Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Thoughts On Modesty

I was asked to write about modesty, especially modesty in the church. Now modesty is such a difficult topic, because people tend to take it personally. For instance, if you write that one should probably avoid wearing skirts which don't hit the knee, a woman who wears shorter skirts will more often than not take it as a personal insult and get offended.

Offended individuals then start writing you nasty letters and comments and as a result, few dare to touch this important topic any more, which is a shame. Things get more complicated because we as a society live in the times when anything goes. That is, we can't get a consensus on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

A hundred years ago most people agreed on basic things, such as that marriage was between one man and one woman, divorce should be restricted to special cases, dresses and skirts are feminine clothes, while pants aren't and it's better for the children when their mother is married to their father and stays home. However, these and similar ideas have become highly controversial nowadays, and even among self-proclaimed conservatives there will probably no agreement on some of these issues.

If folks can't even agree on what constitutes proper female and male attire, how do we expect them to figure out which clothes are modest and which are not? Add to this the mass media which actively promote attention whoring, especially among the young and impressionable and we get the mess we have now.

So what's a girl to do? First, I'd like to say that modesty begins in one's heart. Modesty is not only about outside, but also about inside. It's closely connected to the desire to maintain privacy. Modesty is the opposite of attention whoring. You may dress like a nun and still be immodest in your manners and behaviour. Our society encourages us to let it all hang out and to discuss the most intimate details of our lives with virtual strangers. It happens in real life, but also on the internet, what with Facebook and stuff like that.

A truly refined person isn't an attention whore. Such a person won't be posting half-naked selfies on the internet or become an emotional basket case in public.  Our previous monarch, Queen Beatrix was famous for never showing her emotions. Once there was an attack on the royal family during a holiday and she appeared on the TV visibly upset. People kept discussing how unusual it was for her. I always thought how she was such a good example of keeping private affairs private.

As for the clothes, first, I'd like to say that one should try to dress according to the occasion. There is formal and casual attire (I wrote about it before and gave examples, if you are interested, search the label style). Second, one should try to dress according to one's age. A short dress on a young girl trying to attract a potential husband is understandable, but not so much on her grandmother. If you are a married woman, dress as such and don't try to copy your teenage daughter.

Those who write about modesty will often point out that certain clothes will promote male lust which gets feminists all upset. They then start nonsensical campaigns, such as infamous slut walks , trying to persuade young women that the way they present themselves doesn't matter. Things don't work that way in real life, however, those arguments always strike me as arguing from pragmatism.

Yes, it's true that we subconsciously divide people into categories according to the way they dress, though progressives may hate it. It's true that a woman who is perceived as slutty will get more attention of a sexual kind and even place herself in jeopardy, but the unwanted male attention shouldn't be your only reason to dress modestly. For me, modesty is first of all, about self-respect. Any woman struggling with this issue should ask herself a question, which image is she trying to project? How does she want to be remembered?

As a mother of the family or as a cougar? As a wholesome young person or as a trashy trailer park type? A lady or a tramp? Remember, that people are visual creatures (TV advertising works) and that first impression is hard to change.

I'd like to point out that it's a good thing not to fall into another extreme (in general, extremes of all sorts should be avoided). You don't have to wear a burqa, generally speaking. Unless you belong to a religious minority with strict modesty rules, such as Amish, you'll be all right by just avoiding too short, too tight and too low cut.

I'd say for me personally it's also important to look feminine. A woman could be totally covered and thus be "modest" but if you have to look several times to figure out whether it's a male or female, I'd say she is doing something wrong. Here, of course, the question of wearing pants comes. Traditionally, starting with our Germanic ancestors, pants were considered male attire. Of course, nowadays women wear trousers for all occasions and you hardly will shock anyone by doing it. I did notice one thing, though. The overwhelming majority of men doesn't adorn themselves with skirts/dresses, and even those Scottish types chiefly wear their national garb during costume parties.

I wonder why is it so?May be, because men are still proud to be men? Shouldn't we then be proud of being women and dress distinctly feminine? It's definitely something to ponder when you make your clothing choices. Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject of modesty in comments section!


  1. I wonder if a small part of the problem is, that we are so trained to focus on what the YOUNG are wearing, and there are so very few classy middle-aged or older ladies to get an example from, that we don't know what to wear as married women, or mothers, or even grandmothers.

  2. Years back Lady Lydia had a post about ways to look feminine. Such as watching the details on your blouses..a ruffle verses a button down collar. One is more masculine. If you look at a piece of clothing and know a man would not wear it it is feminine! She had so many examples. Textures of cloth and so so. Also how you stand. Hand in your side pockets looks manly. Whistling also is more masculine. Loud talking and so on. If from the back no one would know you were a man or a we so often see {!} is not a good idea!! :-) I wish I could find that post again. I thought this post of yours brought out so many thoughts and I really was glad you posted it. You really are a good writer. I am so glad there are women out there willing to say things that need saying. Thank you, Sarah

  3. You are welcome, Sarah! I remember being taught not to keep my hands in my pockets though I admit guilty to doing it quite often:) As for whistling, there was once a saying along the lines of "whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad ends"

  4. Hello, I've been reading your blog for some time, and I am always impressed with your commentary on current manners and culture. I read this one to my husband and we both agree that you are so right about the current culture of dressing to be offensive and vulgar in the extreme. One site you mentioned in another post was on Walmart dressing. How horrible it is to see nudity, ugly clothing and shameless so-called self-expression. I see in here in Florida, USA and avoid shopping as much as possible. We are members of a conservative Christian church and one of the blessings is never having to see anything but attractive and modest attire for all. So don't hesitate to keep speaking out. We need voices like yours on the internet.
    Gratefully, Sheila

  5. Thanks, Sheila and welcome to the blog

  6. Hello Sanne, i enjoy your writing as it has candour, a keen perspective on the modern culture and a refined touch of humour. I liked how you talked about modesty beginning with the heart and a sense of self-respect. People tend to dress for comfort like me (yikes) i am much more mindful these days not to wear shorts (quite common for us who live in the tropics) and switch to a longer skirt. Although the reactions are positive, especially with young kids reacting to my long skirt, dressing modestly makes me feel valued as a woman. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks, Larissa, welcome to the blog!