Do Christian women have a responsibility to dress modestly?

The comments to my anti-Victoria's Secret catalog post were truly eye-opening. It made me realize how many of us are outraged by the onslaught of pornographic images in lingerie ads, fashion magazines and even fast food ads.

Most of all, I was reminded that modesty matters.

Perhaps the underlying problem of rampant pornography and sexual violence against women began with the mass uncovering of women's bodies. Somehow in the last 40 years, women abandoned one of the chief guardians of feminine dignity and safety: modest clothing.

Of course, uncovering one's body was done in the name of "empowerment." But there couldn't be a bigger lie. Public nudity will never be empowering. It will always be degrading because it displays what should be private. 

And by exposing the mystery, we make it cheap. We defile the sacred.

I've admitted to struggling with modesty. Part of this was me sifting through my legalistic past. Part of it was just plain ol' inconsideration. I didn't want to admit that, as a Christian woman, I had a responsibility to dress modestly.

I viewed dressing modestly as a choice between looking frumpy and looking fashionable. But now there are so many more options for beautifully modest clothing that I don't really have an excuse anymore (if you don't believe me, go check out Betty Beguiles' blog–she always has such cute picks).

Which makes me wonder: why do so many Christian women dress immodestly? Do they not know what modesty looks like or have they chosen to simply disregard it altogether?

This year I'm making a concerted effort to dress modestly. It's my own personal campaign against the proliferation of public porn. And it's also my way of tangibly showing my children (especially my daughters) that yes, modesty matters.

What do you think? Do Christian women have a responsibility to dress modestly?
Why or why not? 
 Do you have any links to companies that specialize in modest clothing? 
 Please share!

  • Natalie

    I dress modestly because of my religion. I always have, as it is part of church instruction. I guess it is the whole “my body is a temple” thing.



  • Bruce

    It not so simple.

    First, what is modesty? Most often the word is described in a religious context. Your modesty is not my modesty.

    Second, we tend to sexualize everything in our culture. As a result certain things are seen as risque in this country that are non-issues elsewhere. So our view on “modesty” is conditioned by our culture. (a culture heavily influenced by puritanical Christian belief)

    There is a big difference between porn and dressing “sexy.” Porn leaves nothing to the imagination. Dressing sexy gives the imagination something to think about.

    We are sexual creatures. If you believe in God then God created you this way. If you don’t believe in God then sexuality is simply a biological process. It is part of who we are. Either way we should not be ashamed of our sexuality.

    I believe the Christian Church is far more to blame for the sexual dysfunction in our country than the porn industry or scantily-clad women.

    If a little leg, cleavage, etc is going to cause a person to commit terrible sexual sins…it says far more about the sinner than it does the person showing a bit of flesh.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Hey Bruce,
    Welcome to my blog. You’re right, it’s not so simple. This is precisely why I didn’t give specifics about what IS and what IS NOT modest. Been there, done that. :) However, for Christian women who already believe that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, some of us would say that it is not befitting a woman of faith to dress in a provocative or “sexy” manner.

    Dressing modestly doesn’t mean we’re ashamed of our sexuality. Actually, it’s exactly the opposite. Dressing modestly says we appreciate our sexuality enough to preserve it for the privacy and sanctity of our marriages.

    Thanks for your input.

  • Stephanie

    Elizabeth, I think you’ve tapped into something so vitally important to our social health. I think that, as a society, there has been a tremendous breakdown in modesty. It goes beyond simply uncovering our bodies in the name of empowerment. In our society, it has become celebrated to commit lewd acts in public, to participate in those lewd acts on national television in the name of “reality” television, and to voyeuristically live through those who are willing to bare it all…even if we aren’t so willing to do it ourselves.

    I think Christian women have a responsibility to dress modestly, for our own self-respect and to be an example of modesty for others. Our daughters,sisters, nieces, friends, etc, need an example of purity and modesty. We need to show those who are paying attention that being modest doesn’t make you unfashinable or stylistically challenged. It helps maintain dignity. It helps maintain a measure of self-respect that will, in turn, command respect from others. We cannot ask others to respect us or our sexuality if we do not first respect it ourselves.

    The onslaught against women that is playing out in all forms of media has become lethal. Every day, we hear of another tragedy playing out in our cities and towns across the country, in which a woman…child, mother, wife, sister, friend…has fallen victim to unspeakable violence. There is a rising concern about violence against women, but it seems one of the most fundamental aspects of comabatting that violence is being patently ignored. If we cannot first begin with bringing modesty back into fashion, then I have serious doubts that any other efforts will be of much good.

  • Smoochagator

    Oh my gosh, I could go on and on about this issue – it’s one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, one that gets under my skin, because I have long felt that the idea of Christian women having a responsibility to dress modestly is just another way that women are blamed for the sin of men. And yet, I value modesty more as I get older, as my body has changed and as my relationship with my husband has developed. I’ve wanted to write a post on this subject in my own blog, and you may have given me the spark to go ahead and do it!

    I can’t remember where I read it, but the best explanation I heard for modesty is this: in Orthodox Jewish communities, the scrolls of the Torah are locked away and covered with a veil, and only looked upon at very special times during worship. Does the fact that they’re veiled mean they are shameful? (As some would say is the reasoning for Christians to cloak their bodies modestly?) NO. It is because the Scripture is HOLY that it is hidden from casual glances. In the same way, our bodies are holy and we should attire them accordingly. When one believes that sex is not a dirty, bad thing (a necessary evil, even!) but rather a holy act, one wants to keep it special, sacred, separate. That’s the kind of modesty I want to cultivate.

  • Heather

    I can’t say it any better than the previous commentors have done. Yes, I do believe that Christian women should dress modestly. Both as a sign of respect for their marriage (or future husband) and also to not be a stumbling block to others. Modesty is not frumpy. Like a Warm Cup of Coffee did a great series on dressing modestly and she frequently has links to some stylish and modest clothing sites.

  • Dianna

    Modesty is SO important, but SO dismissed in our culture and unfortunately in our churches. I am amazed at what I see women and teenage girls wear to church – they are dressed as if they are going to a night club. Elizabeth, I think part of the problem is that Christians (church goers – not all who claim to be a Christian truly are) are so like the world and they don’t even know the bible addresses things such as purity because they don’t read the bible. It just speaks to our anemic faith in our churches.

    Another thing that saddens me is to see little girls (3 or 4) with halter top shirts on (no backs). I think it is shameful! If they wear it when they are toddlers, what makes a parent think they will dress modestly when they are teenagers?

    I’m the women’s ministry leader in our church and have thought a great deal about having a fashion show featuring modest clothes and your post has given me more resolve that ever to do it!

  • Evelyn

    I tend toward the frumpy side, because I have had some life experiences that cause me to need to feel covered. That said, I don’t think everybody needs to do that, and I do get frustrated sometimes when it is inferred that women are overly responsible for the men around them. Too many guys I knew in college could get excited about ankles and other innocuous body parts. I wish there were some sort of general standard, though, because I think that the nice Catholic girls who show up to Mass in strapless or lowcut dresses really don’t know how inappropriate it is. We cringe for them, and for the poor priest who gets an eyeful when they bow at Communion. I am a big fan of Lands’ End, for modern, stylish-but-not-overly-trendy clothes, and for little girls clothes that let them look like little girls!

  • Linda

    Here is a very good sermon on this exact subject…

    This sermon is well worth the time.

  • Anna

    I completely agree with you, Elizabeth.

    I love this website:

  • lola

    I agree word by word with Bruce.
    the modesty must be carried on the head and the intention, not just in the cloths.
    there mwas a great saint who said that all the sins were comitted from the waist upwards.
    I’ve been in a remote region of Algerie called Mozab where the women covered themselves completely except one eye.. well a friend (male) told me there were ways to be sexy even this way!
    Relax and teach your children to be decent people in their acts, this is the important thing. I find the farisean rich strict people really pornographic!

  • Rosita

    I do think that it is important to dress modestly, but to not be legalistic about it. I were fitted clothing and look nice, but I avoid tight clothing and low necklines or high hems. And I agree it is also a state of mind.

    In additon, for me, it means that I have asked my husband to let me know if anything I wear makes him uncomfortable. To this day, he has not said anything, but I think it lets him know that I respect him. Of course, this only works if the relationship between spouses is healthy.

    I just have to add that I thought I was the only person who found calm and centering in visiting a cemetary. I don’t even mention that to most people, because they think it is weird. (You didn’t have the comments on for that blog.)

  • Diana

    what do you mean when you say “my legalistic past” ?

  • Laurissa

    it is a challenge to dress modestly and fashionably at the same time- but I think its a great challenge for women (and men)! We do not cover/conceal what is worthless. We cover/conceal what is precious and priceless. Christ gave His life to redeem us. Our bodies are precious and are to be used as a gift to our spouses. Modesty is very subjective to each person’s definition of modesty- but it is an important virtue for all women to practice, nonetheless.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Diana: I mean making exacting rules about what can and cannot be worn.

    Lola: I understand standards of modesty vary from region to region. This is precisely why I didn’t state any specific rules.

    Just wanted to clarify: there are some who take modesty to an extreme and engage in blaming the victim for the sins perpetrated against her. I want to make it absolutely clear that I in no way condone that kind of thinking.

    What’s interesting to me, though, is that the topic of modesty is so controversial. It seems to bring out the legalist in all of us: Just WHAT do you mean by modesty?

    Everyone needs to make their decisions of conscience. However, I think we can all agree that, at the very least, a woman in church should have her underwear covered? :)

  • Deborah L

    Absolutely women should be dressing modestly. I’m shocked at what women/girls are wearing nowadays. Especially in church. Like someone else said, there are some who are dressing like they’re going to a night club. Extremely inappropriate. I have two Christian friends who are exceedingly fashionable, classy ladies who dress modestly. There are LOTS of lovely, modest clothes out there – you just need to pick and choose. And I agree that our daughters should be taught at a young age to dress modestly. I buy a lot of my 5-year-old daughter’s clothes at Hanna Andersson. The sizes go up to 12-13 and they are “little girl” dresses – not clothes that are trying to look grown up.
    I know there are varying opinions on what is considered “modest”, but I think we all know a few of the “rules” for appropriate dress. :) Fantastic post!!

  • Tammy@If Meadows Speak….

    Yes we do have a responsibility. Do not cause our brother to sin (in his heart).

    Modesty can be stylish, I’ve alarmingly found. A reformed immodest, sexy wearing Mama, now I’ve found style and discreet. My Lord adorning me instead of my flesh, my clothes for covering (with flair)instead of revealing, and my dignity returned after looking in the Right Place. No more need for the attention, when I have HIS.

    Sorry, no fabulous websites.

  • Kathleen C

    Our church was involved in a multi-church-sponsored fashion show from this company:

    Modest dress has been an on and off topic in our pastor’s sermons for a few years now.

  • Kathleen C

    Forgot to say – this is more about teens and less about actual clothes you can buy. But I thought it might spark a bit of interest given your topic.

  • Jason

    Just a correction here… Anna posted a link to Christa Taylor’s site… but the correct URL is (with a hyphen.) How do I know? :) Christa’s father is a good friend of mine.

    Also, I might add, I’ve heard several sermons on the issue of modesty and every one I’ve heard is moralistic (legalistic). The bottom line: scripture is not clear on the specifics of modesty. As hard as they try, nobody can say how much skin can be shown, how long dresses should be, how long hair should be, etc. It’s just not there.

    Why isn’t scripture more clear? I’m not sure but it might be because God knows we like to follow rules in order to justify ourselves. And justifying ourselves never works out too well.

    I’m not trying to judge anyone here (at least not any more than I am judging myself) but our outward appearance, talk, actions, etc. are a reflection of our hearts. If we spend too much time trying to figure out how to dress modestly I think we miss the point.

    Additionally, we men are the biggest part of this problem by far. The VS target audience is men, not women. No man can, in the presence God, blame their immorality on the immodesty of women.

  • Valerie

    Modesty is important to my husband and I as we raise our 4 daughters. We are teaching our children already now (the oldest is 5) about how special they are and how they need to be modest. My husband is a great encourager in the modesty issue for me and our daughers. My heart is always grieved when I see girls in immodest clothing and knowing that their fathers are letting them! Fathers should know better becuase they know how men think! Why don’t fathers understand how precious their daughters are and take care of them. Girls need to know that they are not just an item to be used, but that they are precious gold!
    It is funny how modesty and birth control are such hot topics!! People can get so heated talking about them! I wonder why that is?? :-)
    Thanks for the encouragement Elizabeth, it is nice to know others are thinking about modesty!!


  • Cristi

    As a girl raised to dress modestly, I think it’s important to make the point that as much as people say “we only cover what’s important” – we also cover what we’re ashamed of. I honestly don’t try to dress modestly anymore. If I like it and like the way I look in it then I wear it. I want to like who I am and how I look and not be ashamed of some part of my body.

  • Evelyn

    If you click past youtube to the site the sermon Linda posted comes from, you can read the transcript. It’s a baptist sermon, and I would have expected in to be legalistic, but it isn’t. It’s fantastic. He never attacks women. He makes all the usual disclaimers about people being welcome regardless of what they wear, and then launches into a list of several clothing issues that would very likely cause an average joe to stumble. I really like his choice of emphasis.

    High slits in skirts (reaching above the knee), really short skirts that could reveal underwear, skintight shirts, pants that are skintight from waist to buttocks to thighs, cleavage (or what would show cleavage if a woman bent over and forgot to hold her shirt close), really low v-necks or shirts buttoned only right above the bra, low-rise pants that barely cover the crack and show the tops of panties, and bare midriff shirts. He does mention that several of these things are perfectly fine on a woman standing still, but trouble comes when she sits, bends over, or squats.

    I was quite surprised to find myself agreeing with everything he listed. It’s not as bad as some nitpicking fashion police, and he phrases it as helping out the guys, so it’s easy to swallow. He also makes the distinction that while we women want to help our brothers, God will not hold us accountable for their stumbles if it’s really his issue and not something we’re flaunting. That attitude is probably what helps him avoid a policing mentality.

  • p

    I agree that women should dress modestly. I don’t believe that women cause men to sin. Men cause themselves to sin when they don’t control their thoughts. They don’t have to look at the girl walking down the street in a short skirt. One guy that I heard preaching on the subject said women shouldn’t wear their purses slung across the body because it shows of their breasts. The purse isn’t the problem, the problem is in the mind.

  • Amanda

    I have to be honest…this topic gets me all in a bother. This is not particularly a reaction to your post, but as a young Christian woman this topic has been, well, pounded on to me for years.

    I want to be clear…I dress modestly. Because I think it looks best. Because I think it’s kind of tacky to “leave nothing to the imagination”. Because I think that dressing too provacatively sends a message (whether accurate or not) about your character.

    But it really drives me crazy when the phrase “stumbling block” is thrown around. It just seems like another rock on the pile of centuries of blaming women for the sin of men. Do I think that women seduce men? Yes. But if I am wearing a v-neck sweater and a man is lusting after me? HIS PROBLEM. I don’t think that we should mess with their heads, but it all seems so geared toward weak little men, so close always to sin, and it’s our job as women to make sure OUR sinful immodesty doesn’t lead them into sin.

    Nobody ever talks about the fact that MEN can be immodest…or that guys have a responsibility not to lead WOMEN into sin.

    End rant, sorry about that. I do agree that people should be more modest, but it all seems a little sexist to me. But that’s just been my experience, I recognize that that’s not the case for everybody.

  • That Married Couple

    In the past several months I’ve felt called to modesty. I didn’t want to, and tried to put it off! I figured the way I was dressing wasn’t too bad. But finally I gave in and it’s been wonderful. (I did a whole series of posts on it.) You really don’t have to forsake fashion and looking good in order to dress modestly. I did a post full of resources, and some of the clothes in these shops look great:

    Also, I agree that modesty is more than a manner of dress, it’s a state of mind. It’s both a virtue and a lifestyle.

    I think for many Christian women, modesty just doesn’t cross their minds. (I’m thinking specifically of ones in mainstream denominations who do not want to identify with evangelicals or counter-cultural movements.) They’ve been so inundated with the VS porn and such that it’s not even on the radar.

  • Jenny Rebecca
  • CapChoirGirl

    I definitely think that we ALL have an obligation to dress appropriately in church–I don’t want to see boys’ boxers, either!
    That being said–I’ve never really had a problem with this. I went to Catholic school for eight years, and wore a uniform. My mom didn’t let me or any of my siblings out of the house (church or otherwise) wearing anything “inappropriate.”
    But I definitely think that we have lowered the standards of “inappropriate.” Last week I was sitting behind a girl at Mass who was wearing an open-back top (and it was 20 degrees!). It was distracting. Should I be able to ignore it? Yes. I tried. But it was really obvious that she had something she was doing after Mass (like a party) that had informed her clothing decisions.
    I don’t think women need to adopt Amish dress. But I do think that skirts that hit the knee are not a bad idea (and on most people, look MUCH better than any mini thing).
    If you are Christian, it should inform everything you do–and that includes dress.

  • tarynkay

    Yes. Both Christian women and Christian men have a responsibility to dress in a way that does not represent a stumbling block to others. On the other hand, both Christian women and Christian men have a responsibility to not blame others for inspiring lustful thoughts.

    I began dressing much more modestly a few years ago, out of this conviction. For a couple of years, I wore almost exclusively long skirts and dresses, and was more than once mistaken for an Orthodox Jew. To my astonishment, modest dress did not eliminate (or even really cut down on) male attention. Sometimes, it even seemed to increase it- I guess there’s no shortage of scantily clad ladies, so maybe long dresses are more of a novelty?

    I finally realized that I could only take responsibility for my own actions, not anyone elses. I continue to dress modestly, but I wear pants now when I feel like it. I also no longer judge other women for dressing less modestly. A real downside to discussing modesty is the propensity of such discussions to become sinful in other ways- we need to avoid becoming judgmental and gossipy.

    Ironically, the link you posted for modest clothing led to a webpage called “betty page clothing”. Betty Page was a famous midcentury pin-up girl. But that’s the funny thing- yesterday’s pin-ups are today’s nice young ladies. Don’t get me wrong- I love the 1950s shirtdresses. I just wonder- will my grandchildren someday hold up Lady Gaga as a standard of modest beauty? It’ll be interesting to see…

  • Anna

    Thanks for the correction on the URL, Jason!

    I wanted to add a good link to an article I read today that’s very relevant to this discussion:

  • Jessica

    I wholeheartedly agree that Christian women should dress modestly. I use to think it shouldn’t matter what I wore and that it was a guy’s fault if he stumbled because of how I dressed. Wouldn’t there be some guys who’d be turned on no matter what I wore? That’s how I approached it.

    But now I know modesty is more than just clothes, it’s an attitude of the heart. It’s that attitude of a temptress (like in Proverbs 7) seeking to lure. And even if a women’s not purposefully intending to lure a man astray, how she dresses and carries herself says a lot. Is she trying to attract attention through her outward adornment? Her behavior?

    1 Timothy 2:10 calls a woman to adorn herself with good works “as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” This I think points to the biggest reason why women should be modesty–it reflects back to God.

    We’re his ambassadors. His representation on this earth, how we dress and act says something to a lost world about God. Are we giving them the right picture?

  • Amber

    I have had this discussion many times.

    I believe that modesty is a sign of respect. Respect toward God, men, other women, and yourself. I think all women have the potential to be beautiful. However, beauty is not showing off more skin. It is inside of you.

    I think about these two questions when I dress in the morning: What are my clothes saying about me? Do they show off the beautiful person inside?

    Sexy is for my husband, elegant for the rest of the world. Plus, there are now many options for cute, modest clothing. Also, if we decide to not buy immodest outfits, I think the industry will get the hint.

    On another note, please remember that there are husbands out there trying to keep their thoughts clean. Sure, you might think that your dress has absolutely no power over a man. But, it does. They will try and avoid immodestly dress women, however it is hard to avoid completely. My husband does his best to keep his thoughts free of other women, this is made difficult with a cultures saturated in sex appeal. In this case, yes it is a Christian woman’s responsibility to dress modestly. Let’s keep our men safe!

  • Rhonda

    This is my first time to read your blog and I have to comment.

    Yes! By all means we, as Christian women, have a responsibility to dress modestly.

    My husband and I have 2 boys left at home and we have noticed that they are looking at the way people (specifically females) are dressed. I’ve seen where their eyes go. We want to keep them as pure as possible.

    My son and I were at KMart and he was paying for something. The cashier was a young woman who was very well endowed in the chest. All was well until she handed him his change. Then her shirt practically burst open and her cleavage was in his face! The look on his face was incredible! His eyes were popping out of his head! He just stood there like a statue unable to move. I was frustrated because this young woman probably didn’t have a clue what had just happened to my son! Now that image is engraved in his mind. For the record, I realize that God can erase that image and I pray that He does!

    My husband tells me that, as a man, it is difficult to maintain pure thoughts when he is inundated by naked flesh (aka immodestly dressed women) all day long at work. The cleavage bulging out of blouses, short skirts with high slits, bikini tops, etc. are difficult NOT to look at when a lot of women flaunt it in others’ faces. When we are together in public, I see him turn his head quickly to avoid seeing what he shouldn’t.

    God created women as beautiful creatures. And yes, he also created sex. And, men do admire our beauty. But we don’t need to be sexy in public. Let’s save our sexiness for the pleasure of our husbands only.

    I don’t want to be the cause of a man, especially a married man, not thinking pure thoughts. I certainly don’t want my husband thinking about other women and what they were wearing!

    I also like what others have said – modesty is not just about clothing, it’s about who I am or who you are.

  • terry@breathing grace

    Hey, Elizabeth! You certainly know how to shake things up!

    While I think it is important to dress in a way that is not sexually provocative, I think it’s important to note that an overemphasis on modesty in the other direction can be, well, immodest. At its heart, modest actually means to avoid drawing attention to oneself. Some women, in their self-righteous attempt to look like modest woman, draw attention to themselves that is all about them and not at all about the character of Christ within them.

    I have a friend who, until recently, worked a full time job. Because of her past, she feels convicted to make sure she is well covered and wear dresses only. Her superviser developed a crush on her and it got so bad that she ended up leaving that job immediately upon her marriage, even though she needed that income at the time.

    All that to say, I wear jeans. Not baggy jeans, either. I am careful not to accentuate things that need to be kept for the eyes of my husband only. In my opinion, we don’t give men enough credit. Not every man is on the verge of jumping every woman who crosses his path.

    Ultimately, our dress needs to be a reflection of respect for our husbands, the mind of Christ, and not a personal advertisement of our holiness, or lack thereof.

  • Catherine

    This is a topic that has been brought to my attention recently when I was shopping for clothes with my daughters. They had choices of short shorts, really short shorts, or shorts that looked like underpants (it’s summer here). My eldest (14) was uncomfortable with all the tops as they were too low cut and she is a bit embarrassed by her new-grown breasts.

    I found myself thinking that I didn’t want young men seeing my girls wearing these revealing clothes – not because I thought the men would ‘jump them’ but more because of the message these outfits would be sending to the young men. i.e. that they were an easy target.

    So I’ve started teaching my girls more about dressing modestly. Like one of my friends said once about a young woman who was leading the praise time in her church, dressed in a revealing midriff top and tiny mini skirt, “How can my husband be expected to concentrate on worshiping God when all he can see is the bare flesh of a very pretty young woman?” I agree – he can’t keep his eyes shut the whole service!

  • Annabelle Womens Evening Dress

    Pretty good post. I just found your site and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!

  • Heidi

    The issue of dressing modestly has caused much division in the church, and often leaves those who are dressing modestly feeling like the enemy in the church. I want to encourage other sisters who have followed God’s leading and His Word, and may be feeling alone in this battle.(And it does feel like a battle most the time). Keep walking in the light God has given you and keep praying for your brothers and sisters in the Lord who may not yet see the line between Godliness and worldliness in their dress. Some of our lines are more distinct than others, but the Lord is not the author of confusion, and His desire is to lead all of His obedient children the same way. Remember it will be worth it when we see Jesus, and we will not be ashamed at His appearing as we obey all He asks of us.
    There are many other sisters all around the world who are dressing modestly, so do not be afraid or intimidated by those who call you legalistic, but keep on doing His will.
    God bless all you sisters who are standing.

    There are enough instructions in the New Testament to lead us to an understanding of what God requires of us. It is there for all who are truly seeking and want to walk in the light of His word.

  • MInTheGap

    I love this post and your post “Modest Mommies” because I think it sums up what many of the men and women I’ve talked to at are saying. Any chance I could get you to report one or the other there?

  • Christian Women

    I am agree with your article. To dress up modestly we all have to responsible. For women are much cure to dress up modestly. They are more sensible about that. Thanks for sharing this.