There have been several articles addressing the issue of modesty appearing on the Aquila Report recently. Matthew Tuininga advocates the danger of legalism, Rebecca VanDoodewaard warns us of the deadliness of antinomianism, and one encourages all women not to wear pants. Although I agree with much of what Vandooewaard says in her article, I think her assumptions about Tuininga’s article are unfair. And banning pants from our wardrobe misses the point entirely.
Anyhow, I think the word modest itself has been hijacked to merely mean “dress code.” We’ve done a disservice to the virtue of modesty if we whittle it down to the way we dress. Our thoughts, our speech, and our behavior are also a reflection of modesty. It has to do with our humility before a holy God and our proclamation of the gospel story. I aspire to modesty, but I am careful to say that I am not actually there. Calling myself modest is kind of like calling myself humble. The Lord is still patiently working on me.
In terms of how this shows in our appearance, Mary Kassian nails it in her book, Girls Gone Wise. As honorable as it may be, our main purpose in clothing is not to curb a man’s sexual appetite. This is merely a horizontal, comparative measurement of modesty. Kassian explains:
Clothing bears witness to the fact that we have lost the glory and beauty of our original sin-free selves, It confesses that we need a covering—His [Christ’s] covering—to atone for our sin and alleviate our shame. It testifies to the fact that God solved the problem of shame permanently and decisively with the blood of His own Son. It also directs our attention forward to the time when we will be “further clothed” with spotless, imperishable garments (2 Corinthians 5:3 NKJV, Revelation 3:5) (99).
We cover our nakedness because we are not presentable before God on our own. “Clothing is an outward, visible symbol of an inward, spiritual reality” (99, 100). We tell a story in our dress. The story is about ourselves, and our God. While we all have the same glorious Savior to proclaim, we are beautifully diverse characters cast into the plot. Some suggestions I have been reading encouraged modest dress by conformity to context. This made me cringe a bit. While there is certainly wisdom in the appropriateness of dressing for the occasion (whether sports, a formal event, or grocery shopping), there is an expressive side to our wardrobe.
I have an artistic personality. People like me are expressive by nature. We want to find beauty and we want to display beauty. We want to express emotion and mood. Artists are interpreters of culture as well. For me, much of this plays out in the way I dress. To conform with everyone else is a dreary existence to me, and practically speaking, an impossible task. How do you do that? Which style is the one I must conform? Should I join the many who feel the need to have Hollister written across their chest? Or, do I go the Christian version with “A Bread Crumb and Fish?” Do I join those in the church who abhor all that is stylish and stick to long jean skirts with a shirt that looks like you have a built-in bib? Should I make my own clothes? Do you see the ridiculousness of conforming to the crowd yet? Where is the line of conformity?
And lets just say that there is one. Is that a proper witness of Christianity? A bunch of unexpressive people who all look exactly the same? Our Creator God has gloriously made an innumerable amount of people (well, he knows the number). In this, he has made us male or female. He has made us with two eyes, one nose, and one mouth—all of us. But he is such a Master Creator that we all look different! Isn’t that amazing?
Isn’t it also our privilege to reflect God’s many attributes? I can look at one person and consider their strength. I can look at another and think of their meekness. Some people exude class, while others want to splash the canvas with bright colors. We are telling a story with the way we dress about a beautiful, creative, able God. The discussion of modesty has to go way deeper than cleavage and thighs!
Yes, we do live in an over-sexualized culture. I am even more painfully aware of this with thirteen and ten-year-old daughters. And they have two completely different body-types. One of my girls looks acceptably fashionable in skinny jeans. The other has way too many curves advertised in them for my liking. And I’m not going to allow either of them to walk out the door in those popular jean shorts that have no length past the crotch. I get it. It’s a struggle. But while guidelines are helpful, we are never going to actually change a person’s heart by making them conform to our own skirt-lengthed picture of modesty. I do not believe that our wardrobe should be merely utilitarian.
If we are to reflect the gospel in our dress, than there are some messages that we want to send out. And there are some messages that we do not want to send. There is a relationship between modesty and beauty. But it is my Creator and Savior’s beauty that we should reflect. Sometimes we don’t communicate well. It’s wise to seek a trusted brother or sister in Christ about the messages we are portraying in our dress. Sometimes we are revealing an impure heart, and sometimes it’s just a fashion faux pas.
We certainly do not want to draw inappropriate attention to ourselves or motivate others to sin. That is unloving. But I wonder if many in the church today would be satisfied with the amount of skin God covered on Eve. The fruit of a pure heart wants to reflect femininity (or masculinity) without being sexually suggestive. I want to express my joy of being made a woman in the image of God. I want to tell a story of awareness of my own lack of self-righteousness, and unfathomable joy in the covering of the One who is righteous. Like the analogy of a gem that reflects different colors, Christians reflect the many beauties of God in our speech, vocations, relationships, worship, families, etc. Our clothing is an extension of this as well.