Modesty: Is There a Standard?

Modesty is a subject Christians have wrestled with, probably since the beginning.  It’s controversial, and different people, all confessing Christ, often come to distant conclusions about the subject.  One big mistake we make is to assume “modesty” only refers to clothing.  Not so.  But as far as it does include attire, is there a standard?

If we all agree that the Bible says, “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…” it is fair then to ask the question, “what’s the standard”?

In how many school student handbooks have you read:  “We feel it is important that the students wear appropriate clothing” without a qualification of “appropriate”?

I do not intend to launch a debate about specifics in this post. (I’ve got closed-toed shoe friends, and spaghetti strap friends, both of whom assume their standard is right.)  Suffice it to say, to “love the Lord with all your heart” is to earnestly desire obedience in all of life, reflecting such desire even in our appearance and demeanor.  To “love your neighbor as yourself” reinforces the earnestness with which we should seek to dress modestly.

I must give a hat-tip to our good friend Trey for his provoking words the other night during his family’s visit to our home.  Since then, I’ve concluded that something he said actually paints a pretty good standard for us, even though it includes no specifics about dress.

Trey explained that his father asked him to make two lists from Scripture:  characteristics of a virtuous wife and those opposite her.  In his in-depth study of a virtuous woman, he read (I think from John McArthur) about the root word translated “modesty” in 1 Timothy.

It comes from kosmios, originally taken from “kosmos” (where we get “cosmos” of course), with the literal meaning “to place in order, to arrange”.  He said that the word “kosmos”  is often used in Scripture to describe the  “reflection of the glory of God”.  What a glorious transfer, then, when we understand that a modest woman (dress, behavior, etc.) is to reflect the glory of God!

I don’t know about you, but that standard makes me look at my wardrobe a little differently.  It also makes me consider my speech, my very carriage, my thoughts (which come out of my mouth) my jewelry,  my conversation–all that encompasses being a woman.  To me, using this standard still allows freedom in one’s unique taste and style of clothing, while maintaining a decidedly strong focal point to guide.

I’m thinking of writing the question, “Do I reflect the glory of God” on my mirror. 😉  (Yes, I’m painfully aware that I overuse winkies in my posts.)

Again, we miss it if we think that modesty only refers to dress, and we miss it if we think it doesn’t include dress.

***As a side note, a while back, I posted an interview by Lindsay, Trey’s sister.  You may want to check out the 3-part interview:

What’s a lindsayGirl to Do-Part 1

What’s a Girl to Do-Part 2

What’s a Girl to Do-Part 3

(Thank you again, Lindsay, Trey, Bo and Zhenis, for blessing our family with such delicious food and fellowship…and words that provoke!)

22 Responses to “Modesty: Is There a Standard?”

  1. Lucy T says:

    Great post as usual.I would love to comment further but am in a hurry.

  2. Great post, but I can’t believe y’all had the Schultz over and we were not included! Unbelievable!!! Y’all are in SUCH big trouble!

  3. […] This post was a refreshingly different one, and one that I must say hits the nail on the head about the attitude that leads to modesty. […]

  4. Kelly L says:

    Great post…interested in what comments appear. I know, for me, many times I have decreed something “inappropriate” for my daughter and God had the nerve to override me when I sought Him on it ;)…lol I think obedience to ask Him in very matter is pleasing to Him. I have a buxom top, so some shirts are inappropriate on me, while fine for others. The danger is believing that what one feels led to do by God is a mandate on everyone else.
    Just my thoughts, anyway.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I love your winkies 😉

  6. Linnie Lues says:

    Thank you so much for this posting!
    I’m from South Africa and I’ve just wrote a posting in which I address Mother’s Vision to raise up Daughters fit to be Pillars in a Palace. Can I please put up a link to this article in my posting?
    Have a blessed weekend.

  7. gabby says:

    i do agree with you on the part where modesty does not only have to do with our dress,but I do not believe there is such a thing a s a “modest swimsuit”,I’m sorry but somethings are just so obvious,it doesn’t matter how modest our behavior is ,if we are showing our bodies.It’s like saying,”okay cover your bodies ,except when we have a water activity”.And I know you did not discuss this specific issue,but I just feel that as true christians,we should not make any exceptions.

  8. I love this…it’s a gentle reminder to those of us who “cover it up” ;)(I love the winky – you taught it to me WW, don’t stop!) as routine STILL should pursue true modesty. I dress somewhat fashionably, but simply, in color and style (my husbands new line is “are you here to take my order?” because I wear a black skirt, white top, and apron so often), but I have a shoe thing – it gets me a lot of attention, those shoes. And I like it, probably too much. And I justify spending money on it, definitely too much. Hardly modest.

    Modesty is so much more than external covering (though an extremely important element of proper behavior and good manners, in the body of Christ and the general public). All our “expression”, not just our tongues – carriage, I think Kelly called it – is born of the condition of our hearts. Very revealing.

  9. Giann says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! This is what I have been trying to say for a long time now. I can dress in modest pants and a modest shirt and still reflect God! You can dress modest but you may not be modest or you may be modest but not dress modest….

    Thank you for this article!

  10. Word Warrior says:

    Gabby,

    Admittedly, where there is no tangible dress code, some will use licentiousness to justify immodest dress. I am hoping to cause Christian women to truly ponder whether their hearts are set on pleasing God or man. While we still may vary on our definitions of modest dress, I pray women who may have thought nothing of a swimsuit in the past will examine whether it “reveals the glory of the Lord” to expose intimate body parts.

  11. shanie says:

    kelly, it was nice to see this! i had quite a to-do this weekend, i was out and about in small town usa antiquing and stopped for a nice lunch, with my ‘guy’. i had worn a dress that NORMALLY is a very cute, modest little piece, pink and plaid and a comfy below-the-knee length… but i’ve never word it out ALL day and on a WINDY day at that, i guess the material is a little light for that sort of weather.. oh dear, what passers-by nearly saw, i almost died… but C calmly helped ‘shield’ me from gusts, and i managed to maintain a very aware, lady- like composure, i hoped… then we walked into a nice little local restaurant, and who should be sitting next to us but a table full of full dresses, headcovered ladies holding a short bible study, looking so lovely and so much more modest, i thought the worst about myself… i felt so down on myself… until as i was leaving one of the ladies stopped me and told me i had on such a sweet dress and said ‘you look so summery, i love it!’… we talked for a moment (they pointed me to a GREAT local bakery) and i confessed that i felt odd because my dress seemed short in the wind… the matriarch of the group laughed and said they’d seen me tryin to hold it down outside, and she said that THAT was the spirit of modesty… being aware and lady-like about it… and they thought it was sweet that the ‘young man escorting me’ tried to help… in all i think (man am i babbling) that maybe they were right… it’s a state of mind.. i was not trying to ‘show off the goods’ i was trying to look girly and be comfy… could not help that wind! (but that dress is officially RETIRED!!!)… anyhow kelly, i agree it’s a touchy subject, but i feel that it’s something where ‘the thought counts’… as long as those thoughts line up with a higher wisdom…

  12. Kim M says:

    I definitely think if we ask ourselves the question “Am I glorifying God with the way I dress?” it will make a huge impact on our choices! 🙂

  13. Brenda says:

    My daughters and I have just been talking about this. It’s something that I didn’t get until the last 3 or 4 years so they have not been raised with it and it is a little foreign to them. They are ages 15 and 11, a very ripe age for this teaching. I just wish I would have understood it sooner and instilled it in them as toddlers.

    Mary Kassian has several wonderful blogs about modesty on her site- http://www.girlsgonewise.com She references Isaiah 3:16-26…I’ll paste it for those who don’t want to look it up.

    “The Lord said: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet, therefore the Lord will strike with a scab the heads of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and nose rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils. Instead of perfume there will be rottenness; and instead of a belt, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty… Empty, she shall sit on the ground.” Isaiah 3:16-24,26 (ESV)

    Wow! Enough said for me! This passage speaks volumes. This scripture is not just a suggestion, it actually speaks of CONSEQUENCES for our immodesty and wiley ways.

  14. Word Warrior says:

    Shanie,

    What a fun story!

  15. Heather says:

    Without a doubt, modesty is an attitude first.

    I’ve caught myself(um, the Lord’s caught me?) feeling a little self-righteous over “knowing” how inappropriate certain clothing is–even while ignoring some aspect of child-training or household maintenance which is also biblical.

    Headcoverings, long skirts and no makeup or jewelry mean very little if a woman is inwardly rebelling against allowing God to soften her heart. On the flip side, you’ve demonstrated that as He changes us and draws us closer to Him, we more willingly desire to reflect who He is to the world.

    Good contemplation, Kelly 🙂

  16. Sal says:

    Kelly,
    What a wonderful guideline. And just in time for summer!
    My concern, as an older lady, is dressing with dignity in our youth-obsessed culture. It’s a dilemma, when we’re constantly pressured to present ourselves as “mutton dressed as lamb”.

    Thank you so much. Your blog is always honest and insightful.

  17. Mrs. Lady Sofia says:

    Kelly,

    I think your thought, “Am I glorifying God by the way I dress,” sums-up the issue of modesty quite nicely. As Christians, we should always be striving to glorify God in all aspects of our lives, and modesty plays an important part of that aspect. 😉

    ~Mrs. Lady Sofia~

  18. Niki says:

    I love this! I was raised very strict with a list of things I “couldn’t” wear. The issue behind the “can’ts” was not emphasized. I had to come to grips with what was important to God and my husband after we started having children. Now I believe what I believe because I do want to glorify God and be modest. The Bible also speaks about doing things in moderation. Though I vary some from how I was taught as a kid, I strongly want to teach my girls about modesty…inside and out!

    And Kelly, you are so right; modesty is way more than what you wear. It has a much to do with how you conduct yourself.

    We had an issue this past week where some so-called friends of ours took my oldest daughter with them shopping. (Mother and daughter) The daughter then talked my daughter into trying on articles of clothing that we do not wear telling her how cute she looked, etc. Now will this take her to hell? I don’t think so, but the principle behind what they did is what frustrates me. We have known these people for 20 years or more and this is not the first time they have tried to undermind what we as a family are trying to do. We live in a small town and attend the same church, therefore it is difficult to “no longer be friends”.

    I have prayed about this extensively. I like how you said to ask yourself if what you have on will glorify God. That is a new angle to this issue.

    Thanks again for thought-provoking material!

    Btw love the winkies! 😉

  19. Charity says:

    Kelly, Thank you for posts like this. You are such a blessing to younger womaen/moms like myself. (Not that you’re old, please don’t take it that way… just wiser than I 😉

    Gabby, Right there with ya. Does the Bible not say in the NT that your thigh is nakedness? Wouldn’t that rule our most modern swimsuits? This is how my husbnad and I have understood it. There really are some swimsuits that are modest, they just don’t look like anything that would be bought in most stores 🙂

  20. […] Fit to be Graceful Pillars for a Palace.  Kelly Crawford at Generation Cedar wrote on modesty and Mrs. June Fuentes at A Wise Woman Builds Her Home gave practical steps on how to go about […]

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