Appearance And Indecent Dress
"What shall I wear?" is a question most people ask
themselves nearly every morning as they prepare to go out into the world. Beyond style or fashion, the faithful
Christian considers other more important issues:
Is it modest?
Is it decent?
Is it proper for those professing godliness?
Our challenge is to determine what constitutes modesty in a
constantly changing society. For
example, at one time, it was immodest for a woman to expose her ankles. Today, even the most modest dress would have
been considered scandalous.
So the questions follow:
Should a Christian woman wear shorts,
mini-skirts, low-cut blouses, tight skirts, or tight pants?
What about men?
Should they be concerned about decency?
Should they go about without their shirts?
What effect might decency have on certain
activities, such as mixed swimming and other athletic sports?
As we ponder these questions, we will not propose some
technical answer measurable with a ruler such as "no women's skirts higher
than an inch above the knee." The
Bible does not address the issue that way, so neither will we. Instead, we encourage prayerful consideration
of what the Bible has to say, which provides basic principles and concepts that
can help us discern between good and evil.
God's word will be our standard on this.
The world has an entirely different notion about what is right and
proper for our attire.
At the outset, we need to establish that God does not have a
double standard for men and women. What
is decent and fitting for a man is also decent and fitting for a woman. However, we will find that most of the
scriptures on this subject refer to decency for a woman. There is probably good reason for this. Men, by nature, are typically more visually
stimulated than women. This is one reason
p0rn0graphy is usually more ensnaring to men than to women. The inspired writers may well be
concentrating on the instructions for women to help counteract this tendency.
Let's begin by simply noting what the Bible says about
Is Shameful To Expose One's Nakedness
the example of Adam and Eve
After they sinned, they made "coverings" for
In the original Hebrew, the word "coverings" is
from CHAGORAH, meaning a garment which covers the mid-section. This describes what most men typically wear
at a public swimming pool. Note that,
despite such coverings, they still felt naked!
The Lord made "tunics" for them:
In the original Hebrew, the word "tunics" is from
KETHONETH, a robe or coat-like garment commonly reaching from about the neck to
the knees. Evidently, God was not
satisfied with the brevity of the coverings they had made. Note how this word is used in the book of
Exodus and its context:
general references to nakedness
Genesis 9:22, 23
Leviticus 18:6-19, 20:17-21
Though the Bible speaks of nakedness occasionally to denote
defenselessness or destitution, the context is almost always associated with
shame. The larger references to
nakedness in Old Testament scripture speak of bodily indecency and improper
behavior. Nakedness is cast in a
favorable light only in respect to that exposure in private between husband and
wife (Genesis 2:25).
It is shameful to expose or draw attention to private parts
of the body. Exposure of such parts was
often a form of judgment intended to shame the wicked.
Isaiah 3:16-17; 47:1-3
Paul alludes to the fact that some parts are
"unpresentable" and thus should be covered.
1 Corinthians 12:23-24
At some point, then, there needs to be a line where it is a
shame to cross, there are parts of the body that should remain private.
Must Not Provide Opportunities For Fleshly Lusts
lust is clearly condemned in the scriptures.
Can the way we dress excite fleshly lusts? Consider the following:
"An astonishingly great number of men are
of the opinion that women are more attractive partly dressed than nude. They prefer to see women partially disrobed
to the sight of complete nakedness." - Theodor Reik
(Of Love And Lust).
"Mini-clothes are symbolic of those girls
who want to seduce a man..." - Mary Quant, London fashion designer and
inventor of the miniskirt.
When asked where it (miniskirts, etc.) was all
leading, Mary Quant replied with one word:
During the hijacking of the Santa Maria in 1967,
the women on board were concerned the rebels might have designs on them, so
they left off wearing "enticing clothing"; i.e., they stopped
appearing in shorts and halter-tops, and quit swimming in the ship's pool.
If the "women of the world" know what is capable
of stimulating the lust of the flesh, why not the "daughters of God?"
warned about "committing adultery in the heart".
There is a two-fold responsibility here.
man is responsible to guard his mind and eyes from impurity.
woman is responsible to help prevent the lewd stare.
2 Samuel 11:2
Though lust is inexcusable on the man's part, if the woman
by her apparel or conduct has encouraged it, she shares in the guilt! We should note that God's law likewise
prohibits a woman from looking at a man to lust after him, and the man also
should dress and behave in a way to not evoke temptation. If the clothing we wear encourages the
arousal of fleshly lusts in others, then we have clearly crossed the line. Of course, this requires honesty and
objectivity on our part; we must be willing to be true to ourselves and to God.
Consistent With Godliness
Thus far we have examined what the Bible says about
nakedness and lust. The proper attire of
a Christian goes beyond merely the exposure of skin. Consider this reading from the American Standard
1 Timothy 2:9, 10 In like
manner, that women adorn themselves in modest
apparel, with shamefastness
and sobriety; not with braided hair,
and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh
women professing godliness) through good works.
In verse 9, let's examine more carefully the three words
shown above in bold:
From whence the English word "cosmetic" is
derived, this word is defined as follows:
"Orderly, well arranged, decent,
modest" (akin to kosmos, in its primary sense as
"harmonious arrangement adornment"; cf. kosmikos,
of the world, which is related to kosmos in its
secondary sense as the world) - Vine's Expository Dictionary.
"The well-ordering is not of dress and
demeanor only, but of the inner life, uttering in deed and expressing itself in
the outward conversation" – Trench.
"Well-arranged, seemly, modest; of a man
living with decorum" – J. H. Thayer.
This word applies not so much to scanty clothing but to
inappropriate or gaudy clothing. This
touches on clothing that is not suitable for the occasion as society or culture
would expect; such clothing would attract undue attention. The modest Christian does not go to a funeral
or worship services dressed like they are going to a picnic. Likewise, they do not dress at a picnic like
they're going to a banquet.
Translated "shamefacedness" in the KJV, this word
is defined as follows:
"A sense of shame, modesty, is used
regarding the demeanor of women in the church" – W. E. Vine's Expository
"A sense of shame or honour,
modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect" – J. H.
"AIDOS would always restrain a good man
from an unworthy act" – Trench.
It suggests the ability to blush. This word applies more to the issue of scanty
clothing; those who display their bodies so as to excite lust in others have
not the quality of "shamefacedness."
The faithful Christian takes into consideration the effect their apparel
has on others.
It is a well-known fact that men like to look lustfully at
women's legs; it's the subject of many popular songs. Young ladies, if you are wearing in public
the typical women's swimsuit, there is no portion of your legs that you are not
exposing to their view. As men look and
lust (and they will!) you have enticed them to do so and are equally guilty of
Translated " discreetly" in the NAS, this word is
defined as follows:
"Denotes soundness of mind" – Vine.
"It is that habitual inner self-government,
with its constant rein on all the passions and desires, which would hinder the
temptation to these from arising..." – Trench.
The NKJ translates
this "moderation," which suggests that one does not go to extremes in
any regards. Though this is not the best
term for SOPHROSUNE, someone of a sound mind will certainly recognize the
limits of good taste.
Go back to 1 Timothy 2 and look at verse 10. He is building on a point concerning the
appearance that draws undue attention to one's self. An attitude that is full of self will dress
in such a way that says, "Hey, look at me!" This includes:
Girls with too much make-up. Make-up worn discreetly is not the first
thing you notice when you see a face.
Girls who work for hours on making their hair
look right. How much comparative time is
used in Bible study?
Guys with muscle shirts or no shirt at all to
show off their physique.
The apostle is not altogether condemning the wearing of
jewelry or fixing the hair. Excess,
rather than actual adornment, is what is being condemned here. Compare these passages:
1 Timothy 2:10 is an example of elliptical speech found
frequently in the Bible. It condemns one
thing to the exclusion of another; it is "not only this but also
that" terminology. Note these
examples (words in brackets are added to convey the meaning):
John 6:27 …not labor [ONLY] for the food which perishes, but
[ALSO] for the food which endures.
1 Corinthians 1:17 …did not send me to baptize [ONLY], but to
preach the gospel [ALSO].
1 Timothy 2:10 …not [ONLY]
with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but… [ALSO] through
Outward adornment is not wrong absolutely, but in comparison
to the adorning of the inner person by good works, it is to be of lower
priority and lesser importance. That
which is "proper for women professing godliness" is that which is
fitting, seemly, suitable, and becoming.
A woman professing to be godly would never knowingly adorn herself in a
way that excites lust in another person or attracts undue attention to herself.
1 Peter 3:1-6
Regardless how unfair we may think it is, our appearance
will affect our influence. If we appear
in a well-arranged demeanor, others will be more likely to respect us when we
try to teach them the gospel. If we
appear disorderly, we will be prejudged by others as unworthy and
disregarded. The apostle Paul would have
never done anything to thus mislead others.
1 Corinthians 8:13
When a person disregards the effect their appearance may have
on others, it cannot be said they are adorned with a gentle and quiet spirit.
And Decency In Application
From our study so far, we see that "modesty" and
"decency" are quite different.
"Modesty" pertains to attire which is suitable and proper for
the occasion. That which is appropriate
will vary depending on culture, traditions, or the situation itself. Social norms will determine what is
appropriate, and it might change over time.
For example, dressing a certain way at one time, for one setting, and in
one country is not necessarily fitting for every other time, setting, or
country, even though the attire might not be wrong in itself. In contrast, "decency" pertains to
attire which would tempt others to lust.
That which encourages lust will encourage lust no matter the
circumstance, times, or place in which a person lives. A type of thinking called "situational
ethics" was born in the 1960s which proposes that in certain circumstances
divine moral principles can be set aside.
The faithful Christian recognizes that God's standards never change.
God's word is clear about indecent clothing, though the
Bible instruction is based on principle and concept. God leaves it up to us to make the proper
application before we dress and go out of our house into public every day. The world has a different standard of
decency, but many young Christians, instead of steering clear of worldliness,
will try to get as close as possible to looking like people in the world.
1 Peter 2:11, 12
If Christians do not look different in dress from most
anyone else in the world with no regard for godliness, they are obviously not
behaving in a godly manner themselves.
Romans 12:1, 2
Let's examine some excuses young Christians sometimes give
for dressing indecently.
old times, a woman even showing ankles was considered lewd, so it's really all
We are not living in old times. God's law requires us to dress in two ways:
(1) appropriately, as our current culture dictates and (2) decently, as to not
induce lust. If our current culture
suggests that ankle exposure is lewd, then the faithful Christian will not do
it, regardless of whether it is really lewd or not. On the other hand, appearance that causes
lust is the same regardless of culture.
cultures, for example in Europe, are more open about their bodies, so there,
nudity is okay."
They're not as open as they think, or they would not make
such a big deal of their nude beaches and parks when Westerners come to
visit. It is not that they are less
"up-tight" but that they have lower moral standards.
depends on the situation. If everyone
else around is dressed scantily, it's okay."
Here is situation ethics again. The fact is, young ladies, you should hear
how men talk to each other about what they see at the beach and swimming pools.
depends on the activity. If it's some
athletic completion or hard work, you can't expect full clothing."
There's an interesting statement found in John 21:3-8. Here, men are at work in a fishing boat. They are out at sea some distance from
shore. Being in a private setting, Peter
was naked (KJV), that is, stripped for work (NAS). The original word here [GUNMOS] according to
Thayer includes "ill clad, clad in undergarments only (the outer garments
or cloak being laid aside)." That
sounds like what most people wear at the public pools. However, notice that before Peter jumps into
the water to swim to Jesus, he puts on his regular clothes so he will be
decently covered when he reaches the shore.
be cooler and more comfortable."
Does God have as much concern for your comfort as He does
your sin? Besides, you can be cool
enough in decent apparel.
is dressing in this style now."
We have long ago established that what others do is not our
standard. Besides, if dressing decently
requires custom-made clothes, then that is what we will do.
Before you dress, consider these guidelines based on
Prayerfully consider whether your adornment in
any circumstance reflects your profession of godliness and the principles found
in God's word.
Seek counsel from those who are mature in the
faith, whose senses have been exercised to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14)
Girls, if a part of your body is exposed for
view that would make you uncomfortable for guys to touch, perhaps you should
not be showing it to them.
If it doesn't cover enough, if it is too sheer,
or if it is skin-tight to show your form in detail, it is indecent.
And Questions For Discussion
What is the difference between
"modesty" and "decency?"
Some men will lust after a woman no matter what
she wears, so in this case, does it really matter what she wears?"
Is it wrong to care about looking good for
others, either to be pleasing to the eye or to be attractive to the opposite
sex? If not, can it become wrong? If so, how?
Are there certain circumstances, such as
athletic activities, when God's standard of decency is altered?
List two or three different examples of ways in
which clothing can be indecent.
List two or three different examples of ways in
which clothing can be immodest.