Biblical modesty is actually a far cry from a strong affection for long skirts and a disdain for bikinis, though it has been reduced to that by certain Christian subcultures. However, in response to body-shaming women into more fabric, other Christians have embraced a “reactive theology” (have swung too far to the other side of the spectrum), forgoing any call to modesty that God commands.
In this series, I hope to show you that modesty is a symptom of a heart that is humbled before God and neighbor, and to propose that neither “baring it all” or baring nothing at all is the answer to the calling God has for our bodies, and neither will remove body shame.
In part one of this series, we discussed the theology of our bodies and walked through some of the most straight-forward texts regarding our bodies. In part two, we discussed how shame culture has affected the modesty movement.
Now, we will discuss the topic most of you are interested in…
what do I wear?
It might surprise you, but unlike many people who speak out about modesty, I am not going to tell what you what to wear, and here are 3 reasons why:
#1: Every cultural context is different.
Each of you lives in a specific place, with a specific socioeconomic background, with specific social norms and rules, with specific guidelines on what is and isn’t appropriate. I cannot speak into your specific context unless I know most of the details.
#2: Your personal conscience is individual from mine.
I don’t know everything that goes on in your heart on a daily basis. For some of you, your conscience won’t be at peace with something that I think is totally fine. Paul guides us to say at peace with our conscience (so long that it doesn’t go against God’s Word; 1 Cor. 8)
#3: I want you to walk in step with the Spirit of God, not in step with my convictions.
This might surprise many of you, but there isn’t a specific rule for everything in the Bible. That’s why we have wisdom from God found in prayer, wisdom from older and wiser believers, and the wisdom books of the Bible. These things are practices that we must hone. They are actually a huge part of walking in step with the Spirit. It is better for you to learn to listen to gather wisdom from multiple wise sources, weigh the things in our own heart, examine your own convictions, and pray that the Lord leads you in the way He would have you than the way I would have you. I want you to learn to walk in step with the Spirit, not with Mary Madeline.
5 Questions I ask myself if I am questioning a choice of clothing
Instead of giving you “do’s” and “don’t’s,” I am going to offer some guiding questions.
Like many high school girls, modesty was a huge struggle for me. I wanted to wear the popular trends, just like everyone else, to attract guys, to fit in, etc. However, my conscience wouldn’t always let me, because of the sexualized nature of them. Sometimes I sinned against it. By God’s grace, most of the time I didn’t.
Since high school, though, I have learned what I feel comfortable in and what makes me think I should change. I don’t stress so much about specific trends, because I have grown the muscle of discernment and self-control in my dress. However, there are days of temptation, when I want to exalt myself, to wear clothes that are distracting or inappropriate for the situation.
When it comes to evaluation of clothing, I could ask you the general question, “does this outfit glorify Christ?” but the fact is that most of us don’t really know what that means. We often think to glorify Christ in our dress we need to wear a t-shirt that says in giant letters JESUS across it with ankle-length skirts. Though glorifying Christ might look like that to some, it isn’t for most people. Glorifying to God simply means that it sets our focus and helps set others’ focus on Him, in whatever context we find ourselves in.
So here are some questions I ask myself when I am trying to evaluate whether my outfit is glorifying to God…
- Does this outfit honor the people I am with today? Will it make them feel uncomfortable because it’s too fancy? Will it make them feel under-appreciated because it’s too casual? Will the words on my shirt cause controversy, or will they promote peace, kindness, and love? Will the cut of my dress offend so-and-so? If so, then best to change—not because I am a doormat for everyone’s preferences, but because I want to show a spirit of kind Christ-likeness.
- For high schoolers, athletes, professionals, etc.: does it fit the dress code? This shows honor and appreciation for those who are above you, showing that you care for them and respect them. (*note at bottom)
- Is this piece of clothing going to equip me to accomplish or hinder me from accomplishing my goals for today? Is it serving the tasks God has placed on my schedule, or is it preventing me from fully giving myself over to my work? In other words, though it might be cute, is it functional?
- Am I going to have to constantly check the mirror in a way that is simply distracting and causes me to put too much focus on keeping my appearance together?
This can go for putting too much pressure on your appearance, or not putting enough time into it! It’s often the later for me. I don’t take time to do my hair in the morning, and then I fix it 100 times that day and get distracted from my work because I was being lazy earlier that day.
- How does this outfit make me feel? Might sound like a counseling question, but I’m actually serious! Does it make me feel like a sexual object? Does it make me feel like an ornament rather than a human being? Or, on the other end, does it make me feel like a drab? I am always aiming for that it makes me feel both beautiful and humble. I don’t know how to explain it completely, but some outfits just make me feel like a Christmas tree—not like myself. I just feel uncomfortable because of too much of this or that. Other outfits makes me feel like a complete drab, like my wrinkly shirt is going to be weighing on my mind all day or my too-baggy or too-tight fitting pants are going to be a constant nuisance. Better to iron the shirt, better to change into better-fitting pants than to be distracted by something so silly all day long.
For every piece of clothing we choose to wear that distracts from our purpose
—either for ourselves or for others—
we are taking our gaze off Christ and the cruciform love He embodied.
Keep this in mind. Also keep in mind that there’s grace for growth, that God loves you even when you sin against your conscience, and we can run to Him for forgiveness confident that He will embrace us with His love.
Please reach out if you have specific questions, if you want to me to clarify anything, or if you have found freedom through this post to live with a peaceful conscience and to love God and others better!
With much love in Christ,
*In common in some contexts, women’s dress codes are very unfair and make women out to be sexual objects. Though I definitely believe me should follow the rules that are in place, there are certain times when advocating for change and exposing double-standards is necessary and healthy, and I support anyone who does such while still showing respect and honor to those who are in authority above them.