3

What is appropriate for a person to wear? Do those standards change for men or women? How do we know? Why does this, which seems like an important topic, not have much of an explicit commandment in the Bible (for example, you ought to wear something up to the knees, or not show cleavage, like many Christian churches and colleges)?

Clearly, the Bible forbids nudity.

Genesis 3:7

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

Genesis 3:21

Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.

Nudity was taken very seriously.

Genesis 9

Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

Uncovering someone's nakedness is considered a sexual act.

Leviticus 18

6 ‘None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the Lord. 7 The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness.

Nudity includes at least the genitals. The priests were to wear undergarments that extended from the waist to the thigh to avoid uncovering themselves (this is the closest to a formal instruction I know of; it seems like one should at least wear something equivalent to boxers in coverage). Why not specify to wear this all the time?

Exodus 28

42 And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their [m]nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs. 43 They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die.

Exodus 20:26

Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.

There is a passing mention of nudity of the legs, though it isn't clear to me whether the first line about having bare legs isn't a poetic building up to the nakedness being uncovered, and not the act itself.

Isaiah 47:2-4

Take the millstones and grind meal. Remove your veil, Take off the skirt, Uncover the thigh, Pass through the rivers. Your nakedness shall be uncovered, Yes, your shame will be seen;

Here, one might deduce an association between sexual appeal and nakedness:

Ezekiel 16:7-8

7 I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare. 8 Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness:

Another passage of interest:

John 21:7

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

Later in the New Testament, dressing appropriately is clearly desirable, but no clear definition is given to what that means, that would not perhaps vary.

1 Timothy 2:9

in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation..."

How would one determine what bathing suit to wear? Whether clothes are too tight? Too short? Whether wearing crop-tops or two-pieces is ok; and if, for example, men can bare their chests?

Personally, I have a very conservative view on these topics. However, being married has brought out this topic as a source of considerable worry and pain.

Having an objective standard would be helpful either way. It seems like every person has his own standard, and is difficult to explain without offense. Not only that, but cultural issues change the decency of what people wear. For example, in some places, it is normal for women to uncover their breasts for lactation, but it might seem sexual to wear tight pants, whereas in the West it is rather the reverse. (Indeed, one could make an extreme argument that notwithstanding cultural norms, the only requirement about covering nudity goes from the waist to the thigh.) However, we are the same humanity, with the need for, presumably, the same decency.

So, one could pose this question another way: how did God clothe Adam and Eve in the garden; and if it is important to follow that standard, why is it not expressed more clearly? Were the Israelites, as God's people, strict on this, as there is seemingly a gap in the law on this topic?

A related question: Does the Bible command women to cover their breasts?

11
  • 1
    the answer may differ depending on denomination. Is there a specific denomination you'd like an answer from?
    – depperm
    Jul 18, 2022 at 11:41
  • @depperm not really, in the sense that a minimum solid interpretation would in the ideal be denomination agnostic. It is likely that Brethren, Southern Baptists and Reformed (all evangelicals) would see this as partly a cultural issue and mostly as to not be a temptation. But my question is about a theological minimum that is culture- and perhaps denomination-insensitive. Jul 18, 2022 at 11:47
  • 1
    various denominations may interpret biblical verses various ways. If you're looking for purely biblical-basis, you seem to have listed most of the verses relevant to the subject. In which case the other questions are opinion/truth based (how did God clothe Adam and Eve, why is it not expressed more clearly)-and not a great fit for the site
    – depperm
    Jul 18, 2022 at 11:55
  • 1
    You may wish to make this a denominational survey question.
    – Ken Graham
    Jul 18, 2022 at 12:57
  • 1
    I suspect a partial answer is 'no'; what is sexually attractive is sufficiently subject to culture that an absolute answer in terms of 'do X' or 'do not do Y' is probably not possible. That said, I expect a biblical answer would focus at least as much on the intent of the dresser. Is she (or he) trying to show off her wealth? Is he (or she) trying to appear sexually attractive?
    – Matthew
    Jul 18, 2022 at 14:51

2 Answers 2

5

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.

Regulations

Men (13 & up)

  • Full length pants (no demin)

  • Front button polo or dress shirts. Sweaters are acceptable. (No t-shirts)

  • Shoes and socks

  • Jewelry

    • No pierced jewelry

    • No necklaces on outside of clothing

Women (13 & up)

  • Skirt or dress is required

    • Must completely cover the knee while standing or sitting

    • Any slits must stop at the knee

  • 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:

    • Not form-fitting, or body hugging

    • Must drape and not cling

    • No exposed midriff

    • Nothing see-through

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

Men

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.

Women

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.

But why?

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?

enter image description here

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:

Modesty Standards

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.
Romans 12:2
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.
Matthew 5:28
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Deuteronomy 22:5
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.

0
3

Being guided by your statement in the comments section of your question; namely, ". . . my question is about a theological minimum that is culture- and perhaps denomination-insensitive," I'm going to set the stage for my answer to your question by quoting Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart [who in 1964] "tried to explain 'hard-core' pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, 'I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced... [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . '"

Clearly, the biblical notion of modesty--and its opposite, indecency or immodesty--is addressed in numerous passages of Scripture, many of which you cited in your question. Taking Justice Stewart's comment on obscenity and tweaking it a little bit, I'd say that regarding immodesty, "I know it when I see it!" Many Christians of virtually any stripe would probably agree with me. Having come from a Plymouth Brethren background, I grew up with an awareness, in a general sense, of what immodesty entailed.

A Christian summer camp I attended, which my father was instrumental in founding in 1953, made clear to potential campers and their parents that girls were not allowed to wear bikinis during swim time. (Also on the list of forbidden behavior were the three Ss: swearing, smoking, and smooching!) In the minds of the camp's founders and subsequent directors and board members, one evidence of immodesty is the public showing of too much skin, particularly by girls and women. I also attended another, more conservative, Christian summer camp where girls and guys swam at different times.

Interestingly, of the many antonyms for the word modesty, as found on the website wordhippo, only about three words are directly applicable to immodesty of dress (or undress), while the scores of other words are related to pride, braggadocio, and similar words.

I may be reading too much into this finding, but in 2022, if I were to come out publicly against the wearing of string bikinis by women at beaches, I would certainly be roundly criticized for being sexist! According to the politically correct crowd, a man who lusts after a scantily clad woman is clearly in the wrong, whereas the woman is free to dress any way she wants to. Accordingly, upon seeing such a woman, a man is to avert his gaze and learn to behave himself and stop objectifying women.

Frankly, the part of not objectifying women I agree with wholeheartedly. Being a man, however, I find that lusting after a young woman in a string bikini is much "easier" than lusting after the same woman who is clothed from head to toe in burlap! That is not to say that every man would find lusting after such a woman to be impossible, but it would simply be harder and less likely to happen.(Paraphilias are also an exception to the burlap example, since unusual and uncommon fetishes do exist, such as foot fetishes, to name but one.)

In the apostle Paul's day, his concern about Christian women's fashion choices stemmed from common class distinctions that allowed some Christian women to dress to the nines, while others of lesser means were forced to dress in hand-me-downs and used clothing from thrift stores (I'm assuming the equivalent existed back then!). The same could be said of expensive hairdos and makeup. Paul's concern also was related to the clothing and cosmetics associated with prostitutes and courtesans, who were expected to dress provocatively.

Where does all this lead us today as 21st-century believers, particularly in first-world nations?

For one thing, cultural factors regarding modesty are just as relevant today as they were in the first- and previous centuries. They may differ in the finer-and more culturally derived proscriptions, but there seems to be a legitimate basis for saying that mores and folkways concerning modesty, for both women and men, are universal. Even in cultures where the exposure of women's breasts in public is no big deal, there are likely other behaviors that are frowned upon, such as a husband and wife engaging in sex in full view of their children or even the public!

In Paul's day and in our day, Christian women and men are commanded by our Lord to be considerate of their fellow believers and examples to outsiders. They are not, for example, to show favoritism to wealthy and well-dressed attendees to their public functions(see James 2:1 ff.). Godly women are to known for their good deeds and modesty.To dress in the latest--and often very expensive--clothing fashions could cause women of lesser means to feel inferior, which would be a violation of the principle of love.

Am I implying that all Christian women--and men for that matter--are to engage in uniformity of dress? Clearly, no. God is a God of variety. He clothes the lilies of the field with beauty that King Solomon could not match with the finest finery (see Matthew 6:28-30). If that is so, people, who are of much more worth than flowers that fade and die shortly after they appear, can expect God to provide them with suitable clothing. (As a personal aside, as a graduating senior in high school I was voted "best dressed," but my wardrobe was far from expensive.)

We Christians may not be able to afford the latest and most expensive clothing, but God does call some believers to come before wealthy people and public figures as part of His ministry for them. For such people, who may be called by God to attend a banquet or a board meeting, for example, to be dressed in clothes made from camel's hair while munching on locusts and wild honey (see Matthew 3:4 and Mark 1:6), would be rude and disrespectful. Certainly a decent suit and tie (or dress for a woman) and a pair of shined shoes would be more appropriate and God-honoring attire.

In short, the Bible assumes that modesty in dress is a virtue, and immodesty in dress is a vice. Christian women and men are held by God to a higher standard than unbelievers. Christians are to be salt and light before a watching world. Some Christian denominations may come down harder on their rules and regulations regarding dress than other denominations. Both they and the more liberal denominations would do well to be guided by the following rule of thumb:

  • In essentials, unity
  • In non-essentials, liberty
  • In all things, charity
1
  • 1
    "Christian women and men are commanded by our Lord to be considerate of their fellow believers". Key point, here. I'd hazard a guess that many of the aforementioned women wearing string bikinis are doing so in order to make themselves attractive, which is directly contrary to this. Even if those bikinis are simply "more comfortable" (which they probably are), dressing in a way that's knowingly going to make it harder for guys to not feel lust is uncharitable and therefore unchristian.
    – Matthew
    Jul 23, 2022 at 18:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .