It can be so hard to define modesty, as modesty is a virtue but often defined by whether or not something is deemed modesty clothing. Read on to get to the heart of what is modesty.
A few years ago, a woman won the Miss Virginia pageant running on a platform of modesty. She said:
I’m a firm believer in not just being modest, but you can also be absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, not just beautiful.
I feel like girls don’t feel that way. They think that it’s a step down if you’re modest. They don’t think you can be absolutely gorgeous, but I felt that way. I felt like, ‘You know what? This dress is amazing, and I feel gorgeous in it — and I’m modest.” (source)
This contestant’s choice of modest swimwear and ball attire covered her skin more than any other contestant’s, helping her stand out from the pack in a very good way.
But, the fact that she was even in a beauty pageant, begs the question of how was she modest at all when the very nature of what she was doing – being on display for all eyes to see, being judged on her talents and appearance in order to prove she was better than others – goes against the very essence of what modesty really is?
She, like many others, often miss the mark when it comes to their discussion of modesty and what it means to be modest in both action and in dress.
Many individuals partaking in
That’s why I think it helps to define modesty.
What is Modesty?
To actually be modest, it takes more than a certain sleeve or hem length, because modesty is a virtue not a dress code.
Modesty is about being free from vanity, egotism, boastfulness, pretensions, showy extravagance, and ostentation.
Modesty is showing a moderate or humble estimate of one’s merits.
Modesty is also respective of decencies of behavior, speech, and yes, dress. (source)
A beauty pageant isn’t many of those things.
But, I bet you most of the conversations you have with others over modesty have little to do with virtues of humility and have almost everything to do with how covered a person is in a given situation.
The problem, of course, with judging others on their clothing choices (okay, actually, there are several problems with it) is that different people, churches, cultures, societies, schools, etc. have their own different guidelines detailing what they deem “modest” and appropriate apparel.
The very popular diatribe against yoga pants is just one example.
But, using the term modest to describe clothing is a bit erroneous in itself.
Clothes are not necessarily modest or immodest on their own as clothes are often a matter of function as much as they are in coverage.
To simply say a shirt is modest because it has sleeves or doesn’t have a plunging V-neck, is not necessarily true for all who may wear that one same shirt.
Two or more people can wear the same piece of clothing and have it fit them differently, being tighter or looser, longer or shorter. While it may appropriately cover one person (to one group’s standards), it may not another.
Are we then blaming the clothing for being indecisive in its level of modesty?
When we argue over what is or is not a modest article of clothing, we completely miss what we are really arguing about – modesty.
It seems like today people cannot separate modest clothes from modesty. Clothing must either be modest or immodest.
However, modesty is a virtue, a virtue not based on clothing, but that clothing can help reflect.
Judging Others’ Modesty (Especially at Church)
We may not always appreciate the clothing choices of people around us, as they may be inappropriate for the situation, show too much of themselves, or are just not tasteful; however, we need to remember that these people are still more than the clothes they wear, the haircut they have, or the amount of makeup they apply.
Everyone deserves respect and love. Everyone deserves to be treated like a human being, and not a tool for their personal satisfaction.
Everyone is trying to find their way to happiness, fulfillment, and acceptance.
Degrading another for their choices in appearance is not Christ-like either.
Criticizing another brother or sister (especially in Christ) because their skirt is a little too short, is not going to help you get to heaven any faster, especially if your remark keeps the receiver from coming back to Church.
If you are truly modest, you are able to see past your own clothes, and the clothes of another, because you understand that clothing doesn’t define who we are.
God still loves us all, no matter what we are wearing, or if we are modest or immodest.
That’s why it’s bizarre that so many (self-)righteous individuals feel the need to judge another’s clothing choices, comparing their own deemed “modest” clothing choices against someone else’s.
Drawing attention to yourself is not modest and judging another isn’t either.
Modesty is a quality that should be preached and taught in churches, but not if the only reason we are doing so is to encourage teenagers (and adults) to cover themselves more.
I grew up attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and was taught about what constituted modest and immodest clothing frequently from my mother and church leaders thanks to the modest dress code listed in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet issued by the LDS Church.
I generally stuck by our church’s council to wear only tops with sleeves and wear only shorts and skirts that came down to my knee, as well as to keep the neckline high.
I was modestly dressed as much as possible at all times, including at school dances and at the pool where I sported my basic one-piece swimming suit.
I also embraced the often recited “Modest is the Hottest” chant at summer camps and youth dances.
However, as an adult, I see the fallacy in the overemphasis of modesty being tied so closely with certain dress standards.
This is because I often found myself judging others’ clothing choices against my church’s standards of modesty in dress, even though they didn’t belong to my church or have my same standard or even desire to dress modestly!
I also see the fallacy of the many times we talked about how we could both be modest (covered) and pretty. We did several “modest fashion shows” for church activity nights, and talked about where to find fashionable yet modest clothing as well as discussed how dressing modestly is actually more attractive to men and helps you stand out from others.
However, talk of attractiveness or sexiness or stylishness or “drop dead gorgeousness” in a discussion of true modesty doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as the two qualities oppose each other (sorry former Miss Virginia).
It is my (very) strong opinion that a discussion of stylish dress and modesty do not belong in the same conversation, especially when that conversation happens at church.
We should not be preaching to our youth how to look attractive, or even “hot” when discussing the important virtue of modesty.
The commonly used phrase “modest is the hottest” is something we should stop teaching our youth as it an oxymoron.
Do We Seek to Be Modest?
Like all virtues, modesty is not actually desired by all. Some people don’t really care to be modest, and many today mock it as something worth pursuing.
The fact is that many of us dress very immodestly today.
Many of us proudly strut our stuff because we know we look good.
We seek attention from others, compliments on appearance, on our makeup, on our outfits, and even on how nice we smell.
Many of us behave immodestly today too.
We praise people for being bold, for being aggressive, assertive, and proud.
Many of us talk about things publicly that shouldn’t be or use foul language around children or excessively in everyday speech.
Many of us crave attention, recognition, and praise, and will even go to extreme measures in order to receive it.
We try hard to stick out and to be different.
And none of those things are modest. Period.
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. – 1 Timothy 2:9
When you study the scriptures, you will find many cautions against flashy (immodest) apparel, many which you see still today:
- broided hair, well-set hair
- gold, silver, pearls
- costly array; very costly apparel
- changeable suits of apparel
- mantles, wimples, and crisping pins
- fine apparel, fine linens, fine silks, hoods, and veils
- rings, earrings, and nose jewels
- bonnets and headbands
- ornaments of the legs
- bracelets, mufflers, and chains
The problems associated with the wearing of fine, costly, fancy apparel is its propensity toward pride, high heads, stiff necks, selfishness, scornful and despising attitudes, and persecution against our brethren: the poor, the needy, and even those who believe (and live) differently.
When people are carried away into their own fashionable pursuits and interests there are more envyings, strife, malice, inequalities, iniquities, and divisions.
Isaiah warned that:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretch forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet, the Lord will smite them with a scab on the crown of their heads, will take away their bravery, replace their sweet smell with stink, their well set hair with baldness, their beauty with burning, their girdle with a rent, and their stomacher with a girding of sackcloth. (Isaiah 3:16-24)
The discussion of fashion, style, beauty, hotness, and attractiveness have no place within a Church of Christ because such things more often than not lead to pride, selfishness, and contempt toward others.
These are qualities unfit of a Christian trying to emulate the Lord.
Have the courage to dress in a way which will send a message that [your] standards are different. Our dress will reflect the way we intend to live, founded on principles of the gospel of our Lord and Savior.”President Spencer W. Kimball “A Style of Our Own” BYU Speeches
No, I’m not saying it is necessary to dress beautifully or stylishly in order to respect yourself or the Lord.
No, I’m not saying someone who dresses fashionably is not a true Christian.
No, I’m not saying you have to wear a Burka in order to be modest, or that by doing so you’d be a better Christian.
What I am saying is you need to check your heart.
I would suggest that the true definition of dressing modestly is strongly rooted in the way you feel as you wear something.
If what you wear makes you feel boastful, vain, egotistic, or sexy it is not modest.
If what you wear makes you feel humble, decent, reserved, respectable, and appropriate, chances are it’s modest.
And, I’m pretty sure most people will be able to handle this test on their own, and without a litany of hemline rules or shoulder strap measurements.
Now, let’s shift gears and talk about why modesty is worth pursuing in the first place!
The Benefits of Modesty
Often it is by dressing modestly that our true personality is allowed to shine.
It is when we present ourselves modest in dress, grooming, and behavior, that we can finally remove ourselves from ourselves.
We free our self-worth from our appearance.
We free ourselves from the idea that we are only valuable if someone finds us beautiful and desirable.
We free our lives from the need to always put our best face forward at all time. In so doing, we can actually be humble, be modest.
When we respect ourselves enough to get over our society’s pressure to always look our best, we receive a greater sense of our true individual worth.
When we embrace modesty, we stop comparing our merits, accomplishments, character, clothing, finances, and homes to another.
We become more humble, more loving, and less judgmental, while at the same time becoming more confident in who we really are.
Truly embracing the virtue of modesty, allows us to more fully experience the influence of the Holy Spirit, as we are better able to control and train away the desires of the “natural man” to be physically minded.
With modesty, we stop seeking the praise of men more than God, as our hearts and minds have been humbled.
How to Be Modest in Dress and in Virtue
Being modest is a life-long
Modesty, like all virtues, is challenging to achieve
I do believe modesty is an important characteristic for people to strive to achieve in their lifetimes, as anti-first-World society as that may seem.
I believe this because I understand that people are more than clothes or appearances. The more I embrace my own personal modesty, the more I see through the outside to the inside of a person.
It’s often very hard to be modest when our society is so rooted in appearance, commercialism, first impressions, and snap judgments.
But, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I know I need to overcome those societal norms so that I can love as he did, seeing past the outward appearance of
It is my hope and prayer that you too will seek modesty in dress and in action.
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