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This 'n' That.... Musing on Modesty.
FRIDAY, JUNE 28, 2013
Posted by: Severn Run EP Church (PCA) | more..
900+ views | 230+ clicks

[Image: Tulip Magnolia, 2012, JA Van Devender]

100 years ago:

Headlines - Rash Police Chief Seeks to Put Ban on Skirt(s) With Slit

(Albuquerque Evening Herald: Reporting on Police Chief in Louisville, KY)

"Lack of undergarment = disorderly conduct"

"A number of women have been appearing on the streets in dresses which the law forbids.... I refer to dresses which are split up the side exposing the limb ("leg"). ... Women who have the nerve to appear on the street in slit dresses will not mind a little thing like a police court trial."

Hmmm.... I wonder what that old police chief would say about modern fashions, both male and female?

What precisely is modesty in external appearance? Is it simply the covering of the body to some relative (apparently) degree? Taking women's clothing as the most obvious example, does a woman have to cover herself like a Muslim wife before she presents a "modest" appearance? Is it possible for her to be virtually naked (Bikinis on a beach) and still qualify? There are people out there who frequent camps and beaches where clothing is entirely optional. Is it theoretically possible to be entirely nude and simultaneously modest?

The Scriiptures speak of "modesty" in clothing in, what I believe to be, socially constrained terms. Paul (1 Tim. 2:9) tells the Christian ladies that they should pay attention to their hairstyle (not "braided") and be "proper" in their apparel and lay off the gold, pearls and "costly clothing." What would he say about today's emphasis on "casual clothing?" Shorts and T-shirts in a worship service for example, for men and women. Would he consider that "appropriate?" Would it fail the "modest" criterion in his mind or would it betoken a different criticism, say that of irreverence.

I suppose the only way to account for the social context and at the same time preserve any kind of permanent principle in such a discussion is to switch the framework from "fashion" to "communication."

What does our clothing "communicate" when we wear it? In Paul's day "braided hair" meant something different (usually) than today. A woman who "advertised" herself with "braided" hair was essentially communicating something far more than just being flirtatious... sexy. She was advertising a product that was available for purchase given the right price (not always just in exchange for money..). Costly, ostentatious clothing also sent a message: "I am a woman of power" either by virtue of her own position or her husband / family. In a rigidly status oriented social order such as the Roman empire, wealth and power were measure of "worth", prestige and class privileges. The Christian community emphasized equality across class lines and the message of costly clothing sent a contrary message.

The point is: clothing is communication. As language evolves and changes in any given social context such that verbal and written communication adapts to that fact, so clothing styles and degree also vary in what they "say."

There was a Cole Porter song with the lyric "in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, now heaven knows..... anything goes." [See Mitzi Gaynor in original performance HERE] Today, a woman's bare legs below the knee, is not viewed as "provocative" in virtually any sense... by men or women. Thus "modesty" must have something to do with not being "provocative."

I think this completely undermines the common defensive argument put up by men and women (though mostly women) that how "others" (read "men") respond to their dressing style is "their problem." If we view clothing style as communication, this statement makes no more sense than saying "If people panic when I yell 'FIRE'! in a crowded theater, that's their problem, not mine." Certainly, a person (man or woman) who indulges lustful thoughts when looking at another person, regardless of how they are dressed, is responsible for their own sin in doing so, but the person who deliberately dresses in such a way, within a given social context, as to be recognizably provocative, is responsible for their own sin in so doing also.

I watched (again) the movie "Zulu" the other night. There was an interesting scene where the missionary's very prim daughter is watching a mass marriage dance by a local Zulu tribe. Both men and women among the Zulus were virtually naked. What was interesting was that this was their normal dress. Yet it was within the "dance" that they became provocative and made the young white woman very uncomfortable. I think this kind of illustrates what I am trying to consolidate in my own mind.

There is a lot of factors that go into being "modest." Our clothing is certainly a factor but not the only one. How we wear that clothing, our bearing,... our mannerisms, .... conversation, plays a role also. Therefore, modesty must be first and foremost an inward state of mind I think. It is a careful approach to our whole witness such that a distinction is made between what is "clean" and what is "unclean" (in a Biblical sense) in what we are saying about ourselves.

Should we go back to men in suit and tie and women in floor length dresses? Not if they are provocative and those styles could be extremely sensual. Should we lift all barriers and wear whatever we want, or not wear anything at all? Not if that reflects an embracing of the animalistic desires that are always pulling us from the holiness of God.

So, like all communication, it is a judgment call. What am I saying in how I dress and how does that reflect on who I am and what I stand for? Whether it's some guy like Paul Newman showing off his chest in an old "A"-shirt (I hate the term "wife beater") or Scarlett O'Hara tempting Brett in her full length Southern Belle gown, we are responsible for knowing what statement we are making.

(I've included a few links from some of the discussion on the net)

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