‘Modesty in appearance is always in fashion’

“That they might have joy” column by Jacki Wood

In olden days a glimpse of stocking

Was looked on as something shocking,

But now, God knows,

Anything goes.

(Cole Porter, 1934)



Do people even know what that word means today?

When I look around, it doesn’t seem like it.

Modesty is defined as a regard for the decencies of or an attitude of humility and decency in behavior, speech, dress, grooming, etc.

It’s the “dress” part that I’ve been contemplating lately. As I walk across campus or patronize a local store or visit area high schools, quite frankly, I’m amazed at what I see.

Most of it comes from young women, or even young girls, but some young men could also use a lesson in modesty as well. And it’s not just youth, there are plenty of adults out there doing the same.

It generally takes a lot to offend me. But I have no desire whatsoever to see body parts or underwear hanging out where I believe clothing should be covering them up.

Did you know in Albany, GA, you can be fined for wearing pants or skirts more than three inches below the top of your hips which exposes your skin or underwear? Fines range from $25 to $200. Similar ordinances have been passed in Delcambre, LA, and Collinsville, IL.

Now I’m not necessarily advocating government to jump in on the modesty issue. But it’s obviously a concern for many people.

For me, modesty is an outward reflection of my beliefs that my body is a gift from God.

I understand that those are my beliefs. I can and do respect others that are different. I certainly don’t think that everyone out there agrees with me on this. And that’s fine. At issue, for me though, is that a lot of people feel they must look or dress a certain way to “fit in,” even when perhaps they are not comfortable in doing so.

Clothing expresses who we are and sends messages about ourselves to others.

On most days, I’m a polo and jeans or T-shirt and sweats kind of girl. I’m sending a “I like to be comfortable, relaxed, remembering my youthful tomboyishness” message. On other days, when I have to dress up a bit more, I’m sending a “I’m dressed up because I’m going to church or work” message.

What kinds of messages are we sending or allowing our children to send?

I guess what I’d really like is for someone to stand up and say, hey, you don’t have to dress like that to be cool, hip, popular, fashionable or whatever. You’re beautiful for who you are, not how you dress.

Here are a few people who are trying to do just that…

Grammy award-winning Christian singer, Rebecca St. James, has spoken often about modesty and said she loves the “Modest is hottest” motto. She has written a book and a song about it. She believes clothing can and does influence the way you and others act.

Wendy Shalit, raised in a secular Jewish family and author of “A Return to Modesty,” argues for modesty from a feminist perspective. She believes the ‘60s women’s liberation movement actually hurt women because their goal was to be “the same” as men. But we are not the same.

Shalit believes “baring one’s belly button in public may not be as empowering as women have been led to believe” (Rachel Whitaker, “Women Under Cover”) and that modesty in dress (and other areas) is actually a way to reclaim the value of women.

She points out that “women who have rebelled against the immodest dress…have found a new self-respect they never knew was available. In addition to this, these same women have found that they are attracting the kind of men they really desire as opposed to men who approach them for their outward beauty alone” (Todd Kappelman, “A Return to Modesty”).

Christine Wanjiru Wanjala, who writes for Uganda’s The Daily Monitor, said “it is easy to blame someone’s shortcomings on decency and modesty on the way they were raised or at the very least where they were raised.”

In “Teach your child how to be modest at an early age,” Wanjiru Wanjala said with all the images bombarding children today, they can be confused about what is right and wrong. She said parents need to set a good example and teach them while they’re young.

I was raised in a home where modesty was taught at a very young age, and in turn, my husband and I have tried to teach our children about the importance of modesty and showing respect for our bodies.

I remember my daughter, Hannah, being about four or five, and we’d be out shopping. She would see someone she thought was inappropriately dressed and blurt out, “that girl doesn’t have enough clothes on.” It was usually loud enough for the person to hear. I’d smile, a bit embarrassed, and move on. But looking back, maybe it takes the honesty of a five-year-old for people to realize what they’re doing.

So does “anything” go, like Cole Porter wrote? It apparently does. But I don’t believe it has to. I believe you can dress modestly to bring out your best self, be beautiful and influence those around you.

And I have to agree with Jeffrey R. Holland who said, “Modesty in appearance is always in fashion.”

It is, at least, in my home.

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