Dressing Modestly

By Gary L. Coles

“Mom, you just don’t understand. All the girls at school wear short skirts and shorts,” Susan tearfully pleaded. “If I were to dress the way you wanted, I would look like a geek,” she further added.

“Honey, I am not asking you to dress like a bag lady,” Susan’s mother replied. “I just want you to dress in manner that is pleasing to God. Remember, you are a Christian and have a duty to dress in such a fashion that reflects a godly life style.”

Undoubtedly, this conversation is repeated numerously throughout many Christian homes. Especially at this time of year. What do parents do? Unfortunately, many parents simply give in to keep peace. To justify their lack of courage, they argue, “Everyone wears this type of clothing these days, no one thinks anything about it, except old fuddy-duddies in the church.” The interesting thing is that none of these parents ever seem to consider what God’s views on the matter might be. Besides, it’s easier to just “go with the flow.” ” This, “going with the flow,” is getting us into a lot of trouble in the church. In many places it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the church and the world.

To complicate matters even more for parents, in every congregation there are always a few men or women who appear at worship services in extremely immodest clothing. Young people are very good at pointing this out to their parents. A very shrewd teenage girl may conclude that short skirts and shorts are acceptable since older women appear at worship services in such clothing, and are never criticized by the elders or the men of the congregation.

I just don’t understand the attitude of some Christians. Their natural inclination seems always to be worldly. They never stop to consider what dressing in immodest clothing might do to their influence as a Christian. If Christians were as concerned about their Christian reputation as they are about their worldly reputation, these types of discussions wouldn’t be necessary. Take a look at the following verses which reflect how a Christian should value his/her godly image:

That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15).

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Rom. 12:2).

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).

How can a Christian possibly comply with the above passages when he/she appears in public dressed in immodest apparel But, that’s the real question, isn’t it? What is immodest apparel? Many in the church believe that is purely a matter of opinion. That no one can definitively state what is appropriate or inappropriate in clothing. That’s convenient  isn’t it! However, I believe the Bible gives us some insight and perspective on this matter.

A Biblical Definition of Nakedness

It is important that we realize that the manner in which we dress reflects the attitude of our heart. In other words, people evaluate us by the type of clothing we wear. For instance, in Proverbs 7:10 we read of a woman that is, “dressed as a harlot.” What does that mean? Apparently, this woman was dressed in such a way any man would know what her true intentions were. This is true even today. In many cities there are women that dress in a revealing, seductive way to capture the attention of men. Should a Christian woman dress in a similar fashion?

In contrast, in 1 Timothy 2: 9 we can read how women are, ” to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly.” Some people have mistakenly concluded that this means a woman is to dress in a 19th century manner. This is ridiculous! With the numerous types of clothing styles that are available today, a woman has no trouble dressing fashionably and modestly.

To help us better understand what biblical modesty is, let’s take a look at a few terms that are used in regard to this topic:

1 Tim 2:9-10:

Modest: “Well arranged, decent, seemly.” Shamefacedness (NASV – Modest): “Sense of shame, modesty, reverence, the ability to blush.”

Sobriety (NASV – Sensuality): “Soundness of mind, self-control.”

Gal. 5:19-21; 2 Cor. 12:21: Lasciviousness (NASV – Sensuality): “Absence of restraint, indecency, shameless conduct.”

These terms give us a good idea with what attitude a Christian should regard his/her dress. Unfortunately, some Christians are just intent on doing what they want to do. They could care less what the Scriptures might say on the matter. However, I will admit that we need to probe a little further in order to have a more specific understanding of what God’s views are on this topic.

There are a few scriptural references that we can examine which will give us some insight on what types of clothing are considered acceptable by God. In Genesis 3 we can read of the account of Adam and Eve’s fall. When their eyes had been opened by their partaking of the forbidden fruit, they became aware of their nakedness. They sewed fig leaves together to make clothing to cover themselves. The original Hebrew word for this clothing is chagorah a garment worn about the midsection, similar to a swimsuit. Later in the chapter, we read of God himself making clothes for Adam and Eve. The original Hebrew word for this clothing is kethoneth  a garment such as a tunic, commonly reaching to the knee. Why did God make this clothing for Adam and Eve? The only answer is that the clothing they had made themselves was unacceptable. Here we have an example of God himself designating what is modest apparel.

In Exodus 28:42,43 God gave specific instruction regarding the official dress of the priests. He stipulated that he wanted their nakedness covered. The clothing he specified went to the knee. To me, there seems to be a pattern. God wanted his people to be covered at least to the knee.

One argument I hear over and over is that since every-one else in society dresses in an immodest fashion, no one notices. Even if that were true, it still wouldn’t make it right. God has indicated that he wants his people to dress in a modest fashion. Why? I believe there are some very good reasons for dressing modestly. If the above argument is true, and no one notices people in short shorts and swimming suits, why do advertisers consistently use scantily dressed people to sell their products? To get people’s attention! And it works. Whether it’s television, a magazine, or a billboard, a seductively dressed woman will captivate the attention of millions of men. What do you think these millions of men are thinking when they see these advertisement ads? I know what they are not thinking: “There is fine, upstanding, godly, Christian woman.” The same is true when women appear in public in skimpy clothing. How can Christian men and women possibly be a good influence when dressing in such a way? Unfortunately, many Christians are just kidding themselves. They just refuse to face the facts. This refusal will result in the loss of many souls!

“If I dress modestly I will not be accepted by my friends and peers. Young people never seem to understand that when you begin trying to please everyone to be accepted, there is no end to it. No matter what you do, there will always be some that will think your not up to their standards. Do you really want friends like that? True friends will accept you for who you are, not what you wear.

Tragically, many young people use this same argument to justify pre-marital sex, drugs, and drinking.

“Why make the teen years more difficult than they have to be? It’s cruel to make a child look so different!” As we stated earlier, a person does not have to wear a huge burlap sack in order to be modest. This type of argument reflects a lack of Bible knowledge and spiritual maturity. In Romans 12:2 we are told, “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you mind.” There are times when Christians need to be different. Of course, some Christians carry this to excess and are different just to bring attention to themselves. The Pharisees did this and Jesus criticized them for it. However, there are occasions when Christians must take a stand and say, “No! I’m going to please God rather than man!”

“Your just an old-fashioned fuddy-dud, behind the times and ignorant of what’s in style.” Ask yourself this question: What is more important to you? Always being up to date in fashion, even if it is immodest, or being in heaven with God for all eternity. Too simplistic? Not really. That is what it really comes down to. What if total nudity becomes fashionable? With the way society is going this could be a very real possibility. Would you go along with that too? Many would say “never.” But I wonder. Some people are so fashion conscious, they might be willing to do anything to be accepted by their peers. Besides, many outfits worn today in public, are about as close as one can get to nudity.

“Some schools require certain uniforms for physical education classes and for team sports.” I learned a long time ago, that where there is a will there is a way. Being a preacher, and moving around a lot, I have been associated with several different school systems. I have never experienced any difficulty in obtaining permission for my boys to wear longer shorts and tee shirts under their required uniforms. In fact, many of the boys in their classes and teams do the same for other reasons. Once again, with the varying types of sporting apparel that is on the market today, it is very easy to dress modestly and not look out of place.

“I will dress the way I wish! If others cannot control their lustful thoughts, that’s their problem!” Let’s face it. If people in our country were to dress modestly, there would much less fornication, adultery and rape. Revealing clothing is a chief cause of immorality. Sin begins in the mind. “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it give birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (Jas. 1:14,15). Keep in mind that lust is evil desire. In many cases, lust is stimulated by an external source. Do you remember how David got into trouble? While standing on his rooftop he saw Bathsheba bathing. Evil desire welled up inside of him and caused him to lose control and do what he knew was an abomination to God. If this can happen to someone of David’s stature, what about us? Earlier we spoke of the woman dressed like a harlot found in Proverbs 7:10. What happened to the young man that passed by the corner? Evil desire consumed him and he committed fornication. In Proverbs 7:21 it further says, “With her many persuasions she entices him…. No doubt, one of her powers of persuasions was her lack of clothing!

Take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 5:27,28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” Granted, some men would probably have evil desires for a woman even if she were dressed in a long sleeved, floor length flannel dress. Nevertheless, we have seen how immodest clothing can fan the fires of evil desire a hundred times.

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” There are many other passages that caution us about being a hindrance to others. Don’t you think this would also apply to dressing immodestly? Many times I have heard people rationalize, that they were too old, skinny, fat and ugly for any one to experience evil desires for them. Some people’s ignorance contains no boundaries. We never know what other people’s likes or dislikes are. The above observations will often prove untrue in some cases. Besides, there are numerous other reasons (already mentioned) that would disallow the wearing of immodest clothing.

Sadly, most men believe that none of the things we have discussed apply to them. They think they can appear in public wearing very little and still be a fine example of a Christian. I would like those men who feel this way to consider one very important point. Why did God provide Adam with different clothing? If the modesty question is of no consequence to men, why didn’t God allow Adam to remain in his original set of clothes? You see, modesty is an important issue for both men and women. Furthermore, a scantily dressed man can also be responsible for stimulating evil desires in women. I have never understood how many people fail to see this.

I don’t know how often I have seen Christian men parading around in their yards, and other places, in short shorts and no shirt. They never stop to consider what they are doing. Besides, unless they have been blessed with an unusually good physique, their appearance is usually a grotesque experience for those unfortunate people who see them.

Getting Specific

A discussion of this nature is valueless unless we are able to make some practical application. In other words, what type of clothing would be immodest under the guidelines mentioned in the Bible. This is usually where the trouble begins. Many people in the church want to keep discussions like this very general and let people draw their own conclusions. Unfortunately, some are not very good at objectively drawing conclusions. Please take a look at the list on this page:

Inappropriate Clothing


    • Shorts above the knee,



    • Dresses with a hemline above the knee. (Keep in what happens when you sit down.)



    • Dresses that have slits which expose the upper part of the leg.



    • Any type of clothing that is too tight and’ to see under-garments and body.



    • Dresses with low cut necklines.



    • Halter tops.



    • Any clothing that is transparent.



    • Modem day swimsuits (one/two piece).



    • Men going without shirts in Public.


I realize that many will look at this list and think that I’m from some far distant planet in Outer space. However, if you will sincerely study the Scriptures we have considered in this article, I think you will see that this list is a fair and accurate application of what the Bible has to say about this subject. To be honest, I would not want to find myself trying to justify the wearing of such clothing in public. In fact, it can’t be done  not scripturally! Nevertheless, people will continue to do what they want to do. I fear that this article will do little in changing anyone’s mind. Consequently, many people will continue their deadly flirtation with the world.

Dressing For Worship

You would think that Christians would wear their most conservative, least questionable clothing to the worship services. Tragically, this is often not the case. Many Christians come to services as if they were dressed to mow the yard. I often wonder what God thinks of this extremely disrespectful attitude. Worship is to be a reverent, formal process that demonstrates respect for our Creator.

How often do you see people dressed in shorts and other types of casual attire when going to a funeral or wedding? People realize that weddings and funerals are a special occurrence which demand more formal apparel. Should it be any less for our Lord when we assemble to worship him? Where have our priorities gone?

What Should a Congregation Do?

Unfortunately, most congregations do very little to combat this problem of immodest dress. Oh, occasionally the preacher will get up and present a blistering sermon on the matter. Most members will ignore his comments and never give them a passing thought. A few may change their dressing habits for a while, but in time, usually revert to their original dressing habits. I suppose the main reason little is done about this problem is because members view this as one of those controversial matters that we can’t do anything about. Another reason for indifference, is be-cause most congregations know that this is a powder keg ready to explode. So, to avoid trouble and to keep the peace, the matter is quietly swept under the rug.

I am not suggesting that congregations lower the boom for every minor infraction of a person dressing immodestly. However, when Christian men/women blatantly and brazenly disregard God’s view on modesty, they should be spoken to. Perhaps they are acting in ignorance. If so, educate them. Perhaps they are indifferent. If so, rebuke them. If a situation becomes extreme and an attitude of open defiance is displayed, then perhaps the person should be disciplined. One thing a congregation must keep in mind however, is they cannot become hatchet crazy going around indiscriminately criticizing everyone for their clothing. A great deal of patience and love must be demonstrated in this process.

Unless congregations take a firm stand on this issue soon, I fear that in time it will become a non-issue because Christians will stop caring.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 9 p. 22-24
May 4, 1995