Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

Modest Expression

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Aug• 03•12

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.

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16 Comments

  1. Kim Shay says:

    One of the things I discussed with my daughter when she was a teenager was her need to examine her motives for dressing the way she did. Older women need to do that as well. The reality is that many Christian women dress for attention; attention of other men and other women. Expensive clothing is often chosen because it is pretty, but also because we want to look better than someone else. It’s hard to ask motives, but we have to do it. So much of what is considered “modest” depends on culture, age, and occasion.

    Also, I see another aspect of modesty that doesn’t get addressed and that is modesty of conduct. When we constantly seek to be the center of attention in any venue, we are demonstrating a lack of modesty. Those women out there in blog land who shoot their mouths off at every issue that comes up, becoming increasingly more controversial and harsh, are being immodest even if they are wearing a long denim skirt, or practically nothing.

    • Tim says:

      “Those women out there in blog land who shoot their mouths off …”

      And I’d add that there are a lot of men whose conduct falls into the same category of bloggers and are equally immodest, Kim!

      ;-)
      Tim

  2. Tim says:

    Hollister is the name of a small town here in northern California. I drive by its highway exit when I drive to Monterey. I’ve seen so many people wearing one of those shirts with Hollister pastered across the front I keep thinking its population must be a lot greater than the signs reveal.

    This line got me thinking, Aimee: “Christians reflect the many beauties of God in our speech, vocations, relationships, worship, families, etc.” Do you think each of these are areas where we are to exercise modesty? I kniow what modesty in speech means (I think), but I’m not sure about modesty in vocation (unless its a matter of not taking that job in a strip joint; if so, I’m glad I passed on that one). Thoughts?

    Tim

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Tim, I was thinking that as we reflect the image of God in all these areas of life, our actions should come from a humble heart that glorifies our Savior. That is more of the over-arching virtue of modesty that I was referencing. Applying that to vocation, then, would certainly include what types of jobs we would be willing to take; but it even goes beyond inappropriate sexual behavior to examining our own pretentiousness in our work and treatment of others.

  3. [...] Church (PCA) in Martinsburg, WV.  She and her husband, Matt, have 3 children.  She blogs at Housewife Theologian where this article first appeared; it is used with her [...]

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful post and for your kind words regarding my post. I appreciate your trying to work out the implications of modesty in a more holistic, wisdom-oriented way!

  5. Thank you for your excellent post.

  6. Christine says:

    Great post. I really like the point you made “Our thoughts, our speech, and our behavior are also a reflection of modesty.” I think modesty is a job of the Holy Spirit and may look different with every person.

    Thank you for your insights.

    God Bless

  7. Doc B says:

    Interesting post. We recently had an event at our church for all the youth and college-aged girls. It was called, ‘Modest is Hottest.’

    Most people were pretty excited about the event, but it really bothered me. While I don’t know what the content was (my daughter didn’t go), the title was a bit disturbing to me. I think the focus was still on ‘being hot’ rather than what true modesty really looks like. The content may have been very good, but I sure didn’t like how they sold it.

    I didn’t voice my concern to anyone except my wife, as I don’t think I’d have gotten a very good reception (and my wife agreed). I didn’t want to sound like a grumpy Calvinist.

    Aimee, what do you think about this kind of event? Was I off base, or do I have a legitimate concern with how it was marketed? What’s a better way to bill this message?

    • Tim says:

      I’m right there with you, Doc. Modest is hottest is a lie and damagingly misleading. hermeneutics.com had a great article and discussion in the comments on this a while back: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2011/12/why_we_can_dump_modest_is_hott.html

      Tim

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      I’m with you guys. I think the title misses the entire point of modesty, and I wouldn’t want to encourage my daughter in that way. I love plays on words and catchy titles, but this one is already teaching something false about modesty before you even go to the event. I read the article that Tim referenced (excellent), and had to copy and paste this paragraph, it was so good:
      “Finally, language about modesty should focus not on hiding the female body but on understanding the body’s created role. Immodesty is not the improper exposure of the body per se, but the improper orientation of the body. Men and women are urged to pursue a modesty by which our glory is minimized and God’s is maximized. The body, the spirit and the mind all have a created role that is inherently God-centered. When we make ourselves central instead of God, we display the height of immodesty.”
      And along with what you were saying about the word “hot,” I am right there with you too. My kids have uttered it a couple of times, and it makes me cringe. Although it’s popular use may not make them think about it; it’s implications go way beyond “good-looking,” to “sexually desirable.” So, the “modest is hottest” is really an oxymoron. It’s telling the girls that the best way to be sexually desirable is to leave more to the imagination. While this is probably true, this is not modesty. And I wouldn’t want my daughter’s thinking that the most important part of her identity as a woman is attracting a man. I think the culture tells them that plenty.

  8. Phillip says:

    Aimee,
    Thanks for your artice,Modest Expression.
    One of the seemingly uncharted waters is the denied tree of knowledge.
    Modesty and sanctification are kissing cousins. Holiness the product.
    What reflection pleases God?

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for a well written post on such a misunderstood topic. You leave no stone unturned and treat the matter with an even hand, which is truly God-honoring.

  10. Amen and Amen again! :)

  11. Jason says:

    “We cover our nakedness because we are not presentable before God on our own.”

    Reading this article after reading and agreeing with your thoughts on bikinis and modesty, I feel like I have to comment on a concern I have here.

    I’m not sure where the idea comes from that we are not “presentable before God on our own,” because it doesn’t come from Scripture.

    One could actually say that the second sin of Adam and Eve was hunting for fig leaves. God never shamed them and never told them nakedness was wrong. In fact, He asked them, “Who told you you were naked?” He then provided them with protective gear for the harsh environment to which He was sending them.

    We should really reevaluate this nakedness/shame concept and realize that the power in shaming is power abused. I think one point that gets missed is that the reason people have a visceral reaction to bikinis is their tantalization. They are designed like marketing ploys. It could be argued that the real reason (western cultured) women wear them is because of potential shaming. Think about it.

    Had God wanted people to be clothed continually, wouldn’t He have made us that way? Animals have fur, yet He made us naked. Maybe… He did it on purpose?

    Maybe since we’re made in His image, we’re supposed to learn something from a pure view of the body?

    Maybe…we should stop being ashamed of the body and start thinking about things from a truly reformed and redeemed point of view?

What do you think?