Immodest Dress

vintage-woman-mirrorI know we don’t all share the same standards here and some would scoff at the thought that there is such a thing as immodest dress at all.  But I’ve been discussing the topic in a smaller, private forum with some like-minded friends and decided to share some of my thoughts on this issue here.

I was a teenaged girl who dressed *very* immodestly- my parents did make rules and set standards but when they were not looking I rolled up my skirts or removed the modest shirt they’d approved to wear the immodest, very skimpy top underneath that they knew nothing about. 

Biblically speaking, if my clothing or the lack of it bothered somebody, they ought to have followed Matthew 18 and come to me personally.  I don’t recall that anybody at church ever did.  I would be afraid to do that myself, so I understand why nobody did.  However, while I don’t know exactly what I would have done if somebody had approached me personally, but I am not at all convinced that the fact that my reaction would have doubtless been sinful and hostile is a good excuse and gave everybody a free pass from Mt. 18.

That said….
At a few Bible class lessons and teen devotions, I was personally the object of a couple of very pointed lessons about dressing modestly.. It was obvious they were talking about me and I did not care. In fact, once or twice I was amused and saw the lessons as proof that I had made an impact. Since I was dressing for attention, to me that was a positive result. I knew they didn’t approve of me, but they couldn’t ignore me, and that was good enough for me. I also got plenty of attention from the young men in the group that seemed *quite* positive to me. Mostly it really wasn’t, but I truly did not understand the fires I was starting and I had all kinds of issues stemming from childhood sexual abuse- when people talked about issues of respect, lust, modesty, dressing the right way so as not to attract the wrong sort of attention, stumbling blocks, etc- they might as well have been speaking a foreign language. It was that incomprehensible to me.

Also, spiritually I was essentially bleeding out, and to talk about how I was a stumbling block to others- although that was certainly true- would have been kind of like telling somebody who is bleeding to death that they are standing on your foot, oh, and they are having a wardrobe malfunction and getting blood all over everybody else.  Yes, that may be true, but there are deeper issues going on.

There was *one* person who did approach me personally about my immodest behavior and dress- it was a Catholic biology teacher at my high school who rebuked me for making out with a boyfriend in the hall right outside his classroom door. He also briefly touched on the way I dressed. It wasn’t a long lecture, but he gently expressed disappointment and sadness for *me.*  He didn’t talk about third parties much except to say that I was inviting their disrespect and disregard for me as a human being, and that this made him sad, and he wondered why I didn’t respect myself more, and have confidence in myself as a person to be able to get positive attention based on my pretty face and fun personality rather than my body, and encouraged me to rely less on my body and more on myself and said I’d find a better class of guy than those he usually saw me with, too- he was a little more circumspect than that, but that was the gist.

This is not a happy story where his kind words made all the difference and I suddenly saw the light and changed my behavior.  My response was not nice- I am pretty sure I mocked him openly and I probably called him some very rude version of old fogey and said it was none of his business. But the truth was he did make an impact. I didn’t change anything then and there, at least not on the outside, but I never did forget his words, and it was the first time I ever thought about the fact that I did dress this way because I was absolutely ravenous for male attention of any sort, and I didn’t think I deserved the right kind of attention or was likely to get it by any other means. I had learned that this was a surefire way of getting male attention and had very fast results, but I had not ever thought about *why* I was so desperate for attention.   As I said, it didn’t fix anything at the time, but it really did make an impact on me, even if it was three or four years before I changed on the outside.

I know armchair diagnosis is risky at worst and silly at best, and that my personal pathology is not necessarily true of every girl who dresses like a tramp, but it was true of me.  

And here is something every mother of sons should be aware of.  I’ve thought and thought about what would have made a difference in the way I dressed, and there is one thing- if it had not worked to get me attention, I would have changed. If the boys in my group at church had turned away from me when I walked in the room instead of lighting up and gravitating to me like a moths to a candle flame, I would have changed. If they had made it a point to ignore me and give all the attention I got to the modestly dressed girls instead, I would have changed my clothes in a New York Minute. I’ve seen that played out at churches in several locations, and church groups and get-togethers.    Boys often complain about the immodest clothes of the girls, but it was *not* the modestly dressed girls they are chatting up after services.

I have started telling my son he has a greater responsibility than merely averting his eyes. He has a responsibility to encourage the modestly clothed maidens by speaking to them and not rewarding immodestly dresses girls with his attention- not to be rude, but not to behave in such a way that affirms to them that dressing that way is a ticket to male attention. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded yet- that’s a lot of power and wisdom to expect from a teen-aged boy raging with hormones, but it’s a start at least.

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  1. Rebecca P
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    About raising boys: THAT is a really good point. I don’t think about that aspect all that often. Something to note here is that immodest dress, particularly at Sunday morning worship is not only distracting to men, it’s distracting to women. I’m shocked and often embarrassed for the young women who show up to church in little tight shorts and high heels. I’m not sure about the thought process going on there, and am often dismayed that it would even occur to someone to wear such a thing to church. I would like to note that these young women are sometimes married, soooo what is going on there? The whole thing often throws me for a loop.

  2. KL
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I just wanted say that I really like and appreciate this. Thank you!

  3. abba12
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I came from a similar background, and became dependent on the attention of men to feel any value at all. I didn’t have a choice in my dress and actions to begin with, but I also didn’t know any different even once I did have a choice in the matter. Oh how I wish the older ladies had come up to me and spoken with me about modesty.

    I attended the same church for a long time, the women there knew me and my family, they chatted to me about all assortment of things, but never did they speak to me about my dress. I actually remember one day, very soon after certain things ended and I was finally able to make the choices and choose not to dress immodestly (though at the time I had no idea what immodest dress meant) I wore a teeny tiny outfit to church, something I would never let my daughters even come close to wearing. I knew no different. I remember standing there, seeing others in their longer clothes and feeling, for the first time, odd, but I didn’t know why. And then I felt some sort of hurt, or betrayal, and self consciousness. I remember feeling upset at everyone in the church and I didn’t even know why! I suppose I knew subconsciously that I needed help, even though consciously I didn’t know what for.

    It remained the same, no one ever did speak to me about immodestly. In fact, quite the opposite, my mother in law, a homeschooling mum of 8, tried to convince me multiple times to buy a short shirt or some pants (modesty is less commonly taught here, even among conservative Christians, because of the climate etc. We don’t tend to be as immodest in general in Australia, but it’s rare to see anyone with high modesty standards, or at least, it has been in the area I live.). I think the first time I received teaching on modesty was by a man who also said women and men could never ever be friends, acquaintances yes, but never friends, because it was sinful. I promptly walked out during his sermon, and things got worse from there (worst. ‘christian’. camp. EVER.)

    However, somehow, the Lord led me to where I am today, and in the course of a year I went from corsets and mini skirts to skirts/dresses only, and I even added a headcovering (only during church services and public bible study etc) to it the following year.

  4. 6 arrows
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I dressed immodestly for a long time. My parents didn’t express any opinion about what to wear, and even the Christian school I attended in the 70’s when I was in the middle grades didn’t have any problem with girls wearing mini skirts. (I think there was a time, though, that they didn’t allow tank tops, and maybe had other restrictions, too; I don’t remember.)

    I certainly did enjoy the attention I got wearing mini skirts, short shorts, and the like while out in public in my teens and twenties. I’m tall and thin, with very long legs (my husband is taller than I am, but my legs are longer), so plenty of heads would turn when I walked by, which, of course, I relished.

    I can’t retrace the journey I took that got me on the road to thinking about modesty, but it may have started after I had my first baby at age 27. I was a school teacher at that time, and had had my son in April. A few months after he was born, I was at the grocery store, in the heat of summer, and ran into a coworker who hadn’t seen me since I’d gone on maternity leave. I’ll never forget the shocked look on her face and how huge her eyes got when she saw me walking around the store wearing short spandex shorts and a tiny halter top, with my bare, newly flat stomach showing for all to see. She didn’t say anything, but, boy, she sure looked like she wanted to. She appeared pretty horrified.

    Anyway, somewhere along the line I learned a lesson. I don’t remember anyone saying anything specifically to me about my immodesty, though. And now I honestly wish I could get up the courage to speak to immodestly dressed young ladies, but that’s not me. (I know, poor excuse.) I do talk to my girls about dressing modestly, but I need reminders to revisit the topic regularly, especially in the hot summer.

    I think it’s great how you’ve approached this topic with your son, too. I never thought to have a conversation like that with my older son, but I am glad to see that he’s gravitated toward young ladies at our church who dress modestly, rather than the ones who don’t. And my younger son is nine years old, so his teaching on the subject will be coming up. 🙂

  5. Fatcat
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    I have 2 separate thoughts about this.

    One is, did that biology teacher ever get a thank you? What a great guy. If not, look him up and maybe seen him a note.

    Also, one of my aunts once told my daughter that she should wear tighter clothes so people could “see her figure” when she was ELEVEN. She didn’t have a figure yet.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      Funny thing about that biology teacher. I didn’t know where he was, and didn’t know how to get in touch with him (his name is not that uncommon, the homet0wn is bigger than it used to be, I didn’t know his first name).

      But just last week I heard from some old high school friends who go to church with him- friends I hadn’t heard from in decades. In chatting about this and that from school, one of them mentioned him and said she still saw him at church, which is when I learned he was still alive, and Catholic. So I asked them to pass on my thanks and contact info as well if he wanted that.

      And… ELEVEN? Sheesh.

  6. Amity
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I grew up knowing about and believing in modest dress – reading and re-reading Little Women probably helped there more than anything my parents or church had to say on the subject – but I have slipped a few times. I will never forget once coming into a room wearing a little tiny strappy top and hearing a guy friend say to me “I really, really like your sweater,” which, given that the sweater was a shapeless mess that I had worn dozens of times while with that group without anyone taking notice of it, was clearly code for “that is not modest, and you are embarrassing yourself, girl.” I have never put on a sweater faster. I still blush to think of it, and I am grateful for that tip.

  7. Laura
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    We’ve taught our boys to look away since they were young. As teens they chose themselves to avoid, as much as possible, the girls in church who sadly wore less that what I do to get in bed with my own dh. It was simply impossible to look away enough for comfort And have an actual conversation with them. And at the time, I’m sorry to say, there were no modestly dressed girls with whom to talk, so they could make no impact on the others with that counterpoint.

    I dressed very much to draw the attention of the opposite sex when I was a young woman. You are right, we do it because it’s effective! About age 25 I finally clued in that it was actually wrong to try to get the attention of any man other than my husband, and I started to change my dress.

  8. Posted July 17, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Because of how I grew up, I’ve always had a strong dislike towards immodest girls and found them incredibly difficult to respect as human beings. I think I lot of it had to do with seeing my brother date girls, who were typically of the immodest type and acted like nothing more than ravenous creatures starving for attention.
    Now I know that the Bible says to receive everyone with love, and it is something I have had to work on over the years. It’s a tricky thing to balance, trying to both be a friend to the ones who I find to be distasteful in that regard while at the same time not going to the opposite extreme and giving them the attention that they want (I do have my moments of weakness).
    The issue I’ve been trying to focus attention on is respect, especially around the ones I work with (I work in a restaurant, if you’re familiar with that environment). And honestly, modest women are much easier to respect. I find it to be more comfortable to be around them and I simply find them impressive because they’re nothing like the others.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted July 17, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      It is a delicate balance, and not all immodestly dressed women are dressed immodestly for the same reasons. But it would be good to remember that if a girl seems like a ravenous creature starving for a attention that might for good reason. You may be looking at one of the walking wounded, somebody who, like I was, is bleeding out spiritually, below the surface. The best thing you can probably do for her is pray for her, I think. You don’t know what she’s been through, but it was probably pretty ugly. Just thinking of my own baser self as a teenager, I took any attention I could get and manipulated my behavior to get more of it- not even always deliberately. Hence, I would recommend a more hands off approach (and I mean that both figuratively and literally), reserved without being rude or mean, and lots of prayer.

      And, oh, ugh. I am very familiar with working in a restaurant environment. I worked at one a little over 30 years ago.

  9. Laura
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    If there is one environment I vow never to let my kids work in, it’s restaurant. I waitressed for 8 yrs, back when they still called it waitressing. Never never.

  10. Posted July 21, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Might I respectfully offer a dissenting opinion here? All of the research I’ve done into the original Greek on the New Testament modesty texts, points towards a modest attitude of the heart, rather than dress. In fact, none of the modesty passages talk about revealing specific body parts at all. They talk about elaborately braided hair and jewelry. What I take away from the scriptures is that if we are calling attention to ourselves, then that is immodest. In HM’s case, then I’d say she had been immodest because she was purposefully trying to call attention to herself by how she chose to adorn her body. But a girl in a tank top and shorts, whose only thought is she wants to be cool and comfortable, is not being immodest. And conversely, the woman who is discretely covered from neck to knee to elbow, but proudly dresses herself to impress the other women in the congregation – that woman is immodest.

    My concern with the focus on dress is that it is subjective depending on culture (even HM said e other day that Esquick gripes about how she doesn’t act American enough – so I know you have a respect and understanding of other cultures). And since it’s subjective, our imposing our own personal interpretations of modesty bexomes just that – interpretations. Then we hold a certain way of covering up our bodies and then equate it with righteousness — and we are doing nothing more than increasing the yolk of our sisters with extra, man-imposed rules. Christ condemned that in the Pharisees quite often.

    I agree with HM that we should teach our sons to look away, since this is also what Christ taght – if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to go through life with one hand then to have your whole body cast into hell. I think this ties into Paul’s admonition about how everhing is acceptable, but not everything is beneficial. If you are convicted about it (‘it’ being a grey area that is not specifically laid out in scriptures, like what modest dress looks like), and you do it anyway, then it is sin for YOU. But it is unfair (and I would say, unscriptural) to impose your standards on others in these negotiable, grey area issues.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted July 21, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      The Bible also tells us that if we cause our christian siblings to stumble that is sin, and I think if we are balanced, we will not be so focused on objecting to others imposing their standards on us.

      • Posted July 21, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        True, Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor about the weaker brother is what causes me to abstain from a lot, including some articles of clothing and types of dress. But who defines what is modest? And I do object to others ‘imposing’ their standards on anyone – personal conviction is personal conviction. And honestly, some standards that people hold cause me to stumble when they impose them on me (shame, rejection , and spiritual pride), so are they in sin? And where is the freedom from the law in all of this?

        • Headmistress, zookeeper
          Posted July 21, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

          I am seeing a focus on self rather than a compassionate concern from the heart for others. I also know that there is more to modesty in Bible than you claim.

          • Posted July 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

            Touche :-). Would still like an answer to the question(s) above, but feel like this is devolving from thoughtful discussion to argument, which I don’t want (and you probably don’t either), so I’ll bow out for now.

            Before I do that, though, since this medium is so easy to misinterpret tone – want to be sure I communicate to you that I’m not judging you or your choices, and I really do think it’s great that you understand and are strong in your convictions. There’s room in the Body for disagreements, and I’m OK disagreeing with you on this one. I just want to make sure that I’m more focused on the logs in my eyes rather than the specks in others – I don’t know motives, and while all I can see is the outward appearance, I know the Lord can see the heart.

            Thanks for engaging with me!

          • Headmistress, zookeeper
            Posted July 21, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

            I apologize because i know it seems like I am just arguing, when really, this is a factor of being pressed for time so I’m making short, one sentence responses. It would have been more prudent on my part to wait and answer you in a few days when the houseguests leave and more of the family are home to pick up the slack on cooking and dishes, but I’m old, and I’ll forget, and you would haev moved on by then, too.

            My concern here is that you are not focusing on your own eyes, but on others. Look at your first comment (and the second) and see if you agree that you are not talking about yourself as much as you are criticizing others, hypothetical others, but it’s not your you were objecting to, it’s those others who are living under the law and not grace and who are perceived to be imposing their standards on you.

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