A Call to Modesty in Dress
Written by Joni Bouma & Corrie Neven
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Reformed Practice - Modesty and Dress

Summer time is approaching and with the increase in temperature, there seems to come an inevitable decrease in modesty. While the preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us there is “nothing new under the sun,” we are living in a time when finding modest clothing is becoming more of a challenge then ever before. Previous generations may have found seductive options in women’s clothing departments; however mothers of today face the tough challenge of having to weed through piles of immodest clothing to outfit their children in a way that shows that they are raising covenant children, dedicated to the Lord. 

Guidelines in Scripture

We have been blessed with a rich heritage and upbringing that has taught us the foundational principals of modesty. As 1 Corinthians 6 tells us, our body is a “temple of God” and we “are not our own.” We confess that we have been bought with a price and we must outwardly display that we are followers of God, without a hint of uncleanness “as becometh saints” (Eph. 5:3). The Scriptures are full of guidelines that can help us practically sort out how to manifest our faith in our life. What we wear and the way we dress our children is one aspect of our Christian walk, which we should constantly evaluate, assessing the influence of our culture upon us.

No Easy decisions

Parents today are forced almost daily to make decisions in the area of dress and issues of modesty. You may receive a bag of clothes from the neighbour--in it are a few items that you wouldn’t have bought yourself, but they were free, so why not keep them? Your son may come home from the mall with a shirt covered in skulls and crossbones--you feel too tired for another battle and let it go this time. All your daughters’ friends are wearing two-piece bathing suits and she wants to know once more why you won’t let her wear one.

We would like to encourage parents to persevere in this battle for modesty which we fight as part of our Christian walk and through this article, offer some guidelines and resources to assist you in this. We need to remember first and foremost, that we have not been promised that the Christian walk will be easy. The challenge of dressing modestly--dressing so as not to draw undue attention to ourselves, but in a way that brings glory to God--is one which Christians should embrace, fighting against the wiles of Satan as he seeks to bring down the kingdom of God.

You may question if our clothing choices and those of our covenant children are really that important. God calls us to a life of holiness, manifested in every step of our walk (Eph. 5: 8-10). Clothes are a powerful witness of who you are, what you stand for and who you desire to imitate. What you wear is a compelling form of non-verbal communication. Most of us tend to associate a business suit with a successful corporate career, scrubs with the medical profession, gang colours and symbols reflect the identity of a certain gang and a flowing white dress suggests a bride.

We acknowledge all of these associations, but why then are we so reluctant to admit that a young girl in a low-cut top and a short skirt is communicating a sexual image? Granted, there will be differing opinions among us as to what is acceptable. Regardless of this, we are called to measure ourselves by the scale of what God would find acceptable. Think of how much more powerful a communication tool our clothing choices could be, if they reflected not a concern with the ways of the world, but a life dedicated to the gospel of Christ.

Objections You May Encounter

The following statements provide responses to some of the challenges towards modest dress in preteens and teens:

They don’t want to wear the clothes I want them to wear; I can’t control what they wear

As long as our children are living under our roof we do have control over what they wear and we have an obligation to our children to train them to discern what is appropriate and what is not. Allowing a young daughter to dress 10 years older then she is, is not protecting her from unwanted attention and inappropriate relationships. If our children call the shots at this young age already, what hope is there for the tougher battles to come? Have firm rules and don’t back down from them; knowing that they are loved enough to be told no, is what children really need. This is a key area for fathers to be involved. Often fashion choices are left up to the mother; however knowing that men and women are wired differently, a man’s perspective on what is alluring and sexy may be completely different from a woman’s. Fathers, take time to look at the clothes your wife and children bring home. Advise them in love and with a positive spin. Remember when modesty is presented early, it is embraced more fully and with greater ease.

My daughter isn’t developed, so she isn’t causing anyone to stumble with her sexuality

Newsflash: While your 8-year old daughter may not have a curvy figure now — she will in the near future. Establish a precedent for dressing modestly now, so that she will develop a personal sense of modesty. Secondly — while we may wish to deny it, the world is full of perverts — men who are attracted to young and innocent girls. You are not just dressing your daughter for your own family, but for every man on the beach and in the checkout line to ogle. When our children are the most vulnerable, we must protect them. As Dianna Tuininga remarks in her blog article on ‘Rethinking How We Dress Our Daughters:’ “When girls are dressed in a modest way from a young age, they learn that their body is special--it’s worth protecting. Your sons will also learn that the body of a girl is to be cherished and protected.” While dressing in a “sexy” manner may not always result in promiscuous behaviour in the future, it does attract the wrong type of attention. Also, keep in mind that as your daughter grows older, her immodest dress may also tempt godly men, not just sexual predators. While God does not deny the beauty of a woman, sexual beauty is a treasure to be kept for one man, not flaunted to the world.

They want to wear what their friends wear

Shannon Ethridge, in her article entitled, ‘Teaching your Daughter Modesty,’ makes an excellent point when she says: “One of the most significant ways we can help our daughters is to teach them to lead rather than follow, especially when it comes to fashions... If your daughter looks to others to determine what she should wear, she will be more likely to look to others to tell her what to do in other areas of her life...Teach her to blaze her own trail through life.” Peer approval is so important to our pre-teen and teen children (both sons and daughters), but emphasize verbally and model with your own life the truth that the most important thing is pleasing God. A life lived in obedience to His Word is the only path to true happiness.

It is nearly impossible to find modest yet fashionable clothing

We recognize the challenges of finding appropriate clothing, especially as summer merchandise offers an array of short shorts, skimpy skirts and plunging necklines. The truth is, you may have to look longer and harder, shop earlier in the season and perhaps even pay a little more for decent clothing, but it is possible. The task in particular falls to mothers to meet the challenges presented by this obstacle. Network among fellow Christians. If you observe a family who dresses their children in a modest manner, don’t be afraid to ask them where they find their clothing. Sewing is rapidly becoming a lost art in our generation; however clothing can be taken to a seamstress to be modified, or sewn. In addition, there are countless resources on the Internet offering fashionable modest clothing, targeting women and young girls in particular. This demonstrates to us a growing concern regarding this issue, not just in our Reformed Christian circles. We have listed a few websites, but take the time to “google” modest clothing and you will be surprised at the number of useful sites. The more support that companies such as these receive, the more selection they will be able to offer us. Another excellent alternative is to look for clothing on E-Bay and Kijiji.com.

Responsible Stewardship

Another aspect of teaching modesty to our children is in the area of responsible stewardship. We need to teach our young children to discern the difference between their wants and needs, and that they must display moderation when it comes to their clothing. As Ethridge points out, the more money we spend on ourselves and our selfish desires (things we don’t really need), the less we have to help those who truly are in need. The media is targeting younger and younger generations into thinking they need expensive name brand clothes--and the marketing is working. Busy parents with little time to spend on their children are only too happy to throw money at them, hoping they can buy their way to happiness.

We need to teach our young children that in all things we should be like Christ. There is nothing wrong with being dressed in the latest appropriate fashions and expressing yourself through personal clothing choices, but all things must be done for His glory. Supporting stores and brands that use sexually suggestive advertising is not glorifying to God. Make conscious decisions about where you and your children will shop and explain your reasons, teaching them to support those companies that stay away from using sex to sell their products.

While most of the material written on modesty tends to address girls and women in particular, the Christian idea of striving to be like Christ is one that applies to male and female. Ask your children who they are trying to look like when they dress in a certain style of clothing. Are your sons trying to imitate god-less rap stars with an outfit that includes low-hanging pants, heavy chains, etc.? Is your daughter trying to look like the model on the cover of Teen magazine or as a daughter of the One High King? Does wearing an item of clothing emblazoned with skulls and crossbones show that we seek to flee the sin and death, which Satan offers, and live in the light and life of Christ? Ask them questions that force them to examine their heart motives as they make decisions for their outward appearance.

Created for God’s Glory

In a culture which dictates that beauty and popularity are defined by sexuality, Christians must oppose this. As the mandate of one modest clothing company states: “...the clothes a girl wears should make her look and feel beautiful, without sacrificing her dignity, natural beauty, purity and innocence in the process.” Examine your clothing choices and those of your children in light of this description. All of us can benefit from a wardrobe checkup, asking ourselves, is God glorified through how I dress? Our faith teaches us that we are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26) and as such we are created for His glory. The clothing that we and our children wear should be a reflection of this fundamental truth. What are we communicating to the world which is watching us? 

Joni Bouma and Corrie Neven are moms and members of the Free Reformed Church of St. George, Ontario. Together with their husbands, Wil and James, they are raising young children, some of them entering the pre-teen years. This article was published in in the FRC Messenger and was republished with permission.