Modesty Is More Than How We Dress

I was eating lunch on a layover in the Denver airport when I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two men traveling together. Their somewhat loud, though innocuous, conversation centered along the lines of business, until a young woman walked past dressed in tights/leggings. One man was completely derailed in his animated business conversation. I heard a sharp intake of breath, and then he said, “We need to thank whoever the guy was who created those tights things the girls wear. Man….", he said with a sigh of appreciation. The other man knew instantly what he was talking about and echoed similar sentiments. It was silent for a few moments while those men ogled that girl as she made her way through the airport.

I looked up from my lunch to try to guess which woman had caught their eye. And there she was, trotting off with her thinly covered behind in grand view for all to see. I confess I also stole a look to see what manner of men were behind me who were having a conversation like that. Their appearance didn’t match up to what I expected to see; they looked like nice, middle-aged, successful businessmen, even somewhat professorish. They looked like men you would trust if you were in trouble.

There were so many parts of their conversation I found insightful—one of the first was that they wanted to thank “the guy” who invented leggings. They were awed by the sheer genius of the man who somehow swayed women of all ages, shapes, and sizes to walk around in public with basically only a color for covering. It was illuminating to see that lust affects men of every station of life, every social stratum, and every age. And it was lust they were engaging in there in the middle of the Denver airport food court. It was also revealing that these men assumed another man came up with the whole tights/leggings fashion trend currently plaguing us. Apparently, they couldn’t imagine a woman’s desire to be looked at and admired, even lusted after, would drive her to design such items of clothing.

Contrast those attitudes and actions of today with what we read in John Chapter 21. There we read the story of how the disciples, under Peter’s leadership, returned to fishing after Jesus’ death. However, they fished all night, yet didn’t catch a thing. A man called to them from the shore and told them to put their nets on the opposite side of the boat and when they did, they caught so many fish they weren’t even able to bring the nets into the boat. John was quick to catch on to what was happening. Verse 7 tells us, “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.” 

Though this story isn’t about modesty, Peter’s response to the Lord certainly carries import for us today. While he was laboring aboard the boat Peter was stripped down to clothing better suited for work than a robe. Yet when he realized it was the Lord Jesus standing there on the shore he didn’t just dive in to the water in his swim clothes, he took the time to put on his tunic and then swam to shore fighting and pulling against the tunic’s weight the whole way toward Jesus.

Why do that? The answer is pretty simple; Peter covered his body appropriately in the Lord’s presence as a sign of respect, to show honor, to maintain modesty. For believer’s who live every moment of every day in the Lord’s presence, Peter’s example should cause us to think for a moment. How can I best honor the Lord today in my speech, in my thoughts, in my relationships, even in how I dress? We can never forget that modesty has its roots in honoring the Lord. That desire to have every part of our lives give the Lord glory is what Paul was getting at in Philippians 1:20 when he said, “For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.” What if we changed “life” to “clothes” at the end of verse 20 so it reads, “And I trust that my clothes will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die?” That mindset gets at the heart of modesty, and it’s what every one of us needs to consider, whether it’s clothes or hair or music or books—will it bring honor to the Lord Jesus?

Modesty is more than how we dress; it’s a character quality that begins in the heart and shows up in our clothes. And I want to say right here that it’s completely possible to wear tights and leggings modestly. I've seen so many girls and women utilize these clothing items well so that they actually were more modest because they used tights or leggings under a skirt or with a long shirt or sweater. A little creativity and a desire to honor the Lord in every area of our lives will help us make wise and thoughtful choices as we dress each day. 

If you're interested in more encouragement on modesty, check out Jack's excellent piece!