Can you be a lady without being modest?

I saw a girl over my lunch break the other day that was wearing a teeny-tiny little dress.  It was a strapless dress that she kept tugging to stay up, and it barely covered her bottom when she sat down.  With summer upon us, I think it is an excellent time to talk about modesty.  Last summer I was at a baseball game on the 4th of July in Kansas City and it was HOT.  It was so hot and humid and miserable that I wanted to strip down to my underwear and run through a sprinkler.  But I do know even though it is difficult and takes effort, it is possible to dress modestly even on the hottest days.

shortswhite dressgreen dresscutoffs

(striped top from shabby apple, white dress from etsy, green dress from shabby apple vest outfit from a pretty penny)

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” - Matthew 5:28

I didn’t use to really think anything of this verse, as it seems to only address guys.  But do you notice that it says he has committed adultery with her?  Would you commit adultery with that grandpa you pass on the street, or the teenage boy who bags your groceries?  I didn’t think so.  So why do we as women think it is ok for us to dress in a way that invites them go there with us in their minds?

Because we have such a deep desire to be seen as beautiful we are often willing to sacrifice the purity of the men around us on the altar of our own beauty.  Women will flippantly say that it’s the guys problem not theirs, all the while selfishly enjoying the attention their clothing choices gain them.  But it’s not just the guy’s purity we are compromising when we ignore God’s way in the area of modesty, it is our own.

Modesty is definitely a heart issue.  How we present ourselves stems either from how we view ourselves or how we desire to be viewed. Whether you like it or not, the way you dress speaks louder than what is coming out of your mouth.  You can talk all day long about how you “deserve” to be treated, or how you wish there were more chivalrous gentlemen in the world, but until you change how you dress, you won’t gain their respect.

Guys aren’t the only ones who can lose respect for a woman who dresses immodestly.  I personally have a really hard time hearing any kind of advice from a woman who dresses for that kind of attention.  If you consistently fail to present yourself in a way befitting a lady who professes to worship God (1 Timothy 2:9-10) how can I trust your advice on matters of the heart?

If you are unsure about some of the clothing in your closet, please seek some godly counsel.  When I was in high school I asked my brother if he thought my choices were modest by asking him if he would want his future wife to wear it in front of other guys.  If the answer was no, I threw it out.  My Momma also taught me what it meant to be a modest lady through her clothing choices and thoughtful advice.  Even though I had the godly advice and practice of many years of dressing modestly, I still sometimes struggle when the cutest clothing out there seems to be a little too tight or too low or too short.  But I know that a cute outfit in no way compares to the blessings of dressing modestly.

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” – Margaret Thatcher

Update (6/18/2013):
There have been many questions and comments in response to this post, so let me clarify a few things.

1. A man is always responsible for his own actions and thoughts.  An immodestly dressed woman can not “make” him go there.  However, if we desire to honor and glorify God, we will care enough about our brothers in Christ who were made with a strong desire for the female body, and will dress appropriately.  Dressing to please God puts His will above your own, and your brother in Christ’s well-being above your own preference.  Being considerate of a brother’s weakness does not justify his sin.

2. We are not about to start making up rules for dressing modestly.  The standard we need to hold ourselves to is God’s Word, not man-made guidelines.  God did not outline the exact details of what we should or shouldn’t wear, but he does require modesty and decency of dress for a godly woman.  It is up to each female Christ follower to examine her heart according to God’s Truth.  Who are you trying to please with what you are wearing?  And if God prompts your heart that what you are wearing is immodest, are you willing to get rid of it to please him?

Our value and worth comes from the fact that we are made in the image of God.  Nothing can change that.  We were bought with a (very high) price ladies - therefore, let us honor God with our bodies.

We were in no way expecting the attention this post is receiving.
Unfortunately, we are unable to continue approving, nevertheless responding to comments.
For this reason, we have decided to disable comments for this post.

If you are interested in more modesty talk please see this article.  She addresses the issue in much more depth and explains it so much better than I ever could! 

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160 thoughts on “Can you be a lady without being modest?

  1. I believe modesty is as much a heart issue as anything. The reason we shouldn’t wear low cut tops or short dresses is because if you move the wrong way, you will be showing parts of your body that shouldn’t be shared with others. I have a friend who posted a picture of herself posing in a pair of stocks, like they used to use in the early days of our country, and her top was so low that all you can see is her boobs hanging there. As a woman, I don’t care to see it any more than any other person. If you can’t lean over without showing what bra you put on that day or letting people see down your shirt, or you can’t get out of the car without flashing your panties because your skirt is too short, you probably shouldn’t wear that. Men are responsible for their thought lives and how they act on it, but when you are at church and lean over to pick something up and flash the guy behind or next to you, you sure aren’t helping your brother overcome sexual temptation. Wearing clothes that are too tight and show the outline of your undergarments are just as bad. Perhaps that pair of white pants is technically modest, but you put on a pair of hot pink panties that can be seen through the cloth of the pants, you have just rendered that pair of pants to be immodest. There is nothing with wanting to look cute and attractive, but when that is your goal whenever walking out the door, perhaps you should re-evaluate your heart and motives. Our chief goal in life should be to honor God, and if our clothing is detracting from that, then we aren’t honoring Him.

  2. Your blog post made me grab my Strong’s concordance. I wanted to make sure “with” actually meant “with” and not another Greek preposition, which the language has so many of. Long story short, not only does the word mean “with” but it means “closely associated and involved” thanks for the food for thought.

  3. I agree with being modest, 100%, however there is a lot I find wrong in this post. First, it places most of the responsibility for men’s thoughts on the women — what happened to agency? We are taught that men are “visual,” but that’s not inherently true. As a society, we teach men that women are for them to look at sexually (and likewise we teach women that we are to be looked at — why do you think so many women dress immodestly? So people will look at them, because we’ve been taught that’s what we’re for. Being looked at.) and we create men who are “visual” but it is not natural and can be overcome. If you look at several other cultures around the world, you can see that it is certainly not natural for men to lust after women as much as they do here.
    Also, the reason for modesty is not because of what others may think or because our bodies are shameful or too arousing (again, that places the responsibility for others on you, which is not how agency works). Modesty is not something that changes with one more or less inch in an article of clothing. Modesty is an attitude. An attitude of respect for yourself and your body — your body that is amazing, wonderful, capable of so much (we can grow people in us for crying out loud!), and above all it is sacred! That is why we’re modest– not for anyone else, but for ourselves because we have love and respect for ourselves and our incredible bodies. If we come to understand that, then dressing immodestly is no longer a temptation, because you aren’t dressing for others to look at you. You’re dressing for yourself.

  4. Excellent article that needs to be heard and preached!

    To those who have posted saying that “Biblically” LUST is only Men’s problem, I would like to submit to you that this is a two way street. Certainly we men are responsible for our own thoughts and actions and we are responsible for “turning the other way.” However, if you understand the meaning of the Biblical term “Lasciviousness,” you will understand that this is certainly a two way street. Lasciviousness means: “being lustful, loose or lewd; promoting lustful desires in others.” Jesus talks about it in Mark 7:20-23. Women, if what you are wearing or the way you are wearing it is promoting lustful desires in others, then you are just as guilty as the man who lusts after you! If you don’t like that, tell it to Jesus, because He said it not me!

  5. I know this is such a touchy subject. In the fall, I taught a girls’ class, and when we got to the “modesty” lesson, I had some girls nearly choose to not attend class that day. What I told my girls is that modesty is not ONLY in the way you dress, but in how you speak, act, see others. . .modesty is a life aspect, not a dress aspect. It is also not determined by fashion. As you said, it goes back to the heart. If someone is playing on their iPod or texting during church. . .if someone is having a conversation during a prayer. . .you are going to have your attention called to it and be distracted from the focus of worship. If a man is trying to serve communion and when he looks down to pass the tray and is immediately visually accosted by the tops of a woman’s breasts and plunging cleavage, that is the woman’s responsibility AND the man’s. why would a woman OR a man want to knowingly put someone in a bad situation. Love one another in word, action, and deed.

  6. I am a 47 year old male. I was reading about this topic on another site and someone left a very interesting comment that I would like to share. Basically, the comment suggested that many females (not all, or even most) may have less awareness of their provocativeness because “feminist social opprobrium and sexual harassment law have prevented the natural male response to immodest dress from occurring. Young women think they are merely being ‘pretty’ because they are no longer exposed to what really goes on in a man’s mind.” Now, obviously, boorish behavior from males has not gone away, but we are in a time now where a male can lose his job over making an inappropriate comment about how a woman looks (actually, they can lose their job from making any comment that can be *understood* as inappropriate).

    I would be interested in comments to this *theory*. Thanks.

    Here is the link to site I am referring to: http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2012/05/more-on-immodest-dress/

  7. I completely agree with you about dressing and behaving modestly, and all the points you raised for it.
    But, there is one thing that I’m not completely on board with, please hear me out and let me know your thoughts. You said “But do you notice that it says he has committed adultery with her? Would you commit adultery with that grandpa you pass on the street, or the teenage boy who bags your groceries?”
    I don’t know what it’s like where you come from or where you live, but from where I’ve come from and where I live, sadly, it doesn’t matter how modestly you are dressed. You will get blatantly and unabashedly gawked at till you feel violated, and that’s getting off easy! Are you familiar with the burqa Muslim women wear? Pretty modest, right? Doesn’t stop them being leered at, and worse. I know this. I’m Christian, and dress modestly too. But that doesn’t mean I’m exempted, which is why I felt uneasy when I read what you said. I’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure my dress and behaviour is pure, but I can see the lust in these passing strangers’ eyes – does that mean I have committed adultery with them? Nonetheless, I know that as long as I am vigilant and MY intention is good and pure, I’m okay.
    I wanted to share this because 1- I was the tiniest bit offended 2 – I am annoyed with the behaviour of some people, and 3 – to give you an insight into what society is like elsewhere. Again, I don’t know if it’s like this where you are, but this is my experience, and it isn’t a very nice one. Thank you for writing this piece.

  8. Hmm. A lot of good points here, but I’m a little troubled by your bolded emphases in the Matthew 5 verse, suggesting the objectified female is somehow complicit in an adulterous act. After all, dressing modestly is no guarantee that a man won’t look at you with lust. So is the woman still partly to blame, even if she’s dressed to an arbitrary standard of “modesty” like, say, model number 3? That seems like a pretty slippery road to head down. Women’s hearts need work, just like men’s, but there are plenty of other verses for that that don’t require syntactical tweaking. Let’s keep the emphasis where Jesus placed it here: “HE has committed adultery…”

  9. I am not a theologian, but I am a Christian. As I have gotten older and had children, I have made an effort to dress more modestly. However, I DO wear a bikini in public. Nothing skimpy, but flattering. Also, I wear strapless dresses. I wear sundresses ro church. I do have enough respect of myself to not wear anything super short. However, my shorts don’t come past my knees. They hit about mid thigh. Am I any less of a Christian? No. Am I trashy? No. I am a lady. I am married with 2 beautiful children. Now back to the first statement I made: I am not a theologian, but I am a Christian. The Bible says “come as you are”. So don’t push away those who may dress a little risque with these kinds of statements. Let them come as they are. Do you think God would turn them away for wearing something too short or too tight? Never! You may not be telling them they can’t come to church, but just as you say a woman’s clothing choices reflect her desire for God, your words reflect a different attitude.

  10. In today’s world, a skirt is considered “easy access”. So that is a reason why I wear jeans. And a guy can undress a woman in his mind regardless of what she may or may not be wearing. I am not responsible for another’s thoughts or actions. I am responsible for me only. Do I dress modestly? Yes. By your standards? No. But I don’t live to please others. And, if my husband is ok with me showing a little clevage, then I’m ok with it.

  11. The only question I could ask is what is the definition of modesty? What dictates if a girl is dressed such?

    There are some that say that a knee length skirt/shorts/dress is modest, while other claim that it’s mid thigh and still others that say mid calf. If we go strictly by the New Testament then women should have their heads covered. Or should we all walk around to the highest standards of modest dress and wear headscarves and ankle and wrist length clothing?

    That’s why I struggle with enforcing modesty in dress.

    It’s subjective.

    We are commanded to be modest in dress, but are left to our own for its definition. So why not teach that we shouldn’t judge another person’s righteousness off of his or her personal commitment to serve Deity.

  12. I wanted to say something, and I’ll try to be done with posting unless I get a reply/ since I’ve left a few comments on this. To be honest, this entire article struck a huge nerve with me.

    I was wearing a flowing maxi-dress with a high cut neckline at the store a few weeks ago, barely any skin showing from the neck down, and no, it wasn’t tight. A man stops dead in his tracks with two little boys in his grocery cart and goes “oh wow” as I walk past him. (Of course, I was oblivious to this and my mom had to point out what happened to me; she was furious) I did nothing to this man, and I wasn’t wearing anything immodest.

    When I was 17 and at work (at a pharmacy, nonetheless), I had some men blatantly tell me “you’re so sexy” about twenty times and a whole manner of other things. I was wearing a polo shirt that was 3 sizes too big, and it covered my khakis past my thighs. And I, and countless other women, have plenty of stories where men have obviously lusted after us and no, we didn’t “ask for it” with what we were wearing. So this whole “the woman has some part in it” thing is false. This is accusing my natural appearance, the beautiful body that God gave me, as being sinful.

    This belief that it’s somehow my fault is insulting, harmful, and quite frankly, hurtful. It’s part of the reason why I’ve rejected the church and cling to God to be the author of my faith.

    So how do people justify this? Am I still immodest? Is this somehow still my fault? So where is the line here? If I wear my hair in an attractive manner, is this a problem? What about a manicure? Should I even bother to wear makeup?

    I think you’re looking too far into the “with her” part of that verse. The word “with” can also imply and object. It could imply anything. The bigger message? Don’t lust. Just, don’t. If you catch an impure thought, don’t dwell on it. See a beautiful woman or man? Leave them be. After two seconds, be done with it.

  13. Chelsea, thanks for putting this out there to provoke us to consider modesty. I especially appreciate your advice to seek the opinion of godly men. Modesty is a matter of Biblical submission — where we as women submit our wardrobes to the scrutiny of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, and that we also consider what godly men have to say about modern fashions and trends. My husband has enlightened me about many aspects of modesty I did not understand as a single woman and I’m happy to try to dress above reproach in order to not defraud men. If we’re not willing to submit our wardrobe choices to the approval or disapproval of godly men (and especially God), it might reveal that we really don’t care whether or not we are a stumblingblock for sin in others’ lives. That would be a great shame.

  14. This post is an embarrassment to women. Women should not be judged based on the clothing they wear, nor should their clothing dictate whether or snot he is a person of worth. It is not a woman’s responsibility to wear clothing that prevents the male gaze. It is the fault of the man as he is the one who “committed adultery with his heart.” Why should women be judged for wearing what makes them comfortable and happy?

  15. I do not understand why a woman cannot just be free to be herself. My school launched a campaign called “Modest is Hottest” when I was in high school and as a woman I felt so wrong. I do not deserve to be put down because “God” decided that women should behave according to how a man’s behavior dictates he be. Women should be allowed to be themselves and stop trying to fit into what society dictates. I do not feel dressing modestly or any other form of dress should be promoted because women need to find themselves in their heart and learn who they are. Not dress however someone else says because “God” dictated men act like pigs. What about someone’s inner truth… that is what should be valued not modesty or any other convention that society holds dear. Celebrating myself is what I feel should come first and if one day I want to flaunt some curves and flaws then I should be free to without worrying about what “God” thinks. What makes a woman happy and at peace with herself is what should be put first. If modesty happens to be that road then more power to her but it is not the only choice. No one will love her more then herself. “God” and men should not be the deciding factor.

  16. Modesty is subjective and may I also add that the Bible says the world is only a few thousand years old? I’m a Christian teenager but I do believe that the world is changing and we cannot be stuck in the past. I will dress as I feel comfortable dressing. I do not think God is superficial.

  17. I believe that modesty is about being true to yourself, your WHOLE self. God gave me a womanly body and I’m not ashamed if my feminine qualities, so I’m not going to hide them under a muumuu (haha), HOWEVER I am going to be true to my whole self. If I have my top or bottom hanging out, I’m presenting myself as a set of breasts or a set of legs, not the whole woman I am. That’s how I look at modesty!

  18. Although I dress modestly, I personally think it is the choice of the girl. Not EVERY girl dresses that way to get lustful attention. It was mentioned that the author loves some clothes that aren’t in her eyes appropriate. It’s cute though so naturally we want it. Men are going to be lustful and impure by the time they know what they are looking at by children at school and every aspect of society. It’s how it is in this day and age. I do not agree however with girls under 18 getting to purchase clothing in whichever manner they choose. Until you are 18 it should be up to the discretion of the parent to decide what and what not to allow their child to wear. Other than that, the girls or guys are adults, and no one should judge them because of their personal preferences.

  19. The Bible says we all need to dress modestly not just women but we do hear more about women’s clothing choices. Bottom line is just be respectful. I worked retail for many years and was always glad when fall was here. No more looking at private parts that should be covered. Sorry but breasts falling out of tops and butt cheeks showing is not modest. Neither is real tight clothing.

  20. I have read several of the post concerning your original blog. Its sad that so many people think they can serve God and the world. It would have been better if Adam and Eve had not sinned and we could all run around in paradise naked as the day we were born but thats not how it is. NO ONE here is suggesting that it is OK to Lust after women or that if a woman is victimized that she is getting what she deserves. NO ONE is suggesting in this article that all the blame is on the woman. However, the Bible is clear. Women should dress modestly not because God is mean or wants to put all the responsibility on the woman BUT because he knows the condition of a mans thinking. Men are visual creatures by nature. You can teach them and train them all you want but human nature dictates that a man will form an opinion about a woman based on her appearance. Not only men, but other women will also form this opinion. Right, wrong or indifferent, this is true. If a man looks at you and lust and you are modestly dressed, then you are not in sin. HOWEVER, if you are dressed provocatively and the man looks on you and has a lustful heart you are both in sin. the way you dress is a condition of YOUR heart… This is what God says. If you have a problem with that, then you need to take it up with God. It is what it is…

  21. For me, the issue of who is at fault is a moot point. I don’t care if 100% of the blame is placed on the man… I do not want to be the object of any man’s lust. Period. I am embarrassed at clothing choices that I made in the past, and I hope to spare my daughter of that embarrassment one day. And yes, my husband and I will teach our sons about their responsibility when they are older, but it would seem a bit hypocritical to tell them to avert their gaze if a woman is too exposed but then allow our daughter to be that way herself.

  22. Pingback: My Thoughts on What You Ought to Wear…and What You Ought Not to Wear. Where Has Modesty Gone…Part 3 | A cultured young gentleman and his quest for...for...something astounding

  23. 1 Cor 8 and Romans 14 are especially relevant to this issue. Women can’t have the attitude of “it’s the guy’s problem, not mine” according to those Scriptures.

  24. Thank you for this! I went on a tear about this on my own blog. Here I will just add my agreement, and say I find the comments very amusing. Here you have a post dedicated to one particular aspect of an issue, and you have people commenting that you must also address every other bit of the issue, whether or not it affects the target audience (What about those evil men? I’ll just skip over the things you are saying to me!), and also insisting that your words represent something else entirely (Modesty culture is an evil plot to justify rape!) But I had best end before my sarcasm gets away from my control.

  25. Thank you! I feel like women are being exploited by our culture. I have a great compassion for woman who are blindly following without thinking of how they really look. In my mind it is a matter of self respect. I attend weddings and see men who are modestly dressed, and women who are very exposed and it burns me up that men are culturally allowed to be decent and women are culturally coerced into being undressed. I feel women are being used and also wrongly pitted against each other in competition. I enjoy being beautiful in the eyes of my husband and that is all I need. As I have heard it said before, “If you are not in the business, don’t advertise.”

  26. Clothiers do not always have a good selection of modest dresses. Sometimes a size larger will fit so much better. And, dresses are cooler to wear in this hot and humid weather. Girls that dress modestly should be appaulded for making good choices.

  27. I have 2 little boys; one getting close to the pre-teen years. It scares me to think of what they will face in their teenage & young adult stages. Pornography is already a mounting concern; then when you throw girls/women who are vying for attention in a negative/immodest way, it makes this mom of 2 Christian boys even more gun shy. Yes, they are responsible for their thoughts and as a mom, I must instill in them a Godly character; but we are not to be a stumbling block to anyone either. So girls, the next time you go out looking “cute” in your short mini skirts or swanky tank tops that shows WAY too much….think about who your audience is, what message you are sending about yourself, and the young man or even older man YOU are choosing to tempt in an unhealthy way.

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