Immodest Dress

Jefferson David Tant
Roswell, Georgia

Immodesty, lust, adultery, deceit, drunkenness, murder. Not a very pleasant listing of words, is it? And some might wonder why we would put immodesty and murder in the same category. The reason is that all of the words listed belong in the same narrative, and are listed in the progressive order of events, beginning with immodesty and ending with murder. You should recognize the story of David and Bathsheba from 2 Sam. 11-12:25.

Do women realize the power and influence they exercise over the thinking and actions of men by way of sexual attraction? Surely this is well illustrated by the sad story of Israel's great king and his beautiful neighbor. Who knows the reasons for Bathsheba's displaying herself immodestly within the view of David? But we can see that this action, however innocent it may have seemed to her, brought forth sin, sorrow and death, and its consequences reached into the distant future for the king of Israel. From his rooftop, David was able to look upon Bathsheba while she was bathing within his view. Her beauty and lack of discretion contributed to lust within David's heart. Their resulting adultery caused a child to be conceived. To cover the sin, Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, was recalled from the battlefront, as David sought to provide opportunity for others to think that the child was by Uriah. But this loyal subject and soldier refused to go into this wife while his comrades were on the battlefield. David then got Uriah drunk so he might go to his wife, but Uriah still refused. David finally sent a sealed message by Uriah to his captain on the battlefield, which caused Uriah to be placed where he was certain to be killed. Who would ever have thought that such a vile deed would have come from such an "innocent" beginning? But such is the way of the world - both then and now.

We truly live in an age that worships at the feet of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love. The manifestations of this sex-worship are evident and plentiful. We have an increase of "living together" arrangements, an epidemic of venereal disease, one million illegitimate pregnancies among teenagers each year, a flood of pornographic literature and movies, and a vast expanse of bare skin. They all go together, and to try and determine which came first would result in a "chicken-or-egg-first" type of debate. But there may be some substance to the idea that the trend towards a more revealing style of dress in previous years has in turn created an atmosphere that has fostered a decline in moral standards everywhere.

Question: Is the Bible teaching on modest apparel relevant to this age? Yes, if we believe in an all-wise, all-powerful and all-knowing God. Therefore, God had the ability to design laws and commandments and principles suited to all men of all nations of all time (Matt. 24:35; 1 Peter 1:23). Man's nature has not changed, and a reading of the Bible will reveal the same emotions, passions and human attributes that men have today. Therefore, what God teaches through the Bible is relevant. And it is obvious that it needs to be made relevant to those who profess to be Christians today who adorn themselves in their shorts, mini-skirts, swim suits, low necklines, tight outfits and see-thru styles.

Biblical Principles. Governing Dress

Nakedness has always been a symbol of shame, beginning with Adam and Eve in Gen. 3:7. The aprons they made for themselves might well have covered about as much as a modern swim-suit, but God was not satisfied with this, as he made for them "coats of skins" (Gen. 3:21) to clothe them. Nakedness was also used as a symbol of spiritual shame (Isa. 47:3, Rev. 3:18). Note that you can have clothing on, and still be naked in the Biblical sense. The word is used in the sense of "thinly-clad" in such passages as Job 22:6 and James 2:15-16. According to this, you are "naked" in many of the modern costumes that are accepted as normal attire.

God has said, "In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works" (Tim. 2:9-10).

"Modest" from the Greek means "well-arranged, seemly . . . ." Thus dress is to be orderly, in good taste, and in such fashion as to cause a women to be respected, to be thought highly of. Some argue that "good taste" is reflected in whatever the current fashions are. That may be true to a certain extent, but custom can go beyond the principles of godliness, and the Christian is told to "be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:2). With this attitude, we are not so eager to ape the fashions of this world and justify ungodliness just because "everyone else is doing it."

"Shamefastness" is "a sense of shame, modesty, reverence, the ability to blush." This is more akin to our modern use of "modesty" which is defined as ". . . not forward; shy or reserved. Behaving according to a standard of what is proper or decorous; decent; pure; now especially, not displaying one's body." In keeping with this definition, can one honestly defend many modern styles? To put it plainly: Girls (young or not so young), would you be embarrassed for a man to walk into your room and see you in your underwear? If you have any shamefastness at all, your answer is "Yes." Then why not show the same attribute in public and refuse to wear the shorts and halter and otherwise revealing costumes that so many try to defend? Does the fact that the name of one is shorts and the other is underwear make the difference between modesty and immodesty? Honest, now.

Clothing indicative of shamefastness is opposite that type which is a bold display or which is forward in nature. This rules our clothing which exposes and emphasizes the private parts of the body and which therefore tends to produce unwholesome thoughts. If you could hear some of the comments the men and boys make concerning the girls who pass by in tight outfits, shorts, low-cut blouses and the like, surely it would bring a blush. Such clothing may be considered lascivious (encouraging lewd or lustful thoughts or emotions), and is condemned as a work of the flesh in Gal. 6:19-21.

Our text in 1 Timothy also uses "sobriety," which indicates "soundness of mind, self-control . . ." and "good judgment, moderation . . . especially as a feminine virtue, decency" (Arndt and Gingrich). Here is clothing that is moderate, kept within bounds, restrained, in keeping with good judgment.

When these unchanging principles are destroyed, immodesty results, and sin comes. But when one seeks to conform to God's standards rather than those of the world, modesty will be sought, rather than shunned, and godliness will be practiced rather than worldliness defended.

The Results of Immodest Clothing

Even the world recognizes the significance of the emphasis on sex in clothing. In the first place, it tends towards exhibitionism. "The women on the beach whom the men can't help watching are . . . the ones with figures who want men to watch them and are bold enough to show this in their manner . . . . But one complication is that some people have a greater-than-average urge to make the opposite sex loop at them, by means of clothes or the lack of them. Certain of these people know it. Others of them don't admit it, even to themselves" "Dr. Spock Talks With Mothers," Ladies Home Journal, Sept., 1955, pp. 26, 28). "Women no longer wince at revealing their bodies in this `naked era,' deliberately adapting their clothes for the purpose of attracting the male, and to call a spade a spade, often to get men hot and bothered" (Woman! The Dominant Sex, p. 115). Mary Quant, the well-known fashion designer and mother of the mini-skirt: "Mini-clothes are symbolic of those girls who want to seduce a man . . . ." Whether the mini-skirt itself is in or out of style at any particular time is not the point. The point is that that particular garment is but one symbol of the whole idea of the sexual revolution.

Another problem is that such clothing is recognized as contributory to crimes. "Some rapists, Dr. Hoffman points out, are harmless until their inhibitions are freed by drink or dope. Others however, need only the sight of a scantily clad female to trigger sexual violence. `And the way some girls run around the streets today,' Dr. Hoffman says, `is practically asking for it"' ("How to Protect Your Family," Cosmopolitan, Jan., 1962, p. 47). We could go on with page after page of similar quotes, including a comprehensive survey conducted among the Police Departments around the United States, concerning the sharp rise in sex crimes against women in the last several years. Ninety percent of the officers responding related sex crimes to immodest styles of clothing. And these officers are not the psychiatrists sitting in their ivory towers giving forth their lofty philosophies, but the men who have to deal with crime and its victims in the streets day after day. A major city's vice squad commander agreed with others that husbands and fathers have "some responsibility to uphold sensible standards" in clothing for their families, because men know more clearly what may be provocative. These officials suggested the sex crime rise might be slowed by responsible action of school officials, employers and proprietors, designers and manufacturers, entertainers, religious leaders, writers and advertisers.

Such clothing also sends a message. In a discussion with a group of young people, the question was asked why girls (and boys) go around with shirts or blouses unbuttoned to a daring extent and wear otherwise suggestive clothing. The consensus was that it was done for advertising purposes. In the police survey, 76% of those responding said a girl is more likely to "involve herself in immoral behavior by the subjective effect" of wearing daring clothing. It also sends the message that they no longer care what God thinks, for if they did, they would never appear in public in clothing that is purely of, by, and for the world. They no longer care about themselves, for they have given up self-respect and care about personal safety. And they no longer care what effect they have on others, having no concern that their unchaste display may create lust in the heart of some youth who is growing into manhood, but still lacks the maturity of self-control.

Why is it that many places, including U.S. Military installations around the world, prohibit the wearing of shorts and halters and like clothes in public? Why are such styles prohibited in prison? When I visited an inmate in prison recently, I was interested in the regulations concerning clothing posted in the visitors room. No shorts, no halters, no low necks, etc. Do you really have to guess at the reason? See Matthew 5:28 for a clue.

I want to share with the readers part of a letter I received from a teenaged girl after she had read something I had written on modesty. "How some of the girls I know who call themselves Christians can wear the clothes they do, I just don't know. Some of them don't know better and some of them do . . . . I don't know about all of the parents but I know some of them think their teenage girls are justified in the way they dress and act. It really bothers me that the parents and preachers and class teachers don't talk about modesty . . . . When I think of all the Christian girls I know of going around in Hip-hugger jeans and midriff blouses, and mini-skirts and body shirts, it really bugs me. From the teenagers' point of view, I'll tell you some of the arguments I've heard: (1) "The latest fashionis and I just don't want to look different." (2) "All of my friends will think I'm crazy." (3) "My boyfriend will drop me fast if I dress like that" (modestly). (4) "No one's ever told me it was wrong." (5) "The preacher has never said a thing to me about my short dresses." (6) "My parents say it's alright, so Do you see the main ingredient in such reasoning? It is dressing to please others, rather than dressing to please God! It is seeking to be "fashioned~according to this world" rather than dressing in a way "which becometh women professing godliness."

The Bible describes two types of clothing: the attire of a harlot (Prov. 7:10), and modest apparel (1 Tim 2:8). If you honestly consider the matter, it should take no intellectual giant to figure out in which category to place the miniclothes described by their creator as "symbolic of girls who want to seduce a man."

What this all leads to finally is just plain sin. Do we really want to dress like, act like, and be like the world? Or do we want to "walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called" (Eph. 4:1). Do we not desire to be that "elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out .of darkness into his marvelous light . . . . Beloved, 1 beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; have your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Pet. 2:9-12).

When all is said and done, do we want the approval of the world or of God? The final reward of heaven or hell will depend upon our answer.


  • Is it possible for one to be naked, in one sense, and still have clothes on?
  • Can the Christian go along with the world in dress fashions, so long as it is generally accepted?
  • Does a Christian bear any responsibility for the thoughts and actions of others?
  • If shorts and halter and like apparel are not im modest, what would it take to be immodest?
    • "Seemly, the ability to blush, shy or reserved, decent, pure, not displaying one's body, moderation," are all words which describe what?
    • A sure way to keep out of heaven is to engage in what works?
    • Is it possible for the Christian's manner of dress to set him or her apart from the world?
    • Is there any hint that God may have been displeased with clothing that humans wore?
    • Should Christians be careful about things which may lead to sin?
    • What responsibility do we have to follow Christians who dress immodestly?
    • Truth Magazine XXIII: 23, pp. 370-373
      June 7, 1979