Modest Apparel: Who decides? Subjective?

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Herald

Administrator
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Also, can we make an appeal to common sense and propriety? Perhaps a new Christian may struggle with what constitutes modesty in dress, but should that be the case with more mature believers? There is tendency for some folks to appeal to ignorance as a means to justify whatever it is they seek to do.
 
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ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
Also, can we make an appeal to common sense and propriety? Perhaps a new Christian may struggle with what constitutes modesty in dress, but should that be the case with more mature believers? There is tendency for spoke folks to appeal to ignorance as a means to justify whatever it is they seek to do.

Yes. I think you are on to something. Modesty in dress should be like speech in a mature believer. In times past, Christians or not, children couldn't wait to dress like and be grown-ups. However, we now have huge swaths of the middle-aged to older male population that would rather carry themselves, sound and dress like their fifteen year-old sons/grandsons.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks for the responses! Sorry for being slow to reply; I wanted to think about it, and then I got busy and then sick. I likely will be slow in following up on comments after this one too (and I still need to get back to Alexander on the Sabbath thread)... I hope I do not seem to be too picky in my replies; these things just have very relevant applications in life and encounter much resistance (e.g., unbelievers being converted and needing to be taught how to dress; being able to intelligently discuss with other Christians why this or that apparel is immodest or modest).

Miss Marple said:
I can honestly say, though, that I am pretty clear on what is modest in our culture. A bikini is not, frankly, even at the beach, nor is a speedo. A one piece at the beach, yes; at church or generally in public, no.
Seems arbitrary to me: On what basis do you say they are immodest if this is merely a matter of cultural taste, which can change. What if our culture drifts so that such is appropriate wear? Then would you say such is modest? Why condemn "immodest" fashion if it can be changed and is argued that it should change because the body ought not to be so sexualized?

JimmyH said:
Supreme court (USA) justice Potter Stewart asked to define p0rnography said something like, 'I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.' I think for most Bible-believing Christians the same applies to perceiving modesty.
The WLC says it is a sin to wear immodest apparel. Given how much even Christians argue about what is or is not modest (and these are qualitative differences, not quantitative "how many inches should my pants be?" differences), I do not see how this would work in determining whether a particular sort of apparel is sinful or not.

Cymro said:
The house of God is no place for the sisters to have plunging necklines and bare shoulders, that so obviously can be a stumbling block to the male members. Neither am I a fan of young men turning up with rugby shirts and shorts, there is a decorum in approaching the high and lofty one. Concessions are made for the unconverted or the stranger, but the Lords people are to display that modesty of character in their carriage.
How does one determine that the house of God is no place for these things? The Scriptures demand modesty, but how do we know those things are modest?

2ndViolinist said:
Others may differ with me on this, but I do not believe most one-piece bathing suits, any bikinis, or shirtless-ness are ever modest or appropriate in public...
I'm with you on this, but I don't know why. I used to find those things (except bikinis) to be appropriate wear for various situations (like at a beach). Perhaps I have simply picked up the norms expected in conservative Reformed circles...


2ndViolinist said:
(1) I think it is a combination of Scripture (Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Timothy 2:8-10, 1 Peter 3:3-4, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, etc.), one's culture, and personal conviction. My best friend is not comfortable wearing anything shorter than pants or ankle-length skirts, but when she sees me wearing Capri pants or dresses that reach just past my knees, she still believes I am dressed modestly.

(4) Modest apparel may sometimes be relative within a culture. There is a difference between clothing that is inappropriate in some circumstances vs. clothing that is flat-out immodest. Athletic pants or shorts of the rugby variety may be appropriate for sports, but such attire would never be appropriate for a worship service--not because it is immodest... it's just not the right context.
(1) This is getting closer to an answer, but it still leaves the question as to how the application of the Scriptural principle is made in real life. One could say culture and personal conviction, but how are these things determined? Are they ever wrong? If so, then how should they change? If not, on what basis does one establish cultural norms for dress?

(4) How are bathing suits not appropriate for a beach? They are light clothing, and exposing more skin allows for ease of drying clothes that might have gotten wet. How does one determine what is or is not appropriate? If cultural norms have established this, then can the cultural norm be wrong?


Edward said:
Immodest attire is clothing that intentionally draws attention to the body.

For example, Sunday morning I noticed a man's tattooed arms in church. He was wearing a short-sleeved tee shirt. Although the day was warm for late January, it was a bit bracing for tee shirts unless the purpose was to show the tats. So, I would consider his attire immodest.
Given the clarifications/qualifications made in the conversation that sprung from this, this seems a promising criterion. However, is the intention relative to individual intention or do the clothes objectively draw attention to the body? And in either case, it would seem that what constitutes drawing attention to the body could change with time. Should we then join with those who wish to desexualize the body so that clothing that is inappropriate now will be appropriate later?

psycheives said:
I very much appreciate what Miss Marple wrote above about style changes that used to be considered unacceptable in different times and places. Her comments go along with Zack's last post about tailored clothing (above this one). These two comments point out that our modesty standard must be either applicable across ALL cultures and ALL times (if we claim it's a hard fast rule from the Bible) or it must be admitted that the biblical standard of modesty is flexible and influenced by cultural expectations and views. Any Biblical standard must be applicable across cultures and time - such as no nudity. And if we use no nudity as certainly immodest, it seems degrees of nudity can be expressed by less and less clothing. So immodesty seems in part to be a degree thing more than something where we can easily draw a line. So you can't claim women were immodest for showing their ankles back in the day and not immodest today unless you are making a flexible cultural argument. Same for wearing pants. Hey, women not wearing those huge puffed out dress skirts and a corset probably would have been considered immodest back in the day too. This shows the cultural element.

And I very much appreciate Kat's comment about shirt-lessness for both sexes and one-piece bathing suits. They are not modest. Women in skin tight, butt-showing bathing suits is not modest. Here I appeal that it gives the closest illusion of nudity - it's practically there. There is really no difference between this and plain simple underwear. And sorry men, men without shirts is not modest. So I very very much appreciate you guys who are wearing and teaching your sons to wear the surfer shirts! Hey, those actually make you look much cooler with the fun colors and geometric designs.
Thank you, this is useful. (I would note though that skirts vs pants is about distinctive clothing among the sexes: not necessarily modesty in and of itself). It provides a universal criterion that is trans-cultural and then proceeds to make application to the present culture. That is the way I would think it would work. However, it only helps so much...but perhaps that is all that one can say? I know some view short shorts (on either of the sexes) or short skirts as immodest; some would even talk about length of sleeve length too. I'm not sure how this criterion is enough to answer this question, unless it is simply: All these things go because they do not fall under our principle.

As a question about the method though: Why do you not take the Scripture's view of "nakedness" and use that in order to determine what is modest and what is not?

OPC'n said:
So could it be that it appears to be whatever we've allowed ourselves to become desensitized to over the ages and then think our struggle with sexual sin is on the same level of sexual sex our predecessors struggled with? I'm not saying they didn't struggle with sexual sin but it certainly was not what our generation is bombard with out in the open.
How does one determine what is good or bad? What about desexualizing the body so that are current standards do not cause a problem, instead of covering up and hence sexualzing the body?

Herald said:
Perhaps a new Christian may struggle with what constitutes modesty in dress, but should that be the case with more mature believers?
I think there is some truth to this, but I think, the new Christian adopts whatever the norm is of the church culture the Christian finds oneself in? And mature Christians also disagree qualitatively on these things, unless the disagreement is viewed as more maturity being needed? Maturity supposes growth too; what is influencing Christians to mature in their views on these things, to view one thing as immodest and another as not?

Jake said:
It seems in at least this admonition of Paul the focus of modesty is different than is often the target of the discussion. There is often more discussion on pants vs. skirts and skirt lengths and less about expensive garments and jewelry and hairstyling.
This is true, but the admonition seems to at least include the subject matter of the thread.

au5t1n said:
I think everyone would acknowledge that there are objective elements and subjective elements, but in our day the subjectivity is pressed to a breaking point. One aspect to the question that is usually neglected is the implication of the Fifth Commandment on the matter. Many people seem to think generational differences are the same as cultural differences, but they are not. Standards usually decline in succeeding generations and it is rarely a matter of mere cultural shift. It is a matter of each generation rebelling against its parents. A Christian should seek to honor fathers and mothers and rise up before the hoary head.
I have sometimes wondered whether the 5th Commandment might help provide a standard for modest apparel. The main difficulties I can think of though are the same as those stated in the OP, e.g., how do the parents determine what is modest? What if they are too strict or loose in their views? How far back in generations should we go?, what if one set of parents disagrees with another set?, etc.
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
"Honour thy father and thy mother." It is difficult in this day of levelling humour, and where even elders and dignitaries are known to act contrary to their positions of responsibility, but you can still generally gauge a standard of modesty amongst them.

Clothing is one of those areas where it is safest to drive farthest from the edge of a cliff. Some like to show what clever drivers they can be and often endanger their own lives and the lives of others, not realising the caring Providence which keeps them despite their presumptive behaviour.
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
I think by nature women like to please men and by nature men are more sexual creatures in general. Therefore, when men decided they wanted to see more of women's skin and women picked up on that and knew they could get more glances if they began to show more skin that's when immodest clothing took hold. If men would either verbalize dislike towards immodest clothing or not pay attention to women who wear immodest clothing and give more attention to women who are modest, then I think you would see a change in what women wore. Women wear whatever attracts men (I'm speaking generally not everyone fits into this....some women just wear what is comfy which is normally always modest). Men would also change their habit of going without shirts if they desired modesty. I'm not sure why society ever thought it was ok for men to not wear shirts in public when women would never think of doing this.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
I think modesty is subjective and objective at the same time. One thing that is definitely forgotten in most churches today, is the tightness of clothing. I remember my wife getting sexual comments and stares from men when she wore form fitting clothes, but thankfully she came under conviction. She now wear's loser fitting clothing, and those comments and looks have literally vanished. She presents herself as if she has something she only wants her husband to see and have, and this causes men to not look at her as bait, but as a lady who should be respected.

My wife is very beautiful on the outside, and she still dresses beautifully, but not in a way which arouses sexual thoughts within men. If you saw her in public, you wouldn't think she is promiscuous, worldly, or given over to the things of the flesh. You would quickly see that it is what is on the inside of her which is what she wants others to see.

I hope this is encouraging. She has brought joy to my heart in this area.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
While this test certainly doesn't go far enough, it might be a good starting point for those looking for a bright line definition:

If I can look at you and describe anything about your underwear, your clothing probably isn't modest enough.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
I still get the feeling in this thread that we're still placing an easier burden on men than on women. That concerns me, because women are judged very harshly in our society already, and now we in the church are adding to the burden.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Philip said:
I still get the feeling in this thread that we're still placing an easier burden on men than on women. That concerns me, because women are judged very harshly in our society already, and now we in the church are adding to the burden.
I don't see how. Would you demonstrate this? The intent of the thread was to speak of modesty in apparel for both sexes; particular examples are given to test our moral reasoning. (And with regards to the church, I haven't seen that in the Reformed church congregations that I've attended (OPC, RPCNA, FCC, and one PCA congregation)).
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
particular examples are given to test our moral reasoning.

And they've tended to be female examples. With the exception of going shirtless, most of the male examples have been about inappropriateness for a particular setting rather than as such.

Again, I'm not trying to point fingers, just noting that even when we acknowledge that both genders have equal responsibility here, the discussion still tends to trend in a particular direction.
 

Toasty

Puritan Board Sophomore
Immodest attire is clothing that intentionally draws attention to the body.

Would tailored clothing be immodest, then? Tailored clothing (the suit jacket in particular) is designed to compensate for the body's flaws and draw attention to its advantages. Or would you recommend that men buy ill-fitting clothing and not spend money on alterations?

Some clothing should be tailored. I have seen people wear clothing that look too big for them or too baggy.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Philip said:
And they've tended to be female examples. With the exception of going shirtless, most of the male examples have been about inappropriateness for a particular setting rather than as such.
I don't see how examples trending in a particular direction necessarily puts an extra burden, since there could be other, innocuous reasons for the trend. I'll need to think about that. Anyway, a number of the female examples given in the thread apply to men too: tight fitting clothing, pant/shorts length, sleeve length, and neckline are also relevant for men, since these are some fashions one can see and so must be judged whether they are modest. I suppose we could also add "sagging" one's pants as an extreme, real world example to test against.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Again, I'm not trying to point fingers, just noting that even when we acknowledge that both genders have equal responsibility here, the discussion still tends to trend in a particular direction.

As it does in holy Scripture. "Equal responsibility" does not mean "equal roles." Man as man seeks a woman; woman as woman is sought by a man. That is the biblical view and has been the traditional conservative view. Granted it has changed with the emergence of unisex culture; but if we think biblically about the subject it is apparent that modesty is impressed upon women in a way it is not impressed upon men.
 
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Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Philip said:
And they've tended to be female examples. With the exception of going shirtless, most of the male examples have been about inappropriateness for a particular setting rather than as such.
I don't see how examples trending in a particular direction necessarily puts an extra burden, since there could be other, innocuous reasons for the trend. I'll need to think about that. Anyway, a number of the female examples given in the thread apply to men too: tight fitting clothing, pant/shorts length, sleeve length, and neckline are also relevant for men, since these are some fashions one can see and so must be judged whether they are modest. I suppose we could also add "sagging" one's pants as an extreme, real world example to test against.

Phillip may be too young to remember the disco era - men's shirts unbuttoned to the naval to show off chest hair and gold chains; skin tight polyester pants.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
Although I think men typically fall morally more easily over a woman who is immodest as opposed to vice versa, I still think men have an equal obligation to be modest. For example, when we are watching a movie and a guy is with his shirt off, my wife automatically looks away. She believes she should only see her husband's part of the body in that area. Even if she is not lusting over it, she still does not want images in her mind of other men not wearing clothing. This would hinder intimacy rather than keep it pure.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
MW said:
"Honour thy father and thy mother." It is difficult in this day of levelling humour, and where even elders and dignitaries are known to act contrary to their positions of responsibility, but you can still generally gauge a standard of modesty amongst them.

Clothing is one of those areas where it is safest to drive farthest from the edge of a cliff. Some like to show what clever drivers they can be and often endanger their own lives and the lives of others, not realising the caring Providence which keeps them despite their presumptive behaviour.
What if one disagrees with their standard of modesty; how is the standard able to be changed (should one even desire it to change?)? How do they determine what is modest and what is not? What if one set of elders and dignitaries disagrees with another set: how does one determine a standard from them in such a case? And if it is safest to go further in clothing, than less, wouldn't it be ideal then if we all wore robes of some sort?
 

Miss Marple

Puritan Board Junior
Could you apply Matthew 18 for your criteria?

You find a brother or sister to be routinely immodest, so you go to him or her.

No improvement? You take two or three others. If you are off base, probably, they will refuse to do this, or, take up for the allegedly immodest person.

Still unhappy? Go to the church (session, elders). They can decide whether that brother or sister is immodest.

Well, what if they say bikinis in the front yard are ok? I guess then you have lost your case, even if you may be right. There is only so much control you have over another person.

You may object to whether this is subjective or not. Well, it is to a degree. As I said in my first post, were I brought before the session a hundred years ago I'd be judged immodest. My skirts go to the knee. As for these-a-days, no. So there is a subjectivity to it whether you "like" it or not. It's simply true. What is modest in one setting, culture, or situation is immodest in another. I think you are trying for one stark absolute and you are not going to find it.

God has given us Mathew 18 so I'd think we should use that procedure. I believe that normatively it is sufficient.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
What if one disagrees with their standard of modesty; how is the standard able to be changed (should one even desire it to change?)? How do they determine what is modest and what is not? What if one set of elders and dignitaries disagrees with another set: how does one determine a standard from them in such a case? And if it is safest to go further in clothing, than less, wouldn't it be ideal then if we all wore robes of some sort?

"Generally gauge," as above. It requires discretion, to be sure.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Miss Marple said:
What is modest in one setting, culture, or situation is immodest in another. I think you are trying for one stark absolute and you are not going to find it.
That isn't necessarily what I am trying to find. I am trying to figure out how one determines what is modest and what is not. Some argue that there is an absolute, and that is found in the Scriptures. If the Scriptures tell us that "nakedness" is immodest, shouldn't one go to the Scriptures to determine in what that "nakedness" consists? So goes the argument.

MW said:
"Generally gauge," as above. It requires discretion, to be sure.
We might have ended up in a circle here: But what is the basis of the discretion? Or is there no real way to describe such, except as a general "Christian sense" that is developed along with spiritual maturity (which seems to be the consensus of the posters in this thread)?


Edit:
I like this that was said on another recent thread (I hope I am not misapplying it to this topic):
Semper Fidelis said:
One of the things that trips people up with the Puritans is that they can't tell the difference between godly principles and human regulations. They appear to be the same to the casual observer. The tradition of the Scribes and the Pharisees is akin to Canon Law in the Roman Catholic communion. All the work has been done for you to help you figure out what you may or may not do. Puritan works on casuistry, by contrast, gave Scriptural principles for different scenarios that people find themselves in. The Puritans didn't say: do this specific action and you are obeying the Law. Instead, they said: here are some Scriptural principles and now apply the Word of God to your life as you meditate upon the Word and the Spirit convicts your conscience on how you will seek to honor Christ.
Perhaps the questions of the OP were misguided from the start. The question should have been: "What are the principles for determining modest clothing?" Having found some principles, Christian discretion would take over in applying them to various scenarios, as it does in other matters. After that, the only thing left to do would be to explain why it is/is not a valid principle to look at the Scriptures to define what is modest.
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
We might have ended up in a circle here: But what is the basis of the discretion? Or is there no real way to describe such, except as a general "Christian sense" that is developed along with spiritual maturity (which seems to be the consensus of the posters in this thread)?

You can develop a theology of clothing from Scripture as to its proper use. Some of the Puritans touched on this, e.g., cover-up, keep warm, befit station, etc. But yes, for specifics it is a matter of maturity and good sense. The emphasis on maturity commends again the place of superiors.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
MW said:
You can develop a theology of clothing from Scripture as to its proper use. Some of the Puritans touched on this, e.g., cover-up, keep warm, befit station, etc. But yes, for specifics it is a matter of maturity and good sense. The emphasis on maturity commends again the place of superiors.
Thank you! Do you have some thoughts on the argument that Scripture should determine what is modest or not at least to how much of the body should be covered (perhaps by looking at what Scripture views as or calls/assumes to be "nakedness")?
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Bumping once more. I am interested in comments about looking at the Scriptures (in part by seeing what it defines as "nakedness;" in part by seeing how words are defined) in order to determine what is modest clothing.
 
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