Modest Can Be Hottest, But Not Just for Women

Fashionable african american girl.

“Lady-like” might be the most annoying phrase I’ve ever heard. This is because I only ever heard it used with women. I knew what the phrase meant. It was about being modest and respectful. It was about crossing my legs at the ankles and wearing skirts instead of pants, but not a skirt that fell above my knees. Yet, no one was telling my little brother how to sit, or what wasn’t appropriate to wear. So I grew up, thinking modesty was for women. Or, that idea of modesty entails men informing women of what they think should be worn to decrease temptation.

A good example of this was last summer’s Christian single: “Modest is Hottest,” by Matthew West. This song stirred the Christian waters a bit. West dedicating a song to discuss women’s modesty was one thing, but the reason he wrote the song was even more of a hot topic of discussion.

As a “Girl Dad” West said he wanted to find a fun way to remind his daughters that God focused on our hearts, while the world looked on the outside. However many critics observed that the lyrics of the song didn’t discuss the girls’ character at all.

Some of the most controversial lyrics included:

“If I catch you doing dances on the TikTok in a crop top, so help me God, you’ll be grounded till the world stops. I’m just kidding, no I’m not”.

The chorus of the song says,

“Cause modest is hottest, the latest fashion trend is a little more Amish, a little less Kardashian. What the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks”.

Modesty’s Origins

When I consider the first definition of modesty, I, of course, turn to the Bible.

The principle comes from something the Lord, Himself, is recorded as saying as He directed His prophet to select a new king.

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).

This verse discusses that God is looking in us. And by us, the gender referred to here is inclusive. Man, or mankind meant all humanity during these times.

Modesty’s Target

I took the liberty of surveying a small portion of my Instagram followers, and simply asking them what they thought of when they heard the word “modesty”. The women that responded ranged from ages 16-45. There were some responses that were outliers, such as women that said they thought of modesty as being respectful to themselves, being pure in their hearts, and dressing simply.

One woman said she thought of “conservatives.” Another noted what it feels like to be caught in the middle of society’s competing interests: women are expected to cover up, but when they do, they experience the opposite reaction with their security is questioned. Others associated the concept with restrictions, censorship, and sociocultural expectations. Most of the women wanted to remain off record, but, Nyah Campbell spoke up:

“I think of how conservative someone is with the way they dress and carry themselves. I also think of traditional views of how it is thought a woman should carry herself, more times than not, from a man’s perspective, and how that is more of a form of control on how a woman can express herself and her sexuality.”

Interestingly enough, I did not have any male participants. Perhaps their lack of participation is because men are not raised to think about their modesty. So even when I asked a male directly, he had no answer. However women are taught modesty from a young age, which by extension, caters towards mens ideas and opinions.

The side of the school handbook that lists the female dress code famously extends longer than the male’s dress code. This doesn’t stop when women reach the professional world either.

Search for Sartorial Scriptures

When they taught me about what modesty, my parents used 1 Peter 3:3-4. Most of you have probably heard verse 3, which discussed not adorning yourself on the outside.  But if we read just a little further, we gain more context. 1 Peter 3:4 reads, “Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

It’s about our character. This chapter is talking about how women could win over the hearts of someone who wasn’t a believer. Whether they wore jewelry and fine clothes, or dressed simply–without the beauty of kindness–they would never accomplish this goal. Paul was emphasizing their character.

When I think of a truly modest woman, I think of my mom who samples the latest fashion trends every year. She is kind, gentle and humble. She does not brag or boast, although she has every reason to. I think of my Aunt Sandra, who pours herself into everyone around her, and never asks anything in return. She only wants to see you succeed. I think of my Grandmother, Mama Stiney, who has helped to raise more than just her biological children and grandchildren. She goes above and beyond to make her friends into her family.

Men with the Most

If we’re going to continue to teach modesty, its principles need to be taught to all. If you believe modesty is about how you carry yourselves, then we should teach people to carry themselves accordingly.  Scripture, after all, supports men who are likewise godly. In 1st Timothy 2:8 it reads, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” It’s not as though the Bible doesn’t speak about men and what modesty is for them. It’s simply that we do not emphasize that part.

If you define modesty as more about what you wear, then that should be taught across the board as well. I am not here to tell you that your concept of modesty is right or wrong. But the way in which our patriarchal society has taught women that modesty only applies needs to change. I don’t think it’s just about harassing men about their clothing as much as it’s been the other way around.  I think a modest man is a man that is kind and gentle, a man that is in touch with his emotions so they all don’t fill up and spill over–the opposite of toxic masculinity. A man that does not brag or boast, and wishes to be a kind and respectful human above all else, those are the values of a godly, modest man.

When we continue to have these conversations, we’re already moving in the right direction. Dismantling ideas that have been spoon fed to us our entire lives is not going to be undone in just a few conversations. But I do hope that the conversation will shift from what modesty means for women, to what modesty means for people, regardless of gender.

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