Modesty & Mystery (photo by Elisabeth Allen, graphic by Chantel Brankshire)What, exactly, is modesty? And why, when modesty can be defined and described with poetic words like “restrained by seemliness” and “delicate”, do I struggle with a number of myths about modesty?

A myth isn’t, usually, an out-and-out lie. There’s some truth in a myth. That’s what makes a myth so confusing, especially when it’s about something so personal as modesty.

Myth 1: Modesty is about the clothes I wear.

Modesty is about so much more than the clothes I wear! It’s about the way I wear the clothes I wear. It’s about the way I sit and stand and walk. It’s about the way I talk. It’s about the way I look when I talk. It’s about the way I smile and laugh. Clothes are only a bit of the story of modesty.

Myth 2: Modesty is boring.

Says who…? Modesty can be boring. Anything can be boring! Modesty, however, doesn’t have to be boring. It can be creative. Exciting!

You don’t have to buy just one style of skirts or trousers. You don’t have to wear tops of just one colour. What styles and colours do you like? Take the time you need and rise to the challenge of being creative and frugal. Build a wardrobe that is as tasteful — and as far from boring — as you like.

Myth 3: Modesty is restrictive.

What does “restrictive” mean anyway? If it means choosing to show restraint in my dress, my behaviour and my speech then maybe modesty is restrictive.

1 Timothy 2:9-11A restriction is a limit. Modesty is an outworking of limits — limits that say “this should be concealed”. What am I concealing? Not something I’m ashamed of — something that is good, a body created by God, a flesh and soul person made in the image of God. Something, however, that should not be seen by everyone.

The limit of how much of my body or my soul I reveal is for my safety and dignity and that of others. The limit, like a fence, isn’t about restriction, but freedom. Freedom to dress and walk and talk and laugh and be without fear of compromising the sacredness of a body created by God or the mystery of a soul made in the image of God.

Myth 4: Modesty is about hiding my body and concealing my personality.

Showing restraint in my dress requires that I hide bits of my body. Showing restraint in my behaviour and speech requires that I conceal bits of my personality. That, however, is only half the truth. By showing restraint in my dress, behaviour and speech I allow my heart to shine through.

If I wear a scanty outfit then I tell the world that, “This is what I am — a body!” If I behave and speak in a way that draws attention to myself then I tell the world that, “This is what it’s about — me!” When I wear modest, tasteful clothes that reflect my personality, I tell the world, “There’s more to me than meets the eye.” Talking and laughing loudly if God has given me a clear voice and a hearty laugh? That’s not the issue. And this isn’t about acting a part or being secretive and sly. Spilling the secrets of my soul indiscriminately or laughing provocatively is the issue. When I talk and laugh with discretion — with delicacy! — I tell the world, “There’s more to me than I’m sharing now and it’s precious.”

We don’t hide and conceal for the fun of it, but for the sake of protecting the sacredness of our bodies and the mystery of our souls.

Myth 5: Modesty is about rules.

Rules like “modest girls wear skirts”? No. That isn’t modesty; that’s legalism. Modesty requires a practical application. How low is too low? How short is too short? And how tight is too tight? What details do we want to share with whom? We all have to consider these issues. To think. To pray. To study the Bible. To seek the counsel of others who are wise. And then, having decided where the limit is for the protection of the sacredness of our bodies and the mystery of our souls, we have to consider, “Does this skirt, this pair of trousers, this top or this comment — does this break the limit?”

Sometimes we have to practice some restraint and say no. That’s hard when we know we’d look great in this outfit or people we don’t know well want us to share something personal! But do we want to look great and sound cool or do we want to be chaste and pure? How are we best going to reveal the grace of God in our lives?

Modesty, at heart, is about grace. The grace of God that saves us. That redeems us. That calls us His children. We have the privilege of representing Him to a broken and hurting world. We probably won’t do that best by dressing in an insensitive way that makes it hard for people to connect with us and realise that Christians are real people. We’ll do it by dressing and talking in a chaste and pure way that reflects the work of grace in our hearts.

Modesty (photo by Elisabeth Allen, graphic by Chantel Brankshire)


  1. Thank You for this article, so true and sensitive, it’s so hard to shop anymore, but with time and apprehension, and not giving in to the worlds wardrobe, we can dress with success

  2. Miss Theaphania says:

    I’ve heard a good way of telling what is modest.
    If you don’t want someone touching you in a certain place then cover that place up.
    Touching someone’s elbow is not quite the same thing as touching someone’s thigh.
    Doesn’t mean you have to strangle yourself by covering your chin and lips, of course, 🙂
    Does that make sense?

  3. Katherine Wells Anderson says:

    I just love this! Thoughtfully and sensitively written. I’m astonished at the mode of dress I see in church on women of all ages. I understand the young women…naivety is not their fault but the fault of their parents… Why don’t mother’s tell them?

    Praying this message gets around and sets women FREE from slavish fashion and into creative expressions of their beauty!

  4. Nicole Gordon says:

    Thank you so much! I think a lot of people deal with be legalistic in this area. I know I do. This puts it well in perspective.

  5. That’s the most balanced description of modesty I have read. Thank you!

  6. Modesty is about the heart attitude, most of all!
    I think #2 the best…. modesty certainly doesn’t have to be boring! 🙂

  7. Lydia Borengasser says:

    Very well said! Thank you!

  8. Great article! I used to become caught up in the legalism that can enter when you are dealing with modesty in a short-minded way. This puts into words what I have been learning the last years!

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