When I was in middle school, my best friend gave me this book. It contained rules for modest clothing. She and her mom had both read it, and they had thrown away a ton of their clothes because they weren’t modest enough. Rules included: no spaghetti straps and no shirts lower than a handbreadth below the collarbone.
Modesty, like any other gray area, can cause a lot of problems. I have found that there are as many different opinions on it as there are families. Bikinis are absolutely not OK, one girl from your church believes. Another girl wears them frequently to the beach. Yoga pants cause boys to stumble, one mom posts on FB. Your mom wears them all the time to the gym. You see the Duggar girls on TV, with fabric from the knee to the neck. You grew up in shorts and tank-tops. Who is right? Who is modest?
There is no single answer, because modesty is ultimately relative to culture. In Regency England, ankles were considered extremely provocative. There are some islands where it is still common for women to go topless. Completely topless.
“But culture shouldn’t be our standard for modesty,” you might say. “The Bible should be our standard for everything.” So let’s take a look at what the Bible says about modesty, shall we?
Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
These verses don’t really seem to fit with modern Christian ideas of modesty. In fact, they talk about modesty in an entirely different sense. There are no rules about the length of skirts here. And, unless we’re going to claim that gold wedding bands are entirely out of the question, and braided hair is sinful, it’s very clear that these verses are meant specifically for the culture at the time in the literal sense. So instead of applying the verses literally, let me try to extract the principle behind them. Here it is:
You should never wear something that is meant to draw attention to yourself and away from God. You should never care more about what’s going on with your hair than about what’s going on in your heart. Modesty isn’t about hiding your shape; modesty is about the desires of your heart. It’s about doing good, not looking good. It’s about accessorizing your spirit, not your outfit. It’s about looking at other people instead of looking in the mirror. God knows us girls pretty well. He knows that looking nice is important to us. He wants to be more important than that. Seek attention for God above all else. That’s modesty.