Common Misconceptions About Modesty

It’s often said that moderation is the key to happiness and nowhere does that apply more than to our appearance. Modesty, both as a concept and in practice, is rarely done right. The list of “should” and “should not” seems to be a mile long—don’t wear this, don’t show that, etc. Misconceptions abound, making it not only confusing but also uncomfortable for many ladies. 

If we want to be modest, and I think it’s a good goal, we must first define what modesty is and what it definitely is not. 

Modesty means covering every inch of your body:

One defintion of modesty is humility. Those who seek to be modest don’t try to draw attention from every eye they meet. How does one do this? By following social norms, within a Biblical framework. Dressing up in something that resembles a costume is actually quite immodest, because of the stares and comments it will inevitably produce.

Burkinis are not modest. Niqabs are not modest. FLDS prairie dresses are not modest. Michelle Duggar is not modest. They are extreme forms of false modesty.

Modesty means covering every inch of your hair:

Many fundamentalists, be they Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, will insist that women should always cover their hair. Some like scarves, some like bonnets (the Amish) some like wigs—all of them seem kooky to me.

Is a woman’s hair attractive? Usually, yes, but in a different and much less impactful way than her naked skin would be. I personally would never wear a scarf or wig. I do wear hats, but that’s for fashion, not as a requirement.

Modesty is about shame:

There is nothing shameful about being a lady! We are formed just the way that God rightfully intended us to be. Some of us are tall, some are short, some are fat and some are thin—no matter what, we all want to be beautiful and indeed, we are beautiful, in some way.

All people are drawn to beauty; that is natural and normal. But there is a difference between private and public. Nudity is not meant to be shared with everyone else. Certain parts we agree should always be covered like genitals, but what about cleavage or thighs? That is more tricky. I see nothing wrong with showing forearms, calves, and collarbones.

Modesty is about catering to men:

When taken to an extreme, it can be, but normal modesty is a practice freely chosen by an empowered lady. Do husbands and fathers have opinions about what we wear? Of course. Should we listen to those opinions? Yes. Should we be bound by them? NO. Some men have very strong ideas about how women should look and behave. Getting input from a trusted source can be helpful, so long as it’s not a command. I always dress to please myself, but it makes me feel good to receive a compliment from my man. 

Modesty isn’t feminist:

The word “Feminist” has been hijacked by lunatics who took something good and made it into something scary.

I am a huge supporter of women’s rights and women’s empowerment. I believe women can be intelligent and beautiful and should strive to be both. I am proud to call myself a Biblical Feminist. A real Feminist doesn’t want to dress butch like a man, nor does she wear provocative clothes like a stripper.

Dressing modestly, in a way that accentuates our femininity, without being coarse, is the most liberating thing in the world!

Modest clothes aren’t fashionable:

That depends what you mean by modest. If you’re picturing a plaid jumper worn over a shapeless blouse, paired with scuffed white Keds, that is most definitely not in fashion! (I absolutely hate “Frumpers.”)

I strive to be sufficiently covered and stylish, at the same time. I shop at malls, outlets, big box stores—any “normal” place that people shop. I wear pants, dresses, skirts, sweaters, high heel shoes, sandals, etc. I never wear sloppy, over-sized boxy cuts that make someone appear like a blob. I buy clothes that fit, neither too loose or too tight, that are comfortable and presentable.

Certain colors are immodest:

I have no idea who started this ridiculous rumor, but it’s not true. Certain sects do tend to dress alike. For those of us who don’t live in a religious enclave—I’m in a typical suburb—there is no need to shun different shades. Look at Proverbs 31 that specifically mentions the color purple. Just because some Orthodox only wear black doesn’t mean it’s the rule.

Only skirts and dresses are modest:

Again, this is fundamentalism. I wear pants, including jeans, that are tasteful—not spandex, not yoga pants, actual fabric pants with zippers and buttons. Do I feel prettier in a skirt or dress? Definitely, but I like pants too, especially during the winter. As for shorts, I have no issue with longer ones, around knee length. I don’t wear them now, mainly due to age, but I did as a teenager.

Makeup and hair dye isn’t modest:

Similar to the dress/skirt argument and one I also reject. Tasteful cosmetics are an acceptable enhancement. Too much, of course, can look provocative, but most ladies know where to draw the line. When it comes to hair, I see no problem with restoring our natural color when grays take over. Platinum blond, blue streaks, and the like would not be ok. Seriously, this is all common sense stuff.

Modesty is for old ladies:

Not at all. It’s for women and girls, of any age. Daughters learn by example and if mother is dressed ladylike, it will rub off on the younger generation (hopefully). For the littles, modesty tends to become an issue for pre-teens and teens who want to rebel. Girls need to wear age-appropriate fashions. That does not include string bikinis, thong underwear, miniskirts or anything else the “cool kids” are wearing.

Mothers and daughters should shop together and mutually agree on any purchases. I would give as much leeway as possible, however, because being too strict is a recipe for disaster. Let her select the colors and fabrics she likes, while you have final say on hemlines and collar cuts. An outfit like this young lady is wearing would be a good example. She is covered but wouldn’t be out of place among her peers.

By having a wide definition of what’s acceptable, it will be far easier for the majority to embrace it. We should not be legalistic, preachy, or judgmental; that just turns people off. Rather, let’s encourage each other and make modesty the norm and it will become (almost) effortless. 


How do you feel about modesty?

14 thoughts on “Common Misconceptions About Modesty

  1. Melissa Crane

    I like the point that women should be a good role model and shop with their daughters! I often see young teens shopping at the mall with their friends they need better influences then other teens!

    1. The Jewish Lady Post author

      Teens need guidance, especially when it comes to clothes. I think it’s terrible to see young ladies walking around in miniskirts, bra-less, etc.

  2. Trisha McKee

    I enjoyed reading a different perspective. Although I may not agree with every point, I appreciate it and am grateful you shared.

  3. Mary S.

    You make some very interesting points. Modesty doesn’t have to mean dowdy. I wish more people would think about what they wear in public. It’s just civility.

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