"Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me" John 14:1
Home arrow Women and the Church arrow Dressing Modestly arrow ONE MAN'S PLEA FOR CHRISTIAN WOMEN TO DRESS MODESTLY
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

Many women love to show off their backs with their spaghetti-string tops, while sporting low-rider jeans or cute miniskirts.  And frankly, I love them too.  That's why I'm writing.


My wife, baby daughter, and I live in Southern California with nice weather nearly year round.  But summers usher in gorgeous sunny days.  And when the temperature rises, I've noticed the clothes become skimpy, even at church. 


When I worship with other believers, I'm frequently exhausted from the work week.  I need the spiritual meal my pastor will place in front of me.  Yet, the exposed skin of the Christian women sitting nearby distracts me.


When women think they're simply wearing what's fashionable, they might be provoking the men around them to turn their devotions away from God.


The daily battle men face

Many women dress appropriately, and to those I say bravo.  But at the risk of being overly negative, I want to address the problem of immodesty.  Unfortunately, many women today don't know what modesty is.  If someone encourages them to dress modestly, they'll put on tight shorts, a tank-top, and never think twice about it. 


Immodesty can be put in perspective when women understand the stronghold that lust and pornography have on men today.  The pornography industry in the United States rakes in 12 billion dollars a year.  Surveys taken by Promise Keepers, Focus on the Family, Insight for Living, and other reputable Christian organizations show about half of the male respondents indicated they've viewed porn within the past few months.  Did you get that?  If this statistic is correct, five of 10 men you see in church have looked at porn recently.  Some of them have looked at it daily.  And who knows how many more of the "innocent" 50 percent have recently leafed through a bikini magazine or watched steamy R-rated movies? 


Men who want to stay pure are finding impurity pursuing them.  Many commercials feature scantly clad women showing off their God-given goods.  Almost everywhere a man looks he sees skin—from the magazines at the check-out counter to the billboards along the highway. 


If he can't get away from this overly sexed culture even at church, he begins to think the fight isn't worth the cost.  I'm not excusing lust; I'm just painting a realistic picture of the battle men encounter daily.  It's not easy to stay pure in today's culture.  A man may be doing fine with his thoughts one minute, and then a woman in a short skirt, high heels, and painted toenails walks by, and something stirs within him.  He starts thinking about how he can relieve the sexual pressure that bubbles somewhere deep in his soul. 


Protecting yourself and men

Immodesty not only damages men, but it hurts women too.  When men see women dressed immodestly, men think of them as objects of pleasure.  A woman can't dress immodestly, and then be upset when men don't respect her mind and personality.


Even if a man wants to think the best about you, if your clothes send another message, he's going to believe what his eyes tell him—"She's cheap and wants sex," or "She's wearing a tight shirt, so she must want me to notice her boobs."


God made men with a deep desire to connect sexually with a woman.  But Satan uses this against us and wants us to lust and masturbate over every attractive woman we see.  When you dress like the women on TV, you play into most men's prime weakness.  At least the married men can have sex when they get stirred up, but what does your immodesty do for teens and singles who have no legitimate sexual outlet? 


Getting things backwards

It seems that many married women are confused.  They dress sexy (low-cut top and short skirts) when they leave the house and dress unsexy (oversized tee-shirts and sweats) at home.  If you're dressing seductively, do it at home where your husband can enjoy it—the only one who's supposed to enjoy it.


Married women, if dressing seductively in public is your way of trying to make your husband proud when you're out with him, follow the biblical approach.  If you are a follower of Christ, think deeply on 1 Timothy 2:9-10.  Paul says to Timothy, "I also want women to dress modestly, [1] with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God." 


Similarly, 1 Peter 3:3-4 says, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair [2] and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. [3]  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."  The Bible warns against outward adornments because people inevitably invest too much in the outward person at the neglect of the inner person.  Your virtue is far more important than your outward beauty. 


Single ladies, if dressing seductively is your way of luring a man, you'll lure a man all right.  But he won't be the kind you'll want to marry.  If you marry a man you seductively lure to yourself, you'll regret it. 


Mystique will make the man you want to marry wonder, in a healthy way, what you've got underneath those clothes.  And marriage will be his ticket to find out.


Way of the world

If you dress immodestly, it shows that you've forgotten why you're on earth.  You are a soldier.  Second Corinthians 10:4 says, "We use God's mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil's strongholds."  You're in a war for the souls of others.  The Bible warns about becoming like the world.  James 4:4 says, "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God."  If dressing immodestly isn't becoming friends with the world, nothing is. 


Exposing what God wants covered shows that you're more of this world than you admit.  It takes courage to choose a different path than the godless culture around you.  And God expects you to choose the path of modesty.


How you sit, bend, and carry yourself

I know women who've grown up in the church, even attended Bible college, and yet wear immodest clothes or else do inappropriate things, such as bend over at the hip with their butt sticking out for all to see.  Women shouldn't do this around men.


Here are a few simple things to keep in mind.  How you sit matters.  Close your legs when you're sitting even if you're wearing jeans.  Know that when you spread your legs while sitting, or straddling a bench, be assured that most guys nearby will be distracted.


I see women at church wearing halter tops that expose their cleavage, and they bend over without covering their chest.  Do they not know?  Or do they not care?  Women, please, you shouldn't expose your cleavage in public, anyway.  But when you bend over, by all means, place a hand over your top, and bend those knees.


When you yawn and stretch within the eyeshot of men, don't arch your back in such a way that causes your breasts to protrude.  I'm surprised at the number of Christian women who've done this when men are standing right in front of them.  You're inviting men to notice your breasts when you do this. 


Tips on dressing modestly

Styles come and go, but class is always in fashion.  Keep skirts at knee level, and don't wear tight shirts or jeans.  Exposed belly buttons, backs, underwear, and mid riffs aren't appropriate in mixed company.  Choose pants that don't have writing on the seat, or else you're asking men to stare at your butt.


Jeramy Clark gives some practical tips for women to test their apparel before they leave the house. 

  • "When bending over in a loose-fitting or scoop-neck blouse, always place your hand over the neckline.
  • "When wearing a button-down blouse, stand sideways and look at the buttonholes in a mirror.  If they spread too far apart or gape too much, you'll expose your chest.  Pin between the buttons if you need to.
  • "For all blouses, be conscious about your bra showing.  Be especially careful with the armholes or straps of sleeveless blouses.  Just the sight of your undergarments can cause a guy to stumble.
  • "When wearing a dress or skirt, always stand in the light and check if you need a slip.  Even a lightweight black dress can reveal your silhouette (in other words, be see-through).  Your best bet is to always wear a slip.  And if you can't find a slip short enough for your skirt, chances are your skirt is too short!
  • "When wearing a skirt or dress, always be conscious of the way you're sitting.  You may think I don't need to mention this obvious fact, but you'd be surprised how often girls fail to sit modestly.
  • "When wearing a skirt, be aware that changing positions will cause your skirt to bunch or pull.  Smooth your skirt down when you sit down or stand up.
  • "When choosing a bra, remember that lace and seams will show through many tops.  Choose a seamless or smooth bra whenever possible.  (And remember, it's almost pointless to wear a bra if the material of your blouse is too thin.  I don't have to tell you what happens when you get cold.  Protect yourself with a thicker material.)
  • "The best advice I could give you is to stand in front of a mirror before you go out.  Bend over, turn side to side, turn around, and check everything.  Be aware of what different kinds of clothing can reveal.

"Don't leave your heart out of the check.  Ask yourself why you're wearing what you're wearing.  If you check your heart and find your motives are bad, you may want to change" (I Gave Dating a Chance, 132-33).


Addressing the problem in your church

I want to encourage churches, even seeker-sensitive churches, to think of clever ways to address immodesty.  Church leaders can't overlook Christian sin because they're afraid of offending non-Christian visitors.  Numerous ways exists for leaders to deal with immodesty—a skit, a video, a testimony, small-group curriculum, pamphlets with examples of modesty.


If your church is winning people to Christ, then there will be women coming to Christ who know little about modesty.  I don't expect non-Christians to be modest, but with culture's undertow of sexual deviance, we must constantly reiterate the virtue of modesty to the next generation.  Undoubtedly, the staff and people on stage during the service must model virtue.  But the rest of the congregation should model it too.  Frequently, my jaw drops at church when I see moms dressing like Brittney Spears (and dressing their little seven-year-olds the same way).  My only consolation is in the hope that they're either a seeker who hasn't yet come to Christ or a new believer who doesn't know better.  Regardless, mature Christians can't cower in the shadows, afraid to address this issue. 


Christians can use positive peer pressure to create a culture of modesty.  If the majority of women at any given church dress modestly and promote modest dress, then other immodest women are likely to conform to the higher standard. 


Along with a culture of modesty, churches must cultivate a sense of community.  Too many Americans want things their way, with little concern for how it affects others.  Church isn't just Christian individuals gathering in one place, it's a community that cares about the health of the whole group.  A woman with an individualistic attitude might think, "If Kevin has a problem with the clothes I wear, then it's his problem not mine.  He should turn his head if it's provoking him to lust."  But this isn't a Christian attitude.  A Christian woman has as much responsibility to dress modestly as a Christian man does to turn his head when he sees something sexually provocative.


Legalism versus freedom

I don't want to be called a legalist, but it's time to speak out.  Immodesty isn't primarily a freedom issue, it's a character issue.  As one scholar put it, ". . . a woman's dress is a mirror of her mind" (Guthrie, 74).  Christians are not free to dress or act in a way that causes others to stumble.  Even if this were a freedom issue, grace should provoke Christians to watch out for the weaker brethren.  And when it comes to lust, all men in the church are weaker brethren.  Men are as susceptible to lust as women are to feeling fat, ugly, and insecure. 


If you're trying to look like the models in the magazines, consider what the Bible teaches.  Psalm 37:1-2 says, "Do not fret because of evil men [and women] or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away."  Don't envy risqué women—they're going to pass away soon.  Virtue and truth will last, not tight pants, low-cut shirts, or abs of steel.  Proverbs 31:30 says, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised."



First, women need to better emphasize dressing modestly to the females in their sphere of influence.  How about publicly addressing immodesty in the church every six months?  What about addressing it at a women's retreat?  If need be, women can use magazine pictures or TV clips to start a discussion with other women about modesty.


Second, Christian women need to make sure they're dressing and living modestly.  Help men live holy lives by the way you dress.  We're assaulted with sex every day.  We're already trained (by culture and our own sinfulness) to think sexually, so don't make us endure it at church.  There's still great power in concealing your physical beauty.


If you're a mom, don't underestimate your influence over your girls in the way they think about themselves and your boys in the way they think about women.  The father's role is vital too.  If fathers start instilling the virtues of modesty while their children are young, then these same fathers might not fret as much when their sons and daughters blossom into teens.  If a man already has a teen daughter, he can hopefully still shape her outlook on her body.  He must show her love, but remain firm that she isn't free to dress like a streetwalker.  And he can have the same positive influence on his sons, teaching them to respect women and to cherish sex as a gift of marriage. Train your children now while they're young.  Teach them not just to dress modestly but to think modestly.  After all, modesty is a heart issue. 


Dressing modestly won't get you into heaven, but it might help keep some men out of hell.  If what you're wearing to church is immodest, it's probably too immodest to wear anywhere else, and vice versa.  But this article is about more than how you dress.  It's about being a person with a pure heart.  Modesty is part of your character and will express itself in how you walk, what you say, what you wear, and how you bend down to pick something up.


You can be dressed the right way and still send the message of immodesty by what you say or how you walk.  Immodesty (or shall we say, impurity) can even be conveyed by your eyes when you look at someone.  Do your part in helping keep men pure and families together.  When in doubt about what you're wearing, put on more.  How about asking a trusted older Christian woman what she thinks about your dressing habits?


You can dress attractively without being sleazy.  But the Bible warns about the trap of outward beauty.  If you have to choose between attractive or virtuous, I hope you choose virtue.  You will not always have to choose between the two, but sometimes you will.  And dressing modestly is asking little from a soldier seeking to wage war on the enemy.  Seeing Jesus' smile of approval when you get to heaven will make your sacrifice worth it.



Clark, Jeramy. I Gave Dating a Chance. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2000.


Grudem, Wayne. 1 Peter. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989 reprint.


Guthrie, Donald. The Pastoral Epistles. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987 reprint.


Hawthorne, Gerald, Ralph Martin, and Daniel Reid, ed. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 1993.


Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, 1988.




Articles online


How Many Porn Addicts Are in Your Church?, by Mike Genung.  http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/pastors/1336107.html


The Growing Anti-Porn Bookshelf, by Brent Bozell



Fashioning a Response to Immodest Clothing, by Rebecca Hagelin





Arterburn, Stephen and Fred Stoeker. Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2000. 


Crittenden, Danielle. What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.


Ethridge, Shannon. Every Woman’s Battle Promise Book: God’s Words of Encouragement to Guard your Heart, Mind, and Body. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2005.


Gresh, Dannah. Secret Keeper: The Delicate Power of Modesty. Chicago: Moody Press, 2002.


Hagelin, Rebecca. Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad. Nashville: Nelson Current, 2005.


Hammond, Colleen M. Dressing With Dignity. Valley View, TX: Valora Media, Inc., 2004.


Pollard, Jeff, Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America. [??].


Shalit, Wendy. A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. New York, NY: Free Press, 1999.


Shapiro, Ben. Porn Generation. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2005.


























[1] The Greek word translated as "modest" or "modesty" derives from the word from which we get "world" and "earth."  In the context of modesty, the word means adornment, order, arrangement, or decoration.


[2] Why do the biblical authors make such a big deal out of women's hair?  Take the time to study 1 Corinthians 11 and see what it says about the subject.  The biblical writers, inspired by God, placed significance on hair that modern culture does not.  "Women's hair was a prime object of male lust in the ancient Mediterranean world" (Ed. Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, and Daniel Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 1993, 585).  As Christians, we would be wise to spend more time studying this issue (women showing their hair in public) and discussing its relevance in the modern church.


[3] Professor Grudem says, "It is incorrect, therefore, to use this text to prohibit women from braiding their hair or wearing gold jewelry, for by the same reasoning one would have to prohibit 'putting on of clothing.'  Peter's point is not that any of these are forbidden, but that they should not be a woman's 'adorning,' her source of beauty"

(Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989 reprint, 140).  I am, however, more persuaded by J. Ramsey Michaels when he says, "Braiding hair and donning jewelry can be viewed together as an extravagance in itself . . . in a way in which the simple 'wearing of clothes' obviously cannot."  But Michaels adds, ". . . Peter's interest is not so much in denouncing certain modes of dress for their own sake, as in making the more general point that outward adornment—of any kind—is not what counts in the sight of God.  Clearly, he did not approve braided hair and conspicuous jewelry with dresses to match, and there is every indication that he shared the viewpoint of his contemporaries that such things were sexually provocative" (J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary, Dallas: Word, 1988, 160).

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