The issue of modesty often revolves around apparel and, in particular, how women are expected to dress. But modesty is much more than how you dress each morning, and applies to both men and women. Modesty is an attitude of humility that is reflected in your lifestyle.
The reason our fashion is often the subject of discussions regarding modesty is that it is primarily the way we visually demonstrate our modesty or lack thereof. Saint Jerome is credited with the saying, “Either we must speak as we dress, or dress as we speak. Why do we profess one thing and display another? The tongue talks of chastity, but the whole body reveals impurity.”
Modesty, in a nutshell, is not drawing attention to yourself, but rather redirecting focus to God through your dress, actions, and words. Modesty isn’t exclusively in how we dress, but it is in what motivates us to dress a certain way. Are we trying to keep up with the latest fashions to give people a certain impression about ourselves, or are we dressing appropriately for the time and place, ready to serve God and others?
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22)
Modesty is how you carry yourself. It is dignity, confidence, humility, and respect, which sometimes happens to manifest itself in a piece of cloth. Unfortunately, some people could be wrapped from head to toe and it would be no different than if they were stripped down to their underwear because of their lack of discretion in their words and actions.
Conversely, some people choose to exceed expectations regarding standards of modesty, but do so out of legalism. They purposefully dress so different from how the rest of society dresses that they inadvertently draw attention to their dress code rather than to God. In purposing to stand out for Christ by dressing noticeably different, they can actually distract from God with their apparel.
I want to be clear that those who dress in a way most of us would consider extremely conservative are not wrong for doing so if this is their personal conviction. I respect those convictions that don’t just seek the bare minimum of obedience, but flee from any gray areas that would cause some to stumble. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 8:9 to “take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Modesty is a lifestyle that happens to be reflected in what you put on each morning. The essence of modesty is humility and respect for yourself and others. It is understanding your role as an instrument through which God works rather than the centerpiece to be admired.