Is there an objective, theological standard of decent/modest dress? (Denominational Survey)
Historically, I believe the standard across the board amongst Christian denominations has changed over the years, especially in our modern times.
Fashions come and go, but I firmly believe that many modern fashions offend God in our present day and age. That said, it may be just me, but that is okay.
One Baptist Church has the following regulations concerning one’s dress. They are very conservative and traditional.
Purposes for Establishing these Regulations
For members serving in these positions to demonstrate respect and reverence to God, and reflect appropriateness, godliness, and modesty.
To demonstrate love and respect for fellow believers by carefully avoiding being a source of temptation or an offence to them.
To prevent the recipients of our ministry from being distracted and hindered from a proper mental focus while we minister to them.
Men (13 & up)
Women (13 & up)
Skirt or dress is required
Top (pertains to blouse or dress)
Must cover cleavage completely while standing, sitting, or bending over
The back neck line must be above the shoulders
Snugness of fit for skirt, dress, blouse, or top:
Disclaimer: This policy cannot cover every possible situation. Other obviously distracting, immodest or giving-a-wrong-message type of attire will also be prohibited.
Holmen Baptist Church
I live in a Mennonite area and the women are frequently seen in public wearing a head covering and long dresses, even in summer. The Amish do almost the same.
The topic of Amish clothing can be a complicated one. As we’ve discussed before, Plain Amish and Mennonites come from many different sects. Each group has its own patterns and however slight those differences may appear to us, I’ve witnessed time and again how those slight changes in style or fabric are very distinguishing to them. But the similarities can make it difficult to generalize on this topic, so bear in mind that what’s true of the clothing for one group may not be true of another.
Common Items of Dress
Amish men dress for practicality and that primarily includes a button-down, collared shirt of a solid color and a pair of rough (or broadcloth) trousers that are often made from wool, cotton, and in more recent times, polyester. Their pants are held up by suspenders. It wasn’t that many years ago when an Amish man wore a simple black coat unless working. That is not always the case anymore. They almost always wear a hat, and the exact look of the hat is one of the distinguishing features among the various sects of Amish. They do not use buckles on their clothing, but the men have buttons on their shirts and for the men in a more conservative Plain community, they use buttons on their pants instead of zippers. In most Amish sects the men who are married keep a beard, but they do not have a mustache. Single Amish men keep their face shaven until their wedding day.
Amish women dress for modesty above all else, but their clothing is also practical. Their garments cover their bodies without becoming so much of an ornament that they could be deemed non-functional. Typically the females bind their hair in some form of braid or bun and cover it with a black or white cap (prayer Kapp). Their main form of clothing is a cape dress with an apron to cover it. Apron and cap styles vary according to the different Amish groups. Black stockings are usually worn underneath the dress. If cold, women may use a simple black sweater or jacket. If you see an Amish woman in a black cape, she should also have on a black bonnet, but she can wear the black bonnet without the cape. Like the men, women do not use buckles or any other type of ornament on their clothing. Unlike men, women’s dresses and aprons avoid buttons. Their sweaters or overcoats have buttons now, but that was not always the case. They may use one or two very small buttons on their dresses, mostly they use a lot of straight pins in lieu of buttons.
This style of clothing is considered outdated by society, but the Amish have held on to this same basic style for a number of reasons. Our clothing, as English, often reflects who we are. We can identify the age, interests, economic status, and/or cultural background of a person just by glancing at his or her clothing. Even more commonly, we use uniforms to identify some professions. Oftentimes an individual’s identity is tied to the way he or she chooses to dress. The Amish use this principle as a way to visually show others their beliefs.
The Amish believe that God has called them to be completely separate from the world and its negative influences. Choosing to wear clothing that sets them apart as different immediately divides them from the English. The choice to dress a certain way strengthens the community’s bonds and declares their commitment to the principles of the Amish church.
In addition, humility is an important and central part of the Amish beliefs. They maintain that dressing as you please creates pride in your appearance or choices. According to the Old Ways, if one individual stands out within a group, that person tends to develop boastful ideas about his or her success or individuality. Instituting a dress code, then, is meant to keep the Amish away from pride so that they can spend their time focusing on the state of their heart and soul, not the outward appearance.
The Amish style of dress also highly stresses modesty. The women must cover themselves almost completely, down to keeping their hair hidden under a cap. They believe that this type of modesty in dress is necessary to keeping their hearts and bodies pure.
Why the Amish Dress the Way They Do?
Modesty in dress is also cultural concept, even in the West, as seen above in the plain dress of Amish women on an American beach in 2007.
I have noticed that many are coming to our Catholic Churches with very immodest dress these days. Priests simply do not address this issue as well as they should be doing.
Many Catholics are not aware that the Vatican itself has addressed this issue and we are well below the level Rome has put down. Here are some of the Church’s directives:
On January 12, 1930, the Sacred Congregation of the Council, by mandate of Pope Pius XI, issued emphatic instructions on modesty of dress to all bishops, directing them to insist on these prescriptions: "We recall that a dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knee. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper.
"Let parents keep their daughters away from public gymnastic games and contests; but, if their daughters are compelled to attend such exhibitions, let them see to it that they are fully and modestly dressed. Let them never permit their daughters to don immodest garb."
Rufino J. Cardinal Santos, Archbishop of Manila, also quotes these standards as "The Church's Stand concerning Modesty in Dress" in his Pastoral of December 6, 1959. The feminine loss of the sense of modesty was indicated by Pope Pius XII who said: "Now many girls do not see anything wrong with following certain shameless styles (fashions) like so many sheep. They would surely blush if they could only guess the impressions they make and the feelings they evoke (arouse) in those who see them." (July 17, 1954.)
"O Christian mothers, if only you knew the future distress, peril and ill-restrained shame that you prepare for your sons and daughters by imprudently accustoming them to live barely clothed, and permitting them to lose the sense of modesty, you would be ashamed of yourselves, and of the harm done to the little ones entrusted to you by Heaven to be reared in a Christian dignity and culture."
And, men also are held to the virtue of modesty; witness the admonition of Canadian bishops in May of 1946: "Man himself does not escape from the inclination of exhibiting his flesh: some go in public, stripped to the waist, or in very tight pants or in very scanty bathing suits. They thus commit offenses against the virtue of modesty. They may also be an occasion of sin (in thought or desire) for our neighbor."
The opinion which allows custom to dictate the question of modesty was refuted by Pope Pius XII in one short sentence: "There always exists an absolute norm to be preserved."
Custom, of course, pays no attention to absolute norms; but, it is a follower of this false principle: "... the majority cannot go wrong."
To say that "... modesty is a matter of custom" is just as wrong as to say that "... honesty is a matter of custom."
What about those who teach "What is customary does not affect us?"
Pope Pius XII calls this application of an ancient principle to the virtue of modesty, "the most insidious of sophisms." He calls attention to the fact that some people use this sophism "...in order to brand as 'old fashioned' the rebellion of honest people against fashions they consider too bold."
The Pope's pronouncements make no distinctions for various types of garments. Pius XII states "...an unworthy, an indecent mode of dress has prevailed" without any distinction of place, "on beaches, in country resorts, on the streets, etc." (Aug. 29. 1954)
His quotation: "Vice necessarily follows upon public nudity," applies as well to the beaches, or the streets, or resorts, or elsewhere.
Cardinal Pla y Daniel, Archbishop of Toledo, Spain, stated in 1959: "A special danger to morals is represented by public bathing at beaches... Mixed bathing between men and women, which is nearly always a proximate occasion of sin and a scandal, must be avoided."
Modern Catholics may now consider themselves "far too adult" and disdain such directives, but nevertheless they remain the wise counsels of our Holy Mother the Church.
Some Directives of the Magisterium on Christian Modesty
Modesty and clothing appearance is mentioned several times in Scriptures. Our non-denominational brethren may be interested in the following Scriptural sources:
|1 Corinthians 12:23
|And the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty.
|1 Timothy 2:9
|I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.
|1 Peter 3:3-4
|3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, 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.
|Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
|But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
|A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.
|1 Samuel 16:7
|But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
|1 Corinthians 6:19-20
|19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
Some may think that nudity is quite fashionable considering that both Adam and Eve were created nude and were not ashamed. But that was before the fall of our first parents. There exists a tradition that in the beginning both Adam and Eve were clothed in light prior to their fall. After all it was only after they had sinned that they realized they were naked. There clothing of light was removed. After their fall God clothed them in skins.