My 40% Modesty Rule: A Better Way to Look at How to Dress

by | Mar 25, 2019 | Uncategorized | 119 comments

New Christian Modesty Guidelines: A better way to look at modesty than don't be a stumbling block'

What does it mean to be modest? What are proper modesty rules?

I’ve been talking all month about how the message that “men lust all the time so women have to have sex to stop men from lusting” is so dangerous and unbiblical. Yet in far too many Christian marriage books (like Love & Respect or Every Man’s Battle) that’s the message that’s being given. It’s a fear-based message for women, and it needs to stop. And it’s an unbiblical way of looking at men’s sex drives as well.

A corollary to this idea that all men lust is that women should dress modestly to stop men from lusting. I’ve written before about how the Don’t Be a Stumbling Block modesty argument is actually unbiblical, too (and I encourage you to read that post! It’s important).

Perhaps because that’s so prevalent, I get a lot of reader questions from moms asking how they can teach their daughters to dress modestly (I very rarely get anything relating to sons in this vein). And so today I thought I’d tackle it in a new way.

Yes, what we wear IS important. But we have to make sure we’re tackling it with a non-feared based message, because so often that’s what we get.

Let’s take a look at what the Bible actually does say about modesty (because I think we’ve gotten it wrong).

Here’s the passage that is usually quoted:

1 Timothy 2:9-10

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

Okay, so women are to dress modestly. This leads, however, to two clarifying questions:

  • Why are women to dress modestly?
  • And what does modesty look like?

Let’s deal with the first one first.

Why does Paul want women to dress modestly?

It flows out of his purpose for writing his first letter to Timothy. The main purpose of that letter was this:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer (1 Timothy 1:3)

Paul wanted Timothy to fight against false teaching. His letter is really about how to set up a church that honours God and doesn’t spread false teaching or come into disrepute, but instead spreads the gospel. Hence all the references to being an apostle–he wants others to hear the good news. So the concern that Paul has here with regards to modesty is that the way that women are dressing may be turning people away from the message of Christ. Paul talks in 1 Timothy 2:3 about how God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” That’s the context for this verse–let’s make sure that people get to know God and are saved.

However, the way that women were dressing may be working against that. So let’s look at what women were doing specifically that was bad:

What does modesty look like?

It’s interesting that Paul’s version of modesty has absolutely nothing to do with causing men to lust or even about the shapes of women’s bodies, but everything to do with women dressing to look rich.

One of the big issues in the early church was a class divide. Rich people didn’t tend to associate with poorer people. So if women came into church wearing expensive jewelry and expensive hair styling, they would make others feel excluded. And Paul didn’t want anyone to feel excluded!

So that is Paul’s main modesty message:

Dress in such a way that you are approachable and welcoming and that you put Jesus in a good light.

I want you to hold on to that thought–dress in a way that you are approachable and welcoming–because when we look at modesty that way, something interesting happens.

Let’s make modesty cultural for a second: In our culture, how do you dress in a way that is approachable and welcoming?

The biggest way to make others feel welcome by what you wear is that you don’t make anyone feel that they somehow don’t fit in. You want people who come into your church or your social circle to feel as if they belong. My kids once attended a summer camp where a number of very rich teenagers went, and brand names became a big thing among the girls. My daughters had never been into brand names (we gave them a clothing allowance and so they paid for their own clothes, and they were really frugal!), and it did feel off-putting and exclusionary to them.

If you want people to feel like they fit in and that you are approachable, then you must be culturally appropriate.

Like Paul said:

1 Corinthians 9:19-22 NIV

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

He fit in to the culture so that the culture felt that he was appropriate!

So what does being culturally appropriate mean for modesty?

Here’s where my 40% rule comes in!

Human behaviour tends to fall on a bell curve, that looks something like this:

What a bell curve says is that most people are remarkably similar. In fact, 68% of people fall within 1 standard deviation of the mean (the average), and 95% fall within two standard deviations. Then there are those outliers.

If we want people to feel as if they fit in, then, and we want to seem approachable, in general you want to be in that middle section where about 68% of people fall. That’s what’s “normal” in our culture, and that helps people to feel at ease.

If we think of this in terms of modesty, some people on the very right end of that graph dress very immodestly, wearing hardly anything, drawing attention to cleavage, etc. etc. You definitely don’t want to be like that.

But here’s the corresponding message that Christians often miss: when we fall too far on the left end of that bell curve, and try to dress extremely modestly, in long denim skirts, long sleeves, nothing below your clavicle, oversized T-shirts, etc., we are just as out of the mainstream as those who are very immodest. When you appear too modest, you actually make others feel like you are judging them.

That does not bring anyone to the gospel. That is very off-putting. That tells people they don’t belong in your church or community. That makes you seem very unapproachable.

Paul was not setting up specific modesty rules that applied for all time. He was setting a principle that people should not feel excluded.

When we think about modesty, we should be thinking the same thing.

So when I dress, I think something like this: “What’s about the middle point of modesty in our culture? And how can I be just on the left side of it?” And that pretty much works! That’s my 40% rule!

In fact, I wear some things now that I would not have worn twenty years ago because fashions have totally changed. Think of the difference between the mom jeans of the 80s and the jeans we wear today. Twenty years ago our modern jeans that are ultra-form fitting would have been scandalous; today they hardly make anyone bat an eye. But go out in a pair of those mom jeans, and people would think there was something wrong with you.

Here I am rocking those mom jeans back in 1990 (Keith and me about a year and a half before we were married):

Modesty rules are cultural

I’d never wear those today; I’d stand out like a sore thumb. I wear much more form-fitting ones, as does everyone else.

I’m not saying modesty is entirely cultural; there are some things I could never do

In Europe it’s normal to be topless at the beach, and that would likely fall within that 68%. I would never do that, for all kinds of reasons. So there are exceptions.

But on the whole, I think it would be better if we started talking about modesty the way that Paul did. It’s not about not causing someone to lust. It’s about being approachable and not being off-putting. That means that:

  • we should not appear so rich that people think they can’t talk to us.
  • We should not appear so immodest that we put others ill at ease.
  • And we should not appear so modest that we make others feel uncomfortable and even judged..

New Christian Modesty Guidelines: A better way to look at modesty

What do you think? Am I wrong? Is that a more biblical way of looking at it? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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119 Comments

  1. Becky

    I never thought of it in terms of dressing to look rich, but in the context of the culture that Paul was in, that makes perfect sense. I went to a private Christian school until college, and I remember that there was a group of girls who would always wear the more expensive brands like Abercrombie, and were sometimes very unkind to girls whose families didn’t have as much money and therefore dressed differently (including my best friend). That school has since gone to uniforms, which probably eliminated much of that, though I’ll admit that I was personally glad to be able to have a little more fun with trying to express myself within the dress code constraints, since I sew!

    Also, for the record, it is HARD to try to dress on that more covered up (ok, I’ll just say it, the frumpier side) of that bell curve when you’re nursing! Especially when you weren’t that flat to begin with, lol. Thankfully, I’ve never gotten any comments about modesty during that stage, though I do like to use a cover in public for my own comfort.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I really think that we’ve completely misunderstood what Paul was about. Paul was never about getting men not to lust; he was entirely about “How can we give the gospel a good name and spread the gospel?” And yet look at what the purity culture has done with modesty rules. Does that spread the gospel, or hinder the gospel? I think people would be much more open to Christianity if we appeared unintimidating and normal (in a good way).

      And I hear you about the maternity shirts! As a not-very-well-endowed-woman, I don’t relate. But I hear you. 🙂

      Reply
      • Gale

        Thanks for this great article. Thanks for using your platform to clarify what Biblical modesty means.

        I remember when it first dawned on me that that verse was about expensive clothes, not revealing clothes. I was volunteering VBS set in Rome, doing some historical research on hair and clothing. I was watching a video about how to do a certain authentic Roman braided hairstyle, and the person showing it said “this isn’t something you could do on yourself. A servant or slave would have been the one braiding the hair. ” And it hit me…braided hair! All of a sudden it was clear that the modestly they were talking about in that verse was all about not flaunting wealth.

        But I love how you re-framed that about making people feel welcome.

        I think about Christian t-shirts. It’s one of the things we might wear intentionally, but is are shirt something that identifies us as a Christian will invite conversations about our faith, or is it something antagonistic? Like, wearing a general Christian t-shirt to school might bring up conversations, but wearing a t-shirt about putting Christ back in Christmas while visiting a relative who is an atheist and already knows you’re a Christian, might just come off as a an attack.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Great questions! I agree–that would be antagonistic. Like, what’s the point? You’re saying something with your t-shirt and they can’t say anything back without looking rude. But really you’re being the rude one. It’s wrong.

          Reply
  2. Jane Eyre

    There’s a rule for interview attire: the focus should be on your brains and accomplishments, not your attire.

    I use a version of that rule in other contexts: the focus should be on my competence at my job, my kindness at church, my preparedness and dedication to the cause at non-profits, etc.

    The focus cannot be about erasing my body. My husband thinks I look sexy in sweat pants. Men have hit on me when I’ve worn things like a khaki skirt, sweater, and flats, no makeup, hair in a bun. Unless you go full-on burqa, you won’t prevent men’s lust.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s awesome, Jane!

      Reply
    • Mo

      I’m not sure even full-on burqa would accomplish that! My husband once said (jokingly of course), “let’s just get to the inevitable and start blinding all the men…” but a thought occurred to him as he said it. “Actually, then men will just go around groping women and things will probably be worse!”

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, that is funny (unfortunately!)

        Reply
      • Bike Bubba

        I have watched people flirt in clean room bunny suits, and if one doubts that someone can be sexy in a burqa, look up “Blue Burqa” on Youtube. Posture, sass, all that matters a LOT.

        It’s nice, and beautiful, if someone doesn’t “give out all the information” by what they wear, but when people want to hit on each other, they’re going to do it.

        Reply
    • Paula Waterman

      good post!

      Reply
    • Andrea

      Many Muslim women will tell you that burquas do not prevent harrasment. They are having their own #MosqueToo reckoning, proving that it’s men’s attitudes toward women, not women’s attire, that causes harassment.

      Reply
      • Emily Burk

        Man this article blew all the things I was taught growing up out of the water (in a good way!) and I definitely agree with what youre saying! How cool to learn about what Paul actually meant when he used the word modest in that passage! I will say, that although I think you are right that it is not our responsibility to keep men from lusting, and that modesty is much more about an overall presentation of ourselves in our culture than it is about being as covered up as possible, don’t you think there is still an element of loving our brothers in our modesty too? For example I appreciate that my christian girl friends wear clothing that is more modest than some of my non christian girl friends when they are around my husband. I know it is my husbands job to fight against lust (not their responsibility) but I appreciate that the more modest dressers make it easier on him, because I care about him and his fight to remain pure. In the same way, I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to keep other men from lusting after me by how I dress, but I do think about my brothers in Christ when I buy my clothes because I want to make the battle easier for them if I can. Do you think that’s a valid Element in how we teach modesty? I get that this perspective has been overdone and pushed too far to the other extreme, but is there harm in teaching our daughters to be thoughtful in that way as well?

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          I know what you mean about thinking about the impact on men around us when we dress, but I don’t think it’s about making their fight to remain pure easier, but more about being respectful. It’s simply not respectful to hang out around someone showing more skin than necessary. Covering up a reasonable amount is simply a sign of respect, which is why there are professional standards for work attire. And frankly, that goes for both genders. Because even if you’re not attracted to the person, if someone is wearing something really revealing it can be awkward if it feels like there’s no “safe place” to look, if that makes sense. So it’s not about “Boys find it difficult not to lust, so make sure you make it easier for them,” but rather, “It’s not respectful to the men OR women around you to show more skin than necessary, so just dress respectfully of yourself and others.”

          Reply
    • TAMRA BERGAMASCO

      I just said this to my husband about the burka!!! Yes! I’m slowly climbing out of legalism and trying to figure out how that looks for me and him. I want him to endorse my decisions not just merely acquiesce.

      Reply
    • Alice

      That was always my thought. You can’t stop sin! Not that I want to encourage men to think wrong things but seriously?! 2” straps vs. 1” straps?! We most definitely need to be looking at this from the perspective of whether it will further the Gospel or cause a hindrance.

      Reply
  3. Holly

    Sheila! This post is fantastic! Thank you for tackling all kinds of topics.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Glad you liked it!

      Reply
  4. Cara

    I agree with much of what you said-probably even most.
    At one time I took on others’ convictions regarding modesty. People who seemed to be stronger Christians and “have it together”. Skirts more than jeans, tank tops under any shirt that was remotely low, etc. Then one day I realized I didn’t have those same convictions. It was very freeing. And like the above commenter, my husband chases me around whether I’m in sweats or a bikini 👙—but! He also already knows he likes what’s under it so that’s a little different than the average man 😉
    The only thing that I might suffer on here is that we have to be careful of being afraid to stand out. We are called to be set apart and different. Not necessarily in how we dress. In everything. If I live my life based on societal norms I’m in trouble in my walk!! I definitely think we have to be approachable and I don’t think what you said about fashion is wrong-thank God we don’t have to wear mom jeans. What mom can wear those high waisted things?? That would just be painful!!
    I think it’s more that the mentality of blending in with societal norms that makes me worried-not the fashion part. Does that make sense?
    My husband and I went on a trip to Cozumel 5 years ago for our 20th (this was when I was kind of at the tail end of my taking on other people’s convictions) and asked me to wear a bikini!! I was honored as I thought I was past those days (late thirties and had 4 children lol). I looked long and hard for a cute bikini. And he loved it!!!

    Reply
    • Cara

      Differ. Not suffer. Lol

      And I hope you understood my comment. I don’t think wearing clothing that is fashionable is wrong. At all. I wear fitted jeans and even *gasp* the 5” inseam shorts from old navy!!! But it’s mlre the idea of doing things to fit in to societal norms.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great point, Cara! I would think that the way we stand out is by what Paul said afterwards, when he stopped talking about appearance–that it’s about the way we act.

      I think our appearance is what gives that first impression and allows the relationship to start. Then, once the relationship has started, we show that we are different and that we do stand out, based on how we act. That’s the way I’d read it, anyway. I also think that one way to be approachable is to just simply dress nicely and “fight the frump” , as I often say. Like dress as if you respect yourself, even if the majority of women aren’t dressing that way. I did a whole week on fighting the frump a while ago, and I think that’s an important element, too.

      Reply
      • Cara

        Yes! Definitely I’d rather meet a Christian woman (or any woman) who was kind and considerate no matter what she was wearing or not wearing (😂😂).
        And maybe I was overthinking it (over analyzing-I do that). But when I read that we should fit in to societal norms my mind went immediately to all of the societal norms. And I was scared!
        My walk with Christ has struggled a LOT recently for many reasons but I do know I want to “look” different. Not in long skirts and a bun and no makeup. (You’re more likely to see me in workout clothes on an average day) but in every way. I tend towards worrying and anxiety. I want to shake that off and be an example of peace. Kindness!!!! I’m so sick of mean people. And yet, anxiety and meanness are fine by today’s standards-even encouraged. I guess that’s why that part made me respond like I did.
        I do think we should fight the frump for sure. Harder to put the effort in when my husband literally prefers me with no makeup. 😱😱
        My son prefers his gf with none also! As does my son in law prefer my daughter wear no makeup! (No one is bossy about it, just their preference)

        Reply
      • Husband

        Wow very interesting way of thinking about modesty. I agree that Every Man’s Battle got lust wrong. I like the idea of keeping attire a bit to left of average. And that classy and respectable beats frumpy. I have a gripe many choices I see mom’s at my son’s Christian school making. And I think classy and respectable would go a long way. Comfy and lazy, not so much. My wife wears dresses that are very cute and classy.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Classy and respectable! Yep. That’s definitely what I aim for. 🙂

          Reply
    • Candace

      Mom jeans are coming back in style.😂
      I love your take on this topic! Thanks for your input.

      Reply
  5. T

    This is spot on, Sheila! I experienced being on the more modest side of the curve – I wasn’t normally in jean skirts and tennis shoes, but I did use multiple modesty “tricks” that were dead giveaways. People treated me like a sheltered 5 year old child. They would not tell me what was going on in their lives or really get close, apologized for cursing or telling raunchy stories in front of me, or excluded me from hangouts they felt I wouldn’t enjoy. It was really hurtful, and I think they felt judged. One friend, when I told her the way I was being treated, said “well, you DO dress pretty conservatively…” I have been experimenting with my style for 2 years now, trying to develop a more normal style, and people have pretty much stopped all of that hurtful behavior. Thank you for debunking this modesty myth!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Now that’s really interesting, T! I never thought of the effect it would have that way, but you’re right!

      I also remember another young woman who commented that she had been told that “nice boys only want modest girls”, so she wore the long skirts and long sleeves and oversized t-shirts, and hung out with the boys in her homeschooling group, only to find that as soon as they all hit 20, they married the girls who dressed normally. And these modest girls were left behind. I do think that we can cut ourselves off from a lot of social interaction when we dress too modestly.

      Reply
    • Bethany

      Why would you complain that they made an effort to restrain the “raunchy stories” and cursing etc in front of you? I always appreciated that, but I’m also more sensitive than others. Its made me cry in disappointment more than once. Because I expected better from them .

      Reply
  6. Hannah

    Yes! Another article that I find really useful is Rachel Held Evans “Modesty: I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means.” Her main point is, “So my advice for women looking for bathing suits this season is this: Don’t dress for men; dress for yourself. It’s not your responsibility to please men with either your sex appeal or your modesty; each man is different, so it would be a fool’s errand anyway. Instead, prioritize strength, dignity and good deeds, and then dress accordingly.”

    Modesty really is culturally conditioned. If you’re European, topless beaches are perfectly normal, comfortable, and not scandalous in the least, or the cultures with naked saunas–it’s just what you do. If you’re from a remote tribe, wearing veeeery little is perfectly normal. If you’re Indian, baring your belly is normal, but showing your knees is immodest. If you’re American (probably Canadian too?), showing your knees is completely normal but showing your belly is pretty iffy.

    I’d never thought of it as a bell curve before, but my philosophy is basically the same. Stay in that middle of the bell curve, for the most part. Dress in a way that’s socially appropriate for whatever you’re doing, whether that’s work, a ball, the beach, or the grocery store, and call it a day.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great synopsis, Hannah! I remember when we were in Europe, visiting cathedrals, that the thing that was most scandalous was bare shoulders. We had to bring a scarf to wrap around our shoulders. They didn’t mind cleavage; they didn’t mind shorts. But shoulders? Nope.

      Reply
      • Hannah

        Oh yeah, I’d forgotten that! I always wore short sleeves on our travels so never ran into a problem, but I remember the guidebooks saying to bring a scarf if you like to wear tank tops. I find it endlessly fascinating how different cultures look at the body, because they all come to such different conclusions!

        Reply
        • Andrea

          But the one thing they all have in common is that whatever the culture norm is, it is dictated by what men wish or do not wish to see on a woman.

          Reply
          • Hannah

            Ugh, Andrea, that’s so regrettably true. I can only hope it will continue to shift to a healthier model as time goes along…

  7. Wifey

    Excellent article! I dress on the modest side of normal and just recently started becoming ok with tighter jeans. I got tired of wearing old lady jeans in my mid 20s! My one exception is I hate wearing layers so I generally avoid shirts that require tank tops so I look for higher necklines in my shirts.

    As far as judgement goes I totally agree. I have felt more judged by women in jumpers than women in short shorts. Though I must say the converse has been true as well. I choose to always wear a skirt or dress to church (based on my personal conviction to set apart Sunday with respect to the Lord from the rest of the week jeans and t shirt wardrobe) and that makes me stick out like a sore thumb in the super casual world I live in. Therefore, I am extremely cautious to not exude an attitude of superiority at church. I don’t care how others choose to dress, this is my personal conviction, but at the same time I never want someone to feel excluded or judged by the choices I make. However, this is a decision I have made and I won’t change my conviction just to fit in with the community I am in. It definitely takes balance and a lot of grace!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s great, Wifey! I wear a lot of skirts to church, too. I just plain like them (and I’ve knit 3 in the last year!). But being welcoming and genuine with people is what we really need in church.

      Reply
    • Rachel

      I am trying to teach my daughter that the way we dress shows what we think of ourselves and teaches other people how to treat us. I am trying to teach my 15 yr old son that what a girl wears says a lot about who she is and what she thinks of herself.

      If I wear skirts that are half way up my thigh etc – what am I teaching others about myself? Or leggings (without covering my bum)? I am showing people that I want to attract attention to my body. I wear fashionable clothing but I am not wanting to attract that kind of attention. Just because yoga pants/leggings are all the rage does that mean that they are appropriate to wear out? No. My husband agrees with me that it is hard when women – especially at church wear leggings or short skirts. We need to teach our women and girls better.

      Reply
      • Katie/unmowngrass

        I do understand what you’re saying, and you have a point, but at the same time, there’s so much PRESSURE on women these days. And some of it comes from the church. So personally I am very very wary of an approach that gives more expectations to women, rather than the welcoming message they so need to hear, that they don’t have to “do” anymore, that they can just “be”, that they are welcome exactly as they are. Women who are overly “done”, with hair/makeup/nails etc (I hope you know what I mean) are not coming exactly as they really are. But women who are too exhausted to make a little effort and are therefore showing up in yoga pants… they ARE showing up exactly as they are, and I would hope that they’re supported, y’know?

        Reply
      • Sophia shepard

        I feel you on this. I think when we put our clothes on we should always ask if we are representing Christ in a godly way.
        We cannot stop men from thinking what they want but are we helping them to not look at us like a piece of meat .
        We should try to reflect Christ in what we do, say, wear, what are our intentions… will God be pleased with me when I leave this house… some men will look even if you a plastic bag on and that’s a problem they have to deal with. Everyone is accountable for their own thoughts and actions. Women lust after men in tight pants too, showing muscles, in their suits, so lusting isn’t only a mans problem. Women do it too. Some women watch basketball and football to see men’s “buns”
        Just my thoughts 😊

        Reply
      • Laura

        “I am trying to teach my daughter that the way we dress shows what we think of ourselves and teaches other people how to treat us.”

        I would genuinely plead with you to rethink the way you discuss this with your daughter. 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in their lives. If your daughter is wearing shorts or a short skirt or a tank top (or whatever other article of clothing you’ve decided is inappropriate) and a man sexually harasses or gropes her, God forbid, please consider how your words on this subject will echo in her mind. I know I don’t want my daughter to blame herself or think a man’s sin is her fault because her clothing “taught him how to treat her.”

        Reply
  8. Meggan Ingles

    I grew up I a Christian home and went to a Christian school. We had a strict dress code and the whole modesty thing was, while never actually discussed, very important. While I agree with what you have to say, my 2 cents are simple: if you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing, most people won’t worry about it. We all have things we wear that we worry are too low-cut, too tight, too this or that. If you can wear your clothes in full confidence without worrying or adjusting them constantly, that confidence comes through. Having said this, I’m a total yoga pants/leggings everyday kinda girl. Because of where I went to school and that dress code, I do have days that just feel like “dress” days and I find a comfy dress to wear. Being around the “restrictions” I was, learning to find the clothing confidence took some time. This is just my opinion though. 🙂

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Finally someone else who wears yoga pants 😂. I like them. I wear longer shirts. But I wear them a lot they look good on me. Even my dress pants are more like dress leggings that I wear tall boots with. The style suits me 🤷‍♀️ And it’s comfortable. And say what you want about comfortable. I’m 37 pregnant with my third baby in 5 years I have Crohn’s disease which leads to a lot of abdominal pain that is truely made intolerable by uncomfortable waist bands. I also nurse in public all the time with no cover and have done the same in church service. Comfort, for me, is key.

      Reply
  9. Kay

    Me: In context, doesn’t “modest” here actually refer to not flaunting your wealth? Kind of like how we say “a modest home” or “of modest means.”
    FIL Pastor: Uh, well—
    Little Old Church Lady (to me): YOUR JEANS ARE TOO TIGHT.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      HAHA! Yep. People don’t really look at the text, and don’t want to hear what it really says.

      Reply
    • Tiffany

      Bahahaha….. that’s ridiculous. I had one women (older little old lady) tell me I should be ashamed for nursing in public in a hospital (I was literally there for my 6week post partum check up 🙄). People …. just don’t think sometimes.

      Reply
  10. Sarah Evans

    Hi Sheila
    Nothing profound to say….just how sweet and YOUNG you and Keith look in that photo you posted!!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know! Didn’t we look so young?

      Reply
      • Chris

        Sheila, this is the third or fourth picture you have posted where it looks like keith is in junior high. He has very good genes i guess.

        Reply
  11. Ingrid

    You had me in the beginning, but lost me by the end and not because I even necessarily disagree with what you think modesty looks like, but I think stepping away from the question of, “how, as a child of God, does my clothing and speech point to a holy God?” to: “how do I look normal?” The end result of trying to make Christianity more palatable to the world is that the church offers a watered down gospel and loses the world. What they already have isn’t working for them; they need a church that offers a holy, beautiful alternative. The question should always be, “How do I lovingly point to who God is and live like I am a temple of the Spirit.” That might look pretty “normal” but that should not be the motivation.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Ingrid, I think Paul is pretty clear about what points to God–our actions and our speech. So our clothing is to get people to feel comfortable enough to have a relationship with us, so that we can share, through word and deed, who God is. I believe this is what Paul was saying. Honestly, we spend way too much time thinking there is such a thing as “godly” clothing. Just wear something so you look nice and approachable, and then BE godly.

      Reply
      • Ingrid

        There is no “godly” clothing, but our appearances will show what is in our heart. Case in point, the very scripture you are pointing out. Arrogance and being proud of wealth led to women in Timothy’s church flaunting those things with their appearance. The same can be said of the church today. I don’t disagree with this message, Sheila. I disagree with looking to the world for our standard, mostly because I see this happening on a doctrinal level in progressive churches. On a clothing level, it’s not too dangerous, but leaders are taking this approach to the level of changing the gospel and that is very dangetous.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I hear what you’re saying, Ingrid, but I’d also advice that you keep Paul’s point in mind from 1 Corinthian 9: “I become all things to all people that I may win some.” He became like those he was trying to influence. There’s no getting around that.

          But the way he became like that was not on moral issues. Instead, he became like them culturally, as much as he could, so that they could relate to him. Let’s not make ourselves so separate that we have no witness. It’s okay to adjust to the culture that we’re in, as long as it does not violate morals. That’s not making the culture our standard; it’s simply good missionary practice, that had its beginnings in Paul.

          Reply
      • AspenP

        Agreed Sheila. I have a great relationship with my brother and his partner because we have found as much in common as we possibly can. We love them well and neither of us denies where we disagree. They know we’re Christians and we know they’re LGBTQ. We talk about our love of food trucks, travel, education, cooking, etc and we connect on all of those things. Honestly, I think they talk to their community about their success befriending Christian family members as much as we’re glad to have a great relationship with them. It’s about being approachable and living authentically showing others the love of Christ. The Holy Spirit draws them…I don’t have to live weirdly separatist.

        Reply
    • Treva

      Ingrid, I think Sheila’s point is that dressing normal DOES point to who God is, and that’s why we should do it. Paul was telling the people of his day that they should dress as the common man, and not as someone in a superior class. Sheila is saying the same.

      Reply
  12. Jill

    Finally!! I’m so sick of the onus always being put on the woman! I totally support modesty. Sadly there are many women running at a deficit emotionally, for what ever reason, who dress to receive attention. That breaks my heart.
    The bottom line is make a choice… look away… walk away… whatever it takes.
    I was blessed with a daughter who dressed modestly. I feel for men when our cultures attire seems to have slipped, however, we all,women included need to take responsibility for our own behaviour and choices and stop pointing that one finger; and think about the 3 pointing back at us.
    Well written Sheila!!

    Reply
  13. Paula Waterman

    Fantastic post!! I love the fact that you are a critical thinker in the best sense of the word. I’ve never heard Paul’s passage this way but as a seminary student I find your analysis right on! As a female pastor of a small church I so appreciate your willingness and bravery to call out the lies we have been told for so many years.

    As someone who also leads marriage classes with couples, my husband and I have done the “love and respect” class one time. I learned a lot from that class and am glad that I did it (i’m a eat the meat and spit out the bones kind of person) but I won’t use it again because of some blatant , in my opinion, chauvinism. I have incorporated some of the material into subsequent classes (Different Not Wrong for example) but I don’t recommend the material in general as I feel it has some serious flaws.
    Keep up the great material, I love it!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Paula!

      Reply
  14. Ashley

    So I completely agree with some of your points, but I differ with you on others. 🙂 I do see that dressing to look wealthy was a big thing Paul was addressing. Unfortunately, that point is completely missed in some of the conservative churches I have attended.

    While I don’t feel we should TRY to stick out like a sore thumb, I don’t think we should dress less modestly than we otherwise would just to fit in a little bit more. Let’s face it—there are sooo many groups and the styles that go with them. Today’s culture is pretty inclusive and accepting. If people can sit down for lunch with a lady with purple hair and get to know her, and have a nice time, they should be able to do that with me too, even though I choose to wear a layering shirt so I’m not showing cleavage.

    I’ll add that I don’t dress modestly so men don’t lust. This about self-respect, and because I do believe a certain amount of covering up pleases God. 😉

    Reply
  15. RNmom

    Loved your take of this! Totally agree. I also think things that are distracting are not very modest. I find it hard to sit down and truly listen to someone whose cleavage is in my face or who has a large intricate tattoo, etc. Hair color doesn’t really seem like an issue to me but I guess the state of your heart and your intentions would only tell. I tell my girls if you are wearing that because it makes you feel pretty that’s one thing but if you are wearing it so someone notices you that is a problem. If you’d wear it in front of your grandparents it’s probably okay! I have always loved a good pair of jeans and a t-shirt! It is my style but I have a hard time trying not to look “poured” into a pair of jeans due to my derriere. In high school I got a reputation for being something I wasn’t just because my body looked a certain way in the clothes everyone else was wearing. I think your heart is reflected in all you say and do and if you try to look your best without just wanting to be seen and admired the lines aren’t that fuzzy. God made women with beautiful bodies to be admired by their husbands not the rest of the world. I think our intentions are what God is looking at!

    Reply
  16. Flo

    An awesome Gaussian distribution curve, and a cute young Keith + Sheila couple : what is not to like about this article! 🙂

    Reply
  17. Savanna

    YES! I love this. There is a balance within that 68%, and it is up to the Holy Spirit to convict each and every heart that has received Him. We’ve sort of missed it with the rules we’ve created, and I believe we’re missing out on a lot of the freedoms that we could have simply by letting the Spirit do His work rather than trying to do that ourselves. I think that this falls into the “in the world but not of the world” concept. Being “of the world” would be dressing very scantily or in a way that others feel inferior, but it’s almost like you’re not “in the world,” even, if you (other than mere personal preference or a conviction by the Spirit) dress with so much coverage that you are deemed a “super good Christian” or “weirdly religious” by those outside of God’s kingdom. This reminds me of a Bible study group that included some people I knew. These people started doing good things – prayer, meeting together, giving things away, etc., but to the EXTREME. These folks were in college, and they left their social clubs, didn’t attend any on-campus activities, became completely removed from social media, and seems to disappear from the face of the earth. I was a cheerleader, was in a social club, was an honorary member of a men’s social club, director of on-campus productions, a mission trip leader, and an education major. Because of certain things (cheering, social clubs, campus activities), I actually WAS judged by one of these members when my now husband expressed his interest in dating me to a friend who was a part of this Bible study. I was extremely hurt by this. Even though I wasn’t necessarily interested in joining this group, I was absolutely not going to even think about it at that point. How much more would a non-Christian feel judged by someone who thinks this way? Who says that you can’t be a true follower of Christ if you do normal things? If you have conversations about sports or what’s going on in the word around you and not about the Bible 100% of the time? Almost reminds me of the Pharisees, who actually weren’t doing the Kingdom a whole lot of good….

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true, Savanna! I think we forget that Jesus was much angrier at the Pharisees than the Romans, because the Pharisees were giving people the wrong idea of who God was.

      Reply
  18. Kate

    I agree 100%! With you Sheila. I have always dressed nice simply because i know how to put outfits and colors together that best work with my undertone. As a result people compliment me a lot about my outfit and when i tell them i do MOST of my shopping from thrift stores and eBay they are shocked! It’s not always about where you BUY your cloths but HOW you put them together and understanding your skin color undertones.

    I only have 33 clothes that i wear over and over again until they’re torn into pieces. I also have accessories that i buy for cheap all under $10 to compliments my outfits. My cloths are casual but depending how i wear my makeup, hair and accessories i can look like a million bucks. If people knew the art of dressing they can do with less clothes, affordable, look comfortable, stylish and approachable. I have dressed many of my friends and family members. All while being modest for the Lord not man.

    “In everything you do, do unto the Lord and not unto man” – Colossians 3:24 <—- My go to verse i repeat to myself before i take any action in my life.

    Reply
  19. Jeff

    Ok, why not just ask this question when dressing … would you feel comfortable meeting Jesus with what you are wearing or maybe even, could others still focus on the Jedus within you with what you are wearing . He is always with you and you are an ambassador so you should dress appropriately… ok my 2cents

    Reply
    • Lea

      Interesting to see the first comment from a man sounds a bit like Jesus will be judging women for what you wear…that not how I see it at all. I think Jesus was amazing at looking past what people wore, did, and their backgrounds and looking into their hearts. That’s what we should do.

      I don’t entirely agree with Sheila’s point about not standing out, sometimes we will stand out no matter what we wear and self expression, clothing, is part of that. It can be a good rule of thumb, though, to say is my outfit a massive outlier and if so is that in a bad way. Most people dress within social norms, Christians seem to be very judgmental about them regardless and that is really what we ought to be working on.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Good point, Lea, about how some people will always stand out. The question is whether you stand out in a way that turns people away. My mom (aged 75) has a purple streak in her hair. That’s not “normal”, but it actually draws people to her. They love it! (And it looks great on her).

        Reply
      • Samantha

        Lea, you are twisting what Jeff said. He never said that Jesus would be judging women for what they are wearing. He said to ask yourself if YOU would feel comfortable meeting Jesus in what you are wearing. His emphasis is placed on what the woman would be feeling. Having said that you are contradicting yourself in your comment and you aren’t even aware of it. You say that Jesus will not be judging us based on our clothing but that He will be looking into our hearts. When a person dresses themselves they are choosing how they want to present themselves to the rest of the world. It is a choice that comes directly from the heart. That’s right. Jesus will know what is in my heart if I decide to wear a low-cut top that shows off my cleavage. He will know what is in my heart if I decide to slip on an ultra form-fitting dress to wear to church. I know what I am implying here is quite shocking. I am implying that women are actually fully aware of what a male audience will think of their clothing choices and some go as far as to make their clothing choices based on the desire to attract sexual attention from men. The argument women like to use here is that men are in control of their own eyes and it is their choice to lust regardless what a woman happens to be wearing. And it’s true. Men are in control of and responsible for their own actions and choices. But women are equally in control of and responsible for their own actions and choices. If I wear a low-cut top to show off my cleavage and then a man looks and lusts, then we are both guilty of our own separate sins.

        Reply
      • Samantha

        Women like to pretend that they make their clothing choices for themselves, but they don’t. We make our clothing choices for our audience. When we step out into the world we may as well be stepping out onto a stage. I observe other people when I am out in public and I know I am observed by others as well. That is just the reality of it. When I step out in public I am stepping out as a woman of God, a wife and a mother. I want and hope that people can see this when they look at me. I hope my clothing choices reflect who I am and who I respect and love. And I do want to look and feel feminine when I dress, but I have found that I can do this quite easily without getting bent out of shape by someone asking if I would feel comfortable meeting Jesus if I was dressed the way I am. I feel confident that I can always answer yes to that question not because of how I choose to dress, but because of the state of my heart when I choose which clothes to buy and put on to go out.

        Reply
        • Laura

          “Women like to pretend that they make their clothing choices for themselves, but they don’t”

          It’s amazing that you know the mind of all women everywhere! 😉

          Reply
      • Samantha

        And I do want to say something else. Jeff’s comment was not rude or insulting towards women. In fact, he never said the words woman, she, or her in his comment. However, you were rather rude to him (and men in general) by implying that he was somehow attacking and slandering women by suggesting that women should take their clothing choices seriously. Heaven forbid anyone, let alone a MAN, ever ask women to take more responsibility for how they choose to dress! Quite frankly we should all be asking ourselves whether or not we would feel comfortable meeting Jesus in every area and situation of our lives. For example: would I feel comfortable with Jesus joining a typical conversation I have with my friends or colleagues at work? Would I be comfortable with him walking up to me while I listen to, laugh at, or tell that dirty joke? Would I feel comfortable with Jesus knocking at the door or walking into my home when I am watching a particular show or movie on TV? Being a believer comes with a lot of responsibility to go against the grain. To talk, behave, entertain ourselves, and dress ourselves as though we are always in the company of Jesus because we ARE always in His company. Perhaps this is the question we should be asking: If I was going around with Jesus and introducing Him to other people, how would I dress myself? Would that low-cut shirt take attention off of Jesus and put it onto myself? Would I be representing Jesus to others well by how I am dressed, talking, behaving?

        Reply
    • Lisa

      I’m okay with Jesus seeing me naked, in my underwear, lingerie, etc. So not a good measure of what to wear in public.

      Reply
  20. Jeff

    Sorry, didn’t see an edit function.

    Reply
  21. Carrie

    I grew up with the idea of causing men to sin as the main reason for modesty. Unfortunately this can easily become blame on a girl who was raped, because she was dressing to cause men to sin.
    Through a lot of study and prayer I have decided that I want to dress in a way that makes me feel good about myself. I want people to notice me as a strong confident woman, not a sex object. I feel that is showing respect to myself and the body God has given me.
    How we act is much more important than how we dress, but if people can’t notice how we act because of our clothing then we need to adjust it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very wise, Carrie! And this sums it up exactly: “How we act is much more important than how we dress, but if people can’t notice how we act because of our clothing then we need to adjust it.”

      Yes, and we may need to adjust it at EITHER spectrum. That’s what those arguing for an absolute standard of modesty don’t understand. Culture changes, and if we want to be approachable, we do need to fit in. This isn’t a moral issue.

      Also, if everybody else in the culture is wearing X, and you choose to wear Y because X may be too immodest and enticing, well, isn’t that a bit of a silly argument? I mean, if X is honestly that bad, and every other woman is wearing it, then if it is that bad, your husband should just stay home and never leave the house so he doesn’t see it. When everybody is doing X, X loses its power. It really does. That’s why the form fitting jeans aren’t a big deal today in the way they would have been in the 1990s. Obviously there are exceptions on the very edges, but I do think that people are forgetting that if literally every other woman pretty much is wearing something, then the argument “this item of clothing is far too sexy and will cause men to sin” is off. The horse has already left the gate. The cat’s out of the bag. However you want to word it. So the important thing to ask is, “in this culture in which I am in now, where everybody wears X, how can I look both like I’m approachable and that I respect myself?”

      Reply
      • Carrie

        Yes. Well said.
        The funny thing is I’m currently shopping for a swimsuit. The one I’m leaning towards has Capri pant bottoms and a tank top. My family goes swimming almost every day during the summer and I have fair skin. I don’t want to use gallons of sunscreen. So is wearing this suit going to make people uncomfortable because I’m too far on the modest side?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I do the same thing! In fact, I have a big “rash shirt” with a zipper up the front that I wear just because I burn, baby, burn. Sometimes you just have to do what you need to do for your health! (Skin cancer ain’t nice).

          Reply
          • Lea

            I have a rash guard for the beach and it’s not about being modest, it’s 100% about skin protection. Useful things !

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Sometimes you just don’t have a choice. I definitely do not!

        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          Carrie I think that a lot of people understand when there are health issues like propensity to sunburn. 🙂

          Something I’ve been talking about with some of my friends, too, is that we want to be ourselves within the context of culture. So much of the modesty culture is about covering yourself to please others or attain a certain level of “holiness.” I was told so often by youth leaders that girls who dress modestly are more desirable, more Christ-like, and better examples of women of God than those who show cleavage. That’s not an OK thing to teach teenagers. But if you’re someone who is naturally quite modest and prefers to be that way simply because that’s who you are, you can do so in a way that is separate from those kinds of mindsets that lead to others feeling judged.

          I have friends who are just more reserved than I am. I have no problem with the way I dress because it’s not inappropriate, but some of the things that I wear they would be quite uncomfortable with and it wouldn’t be right for them to wear them for that reason. So with the bathing suit thing and all other clothing choices I think that’s the lens we need to look at: is this a good representation of ME, and am I wearing this for good reasons or is it to help me feel superior? If we can answer those two questions well, I think it all sorts itself out.

          Reply
  22. Nick Peters

    The original context of 1 Timothy 2 is not really about sexual temptation so much as it is about social status. Don’t try to dress to look rich or something of that sort. Wear something appropriate to your social status.

    Reply
  23. Mary

    I appreciate this post a lot, especially as someone who grew up with the viewpoint of “Every Man’s Battle.” But also as someone who is slim, but very curvy, I got a lot of sexual harassment in college. Those two experiences make it hard for me to even want to dress nicely for my husband. How can I not want to cover up when I’ve literally gotten cat-called for wearing something nice, that’s not even tight fitting? Also, how do you dress modestly when you’re out and about, but when it isn’t “revealing enough” for your husband? I feel like regardless of what I wear, I’m either going to feel uncomfortable or my husband won’t be “enjoying my view”.

    Reply
  24. Wifeofasexaddict

    What really needs to happen is for men to learn to see women as humans with thoughts and feelings and struggles and all the humanness instead of a collection of body parts to be “taken” for their pleasure. If men did this a woman could wear nothing at all and they wouldnt lust. Lust is a sin that happens in the heart, not in the body- or clothing – of the person listed after. Women never cause men to lust. Men do this on their own when they think of women as sexual objects for their pleasure instead of humans.

    Reply
  25. SMB

    Hey thanks for posting!! I agree and disagree. While I think you can take modesty too far… And be as you said unapproachable, but there is such a thing as immodesty.

    Ask any young man if they see a woman dressed but with very little fabric, they NATURALLY begin to have impure thoughts (lusting in their hearts ) it is then, there responsibility to make the effort to overcome those thoughts in order to look at the woman with a pure love.
    But why would we as women initiate the battle for men? And in essence be the reason why there were tempted.
    I where regular clothes and love to look beautiful! But modesty is important.

    In the old Testament, you veiled what was holy. In the same way, we veil our bodies because they are sacred–Gods temple.

    Our bodies are holy. Sex is holy. But both gifts can be abused.

    Reply
  26. Dan

    I tend to agree with this article but lean towards saying that modest dress is not a cultural issue where you pick the norm in general. In terms of modesty there are other passages where lust and dress are addressed and the responsibility seems to be on both sexes proverbs 6
    from the smooth talk of a wayward woman.
    25 Do not lust in your heart after her beauty
    or let her captivate you with her eyes.

    Proverbs 8 the loose women dressed like a prostitute seeking the foolish man with enticing dress and words like an ox to the slaughter

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I guess I don’t really see how those verses show it’s not something where we should dress like the norm in our culture? The “norm” in culture is not to dress like a prostitute. But it does mean wearing form-fitting clothes that are flattering.

      The problem is that we like to believe that there are certain rules set in stone about clothes and it’s just not true. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that girls shouldn’t wear skirts above their knees. But that’s a rule that many of us were taught WAS biblical. Fashion is not in the Bible because it really is a solely cultural construct.

      But what we need to focus on is more the message of what we wear, not the individual items. Is the message one that is good, or one that is misleading? That’s what the article is saying. Even dressing too modestly can send the wrong message–it can send one of “I believe I am superior to you,” even if in your heart that is not what you think.

      Reply
  27. Mike

    Thought provoking article! And yet it seems to reflect a modern lukewarm trend. Where in the bible does it teach that we should base our decisions on people and their reaction rather than God? Do we obey or be politically correct? Where do we have an example of teaching that as Christians we should not do something that brings conviction to another? Yes, I understand especially in the American culture people have been trained to take offense if something convicts them but do we change to accommodate the devil’s mindset? Where is compromise found in the bible? You carry some great points in the article,we should walk charitably and never with pride. Unfortunately there are many very religious people that may be very ‘modest’ but unapproachable. I agree that that is from God. But let’s not kick the cat if it was actually the dog that barked at night. A woman with a warm,approachable amd friendly spirit that dresses modestly and walks with shamefacedness is becominh quite rare. Let’s not seek ‘new’ solutions when theu are clear in the bible. Let’s allow God to set the standard and follow that,no matter what people say. Jesus made it clear that it’s not possible to believe and try to appease people at the same time. We follow him,walk in love towards all people and let the devil rage at us,call us religious or whatever he wants to. Especially study early church history,its very enlightening on the life of a true disciple. May God bless all his disciples here!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Again, Mike, I’d point you to 1 Corinthians 9–he became all things to all people. He related to people according to the culture (just look at Paul’s sermon in Athens, where he talked about their unknown god). That’s all I’m saying–let’s be approachable. Part of that will involve what we dress. If you walk into a room and everyone is dressed extremely differently from you, you will feel uncomfortable and out of place. We shouldn’t do that to unbelievers. It’s really quite simple. It’s not compromise. I think people get way too hung up about clothes, and we need to stop. Let’s focus instead on relationship and building relationship, which is what Paul was all about. And part of that is putting people at ease. If people would rather talk about women should be wearing than how we should get along with people, then I do think there’s a big problem in the church.

      Reply
    • Mother of many

      I agree, Mike!

      There are two groups of angels mentioned in heaven. Why two? Well, because they have different roles: the warriors and the ones who continuously praise God. Do you realize they are designed differently? One set has a set of wings that are exclusively used as a covering. Why? Is there a lust issue in Heaven? The covering of our bodies has a much holier role than attempting to prevent lust. Lust is a heart issue, and so is how we dress. I don’t think culture should be the ruler by which our standards are set. I also don’t think there is only one way that men or women should dress. But I do think God has general guidelines that He is honored by. The most basic of which is keeping the genders distinct.

      The accusations within the post and many of the comments where others feel “judged” when a woman is dressing with full covering is disappointing at best. Why does a woman wearing a long skirt and not wearing make up make anyone else feel “judged” or make her seem unapproachable? That doesn’t make sense to me. Unless those around her are reminded of a difference that they’d rather not be held accountable to.

      God does see the heart, and the heart is, of course, the most important. However, don’t forget that God-inspired Scripture says God sees differently than man does. Man looks on the outward, so what we wear, don’t wear, how we wear it….all of that does make a difference!

      Reply
  28. Jwrotniak

    I really appreciate this post, very insightful and it made me view that scripture in a way I never have before so thank you so much, I just want to say though in response to some of the comments In this thread about men lusting no matter what women wear and groping etc that that is simply not true. Men are not lust bags walking around looking to take advantage. I have three sons of my own. Men are our brothers in Christ and wonderfully created by our Maker. Can we please not speak so disrespectfully of them.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s an excellent point. I don’t think people realize how insulting it is to say that all men lust and will never defeat it.

      Reply
      • Jwrotniak

        Thank you XX

        Reply
  29. Mom

    I dress conservatively because I got tired of other women’s judgement and cold shoulders. We live in a rural area and people dress pretty modestly. I thought I did, I never wore short skirts or tight jeans, my tank tops never low. But I just got sick of the judgement. Large breasted women are subject to the anger of other women no matter how hard they try. Also, I try to care about men and how difficult it is for them, I have three brothers and three sons, and it is hard for them to even watch TV sometimes. I guess you could say that modestly dressing is my way of being polite.

    Reply
  30. Diana

    Thank you! I was talking about this today. In my church, it is traditional for the “first lady” to be very dressy. My thought has been that if I am too dressy, it could turn away those who visit our church because they would think they “can’t dress like her.”

    Reply
  31. SS

    I agree with a lot that’s in this article. However, fashion changes overtime and there are trend setters who pave the way to do so. I like to think of myself as changing the trend and I know there are people who disagree and would say I’m not modest.

    My clothing is modest, however, I have discovered the freedom of wearing a bralette. This means my girls are not trapped in a padded, wired cage. They look more natural and move more natural. I am more comfortable and I believe in the health benefits of this too.

    The younger generation of women are the real trend setters but I’m in my 40’s and would like to see my generation embrace a more natural way of dressing.

    Sometimes I fear being immodest, but I remember that bras actually make breasts appear bigger, higher up and look more perfect than they actually are. That can be seen as immodest as well.

    Reply
  32. Katie

    That’s a great way of looking at it! That’s pretty much what I go by. Our job is not just to not cause men to lust, but to say something about Jesus with everything we do, including with what we wear. Do we want other women to think, “If I became a Christian, I’d have to give up pants and hair dye?”

    I also have my “non-negotiable areas” that must be covered even if I’m going on vacation or a wedding or something (for me it’s my shoulders, my chest a hand width under the collarbone, and then everything to just above the knee — but that’s gonna be different for every woman). I might be the only one in a dress with sleeves at some event, but I don’t think I stand out too much.

    P.S. I live in Europe and topless beaches aren’t the norm. There are more nudist beaches than there are in the US/Canada, but on an average beach, you’re not gonna be seeing any breasts. (Kids under 4 or so tend to be naked, though.)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Okay, I totally don’t know how I managed to do it, but I’ve been at three European beaches (2 in Germany and 1 in France) and they were all basically nudist, and I had absolutely NO idea before we got there! Once we were with a missions team on our day off. It was seriously scarring. 🙂

      Reply
  33. Ace

    Came across your post today and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I grew up in a very conservative church where not making guys stumble was pretty much a rule, I felt judged and ashamed of my body (I developed earlier that girls my age) and that led to all sort of issues. I hated it.
    Working in the fashion industry felt like a breath of fresh air, I’ve never been into super revealing stuff, but I could finally express myself freely.
    Your post though really spoke to my heart. I work in New York but attend church in a smaller town, and recently a younger girl made a comment to me about how I probably wouldn’t like something because it wasn’t “high end”. I felt so awful, that people around me felt I couldn’t relate to them. I’m in my 20s and love helping younger girls, but this really showed me many probably won’t approach me based on that. THANK YOU! I really need to work on it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad it could help, Ace!

      Reply
  34. Dirk

    I think that something that needs more emphasis is to remember that your body is a temple made for us by God to house our spirits. One needs to keep this in mind when choosing how to dress. One should dress in a way that shows respect to the temple that God made for us and not in a way that exploits or demeans it. I think if someone is flaunting their body to the public they are exploiting their personal temple.

    Reply
  35. Joe Caveman

    As with many people, I appreciate this blog post. Just yesterday, my pastor gave a sermon on modesty, and I was pretty disappointed in it. I can go into more detail in case anybody is interested, but there was something else that I wanted to focus on in this comment: autonomous cars. (Bet ya’ didn’t see that coming, hah!) It’s actually about the reasoning behind your figure of 40%, but it’s related to an issue with autonomous cars.

    One of the behaviors that the cars’ programmers will have to specify is, “Will the car speed, and if so, by how much?”. There are good arguments in favor of traveling at the speed limit, and decent arguments for traveling at the speed of traffic. My preferred solution is to split the difference–calculate the speed of traffic, and travel at the speed that is halfway between that and the speed limit. If everyone does that, then the speed of traffic will converge to the speed limit over time.

    I think you’re proposing a similar approach with modesty. You think that people should dress more modestly than average, but not absurdly so (just like I propose that autonomous cars should speed less than average, but not absurdly so). What I’d like to know, though, is where you’d like the bar for “average” move to. I’m assuming you wouldn’t be proposing that we dress more modestly than average if, for example, 100% of women wore burqas and 50% wore niqabs, but your rule as stated would advise women to wear the niqab. What specifically would you like to see our modesty standard converge to?

    Reply
    • Joe Caveman

      I think I’m getting the names of various Muslim garments incorrect, so let me reword that part to make sure my point came across: the scenario is that half of women cover their entire body in draping clothes except the face, while the other half of women cover the entire body in draping clothes expect for a tiny slit for the eyes. I suspect you wouldn’t advise women in such a society to wear the latter garment (especially if the standards for men were much more lenient!), but the 40% principle would.

      Reply
  36. Rachel

    I think that we need to change how we talk about modesty. I co-led a pornography addiction group for male college students. Yes, women are not responsible for what sin men may or may not do. Let’s be honest, sexy is often about what is left to the imagination anyway. 😉 First impressions are hard to break….

    However what we wear tells a LOT about ourselves. It says what we think of ourselves and (sometimes more importantly) what we want others to think of us. When I am dressed with skirts half way up my thigh and cleavage showing what does that tell others about how I view myself? Do I respect myself or do I want people to view me for my body only? Do I want people to see me and respect for my mind and my personality and my attitude?

    Another point is that we as women are going to judge each other more than men judge us for what we wear.

    I don’t dress frumpy but I don’t dress to the culture’s standards.

    Reply
    • Athena

      An interest comment to note though is that I can’t remember the last time I saw a women dressed as you describe in a thigh high skirt with her boobs hanging out. I think we sometimes exaggerate what we think the accepted norms are because we may be afraid of them at times. Yes maybe some girls going to the pub dress like that but on a day to day basis that would be the exception to see out and about!

      Reply
  37. Kirsten

    Such a good post! I remember visiting Europe with a girlfriend – I was in my good-Christian-girl one piece on a beach full of bikinis and topless women. Guess who got the stares from guys? Me. I stood out and got FAR more (unwanted) attention others. I was SO uncomfortable and it really made me reconsider what I was trying to accomplish with my dress. If I really wanted to help men avoid lust (the rule I was taught in regards to modesty) blending in would have been way more beneficial that day than covering up more.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s actually funny! Yep. I remember those beaches.

      Reply
  38. Megan

    This is only peripherally on topic, but made me think of a conversation I had recently with a mixed-age & denomination group of Christian women. We were talking about judging others and I said I’d so much rather a woman in spaghetti straps feel welcomed at church than not, because we want her to know Jesus. Some women in the group disagreed with me – they felt like she shouldn’t be welcome because of the problems it would cause the men. It made me so sad/frustrated!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I find that VERY difficult when women take that view. It is as if the husband lusting is more serious an issue than someone meeting Christ–when the husband should know better and should have the Holy Spirit powerful in his life.

      Reply
    • Jeannie Miller

      Classic case of the traditions of men making the Word if God of none effect!!!

      Reply
  39. Angelina

    Thank you for the great post! I am wondering now though, if it’s wrong to try to dress nicely when the people around me dress mostly frumpy? I’m a mom of two young kids and have been working this year on trying to dress a bit nicer than sweat pants and t-shirts all the time. I feel a lot happier and more self confident when I dress nicer. But I’m around a lot of other young moms, and most other people in my town aren’t that well dressed either, so I stand out wearing something like burgundy jeans, plain black top, leopard print scarf and black ankle boots, for example. (Not trying to be unkind to moms or other people, just saying I feel my best when I put a bit of effort into my clothing choices.) Should I try to dress less nice to try to make them feel more comfortable? I don’t know if I’m doing the wrong thing.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, absolutely! I think that’s a matter of personal style, and if it makes you feel good, then do it. I wrote a series on fighting the frump a while ago, too, that may help! I think the key is whether we’re dressing with too many expensive designer labels. But just wanting to look put together is totally a matter of personal style.

      Reply
      • Angelina

        That makes sense, thank you! I definitely don’t wear designer labels (unless I find something from a thrift store haha) so that’s not a problem. Thanks for the link to the series too, I’ve enjoyed reading a few posts of it so far!

        Reply
  40. Susan

    Our church teaches to cover stomach, back, and shoulders. Not too tight or short.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I wonder, does your church prepare the boys and men to be able to function in the real world where the vast, vast majority of women do not dress like this? Because this is quite strict in terms of modesty rules. In the churches I go to, women do not dress like this but are still dressed appropriately. It’s concerning when modesty is made into a list of rules because I worry that the girls are told to judge others based on what they wear and the boys are never taught how to respect women regardless of what they dress like.

      Reply
  41. Karina

    This topic lands on some personal experiences for a lot of us, I can tell. I affirm and appreciate your perspective! I have relatives who fall into the legalistically conservative category, and when I was young, although a fellow Christian, I grew up feeling inferior to my plain dressing cousins. They were not overtly judgy, but their strict dress code spoke loudly to me as a girl. I did not fit in. Sadly, they still require this mode of dress from those who join their churches, regardless of cultural background. Also, I wholeheartedly reject the notion that modesty is for the purpose of preventing lust. The message that sends about our responsibility for our own actions and bodies is just so messed up.

    Reply
  42. Amanda

    I agree 100% and I love that you gave the context and perspective for this passage of scripture. Could you also address (or tell me if you have already) the scripture in Romans 14:13 when it talks about “not being a stumbling block”? I know that is another one people in the church have used to encourage women to dress modestly for the sake of men.

    Reply
  43. Rae

    I really enjoyed this post. I found it quite thought provoking and I’ve wondered about this verse awhile since modesty in 1 Tim 2:9 talks about rich clothes and not sexual clothes, though I akways heard it preached that way. Nice to know I’m not crazy haha
    I have a genuine question I’m know sure if you can answer, Sheila. I heard a pastor preach that 1 reason women should wear dresses is because the Greek for the word modesty in this verse means a “loose flowy garment”, and how can pants (with the exceptions of a few) be considered loose and flowy? That was his argument. Does that Greek really mean that? And if so, how do we reconcile that with wearing yoga pants for example? Note, I’m not 100% sure it was this verse he claimed the Greek definition for, but I am like 90% sure.
    I wear pants myself but I sometimes wonder about that verse. But again, it does seem to be more about making people comfortable than specific garments.

    Reply
    • Rae

      A side note, it’s so ironic I read this today. Recently I was talking to a coworker about clothes and bidy features we like and dislike, and she had noticed my butt is always covered with a long sweater or shirt. I thought to myself, if she were to ask me why, and I were to give a typical response I’ve always been taught such as, oh it’s just for my husband. She would probably feel like, ok then what am I just showing off to everyone??? I realized that would make her so uncomfortable!
      Unfortunately my husband and I are not on the same page with dress and modesty. We met at a very strict christian college and have since stayed in our faith but left a lot of the manmade extras. However I’m a lot more “liberal” than he is, and I kind of feel stuck because I’ve grown a lot since we married and am no longer the same person. He has grown a lot too, but still clings to some of those strict beliefs. Praying something changes.
      But was very interesting to read this since I just had those thoughts about my coworker, but I feel like I can’t dress how I personally think is “modest” because it will cause friction in my marriage.

      Reply
  44. Jo

    I’m just curious because as I was reading this, I began to feel very guilty about how I dress, not because I’m “immodest” (in the usual sense of the word), actually I am fairly conservative in that realm, but because I generally don’t like the modern trends, but prefer older, i.e Edwardian/1930s/40s, styles so that reflects in how I dress. My major is in fashion (specifically fashion history), and I’m an artist as well. I see what I wear as an expression of creativity. It is a form of art, and clothing is my medium (I’m a trained seamstress). I generally don’t fit in wherever I go, because I’m wearing vintage or clothing I’ve made myself to look like it’s from the 1900s. I don’t do this to stand out (actually I dislike that unfortunate side effect), but because I feel most myself, most inspired, most authentic to who I am when I dress in what I love. Most of my clothing is thrifted or second hand, or made by me, & cost very little (I’m on an extremely tight budget), but because I like older styles, which tend to be more dressy, I often see people equate “fancy” for “expensive”, which is a complete misjudgment. My point is, for me, since this is my creative outlet & I greatly dislike modern trends on an aesthetic level, to dress like the 40% in the bell curve, would mean to kill that part of my creative expression, to stifle it, and bury it. It would feel false to myself…like I was trying to compress what I love into a box so that others feel comfortable with themselves. But on the other hand, I don’t want to be “immodest”, or be a stumbling block to people feeling welcomed, comfortable, & safe to be who they are. I’ve experienced so much isolation & rejection in my life that I would grieve so deeply if anyone ever felt unwelcomed in my presence. In the end, what I’m trying to say is how to I reconcile who I am, how I dress, my creative need to express myself, to also living within biblical modesty? What it seems like you are saying is that I have to dress like most people around me, in order not to be a hindrance to the unity of the church; that the way I have been dressing has been making others feel excluded. Must we conform & compress, & stifle our unique sense of style, so that others feel like they can fit in? I would never look at someone’s unique sense of style as a stumbling block to my inclusion to a church. That seems ridiculous. I believe that if someone is looking at how I dress, and then they feel unwelcomed, excluded, or anything of that sort simply on that basis alone, this says more about their character than it does about mine. How in this description of modesty, is there any room for creative expression? It seems like it still puts the undue blame and responsibility on the wrong party– that I have to compress myself into a box, so others don’t have to deal with their own sense of insecurity & misjudgment. If a person can feel welcomed, simply on the basis of clothing alone, then I would say that person has a lot of emotional work that needs to be done on their side, as far as where their worth, security, & acceptance is coming from. But your answer seems to be instead, if a person is feeling excluded or insecure, instead of them taking responsibility of that, it’s my fault for not dressing like them, so I need to stop dressing in a way that expresses who I am, so they can feel more comfortable in who they are. I completely understand that we should not flaunt wealth, make people feel excluded on socioeconomic status, or put value in designer brands (I don’t buy them because I think there is an absurd idolatry of them). But I don’t believe dressing in the 40% rule, or like most people we see is the answer to that– because that means people like me, who find fashion a creative art, feel like we can’t wear anything unique or unusual without being seemed “immodest” or “exclusive” on these terms.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Jo, I’d LOVE to meet you in person and show me your fashion sense! I’d love it. I think we should be creative–no problem at all.

      Thanks for bringing this up, because I obviously wasn’t clear enough. What I mean more is in terms of how much skin are we showing–or what would might normally considered modest vs. immodest. That’s where the 40% comes in. But we can do that in a variety of fashions! And I think your personality can be the kind of thing that judges whether you’re welcoming or not. I think you sound like people would find you interesting and fun to be with, not stuck up. Again, I think the issue in the Ephesian church that Timothy was writing about was a class one.

      Reply
  45. Neil Fix

    This reminds me of the idea some people have, particularly historically, of dressing up to go to church. I thought about that a lot, as I never really understood it, until I realised that casual clothing is a fairly modern thing. Until probably the seventies, most people only ever wore suits, so casual clothing would have been quite noticeable. Now it isn’t, but in church is one of the few places it’s still common.

    Reply

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