The Way I Dress

What Message Am I Sending?
by Cynthia K. Berry

Everywhere you look, there are Britney wanna-bees. Sensual clothing that was once reserved for the beach or the bedroom is now the norm in school hallways and shopping malls. Even the clothing departments for little girls feature displays of bare midriff tops and small, tight bottoms. Girls are learning to "strut their stuff" as early as kindergarten!

What is the problem with the "if you've got it, flaunt it" attitude? First is the fact that our clothing sends a message. Clothing has long been recognized as a reflection of our character, our inner person. First impressions are lasting impressions. So, after getting dressed, you may want to stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself, "What message am I sending?"

Tasteful styles and decorum attract people and make them feel comfortable in getting to know you better. On the other hand, your inner person can be quickly overshadowed when you draw complete attention to your anatomy. Both men and women admit to being totally distracted by provocative attire.

Some people dress in revealing styles for different reasons to shock others, to draw attention to themselves, or simply to be accepted. Peer pressure is very real. And, certainly, no one wants to be excluded from peer groups because they are dressed like a Puritan. Dressing modestly does not mean wearing potato sacks as a badge of righteousness or looking frumpy and being ridiculed by others.

The word "moderate" itself means "neither too much nor too little."

Finding Balance

How far can you lean over a cliff and yet be safe? Most people know how to stay on the safe side without claiming they have found the exact spot where everyone else must stand. Similarly, while there may be some disagreement as to when the line is crossed from what is acceptable attire to what is too tight, too short, too revealing, too flashy, or too inviting of lustful thoughts - there is plenty of room for modest choices before those lines are approached, according to Tim Nichols, author of Modest Dress with Propriety and Moderation.

Modesty is first and foremost a matter of the heart, Nichols contends. Nichols and other concerned Christians on the Internet agree that those who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior should dress as ambassadors who represent Christ to the world. Titus 2 and I Timothy 2:9 exhorts women to adorn themselves in modest dress. "A Christian woman's apparel should show that she respects herself and those around her by recognizing her feminine design without drawing attention to her body to stir up sensuality. Her clothing should indicate moral purity, attracting people to her beautiful countenance and the love of the Lord rather than attracting attention to her body. Young Christian girls need to remember that it is possible to be modest and stylish at the same time, 'to be in the world but not of the world,'" online Christians at concur.

Some young girls may not think their dress is inappropriate because their parents say its o.k. Parents play a key role in teaching children about immodest dress. However, one online mother points out that change on the outside does no good if the child's heart is hard on the inside. "You will lose them in the end regardless of how they dress, if that is the case," she explains. "Your relationship with the child is more important than what she wears. Give them grace as you try to help mold them. They will sense your unconditional love above everything and that will open the door to more discussions about modesty."

Males Not Excluded

While the major struggle for men is to turn off the lustful thoughts brought on by immodestly dressed women, role models for today's males are no better than the females. From outfits and gestures that accentuate anatomy to pants that bag to the knees and expose underclothing, the clothing worn by today's music and television icons is not necessarily what we want our men to be copying. Though the problem is not anywhere near the magnitude that it is for girls, modesty is still an issue for boys and men.

One man recently phoned in to a Christian radio program to say, "I once was a body builder and exhibitionist. I wore a Speedo string bikini swimsuit. But, I have become so convicted about public nudity that I have thrown out quite a bit of my clothing which was immodest rather than donating the items and causing someone else to stumble."

Some parents insist that, as an outward sign of respect, their boys wear tucked-in, collared shirts and casual slacks rather than jeans and t-shirts to church and other events. "So many people continually tell our boys how much they appreciate how they are dressed," one online parent shared.

Clothing Alternatives

Young women shopping for modest yet stylish clothing are often discouraged by what they find. Frequently, their search takes them to the petite adult section to find something conservative because the junior section is so provocative. Others resort to sewing their own clothes.

Two sisters in Topeka, Kansas tackled their frustration with distasteful fabrics and styles by starting a home-based clothing company that provides only modest dresses and skirts. Little Touch of Elegance offers feminine, traditional styles via catalog toll-free at 866-437-4303 and online at "Our styles are not new or revolutionary, but rather timeless. Years ago, the dresses, skirts and jackets we make were easy to find; today they are almost nonexistent," explain Founders Sheila Kosmicki and Brenda Seelbach.

The standards that Kosmicki and Seelbach adhere to for the styles they design and offer include: complementing but not accentuating natural curves; skirts below the knee; no slits to expose upper leg; sleeves on the upper arm of blouses; and necklines no more than two fingers below the collarbone.

Other retailers worth investigating for classic styles include Talbots, Coldwater Creek, and Lands End. Conservative name brands are also to be had on Ebay. See sidebar for more internet sites offering modest apparel.

Practical Advice

Responsibility for teaching about modest dress begins at home and, in the view of some, with the husbands and fathers. Elisabeth Elliot in her Gateway To Joy radio program read this from a letter, "Where are the men? Why are they so passive on this issue? I'm speaking particularly of husbands and fathers who allow their wives and daughters to appear publicly in an inappropriate and immodest fashion. My heart's desire is to teach our children the responsibility that goes with purity and abstinence to appear and behave in such a way that God is honored."

Another mother advises dads to teach their boys to turn their eyes away from girls and women who are immodestly dressed. She adds, "If you have girls, have dad talk to them regarding dress. My husband simply told my older daughter how guys think when they see certain things. Now my daughter wants to dress different instead of doing it just because we say so. Girls don't know how much their attire affects a boy. They just think they look cute! It's better that it's her heart that's convicted now, not just ours."

Tim Nichols has this advice for all of us: Before leaving home, look in the mirror and ask, "Why am I wearing this?" Then look in the mirror again and ask, "What will be the likely impression that others will have when they see me wearing this?" Picture specific people like the elderly, the young, and the opposite sex, brothers and sisters in Christ. Will what you have on hinder your profession of godliness? If either of these questions reveals motives or outcomes that border on violating biblical principles, it is time to change your outfit

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