What is modesty? Modesty is a tough subject to pin down, partly because there are so many ideas about what it means to be modest.
There is no rule book to modesty. For some people, modesty might mean full coverage from the neck down. For others, modesty can include short sleeved shirts and a pair of shorts. Some people agree modesty means skirts and dresses only–others wear pants and call it modesty. With all the disagreement, you can see why it’s so hard to define.
I think the most important thing to remember, is that modesty is not only about clothes. In fact, I would argue that it is primarily not about clothes. People get so caught up in the rules that they forget that modesty is, in its essence, an attitude of the heart.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, modesty is “the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities,” and “freedom from conceit or vanity.” Modesty is not so much about what we wear, but how we act. We tend to separate modesty the virtue and modesty in dress in our minds. They are not separate. The second is an extension of the first. The key to modesty is humility.
The reason why clothes are so important is not because they are the definition of modesty, but rather because they are the outward manifestation of something within. Modesty in dress mimics modesty of heart–not the other way around. To dress modestly is to take attention away from ourselves, and place it on God. Immodesty does the opposite. Immodesty in dress glorifies the self. It says, “look at me!”
Now, I’m not saying that you should go out and buy the ugliest clothes you can find so as not to draw attention to yourself. That is not modesty, any more than putting yourself down is humility. True humility is not feeling poorly about yourself. Rather, it is understanding yourself as you truly are–your dignity, talents, and goodness as well as your sinfulness and failures. True humility is also putting others before yourself. Modesty, as an outgrowth of humility, is similar.
Modesty is dressing beautifully to draw attention to your dignity and value. Modesty is not dressing seductively to draw attention towards your body and away from your heart. Modesty is dressing to help our brothers and sisters in their struggles. Modesty is not saying, “if they (men) want to lust over me, or they (women) want to compare themselves to me that is their problem. I will wear what I want.”
Perhaps God knew what he was doing when he failed to set down a rulebook for what modesty in dress means. He explained clearly what is meant by “modesty of heart.” Maybe, in failing to explain how to dress modestly, he hoped to pull our attention away from the clothes, and towards the virtue. And maybe, just maybe, he hoped we would search our hearts and allow our modesty to flow from there.
What do you think? What does modesty mean to you? Let me know in the comment section below!