Modesty is the behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.

A biblical definition of modesty must focus on the heart. Modesty is primarily about our motivations. In addition, modest dress is also about discernment, having an awareness of others and our environment.

Where then does modesty fit into the Christian ethic? Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 “I desire…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.“ Christian women should concern themselves with modesty because the Bible does.

Modesty is not anti-pretty: Paul is not anti-adornment. The force of his statement is positive: “women should adorn themselves.” These are not the words of an anti-fashion prude. The same word “adorn” is used to speak of a bride beautifying herself for her husband (Revelation 21:2). It is a term that expresses being ornamented, well-kempt, and put in order. The question for Paul isn’t about whether a woman should ornament her body, but how.

Modesty is about who you worship: In the context, Paul is talking about how women should prepare themselves for gathering at church. Women are commanded to adorn themselves in a way that is fitting for worship. If they “profess godliness”—that is, they desire to show God honor and reverence—how should they dress?

Paul puts his finger on the trigger of the problem. In Ephesus, the original destination of this letter, the cultural elite were known for their gaudy and extravagant wardrobes, their elaborate hair styles, and their expensive clothing that communicated extraordinary wealth. Paul paints a picture of this for the Ephesians Christians and says, “Don’t mimic that. When you come to church, come dressed in a way that shows you desire to the attention to be on God, not yourself.”

A person’s manner of dress, or even their preoccupation with clothing itself (Matthew 6:28-30), is often indicative of a heart that loves self more than God.

Modesty is about behavior and attitude, not just clothing: When Paul says that women should wear “respectable apparel,” the term “apparel” is a term that encompasses not just clothing, but one’s whole demeanor, attitude, and actions.

Ultimately, what should adorn a woman is not just clothing but “good works.” As Christians, we are being remade by God for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Christ died so that we might be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). Women should seek to dress their lives in works that do good to others, marked with godly love.

This means modesty is not simply about what we wear, but how we act, how we communicate, and how relate to others.

Modesty shows sensitivity to sin: In this text Paul says a woman’s apparel should be worn with “modesty.” The King James Version translates this “shamefacedness,” which gets more to the heart of the word. It is talking about a demeanor of reverence, showing respect to oneself and a regard for others. It even carries the connotation of “bashful.” Connected to the term “shame,” the word implies the idea of grief over sin that is in the world—that a woman would be so sensitive to sin, knowing that sin is offensive to God, that she would never come close to trying to provoke it in others.

No, a woman is not guilty of a man’s lust if she dresses with the intention to allure him. Let him account for his sins. But she is guilty of a lack of shamefacedness, for treating sin lightly. A heart of modesty is motivated by a love for one’s fellow man.

Modesty involves cultural discretion: Paul didn’t just paint broad strokes when talking about modesty; he gave specifics. He said braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire were out of place for a truly modest woman.For Paul, the appearance of braids and ornaments was more about what the fashion communicated. Paul’s description of immodest dress conjured a picture of someone preoccupied with appearance, fashion, luxury, and sexual prowess. Similarly, modern modesty standards are not about arbitrary rules of how much skin is shown or how low-cut something is, but about the messages and values our clothing communicates.

Modesty is about true freedom, not repression: More often than not, modesty standards are seen as repressive, arbitrary rules that restrict a woman’s creativity and freedom. But when modesty is motivated from the heart, the exact opposite is true.

Paul says women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel with “self-control.” This might be better understood as “self-mastery,” being of sound mind or sober, being in control of one’s impulses and appetites. In extra-biblical literature, this word has sexual nuances: being able to totally control your romantic and erotic desires.

Immodesty is often, though not always, a kind of slavery. A woman may be enslaved by her desire to attract a man. She might define her worth by her fashion sense, her sex appeal, her image, her bust size, her weight, or the brand names she wears. This kind of slavery is widespread because sin impacts us all, and in today’s sexually charged, media-saturated culture, many women fall prey to this kind of slavery.

But as Christians we are free from the slavery of sin because we are united to Christ. Paul exhorts us to live out this freedom: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12). When it comes to modest dress, we can follow Paul’s next statement quite literally: Do not present the members of your body to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present your members to God as instruments for righteousness (v.13). Paul wants Christian woman to have self-mastery in their wardrobe choices, to be totally free from worldly ways of defining worth, beauty, and sexiness.

Defining Modesty

Taken together, these aspects of modesty help to give us a working definition. Modesty is a respectable manner of adorning one’s body and carrying oneself, born out of a freedom from a worldly definition of beauty and worth, and motivated by a hatred of sin and a desire to draw attention to God.

When it comes to the subject of modest clothing, the first question we should ask ourselves is: What am I trying to accomplish by what I wear?

Gikerson, Luke: Citing Sources: […]: [Aug 16, 2013]