The Church’s Influence on Modesty

My experiences with modesty over the years have had their upswings and down.

If you’d asked me about modesty in my early married years, I would have defined it differently than I do now. Back then I didn’t see anything wrong with wearing tight jeans, etc. I figured if my husband liked me in them, what was the problem, right?

Remembering how blasé I was keeps me humble. After all, I was 18-21 years old, a Christian, active in church, etc. Sure, I didn’t wear my tight jeans to church, but some of my blouses dipped a bit lower than they should have, and I had at least two long skirts with slits that weren’t quite innocent. At all.

When I was 19, my husband and I started attending a church where most all of the women wore dresses. Conservative, matronly dresses. *Smile* Or at least they seemed so to me.

So I started teeter-tottering on the age old “what to wear to church” question. I did my best to conform to the standards of those around me.

Fast forward several years. We left the above church in order to attend one that my dad had recently accepted a position in as Associate Pastor. Because of something I misconstrued at the first church as a strike against modesty, I spent three years wearing only dresses/skirts in public. Anywhere in public. I admit it was mostly a pride thing at that point, though I’ve always loved the femininity of dressing in long flowing materials.

After this three years of “dresses only”, my dad and mom moved out of state to a different church, and hubby and I moved back to our original church. And dress codes there had changed with the times.

I began slacking off (to me) on Sunday mornings, eventually joining the “dressing down” crowd at church, and wearing mostly slacks.

However, my little girls loved dresses and would ask me each week why I didn’t wear my dresses to church anymore. Well, for one thing, a lot of my straight skirts didn’t fit so well back then after having just given birth to baby #3. But they really wanted their mommy back in dresses. And that among other things propelled me to make a stand on one side or the other of this seeming Divide.

Also, I realized after all these years of feeling pulled to dress “appropriately” on Sunday mornings, I finally saw it as a way, in obedience to God, to stand up to the culture. To be “in this world but not of it”.

I look at it this way. It’s too easy to reason away the choices we make in dress. I’ve worn skorts that look like mini-skirts because I’ve thought it was “more modest” than wearing shorts. It’s even easier to reason this way when everyone you appreciate and look up to is doing the same thing.

So I decided almost two years ago that I’d always wear skirts/dresses on Sunday morning. I still wear jeans or Capris for helping in AWANA, and for other evening church functions. I have no problem with the vast majority of modest Christians out there today that wear pants and shorts to church services.

But my line in the sand has been drawn, and at this point, there’s no crossing back over. That said, I think everyone has to come to this decision on their own. It’s intensely personal, and the best way to get across your point, is, in my opinion, by following your convictions and letting your actions speak for themselves.

Most everyone is pretty hip at our church now, and I’m the one in danger of feeling dowdy wearing skirts and dresses each Sunday morning. Especially in a church full of beautiful young chicks all slender and svelte and wearing the latest fashions.

But finally I know I’m doing it for the right reason. I may go back to wearing dresses/skirts even to evening church events, if I’m so convicted.

Only God knows. And that’s all that matters to me.

For more submissions on modesty, visit Rebecca, this month’s hostess for the modesty blog carnival, at Between My Peers

20 thoughts on “The Church’s Influence on Modesty”

  1. We’ve had this discussion so many times…and it is a very personal decision to make. I think you do change in some of these areas as you grow older and are convicted about certain things.

    While it is a personal decision, I also do feel that older christians/women need to be an example to the younger christians/women. You can really see the differance in churches in this area! In some ways I think it is almost a natural progression as you get older to want to dress a little more modestly. We don’t always have the bodies that we want after several children and things don’t look as good as they once did in our teen years! With this natural progression, I think we are to be a testimony to others not so old in what is appropriate for church. And that doesn’t mean dowdy…even if you’re getting close to forty or over! There are so many attractive clothes for older women and we really don’t even need the low cut, short skirts, tight jeans of our younger years. There is just something very elegant and attractive about an older woman that knows how to dress and is not afraid to ‘dress up’ a little more than the norm, especially for church. After all, it doesn’t kill any of us to put on a dress for church, a wedding or funeral.

  2. I was hearing a discussion about this on AFR (American Family Radio) apparently there is a church that wants to have dress code. Hmm…not sure if I agree with that.

    Mary, you can still dress “hip” and still retain modesty. I do. I sew blouses that tend to have a slit in the middle of the chest, or if the blouse is very low-cut, I wear a camisole, they come in a variety of colors.

  3. Yes skirts…it’s a battle in my mind too. I love my jeans but I love skirts too. Definitely something to think about…

  4. I very much agree that you can dress modestly and not be dowdy, sorry it came across that way. It’s just that when so few attend church in dresses/skirts you feel either too dressed up, or “old-fashioned” (ie: dowdy?) if you’re one of the only ones not in capris or wedged heels!

    Deborah, you never look dowdy! Just had to clarify that…and I, too, am drawn to the older women that look so at home and elegant in their feminine dress. I have about four skirts and a dress or two that I end up wearing over and over. Feeling limited can also translate into feeling unfashionable. I do love what I have…and if I wanted to, I could sew up a few more skirts for variety.

    Leticia, I appreciate the camisole idea, I love layering my tops so that might work. I enjoy Rebecca’s Between My Peers site, she often layers with camisoles and always looks young and chic.

    Amy, thanks for chiming in, I wouldn’t have guessed a Rugby enthusiast would love skirts… 😉

    I’m really glad no one (yet) took this as a stab at wearing jeans…this week is the Carnival of Modesty and I came up with a couple submissions, this being one of them. Check back here on the 13th for my next one.

    We definitely all have different ideas on how to define modesty. I could definitely be more conservative, believe it or not!

  5. I have to agree with you I love to wear dresses. Since I often make them my self I tend to pick fabrics that have lots of flow and then place a lining with it so I don’t have to wear a slip. It seems that most of my dresses are to fancy for church. If you get a nice dress for Christmas or Easter. Those are the only occasions were it seems appropriate to wear them. I think modesty is something that often changes as we grow older. I grew up going to a private school. It did not have uniforms but a fairly strict dress code. Once I graduated I had to decide for myself what length of skirt was now appropriate. Now that I’m a mom I have to be careful about what shirts I were because as I carry a toddler she tends to pull at the fronts making them lower. The thing I find hardest to find is Maternity shirts. The worlds opinion is that you only have great boobs for nine months so flaunt it and maybe nobody will notice the huge saddle bags in the back. It is such a struggle to be in the world and not of the world.

  6. I have many thoughts on this subject. Most of which might be contradictory to your, my dear friend. However, my rule of thumb is that I NEVER want to wear anything that would cause anyone in church or outside to “stumble” and be distracted (especially in church) – not because I am anything to look at, but because for some it doesn’t take much, and I don’t want to be a distraction for anyone.. I don’t want that responsibility.

  7. Teresa, I agree with you and try to wear things that won’t cause someone to stumble. I do bounce back and forth as to skirts/pants and most of the time it’s based on what’s clean AND what fits! Great post Mary. We’ve had this discussion in my small group as well!

  8. Andrea, my girls and I always noticed you were a “dressy” lady, we loved it. Plus, you have a real gift with a needle and fabric! What a blessing… I remember thinking, even before I knew you very well, that you must have had a strong personality to be as young as you were and not mind being one of the only ones in church to dress up on Sunday. It makes me sad how times are changing, to where little girls don’t even dress up in new Easter dresses for Easter anymore. I know a few still do, but it’s a far cry from getting white gloves and a special hat, as I always did as a young girl on Easter. And why would the majority of little girls want to dress up when they never see the majority of teens or mothers dressing any differently than when they go to the mall?

    Teresa, you know I love everyone to share their opinion, and anything you have to say I highly respect. You made the more important point of not causing others to stumble, where I focused my point on wanting my “outward appearance” to bring glory to God. I think there is so much in favor of modesty, that it becomes pretty relevant, especially in our culture today, to discuss how exactly to define it. But like you said, we’d all have a slightly different take on the subject. We do know that He is more concerned with our inner man, and if our actions reflect that the inner man is seeking to please God, then definitely it’s not a matter to feel pride or judgmental about. Some could say that dressing “up” causes others to stumble in feeling “not good enough”. I should write a post about that, it’s definitely a post-modern trend!

    Colleen, you’re surrounded by the college crowd all the time so I understand it being a real tug-of-war for you too. And being engaged presents a real challenge in itself, I so remember those days. :) What a relief that it’s not a sin or immodest to want to be “sexy” for your husband…marriage is the best, and I’m so happy for you and Scott!

    As for modesty…there’s so much more to this topic, as I’m seeing!

  9. James and I will be crashing VBS Sunday night on our way home. I have all kinds of skirt patterns if you would like to borrow some. I won’t be sewing myself clothes anytime soon. I probably have at least 12-15 different ones. They go up to a size 16 which is probably about a 12 in store bought clothes. Just tell me what you are looking for and I can find something like it. I buy patterns when they are .99$. So most have never been used.

  10. This really is quite an issue for the modern woman, isn’t it? Maybe it was in ancient times, too. It must have been for Paul to mention it in his letters.
    One thing that’s really important for me is to dress differently than I do for work – maybe a little nicer, certainly more dresses – so that going to church doesn’t feel like just another day at the office.
    I am so thankful that current fashions are much more feminine than they were a few years ago. Remember the grunge/military fad?! At least you can be clothes that have lace and frills now. Does anybody else struggle with the balance between looky feminine and being modest?

  11. I think as a stay at home mom the struggle is to have a look.It is pretty easy to just throw on a baggy shirt and old jeans, knowing you will end up dirty anyway. I knew a lady who always had the house clean and make-up on before her husband came home. Wow, I can barely get my face washed. I know It would mean a lot to my husband if I took a little effort. It is a very huge struggle to be feminine and modest because of what the world see as feminine often involves cleavage and skirts that are to short or to low. The camisole really is a good friend for trying to be feminine and modest. They are higher in the neck and longer at the bottom to help out shirts that are too short or tend to ride up. There is however a delicate balance when we become to concerned with our looks. We loose sight of what is important, our heart attitudes. But if we get to lazy the is not good either. The number one thing we need to keep in mind is the fact that we are Christs representatives here on earth. When people look at us whether in church or at the store that they can take one look at us and see that we are different.

  12. Bingo, Andrea, you summed up what Deborah and I were talking about on the phone this morning in regards to this post. We even took what you said in your last comment and applied it to homeschooling. Homeschooling gets a pretty bad rap by a lot of people and so in the same way as Christianity, we homeschoolers have to be careful not to appear as slobs, not to go shopping or be “out and about” during school hours, and to make sure our children are getting a good education. Why should we approach our Christianity any differently? Leaving no room for reproach.

    And! We will so look forward to seeing you Sunday night!! How exciting, I bet “both” your girls have grown since the end of May. As far as patterns, if it’s simple, and long and flowing…I’d go for it. I have one that is a drawstring type waist, so I wouldn’t need another pattern like it. Thank you for offering. :)

    Susie, nice to have you drop in! I’m so glad to hear a business woman say that they try to dress even nicer on Sunday morning. I think most, not all, career women like to dress down on the weekends after working in suits/slacks/skirts all week. You posed a great question, I think I’ll tackle that in another post!

    I am definitely grateful that the trend is more feminine/romantic than it has been in a long time. I hope it stays that way awhile!

  13. That is SO true, Mary AND I’m gaining a 14 year old daughter so that present a whole new level to this discussion because she is definitely aware of her appearance and will be surrounded by high school girls in a year! Yikes!

  14. You know, I thought of that too, Colleen. It’s going to be an interesting year of adjustment for you, and for your step-daughter. I know, myself, being a mom of girls is really putting the heat on ME. :)

  15. Mary, I admire your choice to wear dresses and skirts. Thanks so much for the kind mention. And for participating in the modesty carnival. This is going to be fun!

  16. Thank you, Rebecca, and you’re welcome. The submissions this month sound like we’re in for some good blog-reads…

  17. Enjoyed the post. I understand a lot of your feelings on it. The ol’ bod ain’t what it used to be, and it got too easy for a while to just wear pantsuits with elastic in the pants. I’ve been consciously switching to more skirts and dresses, and enjoying them more than the slacks. I also have a 15yo dd who can be kinda sloppy with her clothing. I have really endeavored to get her clothes that are stylish but modest (hard on a petite, short-chested, full-busted girl), but she has other mothers at church stopping her in the hallway to tell her how nice she looks & how much they appreciate her modest clothing. Hurray!

  18. Thanks, Sherry! I loved hearing your struggles and how successful it sounds like you’ve been with your daughter! Bless those women for commenting! :)

  19. I am a 20 something Christian & I only wear that which pertains to women. This includes dresses & skirts. Although this scripture that I semi-quoted isn’t speaking solely of clothing, it is still very relevant today.
    This is not to talk down to anyone that doesn’t share the same beliefs. I can only speak of what the Lord places on my heart to do & be.
    What I wonder is what is the difference between wearing skirts to church only & pants everywhere else and just wearing what you want when you want. God is everywhere & He doesn’t require obedience solely in His house of worship.
    I personally feel weird if my clothing is too fitted or my skirt is a little too short. Short for me is at the knee. If you can sit down & your knees are showing.. it’s too short. I am still young & don’t have a bad body, but i choose modesty of both Spirit & flesh. I am different so shouldn’t I look that way?

  20. Good for you, Jill. I am so glad there are young women like you that feel so strongly about modesty. I appreciate your spirit and your comments. Being a mom of 3 girls, I love it when I see older girls in the church in dresses and skirts. It’s so rare these days, and you’re right, it definitely sets us apart as different from the world.

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