Set Apart Femininity: Dressing Modestly in a Sexual Culture
By: Caitlin Nicholas
July 12, 2012
In the last couple of decades, the modesty standards of our young women—- and men —- have rapidly gone down hill. Simply, look back 60 or 70 years, and you could still find modesty as a common American value. In other words, we were still a God centered nation. Over the years, the gradual creep of sexuality has slowly ripped our culture apart, along with many other facets of immorality. Because of this slow creep, most people – including the Church – have chosen to ignore it. At this point, they cannot have the excuse of “we just haven’t noticed it.” And I’m not willing to settle for the “society has just progressed” argument. In my opinion, everyone is too scared to speak up, too worried about their own reputations to get involved, or feel hopeless and powerless (yet their silence is their consent). Modesty is far too important in the scheme of values, too important to our spirituality, and treated too critically in our culture, to continue sitting idly by ignoring it, any longer. I will be ONE of the few that is no longer going to ignore the fact that we’ve trashed our culture, either by complacency or by participation. I am, most certainly, not going to comply with the culture, and I hope by the end of this article, neither will you.
I will caution you, this article will make most people very uncomfortable. This is a topic that is very rarely talked about, much less written about. Because of this, most people, even Christians, would most likely disagree to some extent with my commentary below. I will be going in depth into the disease that is sexualism, why we are guilty of it, and how to raise the standards of our culture.
So what are our biggest offenses? – tight, low-cut, see-through shirts, tight pants, short shorts and skirts, strapless tops, leggings, skimpy swimsuits, spaghetti straps, tight, low-cut jeans, see-through skirts. Even heels, can be a problem. There is more skin bared in this country than covered, on any given day. Among Christian teens, some seem to think that if their t-shirts display some Christian saying on it, that somehow makes up for it being skin tight. And here’s a little surprise: makeup can be just as sensual as wearing skin tight jeans. Watch TV for a few minutes and all you’ll see is overdone, heavily airbrushed faces with mile long fake eyelashes. All of this is meant to be sensual, and it results in an overtly sexual culture. Why? Because it’s the media that tells everyone – especially the younger generation – what the standards are, how to act, how to dress, how to walk. Is it any wonder that we’ve become oversexualized?
We,women, complain all the time that men seem to just be “sex driven animals,” as many would like to say. We use the same lazy excuse over and over again that “men will be men.” But, do we not encourage this behavior with how we dress and how we act around men? Isn’t it partly our fault in the first place, either by complacency or participation in what is the accepted “norm?” Now, I’m not saying that all men are like this. There are guys out there still respect and WANT ladies to dress modestly. I know this is true, because many Christian young men that I have asked have told me that they wished their Christian sisters would dress more modestly. I will prove this to you a little later on, in this article. Dressing sexually is a huge stumbling block for men in their mental purity, and our selfish acts of dressing sexually does not help them to further their faith – or ours for that matter.
In scripture, 1 Timothy 2:9 “Women should adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly.” The King James Version provides even more clarity: “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire but with what is proper for women who profess godliness.” Let me give you a little context. Modesty, literally means “with shame and bashfulness.” Discreetly means to keep hidden. No, that statement does not literally mean you shouldn’t wear gold or pearls or that you can’t braid your hair. It simply means dress in a dignified way. Dress not in a way to purposely draw attention. Does the Bible really mean you should feel shameful? No. It means dress with caution – with dignity and grace. I recently came across a modesty survey done by two amazing guys, Alex and Brett Harris. The survey was largely made up of questions sent in by girls. Over 160,000 guys submitted 150,000 answers with 25,000 text responses all within a short 20 day period. Here is the first of the two most important questions in this survey:
How do you feel about girls who purposely flaunt their bodies?
Age 22: “The way a woman conducts herself externally is one of the few glimpses of what is in her heart. If she acts like the world externally, then it begs to questions of how much she is longing for this world in her heart.”
Age 21: “Ladies, this is where you can get confused. Many women would think guys are ‘all about’ women who flaunt their bodies. I am here to attempt to speak for us Christian men fighting the fight for purity. They take advantage of something God intended to be beautiful. They make men fight and struggle, and cause many to fall. Christian sisters, please do not think that this attention is anything more than a result of short-sighted shallow men who are sexually frustrated and unwilling to follow God’s plan for sex. To me, women who flaunt their bodies make me turn my head, repulsed, and pray that God would guard my heart, eyes, and mind.”
Age 22: “Saddened, disappointed, sometimes angered. They’re distracting good men, dishonoring God and marriage and offering themselves cheaply — which makes me desire even more strongly a girl who is modest. What would make me happy is dedicating all my energy to loving a young woman who reserves herself for me.”
Age 17: “If a girl flaunts herself, it changes everything about what I think of her. To start with, I automatically assume, she is not a Christian or is not taking her walk with Christ seriously (I might even try witnessing to her). If she is a Christian, I’ll probably tell her that she is being a sexual distraction (much more gently, of course). If you flaunt yourself, you have the attention of lots of guys, but you instantly lose their respect and admiration. I would never consider courting a girl that advertises her body like a product.”
Proverbs 11:22 says “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” While you’re trying to look beautiful on the outside by flaunting your body and dressing seductively, it never pays off because your intentions are not pure. Dressing modestly and showing humility in your appearance and actions are more beautiful to men – and the Lord – than flaunting everything you’ve got.
I will give you an in depth look into the many stumbling blocks that have contributed to our pathetically low standards of dress. The first thing I want to talk about is leggings because they’ve been popular for awhile and seem to be the “go to” piece in everyone’s wardrobe. Now, leggings in and of themselves are not bad, but they shouldn’t be worn by themselves as everyone does. They reveal too much of the body. They outline a woman’s entire leg. Just because you’re not showing any skin does not mean that you’re not dressing seductively. Instead, you can wear leggings under a tea length skirt as a layering piece. Even if you wear leggings, stay away from skirts that may be see-through. If you had a husband, what would he say if other men could see that much of your legs? He would be jealous right? If you do happen to have a skirt like that, simply throw a slip under it, otherwise you look like your half dressed!
Strapless or sleeveless tops are, also, a major problem. In my opinion, they show way too much skin. Tank tops look too much like undergarments. They tend to bring attention down toward the bust line instead of a girl’s pretty face. Also, they almost always expose your bra straps (especially with a spaghetti strapped tank).
Instead, you could throw this strappy top over a tank top that would otherwise be too open, and you look just as cute! Or you could put a short sleeve shirt underneath the
strapless top or add a loose cardigan on top. Make sure that your cardigan isn’t so loose that when you move a certain way, it pops open. This way it covers a lot more skin and creates a much more graceful look. In Alex and Brett Harris’ survey, they polled on specific articles of clothing and 75% of the guys agreed that showing bra straps, maybe even unintentionally, is a stumbling block. One said, “I think they can be. I don’t think that feminine undergarments should ever show. I think the same thing about guys underwear.” The next responder certainly did not mince words! “This invites the mind to wander below the shirts and wonder what the rest looks like.”
I’ve also noticed that shirts have gotten far tighter. Tight shirts are one of the biggest – most accepted – stumbling blocks for a woman’s dignity and a man’s mental purity. The whole purpose of a tight shirt is to flaunt your body and you already heard what the guys think about that, earlier in the article.
The fit is not the only problem with shirts. The neck-lines of shirts have gotten much lower, as well. So many girls and women see nothing wrong with showing a lot of their chest or even cleavage when it reality, it’s immodest, and quite frankly, trashy. Layer with a tank top or undershirt, underneath, instead.
Another culprit: tight jeans. You can wear jeans that are modest BUT…most times they’re way too tight or so low-cut that when you bend over, you show more than you should. Try trouser jeans with a higher waistline. It is possible to find modest jeans but the goal of most jean companies is to show off women’s curves. What did the guys have to say about this? “This is way too much of an invite to study your curves. Sisters, leave these jeans at the store.” Another, age 17 said, “Really tight jeans are a BIG stumbling block.” 76% of the guys agreed.
Short shorts! Everyone is walking around in extremely short shorts. 82% of the guys in the survey believe that shorts higher than mid-thigh are immodest. One young man
had a comical yet unfortunate point: “Most guys wear underwear less revealing than that!” Wearing shorts that expose your things are worse of a temptation for men than most women think. Instead, go for Bermuda shorts or even a knee length skirt. Surprisingly, enough heels can also be immodest in the whole attitude they present. They accentuate your legs and tend to make you walk suggestively. Some can look classy, but others can bring unwanted attention to your legs.
Any area of the body that could be associated with sensuality shouldn’t be seen by anyone. Now, your thinking, “well how the heck does that work? what about my lips? am I suppose to wear a veil?!” No. We don’t have to wear potato sacks and face coverings. For example, if a waiter takes your arm to lead you to a table, that’s one thing. But what if he touched your thigh? See my point? Keep it covered. Honor your husband (or future husband) by not giving other men the pleasure of seeing what should be for your husband’s eyes alone – the only man who should ever have that privilege.
I saved the worst for last: swimsuits! If you wouldn’t walk around in your bra and underwear, why a bikini? And you can’t use the “well, um, it’s just different” argument because it doesn’t work and you know it. One is just more decorative than the other. Try surf gear instead. Sounds bulky and ugly but you can find really cute rash guards (basically waterproof t-shirts) and long board shorts – but make sure they aren’t too tight. Sometimes you can find two pieces, like tankinis, that cover enough. But make sure you don’t cover enough just to cover enough. It’s all about attitude of the heart. So, if you have any bikinis in your closet, throw them out (or better yet – burn em’!) They expose everything (or almost!) that should be guarded for marriage. According to the survey 85% agreed that bikinis are immodest. In fact, here are a few responses – Age 23: “The more skin that is revealed, the more of a stumbling block. You can’t reveal more skin than with a bikini. If you understood the purpose of publications like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, or the the purpose of the swimsuit and lingerie industry, you wouldn’t want to wear a bikini — unless you actually wanted men to sin as they look at you.”……”They’re no better than underwear and are extremely distracting. The biggest stumbling blocks there are!”
It is so important to dress with grace and dignity, when we’d rather wear something immodest. We should honor God with how we dress. Let our clothing be the light of Christ. Our clothing reflects who we are. If you’re dressed immodestly, what does that say about you as a person? Most people think that modesty means drab, shapeless, un-feminine clothing. “But God doesn’t bring ugliness. He brings us freedom and liberty and beauty – (from Set Apart Girl’s Conference: Beauty). All women want freedom and beauty, they’re just looking in the wrong places. 97% of Christian guys said you can be attractive AND modest. Here’s what a few had to say: “There is a huge difference between beautiful and being hot. Beauty is being attractive for who you are as a person. Hot is being attractive as nothing more than sex appeal.” One said, “Immodesty may draw attention, but it’s not the kind you want. I know a lot of girls who dress modestly, but are still very attractive.” Another said, “Girls can be beautiful, noticeably beautiful, and guys can notice it, without there being immodesty or lust involved, and this is the good design of God. Jacob, for example, clearly thought Rachel was beautiful in Genesis. But there’s no hint that Rachel dressed immodestly or that Jacob lusted after her. Don’t allow the devil to make us think the enemy is beauty. The enemy is manipulation, and the very ugly forces of lust and vanity of our hearts.”
What does the Bible say about modesty? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Against what society says, women do not get their power from being sexy. They gain respect from being strong, self-respecting women and strong spiritual leaders. If you really want to win a Godly man, it is not by dressing to lure him, it’s dressing in a way that respects him as a man of God. Dressing set-apart is part of attracting a Godly man. 76% of the guys in the survey have less respect for an immodest girl than for a modest one. “And even less respect for her parents and church leaders.” Others said, “I have a hard time respecting a girl who is showing herself off, but a girl who is dressed to cover and save herself immediately gains my respect – these girls are more noble and feminine in my opinion”……”I respect a modestly dressed girl SO much! It shows so much of their inner character, strength to fight the culture, and care for their brothers!” One could not have been more straightforward, “Immodesty says, ‘take me to bed, it won’t cost you anything’ Modesty says ‘respect me, win my heart, protect me.’”
Song of Solomon 2:2 says, “Like a lily among thorns so is my darling among the maidens.” A woman should be kind and gentle, caring and graceful. 1 Peter 3:4 says, “The incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” But, “she who lives is pleasure in dead while she lives.” – 1 Timothy 5:6.
If you’re wondering “Okay, I get what she’s trying to say and I really want to try harder…. but where am I even suppose to start?” I’ve provided some good tips: For the most part, shirt necklines should be no lower than four fingers below the collarbone. Also make sure the neckline isn’t too loose as this can pose problems, especially if you bend over. If you had any shirts that are sheer or tight, find a cardigan to wear on top to give you more coverage. Here’s a good rule of thumb; if you can see the back of your bra, it’s too tight. Your back should also be covered and tanks for the most part should not be worn by themselves.
This is classy and feminine: Pants shouldn’t be too tight in the thigh or back area. You should be able to loosely pull pants away from the leg. For skirts, shorts and dresses your hemline shouldn’t be higher than the knee, if you have a sleeveless dress, straps should be at least 2 inches thick (or at least thick enough to easily cover your bra straps). And this is a surprising one, make sure your high heel shoes reflect elegance and not “sexiness.”
I recently remembered a great quote by Amy Carmichael from her book Gold Cord: “Dead to the world and its applause, all the customs, fashions and laws, of those who hate the humbling Cross.” And I thought to myself “What are we doing caring what the world thinks? Why are we constantly pursuing the world’s affections, when the only affection that lasts and is worth pursuing is Christ’s?” After reading this article, I hope you have at least considered making modesty a bigger focus in your life. If you’ve already taken the steps to dress set apart for Christ, thank you so much. This is from an article by Leslie Ludy titled Elegant Alternatives to Today’s Sensual Styles: “the only shirts available were tight, low-cut and see through – and unless I wanted to shop in the grandma section, there seemed to be no modest options. As fashion trends become more and more sensual, most Christian girls feel they have no choice but to comply with the culture. Dressing modestly (and fashionably) these days is an art form…we know that we’ll get more attention from guys in form-fitting tops, tight pants, and short skirts. And it’s all too tempting to rationalize immodesty by saying ‘at least this outfit isn’t as bad as a lot of things I could wear.’”
Finding modest clothing can be a challenge. Not many designers create modest apparel so it takes some creativity. Below I’ve given you some links that’ll hopefully give you a good start: http://mikarose.com/, http://hannahlise.com/, http://www.jenclothing.com/, http://downeastbasics.com/, and for swimwear, http://rashguardshirtco.com/. If you have a hard time finding modest clothing in and of themselves, layering always works.
It will be a challenge of faith and patience to change the way you dress, and to change your thoughts and attitude about modesty. I thought now would be a good time to share the second important question in Alex and Brett Harris’ survey. I hope it will leave you with some determination and encouragement. If you could say one thing to your sisters in Christ about modesty, what would it be?
Age 24: “Sisters in Christ, you really have no concept of the struggles that guys face on a daily basis. Please, please, please take a higher standard in the ways you dress. True, we men are responsible for our thoughts and actions before the Lord, but it is such a blessing when we know that we spend time with our sisters in Christ, enjoying their fellowship with having to constantly be on guard against ungodly thoughts brought about by the inappropriate ways they sometimes dress. In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul believes as the members of one body – we have to work together. Every Christian has a special role in play in the body of Christ. That goal is to bring glory to the Savior through an obedient, unified body of believers – please don’t hurt that by dressing in ways that may tempt your brothers in Christ to stumble.”
Age 23: “There is One that is more in love with you than any man can ever be. You are incredibly valuable to Him, and you never need question His commitment to you. He thinks you’re beautiful in the morning without your makeup, and He’ll think you’re just as beautiful when you’re 80. He is Christ. You should treat Him with the loyalty and respect of a Husband. There is no need to attract a man to you – Christ will lead the right man to you.”
Age 18: “Sisters in Christ, we men in society have failed miserably at appreciating true womanhood. On behalf of every man out there who has painted a distorted picture in your life of what a real woman is, especially along the lines of modesty, I apologize deeply. There are many Godly men out there, as I’m sure this survey will prove, that are dying to give you their utmost respect when you choose to follow God’s leading in this area of modesty in your life. We back you up all the way and want to do anything we can to help you. And we ask that you all, all you can, to help us as we struggle through this world of sin together.”
Age 16: “As a Christian guy, modesty is SO attractive. I don’t mean attractive in a lustful way, but that to see a girl living out God’s standards in her life really is beautiful. And you have no idea just how much you would be helping your Christian brothers by being modest.”
Age 16: “Please don’t take modesty lightly. As your brother in Christ I value the relationship that I will have with my wife someday. When you remain pure and modest, my life is made so much easier. Instead of watching to ensure that I don’t sin, I can focus on you as a person and fellow follower of Christ. I appreciate modesty more than you’ll ever know.”
Age 17: “Dearest sister: God made you a thing of beauty. A thing to be admired and respected. When you dress or act in a way that draws attention to your body, you make it easy for the guys around you to reduce you to the level of a disgusting toy – using you to mentally satisfy their fantasies. They stop thinking about your Godly qualities and immerse themselves in sinful thought. By dressing and acting modestly, you draw attention to your face instead of your body. Your body may be alluring, but your face – those deep, mysterious eyes and smiling mouth – is infinitely more beautiful than any amount of revealing dress. Would you rather be the tool by which guys satisfy themselves or the beautiful thing God created you to be, pure for your husband? My flesh prefers the former, by my heart pleads for the latter.”
Age 17: “Girls you are so much more beautiful than the other girls in the world because you’re modest. Your purity is beautiful and I find you attractive because you guard it.”
It is time to restore the modesty and dignity American women once held. It is time to rebel against the enemy that is destroying our purity. I’m rebelling. Are you?
If you would like to check out more of Alex and Brett’s modesty survey, go to http://therebelution.com/modestysurvey/. A special thanks to Set Apart Girl ministries and Eric and Leslie Ludy for inspiring this article, and also to Alex and Brett Harris for inspiring a movement.