Thank you for your important question about dressing modestly. This is a challenge in our culture which says, “Anything goes!” And as you know, we see people dressed in just about anything.
From the outset, I want to clarify for my readers that the Church is not down on the human body. The Church does not view the human body as something ugly to be covered up. The body is beautiful. It is a work of God’s creation and in that it is good. In fact, it is only in and through the body that we can experience the spiritual realities of each other – because as people, we are spirit-body composite beings.
So, why the question of modest dress? Why don’t we all just walk around naked like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Because, unlike the Garden of Eden before The Fall, there is now sin in the world – it is as simple as that.
Christopher West addresses this in his tape series, “Good News about Sex and Marriage.” We dress modestly to protect ourselves from the lustful looks of others. If sin were not an issue in the world, neither would dressing modestly be.
The reality is that men and women are wired differently. Men are stimulated visually much more easily than women. Have you ever noticed that immodest fashions are generally a problem for women? Men walking around in low-cut shirts really doesn’t do much for women. Since marketing uses sex to sell, you can see how our fashion world is driven.
What we are trying to achieve, in dressing modestly, is not to give rise to stirring lust in a man’s heart. We do not want to give our brothers a reason to sin. And while not all men will necessarily lust after a woman who is dressed immodestly, many men do.
Some men have learned to control this. They have either learned to look away or they have trained themselves to look at a woman with respect. “I have made a covenant with my eyes.” (Job 31:1) We need to pray for more men to be formed in such virtues.
Unfortunately, all men are not trained in virtue! Our secular culture encourages men to sin with their eyes (and with every other part of their body) and so there’s a huge market for lust-driven fashions.
So, when choosing our clothing, as Christian women, I believe we have the responsibility of ensuring that our dress does not tempt men to sin. We do this out of love for our brothers; we do this out of respect for ourselves.
Josh Harris says in his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, that he knows many girls who would look good in tighter shirts and shorter skirts, but he appreciates the fact that they don’t choose clothes like that. This is a sign of respect for our brothers.
And, as my sister-in-law says, “If you want a man to look up to you, don’t give him a reason to look down!” In dressing modestly we demonstrate self-respect. When we show this kind of respect for ourselves, we can expect it from others – and we will usually get it, too!
So what clothes can you choose to wear, when many of the fashions for women are immodest? This is a real challenge! It is so hard to go into a store now-a-days and find something appropriate to wear. But it is possible – it just takes time and it often takes creativity.
You want something that enhances your natural beauty. You want something, in the summertime when it is hot, that keeps you cool but is not immodest. You want something that is in style.
One woman once told me, “Pray before you go shopping for clothes to ask Mary, the Mother of Virtue, to guide your search for modest clothing. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your decisions.” I think that was very good advice.
So what are some general guidelines for modest dress?
Do not wear clothes that are form-fitting. Tight fashions are really in, but they are also really immodest!
If your pants don’t come up high enough (hipsters are the in-thing, now) then make sure your shirt goes low enough! (Say goodbye to the belly-button!)
Avoid spaghetti straps and strapless garments. Here’s one creative way of being able to adapt a fashion. Put a light T-shirt on underneath the spaghetti strap top. Since this adds a layer of clothing, be sure to choose something light enough that it doesn’t get too hot. If you have a strapless garment, wear a light top over it to keep your shoulders covered appropriately.
Choose light weight shirts – that are not see-through – if you want to stay cool in the summer. It is very distracting for a man to be able to see through a woman’s clothes.
Wear appropriate undergarments.
Don’t show cleavage! This is very stimulating to men and very distracting in women’s fashions. It is challenging for even the best of men to not have their attention drawn down when a woman is exposing her cleavage line.
Don’t wear short-shorts and short-skirts. Dressing modestly requires us to cover ourselves appropriately. There are many styles of shorts that come down longer – and they look great. Skirts should come down far enough that bending over wouldn’t be an issue. Some would say at least to the knee, others would say two-inches or more past the knee. I am not going to pretend to be an authority on the issue.
One thing I do suggest is that when you get dressed to go out of the house, ask yourself this: If you were to run into Jesus walking down the street, would you feel comfortable with Him seeing how you are dressed? Remember, He does see you – for in “the least of your brothers” He is there.
Also, keep in mind that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and that you want to adorn it appropriately, with beauty and grace. Clothe your heart in purity and it will be much easier to clothe your body in modesty.
I hope, Courtney, that these ideas help you in dressing modestly. I commend you for your sincere interest in wanting to do what is pleasing to the Lord. Be encouraged! I can see your priorities are in the right place! I will remember you in my prayers, please remember me, my family and this apostolate work of promoting purity in your prayers.
In His Most Holy Name,