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What Modesty is {and isn’t}: A Practical Approach

on April 8, 2014 by Jami Balmet 0 comments

In our A Modest Heart series, we have been reviewing what the Bible has to say about modesty and what is really at the HEART of modesty. Now I would like to shift the attention a little bit away from the heart of modesty to the practical application of modesty.

What Modesty is {and isn't}

My Modest Journey

The idea of modesty didn’t really click for me right away. In middle school and high school I didn’t really hear a word about modesty. I wasn’t taught about it in church or youth group, and I wasn’t actively ignoring the Bible’s teaching on it. I just was ignorant to what the Bible had to say about modesty.

I think that a large amount of the women in the modern church are this way too, not blatantly ignoring God’s teaching on this subject, but rather ignorant to what it Scripture really teaches about modesty.

It wasn’t until I started hearing solid teaching from Scripture on modesty that the Lord started to change my heart and mind. But it still didn’t seem like that big a deal to me.

Because really, the term “modesty” seems so ambiguous. I didn’t wear mini skirts or walk around with see-through clothing or anything. It seemed like such a hard concept to nail down.

That is, until I started studying about what modesty means in relation to the men around me. 1 Corinthians 8: 9-13 teaches that we are to not be a stumbling block to those around us. If we have it in our power to help weaker Christians in their walk with the Lord and not to stumble into sin then we need to be doing that. 

“Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:13

We are also called to serve one another in love. Maybe we don’t feel convicted that our dress is immodest and we can live in Christian liberty, but we should not live in the flesh. We should serve those around us, and that means serving our brothers.

“:For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” ~ Galatians 5:13

I have heard the argument before that it’s the man’s fault that he is lusting. That is his sin to deal with. I completely disagree. Now I’m not saying that if one man can’t look at a woman’s face without lusting then all women should cover their face up, of course not. But rather, within reason, we should help the men in our lives. {And yes – of course the lust is indeed the man’s own sin to deal with, but that doesn’t negate our responsibility to help protect our brothers from sin either}

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” ~ Mark 9:42

When I started to see that a big part of our responsibility with modesty is in our relationship to our brother’s in Christ, things started to click. I could finally see some guidelines forming in my head about modesty.

Open and Honest Talks about Modesty

I heard a college pastor talking openly with the women one Sunday morning. He asked all the men to leave after he had given his sermon on modesty. The next ten minutes were spent discussing what is appropriate dress and what isn’t. This helped open up my eyes to what men really think about clothing and modesty.

They surveyed dozens of men within the church and asked THEM what made them stumble when it came to how the women in the church were dressing. Some of their biggest stumbling blocks were in seeing cleavage of any kind, midriff showing, short shorts, and more. Finally, someone had come along and TOLD me what causes men to stumble (from the men’s own mouths).

Women’s brains work so differently compared to men’s. And for young women especially, who are not married, it is often very hard to know what causes those men in your Bible study and church to stumble.

This is where asking the men in your congregation and household what is modest is an excellent way to help guide those in your church on modesty.

Another excellent resource is The Modesty Survey. In this 148 question survey, over 1600 Christian men (ages 12-50) submitted their answers to what they felt was modest and what was not. The survey covers everything from  swim suits, to dresses, to pants, and more! I would take a few minutes and sit down and look over this survey yourself. Encourage any other women in your life (daughters, sisters, friends) to look it over as well. {Note: This post was originally published in August 2012 – the links to the modesty survey are not working right now but I’m hoping they will be again soon!}

So What is Modesty {and what isn’t it}?

Some of their results were surprising to me, and others were eye opening. Here are a few thought provoking results from the study.

What men think about modesty in general:

Guys notice whether a girl dresses modestly or not ~ 66.9% strongly agree and another 29.4% agree. {96.3% Total}

Despite rampant immodesty all around us, girls who choose to dress modestly do make a difference. ~58.5% strongly agree and another 33% agree. {91.5% Total}

Girls can dress attractively without being immodest. ~ 78.3 strongly agree and another 19.1% agree. {97.4% Total}

A guy can consider a girl attractive without thinking about her in an impure way. ~ 66.4% strongly agree and another 29% agree. {95.4% Total}

A modestly dressed girl can still be a stumbling block because of her attitude and behavior. ~53.5% strongly agree and another 40.3% agree. {93.8% Total}

Practical Tips from Men on Modesty:

Showing any cleavage is immodest. ~36.6% strongly agree and another 33.8% agree. {70.4% Total}

Bikini swimsuits are immodest. ~59.3% strongly agree and another 25% agree. {With 6.8% feeling neutral on this, only 8.8% of men disagree with this, or only 93 men out of over 1600 surveyed. This is eye opening!) {84.3% Total}

A two-piece swimsuit consisting of a long tank top and skort is modest. ~19.1% strongly agree and another 52.5% agree. {71.6% Total}

It is okay to show cleavage when wearing a swimsuit. ~34.6% strongly disagree and another 35.7% disagree. {70.3% Total}

Jeans are generally immodest, even if they aren’t tight. ~41.6% strongly disagree and another 35.9% disagree. {I find this one very interesting in the debates between skirts only vs. pants} {77.5% total}

It is immodest for a girl to expose her legs up to mid-thigh. ~28.6% strongly agree and another 35.9% agree. {64.5% Total}

Miniskirts, long shirts, or short dresses over leggings are a stumbling block. ~26.4% strongly agree and another 38.5% agree. {This one is becoming more and more common} {64.9% Total}

 My Standard of Dress:

Yes, this is a lot to digest and I only covered a couple of the questions they asked the men. Some of the questions are open ended as well, so it’s really eye opening to see how they responded to those questions.

I did want to share what my personal standard of modesty is. And it seems to always be changing as I get older and more convicted by the Lord. But please note, I do not think this should be the standard for everyone! In fact, my sisters and I (who all hold to a really high standard of modesty) can tend to disagree sometimes on what is modest and what isn’t.

But I thought it might be helpful to share my own personal convictions.

1) Cleavage: I don’t show my cleavage. As a general rule, I wear shirts that are high enough to cover my cleavage OR I wear cami’s underneath (they are my best friend!!).

2) Sleeveless: I will wear sleeveless shirts/dresses depending on the style. Some clothing is tight fitted or really open around the arms. But generally I will wear sleeveless that covers my entire shoulders. But I do not wear spaghetti strap shirts by themselves.

3) Midriff: I do not show my midriff. Period.

4) Shorts/skirts length: This has changed over the years a bit. But in general I do not wear anything above the knee. I do have one pair of jean shorts that just barley reach to my knee, but because they are not very tight my husband and I determined that they are just fine. The same goes true for dresses. I generally do not wear them above my knee. Sometimes this rule is flexible because even a skintight dress that goes to your knees may be very immodest whereas a very flowy dress that reaches just above the knees with tights on underneath may be modest.

5) Tightness: This is a hard one for me to judge sometimes. I do not want to wear skin tight clothing but sometimes it’s  a hard line to walk. This is where my husbands valuable opinion matters.

6) Bathing Suit: I like tankinis because in general I don’t think they are as tight as one pieces. My tankinis always reach past my stomach so even if I move around my stomach isn’t exposed. I also wear a skort or shorts with my bathing suit, always.

I hope you found this encouraging and not legalistic. Ultimately, what is important to the Lord is what is in our hearts. But we are also called to humbly serve Him and serve those around us. God commands us to live modest lives and we cannot ignore that command.

Get instant free access to my Finding Joy in Your Home video course.

  • Do you want to discover more joy, peace, & tranquility within your home?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed and like your house is out of control?
  • Join my free course and learn the essential habits for Christian homemakers

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