The Great Modesty Debate

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Another day, another modesty article coming through my Facebook feed.

Who would’ve guessed that modesty would ever be such a hot topic on social media?

I’ve seen lots of this type of article, which opposes “traditional” perspectives on modesty, arguing that men are capable of controlling their thoughts and should be expected to do so. They place responsibility for men’s lustful thoughts squarely on the shoulders of the men having those thoughts.

I’ve also seen lots of this type of article, which issues a passionate call to women to dress modestly. Articles such as these remind women about the stumbling block principle taught by Paul (I Corinthians 8, Romans 14), and beg women to dress modestly for the sake of husbands and sons, and for all of our brothers in Christ.

A must-read for Christian women, presenting a balanced view of the modesty debate in Christian circles.

The Great Modesty Debate

After considering both sides of the matter, I have to say that I think they’re right.

Which one, you ask?

Well, here’s the thing…

I don’t understand why we have to choose.

We can acknowledge the truth in both viewpoints. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Christ-following men who are in close relationship with their Savior and are accessing His power in their lives are capable of fleeing youthful lusts. Moms, we must teach our boys from a very young age to avert their eyes when confronted with indecency. Because they will be held accountable for their lustful thoughts, no matter what the object of their lust is (or is not) wearing.

Like it or not, we’re “in the world.” This means men and women alike will be confronted with temptations of all kinds many times every day. At the pool. At the computer screen. At the grocery store magazine rack. At the church service. At the office.

We must teach our sons and daughters how to conquer temptation and flee youthful lusts, whether it be the lust for food or sex or attention or material possessions or anything else under the sun.

Christian parents need to raise their sons (and daughters!) to be pure-minded in the midst of an immodest world. That starts with our example.

But guess what? We also need to raise our daughters (and sons!) to be modest in the midst of a highly sexualized society. And that, too, starts with our example.

Because men’s responsibility to control their thoughts doesn’t absolve women from the responsibility to dress modestly.

What is Modesty?

The importance of modesty for women is addressed in 1 Timothy 2:9-10:

[L]ikewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.

A popular blogger recently pointed out that this passage isn’t referring at all to the amount of skin exposed, but rather to materialism. I don’t see eye-to-eye with her on many topics, but I think she’s right here. Christ-following women ought not flaunt their wealth by piling on expensive clothing and jewelry.

But it seems to me that her explanation is still too narrow. If so, why include “braided hair” in the mix?

What is modesty, really? It’s actually pretty simple. Modesty is presenting myself in a way that doesn’t draw attention where attention doesn’t belong.

So if the attention of people doesn’t belong on my bank account or my breasts, I ought not present myself in a way that implies otherwise.

Modesty starts in the heart.

It starts in a heart that is so consumed with love for her God that she doesn’t give a single thought to attracting others’ attention to herself.

A heart that just wants everyone else to be as obsessed with Jesus as she is.

A heart that is poured out in love and service for others, not so they can see her, but so they can see Him.

And a heart that recognizes the human tendency to notice other people, and who intentionally presents herself in a way that doesn’t encourage that tendency.

A must-read for Christian women, presenting a balanced view of the modesty debate in Christian circles.

We love our checklists, don’t we? We would love to know what to wear and what not to wear so we wear all the right things and don’t wear the wrong things. (And just maybe so we can feel nice and holy when we measure up and other people don’t.)

But the truth is, modesty can’t be condensed to a checklist.

“You can show this, but not that. This high, but no higher. You can wear this many carats, but anything more is too much. This many bracelets, but no more.”

People have choices. And how does a Christ-follower make choices?

This, too, is simple. Christ-followers make choices by being in a close relationship with Him and asking Him, and then trusting Him to guide us.

(Yes, it always comes back to that.)

And remember that definition of modesty? Not attracting attention where attention doesn’t belong? Let that Scriptural principle be your guide.

Because attention only ever belongs on Jesus Christ. On our God and who He is and how He works.

If we can cultivate that kind of heart (and teach our children to do the same), I really kind of think the whole modesty thing would take care of itself.

(And imagine how empty our Facebook feeds will be!)

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33 Replies to “The Great Modesty Debate”

  1. Danie

    Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on modesty! I have gained a new and better perspective on this issue.

  2. kim

    Jennifer, What are your thoughts on physical contact in public? what about in church? I think I can hear the integrity of your character, but I would love your take on modesty beyond appearance. Blessings..

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      Wow, what an interesting question, Kim! I truly haven’t given much thought to this topic, so I thank you for posing it. Let me first state that the Bible doesn’t provide a cut-and-dried answer about this, so I believe it falls to personal conviction, at least in part. I personally don’t see a problem with “tasteful” physical affection between a husband and wife in public (including church). My definition of tasteful would be physical contact that shows affection without being suggestive. My husband and I hold hands in church; he places his arm around me if we’re sitting together; he sometimes even gives me a quick kiss when we part ways after church to pick up children in different locations. I can’t think of any Biblical principles that would be violated with this type of contact, at church or otherwise. But if you know of one, please enlighten me.

      There is a gentleman I know who doesn’t engage in any physical contact with his wife at church (including placing his arm around her as they sit together) because he doesn’t want to be a distraction. I have no problem with this opinion, but I do not share it. There are many, many things that could potentially be a distraction in a church setting. Sneezing and coughing come to mind, as do shuffling through pages of the Bible to look for a related Scripture. What about getting up to use the restroom? What if my long hair hanging over the back of the pew catches someone’s eye? It’s just not possible for a church setting to be distraction-free.

      I hope this addresses your question adequately. Feel free to share your own thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to get in touch! Blessings to you!

  3. Randall Allan

    As a man I have been smacked down so many times for opening my mouth on this subject. And as a father I always defend myself with his one thing. As parents we should always be setting the example for our children mothers do you want your daughters dressing as in yoga pants and slutty clothing as adults.
    I have non church going non bible believing friends who profess to be Christians who from a very early age the mother always wore very low-cut tops and short short shorts. Her daughter likewise from the age of 4 dressed in spaghetti strap tops and super high cut shorts their son on the other hand was held to a higher standard and has disappointed his father immensely by becoming engaged to a good Christian girl. I can only assume that they are at least proud of their daughter for her premarital sex and her slutty attire. Modesty does matter and I think it tells the kids the most about what we expect of their behavior.

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      I agree with your conclusion, Randall. Our clothing choices reveal a lot more about us than we like to think, so it stands to reason that our kids will internalize the messages implied by their clothing, too. Thanks for reading, and for sharing your perspective!

  4. Katrina

    Thank you SO much for posting this! I feel like there is finally someone out there that gets it… really gets it… IT being the heart of the issue: that all issues are issues of the heart. Thanks again!

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      Hi, Katrina! Thank you for letting me know of your heartfelt agreement with this perspective. God is ever and always working on my own heart, and I’m so grateful, because I long to reflect Him more fully, even in my innermost being. “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

  5. Liz @ Downtown Demure

    I just loved this article and this line in particular:

    “Modesty starts in the heart. It starts in a heart that is so consumed with love for her God that she doesn’t give a single thought to attracting others’ attention to herself.”

    I think another component in the modesty debate that’s often overlooked is that God frowns upon ALL forms of sexual perversion, including men who lust after women and the women who tempt men through their actions and attire. Yes, men are accountable for their actions, and they should control their eyes and not make the choice to lust. But women are accountable for their actions as well. If we learn that wearing leggings tempts some men, it’s our responsibility to avoid wearing them. We are told in Matthew 18:6-7 that anyone who is a stumbling block to another is held accountable. So, no one is off the hook here. We all have standards of modesty and purity to uphold.

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      I agree that there’s plenty of responsibility to go around, Liz. Thanks for sharing your perspective on that. As far as modest fashion bloggers, I’ve honestly never given that much thought, so thank you for posing the question. I believe that, like anything else, God is concerned about a blogger’s heart first and foremost. If your heart’s desire is to draw attention to yourself, that attitude has the markings of immodesty. But if your heart’s desire is to educate and inspire women toward upholding biblical truth, that is an attitude that will bear the fruit of pointing people to Jesus, which is right where their attention should be. I stopped by your blog, and it’s lovely! You have wonderful fashion sense (which I sorely lack), and I’m thankful for bloggers like you who are giving women clothing inspiration that is both attractive and modest. Blessings on your continued ministry for His glory!

  6. Liz @ Downtown Demure

    Follow-up question: How do you feel about modest fashion bloggers? I’m not talking about the modest fashion bloggers who flaunts her collection of Chanel, but the regular girls who seek to inspire other girls to dress modestly by providing examples of their own attire.

    I happen to be a modest fashion blogger (for lack of better descriptor), but I reluctantly post photos of myself. I only started doing so because other women expressed a need to see examples of fashionable modesty. Given my interest in fashion and my dedication to dressing modestly, it seemed natural to start a modest fashion blog. But I sometimes wonder if it’s immodest to draw attention to myself and my clothes by posting photos…even if my intent is to encourage and inspire. Thoughts? My blog is if you need to see examples of my efforts before responding. Thank you in advance for sharing your wisdom!

  7. Kaylene Yoder

    Jennifer, I simply adore this post. I always cringe when I see a modesty post, knowing it will be taken to one extreme or the other. But when I opened this on & saw it was you 🙂 I knew there was a lot of goo dto readd here. THANK YOU for addressing the heart issue. Just, thank you.

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      Hey, girlie! I admire and appreciate your writing more than you know, so it humbles me that you have such high expectations of what you find on my blog. I trust you to hold me accountable in every way! I’m glad you were blessed here. Love you!

  8. K.M. Logan

    If one thing could be added to this discussion, I think it would be we need to teach our children, boys and girls, that attraction is a normal God given thing and doesn’t go away when you get married. It’s normal to see a man or a woman and be initially attracted for a moment, we’re sexual beings. The important thing is what we do with our thoughts from there. You can’t stop a bird from landing on your head but you can avoid making a nest.

    My heart went from one of indignation, every time I saw a woman that I deemed “slutty” merely based on her dress. I was so overwhelmed with anger I didn’t care about her soul. Switching my thinking about attraction has been very freeing.

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      I think that’s a valid and pertinent point, K.M. Our kids definitely benefit from learning to discern between a moment of attraction and a pattern of lust. Thank you for stopping by, and for contributing to the discussion!

  9. J

    A list for tweens and teens to know what is or isn’t modest I feel is a very good thing. I was a youth group leader for a few years and I was amazed at what parents let their kids wear everyday, to school and especially to church! I was in college at the time working with tweens and teens so I wasn’t an older person trying to relate to kids decades younger.

    I don’t think shorts and tank tops are good. I don’t think sundresses in church are good either. Dresses too tight, short and low cut are no no’s. Kids dress like they are the kardasians, don’t know if I miss spelled it correctly since I don’t watch. My point here is it is really easy to simply say God doesn’t care what we wear he only cares about our heart. But I say if you heart belongs to God then every area of our life including our clothing should be in line with His word. After all we represent Jesus.

    But people like (the kardashians) who claim to be Christians but don’t really dress like it for sure nor do their actions reflect Christ it causes kids, college age kids and even some grown women to think well I can dress like that and it’s o.k.

    My beloved grandmother taught me to be careful what you advertise you might get an answer you don’t want.

    The Bible does say a woman shouldn’t cause a man to fall….hmmm. So we should be careful not to lead a man into temptation.

    However I see pinterest and facebook pages of Christian women and the quotes then they have a post or pages of shirtless hot men in very shall we say soft porn poses and I think to myself it’s still a sin either way the lust goes. Lust is a sin. So are a lot of other things that our culture now tries to sweep under the rug.

    We as women have worked very hard to be taken serious to be paid equally and respected it makes me sad that the younger generations feel that dressing sexy etc is the way to get ahead.

    I pray they will learn to value the God given gift they have been given. After all our bodies are a temple of God. We don’t need to water down Jesus to fit today’s world. We are not to conform but be transformed.

    Love your blog. I understand from reading this post that if our heart is right with God our choices will be in line with his word.

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      Hello! 🙂 You bring up some good points about the breadth of the modesty issue. May God grant us hearts that burn for Him alone, and a fervent longing for His glory more than our own!

  10. Courtney

    Being raised in a family that has always embraced modesty, I whole- heartedly agree with you. The way you feel in your heart really does affect the way you dress and definitely your attitude. If you’re fully in love with God and the things of God, then the way you dress should glorify Him. As Christians representing Christ in our everyday lives, I believe more parents and families need to step up and teach their children the importance of modesty!! Thank you for sharing your heart with others! I always enjoy reading a good post addressing modesty. God Bless you!!

  11. Sybella Owens

    Hi Jennifer! I think this is one of the if not best posts I have read so far on yes the “modesty” topic that sadly many dread. I absolutely love that you talk about how if our heart (and eyes) are on Jesus, we have relationship with the Lord we will begin to ask Him in prayer and be led by the Lord even in dress because it is springing forth from our heart condition and relationship with the Lord. Does that make sense? I realize this may sound “hyper spirtual” or strange to some but the Lord has done a lot of healing in me regarding this topic (you’re inspiring me to prayerfully consider blogging on it one day). In much prayer and relationship with the Lord over time He has taught me and helped me to unlearn some wrong teachings of shame or taking on too much like some others commented on. This topic I think is needed due to the extremes that have been and can be taught and this can be so damaging. I love your perspective here and think that having open discussion even when people have differing opinions is better then no discussions..usually Lol 😉

    At one point in my healing on getting rooted in my identity in Christ and how to walk that out in some practical ways because we do wear clothes etc I remember God saying, “daughter, do not worry, I will let you know if you need to change something.” He said the fact you’re even asking reveals your heart. This is such a simple truth and may seem obvious to some but really comforted me and He has kept His promise. God is so gracious and I think when we have a humble willingness to learn and be teachable, loving God, seeking Him, realizing Who He is and who we are in Him, all of this is part of our walk and we begin to conduct ourselves accordingly. I realize all don’t do this but when we do the results are fruitful. I personally also think balance is key which again as you said does come back to being led by the Lord in relationship. We want to be mindful of our brothers, as well as, not put too pressure much on our sisters, all at the same time. If we are a honest this is a very tricky thing, many have different perspectives, triggers, issues, some things are more obvious then others. So for example a pretty girl no matter how much she may “dress modestly” and carry herself with respect and “heart modesty” will still get attention for her beauty, is that her fault? No! I think one commenter on also teaching attraction vs list was an interesting one, but this is something we need to be mindful of, the examples you gave about shame and humiliation, can make gals feel they are put in a position of they lose either way or under a microscope of judgement (taking a picture when they bend over)?! So I think that we need to continue to have open dialogue and teach about Jesus and relationship, prayer, going to the roots as best we can in leading our kids and others in how to have true relationship with God and know their identity, they are loved, God elks them who they are, they don’t have to get their worth from others, dress etc it comes from God. Teaching boys and youth and modeling respectful honoring behavior in a real way that doesn’t put them under legalistic rules (which will cause rebellion) but having open dialogue, the temptations are real and let’s talk about how to keep our eyes on God, pray for help, avert eyes etc will help tremendously. If a woman or man is securely rooted in their identity in Christ and loves the Lord I believe this naturally supernaturally so to speak produce “modesty.” It’s like a fruit that may come forth for lack of better comparisons. There is as you pointed out so much we can go into on this topic and it can be a big hot button issue. I thank you for opening up a great discussion hear and writing a truly heart on Christ centered article here. I look forward to hearing more. I am praying about starting a blog, just learning. I have a Christian online shop I consider to also be ministry but also teach. Look forward to learning and reading more in our walk!

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      I love this, Sybella: “the fact you’re even asking reveals your heart.” It’s so true – for the woman who is humbly and earnestly desiring to dress in a way that pleases the Lord, He will not let it remain a mystery! Many women – even Christian ones – don’t have this attitude, though. They instead want to assert their “rights” at any cost. I also agree with your statement that “If a woman or man is securely rooted in their identity in Christ and loves the Lord I believe this naturally supernaturally so to speak produce ‘modesty.'” I believe you’re correct about that, and so our focus must be on spiritual growth – teaching Christians about being tender to the Holy Spirit and preferring others over ourselves in a spirit of sincere love. Thank you for stopping by, and for sharing your very good thoughts on this topic. Please let me know whether you’ve started your blog! 🙂

  12. KM Logan

    The braids were probably included, because in that time elaborate braids were a sign of wealth, proving one had slaves. Poor women didn’t wear braids. I don’t think there is a very strong case that this passage means anything but don’t flaunt your wealth. That’s not to say there aren’t other scriptures to consider in the debate, just not this one.

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      Hello, and welcome! I suspect you’re correct about the braids being a sign of wealth. However, that still begs the question, “Why?” Why should the wealthy refrain from flaunting their wealth? There are probably multiple reasons for this, but I believe the entirety of Scripture supports the definition of modesty as “not drawing attention where attention doesn’t belong” – whether that’s our wallet or our clothing (or lack thereof) or anything else about us – as our desire should be to point always toward God instead of ourselves. It is this desire that epitomizes a heart of modesty. Thanks so much for weighing in!

  13. Anca Chitoi

    I think modesty has something to do with self confidence. As a woman who grew up in a christian country with christian parents I wasn’t allowed to wear clothing that were too tight on the body. It emphasized to much of your hips in the case of mini skirts. I had an incident where I was whisled at by guys for the fact that I had a mini skirt that was too short and it left not so much to the imagination of guys. I am now 27 years old and I am starting to look at articles of clothing that are more modest. Although it still emphasizes my figure at least I will leave something to imagination. Men probably want someone who doesnt display everything for the world to see. Another point that I am trying to convey is an incident that happened to me last year. I was going shopping with my sister when I saw this cute top on the manequine. It looked nice. Went into the dressing room put it on and i discovered just how inappropriate it was. The top was too loose in front so when I bent over it was showing my chest too much. I was literally mortified. My point is wearing modest clothing make you feel comfortable in your own skin.

    • Jennifer Clarke Post author

      Hello, Anca, and welcome! You’ve made a couple of good points here. I think there’s some truth in saying that although the eyes of a man may be attracted to an immodest woman, when it comes to who they choose to be in a relationship with, they would prefer a woman who is more modest. And yes, the way clothes look hanging on the rack or on a mannequin can be very different from how they appear on our bodies! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.


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