, even on hot days overly air-conditioned buildings can be freezing!
- Check the fit of your sweaters, shirts, skirts, dresses and trousers—are they close fitting or skintight? Skintight clothes can be much too revealing. Stay in the middle range of fitted, semi-fitted and loose-fitted clothes.
- Do your clothes fit in general? If you have a bit of extra weight, don’t try to squeeze into too small a size (see the point above). If you’ve lost weight, take the seams in so that you present yourself well.
- Men need to watch the fit of clothes also. Pants and shirts that are far too tight are not appropriate!
- Check for shorts that gape or are too short. And be sure to wear clothes appropriate to the setting.
- On the other end of the spectrum, are trousers too baggy and underwear visible? Does this present a proper image for a follower of Christ? Hitch them up!
- Do your clothes match? Are they clean? Torn? If so, take a few seconds to address the problem.
- Sit, stand, bend over, squat, turn, dance, walk and jump in front of the mirror. The coverage of clothes changes as you move. You may discover an angle that will gather the wrong kind of attention and needs to be fixed. Also, analyze how you walk and carry yourself. Are you smiling, standing up tall, and do you seem like someone who stands for God’s way of life?
These may seem tedious and nitpicky, but we say a lot by the way we dress. It is possible to remain stylish and yet modest, and it’s usually just a matter of a few inches of fabric rather than yards of coverage. Modest attire is one of the easiest ways of showing love for fellow human beings by helping them to obey God’s commandments and keep their thoughts pure.
Take a stand for good taste, style and God’s way of life—set a modest example!