Recently I read an article addressing choice of dress among Christian women. It was written by a man, so I was particularly interested to hear how he would approach a topic of such delicacy from a male perspective. What I read was a sensitive, well-presented plea for Christian women to consider the weaknesses of their spiritual brothers when choosing their clothes. Though many discussions of dress focus on “how short is too short” or “how low is too low”, this one avoided these legalistic pitfalls and took aim for the heart: what is your motive for choosing the clothes you choose?
The plea to bear with our Christian brothers by covering ourselves is an important one for us to hear. Dressing modestly is one of the simplest ways a believer can distinguish herself from the world around her and keep herself free from sin. But any female over the age of eleven can tell you that modesty is not the biggest hurdle to overcome in aligning our fashion with our faith.
The way we dress is a reflection of the extent to which we have embraced the Great Command to love others as we love ourselves. This is a preferential love: a love that places the needs of others above the needs of self at every possible opportunity. What is the perceived need a woman seeks to meet when she chooses her outfit each day? A woman who chooses immodest clothing is clearly craving the attention of men. Or is she?
Consider the following incident related to me by my thirteen-year-old son: With summer approaching, the band at his middle school planned a party at a local water park. Several moms went along as chaperones. One of the mothers, a woman presumably in her forty’s, chose to spend the day in a very small bikini that showcased her enhanced assets. As she snoozed in the sun, she became the topic of lively and inappropriate discussion among her son’s classmates.
Wait a minute – didn’t I say modesty wasn’t the biggest struggle for women in choosing their dress? How can Malibu Mommy possibly support my claim? I have to ask myself: Did this woman wake up the morning of the trip and ask “What can I wear today to excite lust among my son’s peer group?” No, the question she more likely asked was “What can I wear today to impress my own peer group?” – a group in this case, composed not of both genders but of one: other women.
While dressing for the attention of men is problematic, dressing for the attention of other women is epidemic. The question “How do I look?” implies the answering inquiry “Relative to whom?” The prideful among us may choose clothing to stand out, while the insecure among us may choose clothing to blend in. Pride and insecurity, the two-headed hydra of self-absorption.
Bikini Mom wanted to be the hottest 40-something woman at the pool. She probably doesn’t love Jesus, so I am going to have to let her off the hook. But what about me? How do I compete with other women by the way I dress? Do I dress to be the trendiest? The wealthiest? The thinnest? The fittest? The quirkiest? What about the purest? In certain circles, even modest dress can be a venue for self-promotion. There is nothing inherently righteous about a denim jumper or culottes. Nor is there anything inherently sinful about platform peep-toe stilettos. The problem, then, is not any particular outfit, but my craving for the superlative, the “-est” of any wardrobe choice – a craving rooted in the desire to elevate myself above others.
Godly women do not seek to elevate themselves above others – not by immodest dress, and not by competitive dress. They seek to provoke neither the lust of men nor the envy of women. They love preferentially by keeping the focus off of themselves. Clothed inwardly with the righteousness of Christ, their outward clothing becomes a matter for sober consideration: How can I best worship God through my wardrobe choices? May we, as daughters of the Living God, be measured not by our hemlines but by our humility.