By Ron Halbrook
Godly women are taught to dress modestly so as to reflect reverence for God and so as to exert a good influence upon men (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:14). Worldly minded brethren tell us that these passages do not forbid such “styles” as shorts, miniskirts, and swimsuits, but forbid only overdressing. They tell us that in the first century there was no problem with women exposing their bodies and that the passages cited above have no reference to such a question. “Besides, nobody thinks anything about it nowadays. No one considers such attire immodest or pays any attention to it except a few grouchy preachers and a few narrow-minded brethren.”
The truth is that some first-century fashions were gaudy and some gauzy – some overdressed and some under dressed a woman’s body. Both forms of immodesty are forbidden by the principles taught in such passages as 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and I Peter 3:1-4. Historians tell us that the silk market boomed in the first century because silk clothing could be designed which “clung to the female form in a way that was infinitely more pleasing to the eye” than traditional fashions. Next, designers decided that “the close-woven Chinese fabric” was “not sexy enough,” so they “re-wove it into a flimsy gauze which left little to the imagination.”
For the average Roman girl-watcher those were golden years, but the moralists raise a fearful outcry. “I see clothes of silk, if clothes they can be called, “wrote the philosopher Seneca (4 BC-AD 64), “affording protection neither to the body nor to the modesty of the wearer, and which are purchased for enormous sums. . . ” Pliny told of garments that “render women naked.” Other writers waggishly referred to clothes I made of glass” (Robert Collins, East to Cathay: The Silk Road [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968], pp. 44-46).
Notice Seneca’s reference to costly array which violates the principle of modesty when worn, both of which are mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:9-10.
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
The new fashion rage is pushing ” see-through blouses,” ‘racy peek-a-boo garb,” and all sorts of “gauzy merchandise. ” As Laura Akgulian observes, “The ‘power’ of these clothes resides in the fact that they’re hardly clothes at all. They are lingerie masquerading as day wear.” Akgulian is working on a book about women and fashion. Her article “See-through chic is sheer effrontery to females” appeared in the Houston (TX) Chronicle, 21 March 1989, p. 11A. She rightly protests the new fashion as outrageous and brazen.
It is embarrassing and disgusting even to read about these new styles, but it will be still more embarrassing and disgusting to be “forced to watch other women parading around” in them. The only thing worse will be when some Christian women get sufficiently accustomed to the new style to wear it. Will some of us become so demoralized and degraded as to show off the new fashion at worship services, as happened with the miniskirts? I shudder to think about it.
We cannot become totally pessimistic when a voice like Laura Akgulian’s can still be heard in our society! In traveling around the country, it is heartening to meet many godly sisters in Christ who have never bowed the knee to the fashion gods of under dress and overdress. There are many godly husbands and fathers who are leading their families in the paths of righteousness. Not all gospel preachers are as silent as the tomb on modesty. Many still speak the truth of God with dignity, kindness, and firmness. When necessary, they can cry aloud and spare not.
Brethren, we must not become so discouraged that we quit speaking out in behalf of righteousness, godliness, and modesty. When my wife and I wrote the editor of the Houston Chronicle thanking him for printing Laura Akgulian’s article, he printed our letter in the “Viewpoints” column (2 Mar., p. 3H). We must not be ashamed of the gospel. We must not be afraid of the frowns of our neighbors and relatives (and even some brethren). Compromise and concession cause our lights to grow dim in this world of darkness and sin. With childlike faith in the Lord, with courage and conviction, let us resolve to “shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 14, p. 427
July 19, 1990