Picture this: you’re in a grocery store aisle, and suddenly you see a girl walk in barefoot, wearing nothing but a one-piece swimsuit. Suddenly most people notice her, wondering why she’s only wearing a swimsuit in the grocery store.
Now picture this: you’re at a swimming pool, and a girl enters the swimming pool wearing a one-piece swimsuit. Most people think nothing of it.
Why is it that though the girl is wearing the same piece of clothing in both situations, the majority of people in the settings think that it’s immodest in one situation, but modest in another? Let’s start unraveling the answer by taking a look at how standards of modesty have changed since Bible times.
Modesty in Bible Times
The Bible only talks about modesty a handful of times. With that in mind, it’s often hard to come up with a set of “standards” for what is and isn’t modest. Additionally, the standards for modesty in Bible culture were much different from our own culture. Just as an example, think of what was considered immodest in Bible times. Was it a bikini? Nakedness? No; nakedness was considered shameful in Bible times. What was actually immodest back then was: wearing nice clothing (you’d think that would be MORE modest, right?), jewelry, and elaborate hair-styles. Why was this?
The Goal of Immodesty is and Always Has Been Self-Centered Attention-Seeking
In Bible times, wearing elaborate jewelry and hairdos was the mark of someone who was soliciting or looking for attention. Prostitutes wore a lot of jewelry and clothing that stood out so they’d be sure to get attention from prospects, which told every passerby instantly what they were selling. In today’s culture, what’s considered to be immodest is also what’s worn to grab attention or stand out. (That said, don’t think that I’m saying we shouldn’t wear beautiful clothing; fashion is an art that can be used to glorify God, and there is nothing at all wrong with using our clothing for that purpose.) Though baring more skin is now most often used to snatch the attention of onlookers, that wasn’t the case long ago, and still isn’t the case in every culture. In fact, even wearing a floor-length jean skirt with a turtle-neck can be immodest if it’s worn to selfishly attract attention.
Modesty is Subjective
What is modest for one person is not necessarily modest for another. All of us at A Lovely Calling have varying standards for what is or isn’t modest for each of us. Just as different cultures have different standards and expectations for what is or isn’t attention-seeking, different communities of people have different standards for modesty. When that girl walked into the grocery store wearing only a swimsuit, she stood out and drew a lot of unneeded attention, yet when she wore the same swimsuit to the pool, the reaction was completely different. In one situation, her attire was considered inappropriate, yet in another, it wasn’t considered immodest at all. Again, in one area of the world there’s a tribe that considers it modest for women to go shirtless, yet in that same culture it’s thought IMMODEST if a woman shows her legs! Modesty is exceptionally subjective.
An Attitude of Modesty
Regardless of your standards for modesty, an underlying attitude is present: a selfless, respectful, and kind attitude that isn’t concerned about turning the heads in the room or being the center of attention. If you’re wearing clothes that are “modest,” but you are simultaneously seeking selfish attention, that’s not modest at all. On the other hand, I have a friend who wears some outfits that I could never feel comfortable wearing, yet those outfits never seem immodest when she wears them. She isn’t trying to be the center of attention; she’s selfless and sweet to everyone; she is modest.
Modesty is not measured by how many square inches are in the surface area of your clothing; modesty is an overflow of a beautiful heart.
“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