Of course it would be nice if a dress code from heaven fell down to us telling us exactly how much skin should be covered, etc. But the dress code from heaven has already been stated: “that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation….which is proper for women professing godliness…” (1 Tim. 2:9-10).

The Christian faith is not a faith of rules and regulations but of liberty and wisdom. Women are to exercise and express their faith in God by many means, one of those being how we dress. And this requires wisdom. Official dress codes/rules have their place in schools or work places. But when it comes to how we live and apply God’s Word personally, we are to use wisdom. If we are simply given a list of rules, we don’t need to think for ourselves. We don’t need wisdom.

So I believe we ought to think world-viewishly about the way we dress at the pool, as well as how we dress at church or the grocery store or school. We should think like faithful Christian women.

We often apply our Christian worldview to literature, art, music, entertainment, and culture. But it obviously applies in our daily living as well: our view of our homes, food, family, gardening, really everything. Clearly it applies to how we “adorn ourselves.” So we ought to dress with a Christian worldview in mind.

Now I’m not saying that since we have no specific list of rules governing how short, how low, how tight, or how loose, that these things must not matter. Far from it. We ought to dress like wise women, not like fools. That means thinking about it. It means shopping with an eye toward what is proper for women professing godliness. A foolish woman dresses provocatively; a wise woman dresses attractively. What is attractive on one woman may be provocative on another. So this requires wisdom. And I always fall back on this: when in doubt, throw it out.

So what is the standard? Modesty is a good thing. It isn’t dorky or out of date. Modesty is a woman’s glory. It is concerned with propriety and moderation, which I take to mean good taste, not cheesy or cheap. Modesty is an attitude. It isn’t flamboyant or ridiculous. It is reverent, God-honoring. A modest woman has integrity and self-respect. She cares more for pleasing God than exposing herself to the grandstands. She has security in knowing who she is and Whom she serves.

So with all that in mind, dressing for the pool takes wisdom. Give it some thought and prayer. And be sure to check the mirror from the backside.

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21 thoughts on “Dress Codes

  1. What an excellent post. Thanks!

    Living in TX in the summer with a gaggle of kids almost necessarily involves water, and after trying various things since I’ve had my little people, I’ve decided that (for those nursing mothers among us) Lands’ End DD swimsuits are the best thing for modesty around–they keep things where they should be–even when little people who can’t swim cling to you. If you have to pay $$ for a swimsuit, you might as well get a modest one for just a little extra. (They’re on sale right now, by the way, ladies!)

  2. Nancy,
    Great last two posts! Thanks for encouraging God’s women to be wise in their dress and not fools. Thanks too for revealing the other possibility that our “indignation can be poorly disguised envy” towards those in less modest swim wear. Doesn’t it always come back to our heart?

  3. Nancy,
    “modesty” a word that is so foreign in this present time. What in the world does it mean? This is the question I get when I bring it up. My husband and I are missionaries serving in Warsaw, Poland and in a very Catholic country, there seems to be a huge failiar in morals and especially dressing immodestly. There is a woman who attends our church here and she was always dress very seductively even though I, as the wife of the missionary always wear a dress, or skirt and try to be very modest. She seemed to want to get involved with everything, but didn’t change anything in her appearance or behaviour, finally I confronted her and tried to write some brief essays on modesty and purity. She admitted she has some sins in sexuality in her life. Lately she has dawned dresses or skirts, but always tends to wear things too tight on the bust or hips. The article you wrote above about modesty really touched my heart, because I feel the same way as you stated that modesty is not just rules but is truly desiring not to flaunt ourselves before other men or other woman’s husbands. Thank God people like you still believe the truth. Please keep writing and teaching it is very important!

  4. Thanks for the posts. I just finished reading your book Mrs. Vaughn, the Beauty of Modesty. Loved it. We’re putting it in our Church library and heartily recommending it. Ladies, if you haven’t read it, do so!

  5. I think you have fully answered the questions I had about modest clothing, though I don’t think my questions were phrased in a way to gain this answer. I just didn’t know at the time what it was exactly that I needed to ask. Thank you!

    Would you recommend the book mentioned in the comments; the book written by Mrs Vaughan? No implied attack directed towards Mrs Vaughan at all, I simply haven’t heard of her before and therefore would hesitate to buy the book without a good recommendation.

  6. Amen to the “Beauty of Modesty” by the Vaughans. I loved it and thank God for getting it out there. We have also added it to our church book table and they are quickly being bought up. What a blessing!
    Thank you Diane.

  7. “Modesty is a good thing. It isn’t dorky or out of date. Modesty is a woman’s glory. It is concerned with propriety and moderation, which I take to mean good taste, not cheesy or cheap. Modesty is an attitude. It isn’t flamboyant or ridiculous. It is reverent, God-honoring. A modest woman has integrity and self-respect. She cares more for pleasing God than exposing herself to the grandstands. She has security in knowing who she is and Whom she serves.”

    This is exactly how I feel and you have put into perfect words for me. Thank you. I plan to print this out and hang it in my closet. 🙂

  8. In youth ministry, this topic is very important. I have always referenced teen girls to 1 Peter 3:3-4. A woman who possess a “gentle and quiet spirit” will dress in such a manner. There is a good practical, concrete checklist in the back of the Mahaney’s Girl Talk book that is helpful.

  9. Peggy Sue and Crystal,
    Thank you for your kind words. What a blessing to hear you were encouraged by “The Beauty of Modesty” and that it is available at your churches! And thank you, Billie, for referring Joanne to the book review Nancy Wilson so graciously wrote up. Joanne, I hope Mrs. Wilson’s review is helpful. BTW, it’s kind of funny seeing your name being referred to in this kind of forum, so I thought I’d just chime in and acknowledge some of the comments. What an interesting and crazy kind of world we live in! 🙂

  10. I learned about modesty in a very roundabout, rather odd way. As an unbeliever in college I studied sumptuary laws, which were medieval laws governing modesty and fashion. Different regions and cities had different rules — how much fabric could be worn, what colors, what shoes, what time of day, etc.

    I found it interesting that the societies with the most rules generally had the most rule-bending. (Did you know that platform shoes actually were a medieval fashion — invented in order to allow women to increase the number of inches of fabric in their skirts??) And the more the rules, the further away from actual modesty things got. Modesty was enforced by code, not by faith, and so people acted like the lawbreakers we are by nature.

    The terrible ridiculousness of it all intrigued me. I knew theses were Christian societies, earnestly trying to live out the gospel. So why did modesty codes ultimately encourage the lasciviousness they were supposed to prevent? When I became a believer I found help in what Nancy repeats here: “Modesty is an attitude. It isn’t flamboyant or ridiculous. It is reverent, God-honoring. A modest woman has integrity and self-respect. She cares more for pleasing God than exposing herself to the grandstands. She has security in knowing who she is and Whom she serves.” Modesty isn’t about codes, but about finding freedom to dress, talk and walk in obedience to Christ.

    My girls are very young, but they pay attention. Our 7-year old asked at breakfast this morning why the girl in front of us at church had her sleeve hanging off her shoulder — “was that modest, Mom?” I am so thankful I didn’t have to get into the details of the girl’s clothing, but simply direct her through questions about having a modest attitude. Soon she’ll be old enough to enjoy the challenges of fashion history too. What a rich way to encourage incarnational worldview thinking about modesty!

  11. That’s fascinating, Megan. Thanks for sharing your historical insight! Perhaps you could recommend a basic book (or website would be even better) on fashion history for those who want to explore that topic further?

  12. Oh dear. Okay, here goes, Val. I will apologize profusely if after reading this your eyes roll back in your head or you fall asleep. I am passionate about this area of history, so I get a little giddy when allowed to talk about it!

    I’m afraid I have only a scholar’s answer: There’s simply too much made-up garbage about the Middle Ages floating around on the Web to trust. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing accurate about sumptuary laws on the internet. I just haven’t found much yet, other than basic descriptions and definitions. And even the descriptions tend to focus more on social science than on ethics, so you’re likely to read that class warfare rather than concerns for modesty led to sumptuary laws (although class warfare is part of the package too).

    I was introduced to sumptuary laws by Professor Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, who is one of the most highly respected scholars of medieval Italy in the world, during a lecture she gave to the graduate history department at ASU about 10 years ago. Her seminal work is “Women, Family and Ritual in Renaissance Italy”, although she has published other books and who knows how many hundreds of articles as well (many of which are in French, but you can find translations). I highly recommend anything she has written (or co-written with David Herlihy or Georges Duby).

    As a student in college I did not always agree with Profesor Klapisch-Zuber’s viewpoints. She is not a Christian, and she is not inclined to think of the Middle Ages as Christian. But she really challenged me to think. And she graciously encouraged me when I offered alternate explanations than her own. Although she is generally a women’s studies (a.k.a. “feminist”) scholar, I wouldn’t let it daunt you. She gives you so much meat to chew on that you shoudn’t have trouble throwing away the bones.

    (Oh, wow, how I wish I could write about all of this some day…)

  13. Valerie and Megan,
    I know the Puritans tried some sumptuary laws in New England as well, but they were terrible failures for obvious reasons. But this discussion reminded me of a quote of Thomas Watson’s: Some women dress as though they wanted the devil to fall in love with them.

  14. Yay for modesty not being dorky, and for not-so-common-sense wisdom in the original post!

    I love being able to make modest choices and still look attractive, and now there are so many modest clothing companies who are trying to fill the gaps in what we might be able to find in our local stores. Google something about modest clothing and you’ll find a bunch of goodies. If nothing else, it encourages me when I see how many other like-minded women are out there! Who says you can’t look super pretty without looking provocative?

    Jessica
    Owner, SakuraRose Boutique
    http://www.sakurarose.com

  15. Jessica, I looked at your website and was so happy! Congratulations on making wrap-style dresses that don’t plunge to the bellybutton or require frumpy safety pinning to keep closed (like many of mine)! You go, girl.

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