The Bible teaches that people should dress modestly and in moderation. When in comes to women, scripture states:
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array (1 Timothy 2:9).
However, I’ve always felt that specific rules or principles of modern-day modest dressing are hard to find.
In a 2004 article titled “The Forgotten Virtue: Modesty In Dress,” author Monsignor Charles M. Mangan lays out a basic guide founded upon principles of modesty set by Pope Pius XII in 1957. These values are still valid today and I’ve found them to be very helpful in determining what’s modest and what’s not.
With Mangan’s help, I will offer specific guidelines on dressing modestly.
To dress modestly is to avoid deliberately causing sexual excitement in oneself or one’s neighbor (Mangan).
The objective of modesty is to refrain from wearing clothing that causes lustful thoughts, whether intentionally or unintentionally. When dressing modestly, Christian girls should avoid clothes that reveal, enhance or highlight certain body parts.
- Bust: Avoid tight or see-through shirts or tops without appropriate undergarments, and tops with low plunging necklines that reveal a cleavage. If you have a large bust, then you should also stay away from spaghetti straps and strapless designs.
- Thighs: When it comes to skirts, select those that are no shorter than above the knee. Make sure you account for how high the skirt rises when you sit. When it comes to shorts, opt for those that don’t expose too much of the thigh.
- Back: Refrain from wearing backless shirts or dresses that plunge in the back. These styles are designed to look sexy.
- Stomach: Shirts and tops should always cover the stomach.
- Butt: Avoid tight skirts, shorts, dresses and pants that reveal the shape and curve of the buttocks. I also would avoid pants with words printed on the butt, since they are designed to cause the eyes to gaze at that area of your body.
I added “butt” to Mangan’s list because it often causes lustful thoughts in men when highlighted by tight shorts, pants, dresses and skirts.
There usually are no exceptions to the above rules in the case of everyday clothing. When it comes to athletic wear, make sure that your ensemble doesn’t look sexy.
Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are ‘so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice’ (Mangan quoting Pope Pius XII).
In addition to these guidelines, I believe that, in some instances, modesty is subjective. One item of clothing may be immodest on one person, but modest on another. For example, spaghetti straps can look both modest and immodest, depending on the size of the person’s bust. However, modesty in this case can usually be attained by adding a cardigan or light jacket.
Christian girls, think also of this: The more elegant you will be, and the more pleasing, if you dress with simplicity and discreet modesty (Pope Pius XII).
When shopping for clothes, always ask why you’re buying something. It’s okay to wear something that’s pretty and presentable. But if you’re purchasing an item because it’ll bring attention to you or attract the opposite sex, then it may be inappropriate.
Style must never be a proximate occasion of sin (Pope Pius XII).
Ultimately, I feel that we all need to be responsible for our own modesty. Always try new clothes on–whether at the store or at home–before the event you plan on wearing them to. This way, if they do look immodest, you can purchase additional items to make them modest or exchange them for more appropriate garments.
Do you have any additional style tips for dressing modestly?