We’ve seen that modesty is an expression of purity, consideration, and wisdom, intended to help ourselves and others enjoy relationships and attraction in God’s way and God’s time for God’s glory, our good, and the good of those around us. Now what does modesty actually look like in practice?
Well, I am not going to give a complete list of do’s and don’ts. But here are some hints.
Bodies and what they’re like
Some parts of the body need more help to be modest than others! Everything a one-piece bathing suit covers is very important, and the thighs and upper chest are a close second. Be especially careful about these areas, particularly the most private areas.
Keep in mind that your body and someone else’s body are not the same shape. If you are especially curvy or really buff in a certain part of your physique, you will have to be more careful about that part of you when choosing clothing than your friend might have to be. The question about any style isn’t whether someone can wear it modestly. The question is whether you can wear it modestly. Jeans, for example? Some girls can wear jeans modestly and some can’t. It depends on what shape you are between your waist and your knees. Most jeans are cut to curve. You need to be honest about whether that’s suitable for your figure, or not. If it’s not, you may be able to find denim pants that are modest, but you may have to avoid typical jeans.
What does the fabric do?
Also, consider that just covering the body with fabric is not enough. It’s what the fabric does that counts. How does it drape, flow, move? Is it clingy, drapy, tight? What happens when you move in the style you are considering? When you sit, lean over, walk up a flight of stairs? Is it modest when you are standing in front of a mirror, but no longer modest when you move? Then it isn’t modest. If it opens and closes, slips down, etc., reconsider.
When less is more and more is less
Modesty also recognizes that sometimes “peek-a-boo” is more tempting to others than something that covers less skin overall, but which doesn’t invite others to keep on looking at and thinking about your body. For example, a few inches of leg might show above the knee in a pair of shorts, and you may still be modest. Yet if you wear a long skirt with a front slit that goes a few inches above the knee, you are dressed to cause trouble. More of you is covered, technically speaking-but the effect is tempting to others, because it invites the eye to go higher. Likewise a skirt that’s much, much longer in back than in front. Such skirts would often be more modest if they were shortened-in back-so that they no longer drew the eye upwards in front. It’s the overall effect as much as the exact numbers of inches showing or not showing that you should consider. Similarly, sheer or semi-sheer fabrics, as in a sheer cardigan over a camisole, can be suggestive, and a problem for guys.
Also, certain styles, even layered over other styles, can be a problem, like a “slip dress” or baby doll style over another top. The other top might be more modest alone than it is under the baby doll style! Likewise, a jumper whose top is just skinny straps on a full-figured girl. You’re completely covered, but what is the effect on people’s thoughts about your shape? You’d be better off without those skinny straps. Likewise a jumper with a really low-cut bodice. It’s over another top, but it sends a signal. Even color can sometimes be used in ways that aren’t modest. A dress in an otherwise modest cut and style which used color so that you appeared to be wearing a bikini top would not be a modest dress.
I’ll also mention pants with itty bitty short zippers in front. Sure, your midriff may be covered by your shirt, but these pants make guys feel as if you are on your way to being undressed. It’s not that your body isn’t covered. It’s that you are having an unfair effect on guys’ thoughts, because this style is deliberately, startlingly different from what is customary, and because it says “look at me right here.” It looks like what you see when someone’s zipper is half-undone. And that means you’re not really covered, doesn’t it?
Guys, a long-sleeved shirt with three buttons undone will be less modest than a short-sleeved shirt with one button undone. It’s not the square inches, it’s the effect.
By Katharine Birkett
Author, The Great Latin Adventure
Vintage “Waiting and Hoping” image courtesy of Karen’s Whimsy