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Last year I went to the mall hoping to find a couple of summer tops. After visiting ten stores and trying on countless possibilities, I walked away empty-handed. Much to my frustration, the only shirts available were tight, low-cut and see-through – and unless I wanted to shop in the grandma section, there seemed to be no modest options. As fashion trends become more and more sensual, most Christian girls feel they have no choice but to comply with culture. Dressing modestly (and fashionably) these days is an art form. Most of us aren’t willing to go to the effort it takes to overcome the challenges and dress with grace, mystique, and dignity. Add to that our desire to be found appealing to the opposite sex, and we end up with dismally low standards for the way we dress. We know that we’ll get more attention from guys in form-fitting tops, tight pants, and short skirts. And it’s all too tempting to rationalize immodesty by saying, “at least this outfit isn’t as bad as a lot of things I could wear.” We think that as long as we aren’t going topless on the beach, we have an element of modesty. But what is God’s standard?
“...I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly...” (1 Tim. 2:9 NASB).
The word modestly here literally means “with shame and bashfulness.” In other words, not shamelessly flaunting our bodies, but exuding a sense of careful dignity and guardedness even in the way we dress. The word discreetly means “to keep hidden.” Our body is for the enjoyment of one man alone – our husband. God asks us not to give other men the privilege of viewing what belongs only to the man we will spend the rest of our lives with.
It is easy to assume that true modesty means drab, shapeless, unfeminine clothes that make us extremely unattractive. But God’s pattern does not bring oppression and ugliness – it brings liberty and beauty. Contrary to popular belief, feminine beauty does not have to mean sensuality. It is more than possible to exude the kind of dignity, grace, and true feminine beauty that will captivate a man’s heart – without using sex appeal to do it.
In this article, I would like to look at some of the current fashion trends and explore practical ways to transform the modern wardrobe from trashy to tasteful.
1. Strapless Tops
When dressing up for a special occasion, or simply trying to beat the summer heat, it can be tempting to justify going strapless (or wearing spaghetti-straps, which provide no extra coverage) because the vast majority of summery dresses are cut in this style, as are many cute summer tops. But the strapless style, in my opinion, reveals an inappropriate amount of skin and, in all honesty, makes a woman look as if she is only half dressed. It draws attention to the chest and pulls the eyes downward to the sensual areas of the body, rather than upward to the woman’s face and smile. Strapless styles present a major stumbling block to a man’s mental purity and a serious detriment to a woman’s feminine dignity.
A Layer of Elegance
A cropped, short-sleeved or 3⁄4 sleeved cardigan layered over a strapless top or dress provides much-needed coverage and can instantly change this look from seductive to elegant. An added bonus: if you have a variety of cardigans in different styles and colors, you can get two or three different looks out of one strapless top or dress.
Watch Out For: Too-Loose Strapless Tops
While it’s good to steer clear of super-tight tops, if you choose to layer a strapless style with a cardigan, make sure the top fits securely enough so that you can move around without exposing yourself. Strapless tops that fit too loosely tend to gap open and reveal way too much when you lean forward. Also, a good rule of thumb for keeping your tops tasteful and feminine rather than flirty and sensual is to make sure they rest no more than about the width of three fingers below the collar bone.
Just as most of us would be a bit repulsed and/or distracted if we saw a guy walking around in a skin-tight bodysuit, it is no less distracting when a girl does the very same thing by wearing leggings as pants. Leggings might cover skin, but they fit so tightly that they leave very little to the imagination. And because of their vivid colors, leggings also tend to draw visual attention to a woman’s legs – which can be a major stumbling block for most men. The trend of wearing leggings as pants makes a woman look like she forgot something important...like the rest of her outfit.
Um...Don’t Forget the Skirt!
Simply put, tight leggings should be used as a layering piece, not as an alternative to pants or a skirt. Additionally, wearing leggings under short shorts or short skirts accomplishes nothing other than to draw extra attention to a girl’s thighs. Wearing leggings under a tasteful, feminine skirt however, is a great way to add warmth and a little extra coverage for those moments when you are bending, lifting, or getting in and out of a car. It’s also a nice bit of extra protection on windy days!
Watch Out For: Showing Too Much Leg
Do not try to go with a shorter-than-appropriate skirt just because you are layering leggings underneath. Short skirts and leggings look seductive, not tasteful. Tea-length skirts layered over leggings that hit mid-calf can be an elegant and graceful look. But above-the- knee skirts with tight leggings only look like you are trying to draw attention to your legs.
Walking around in modern swimwear is basically like walking around in your underwear. And while most of us would not walk through the mall or go to the bus station in nothing more than a bra and panties, we think nothing of walking the beach in such a skimpy ensemble. We assume that because something is called a “swimsuit” that means it’s different than what comes out of our underwear drawer every day, notwithstanding the fact that it leaves the same amount of skin exposed. Most of us think that modesty guidelines automatically “loosen up” when it comes to swimming, because it just seems unreasonable to cut out swimming altogether and it is impractical to swim in jeans and a t-shirt. But if we are seeking to dress with dignity in every other area of our life, we must adopt higher standards than the barely-there swimwear of our day.
Athletic/Surfer Swim Gear
Most companies that sell women’s triathlon clothes carry tops and shorts that are made to go in the water, but are far more modest than traditional swimwear. In addition, there are lots of stores and websites that sell rash-guard-style swim shirts and longer-length board shorts geared for surfers. Last summer, I found a feminine, high-cut, loose-fitting swim top and paired it with longer-length board shorts. Though I was far more “covered” than anyone else at the pool, I consistently got compliments on this ensemble. With a little persistent hunting, modest-yet-stylish swimwear options can be found!
Watch Out For: Form-Fitting Swim Tops
Some athletic-style swim tops might be higher cut, but still too tight. The website www.rashguardshirtco.com sells a looser-fit style swim shirt for women, and some women’s clothing lines are beginning to carry vintage style swim tops that are looser and higher cut than modern ones. Keep in mind that it can sometimes be smart to layer a snug-fitting water-proof “sports bra” underneath a looser-fitting swim top, depending on the style.
Ever since God began to show me His pattern for true purity, I have lived by the rule of thumb that the sensual areas of my body should be kept hidden for my husband alone. For example, if someone touches me on the elbow, there is not anything sensual about it. In fact, often at weddings or fancy restaurants, an usher or waiter will take me by the arm and lead me to my seat. Eric has no reason to be concerned about this kind of interaction, because there’s nothing sexual about it. But if a guy came up and touched me on the thigh, it’s a completely different story. Eric would have every reason to be jealous, angry, and hurt, because touching someone on the thigh is definitely associated with sensuality. This is why I don’t wear short shorts or short skirts. I do not want to expose or exploit areas of my body that are meant for my husband’s eyes alone. Even before you meet your future husband, you can honor his position in your life by keeping the sensual areas of your body off limits from other men’s eyes. In order to accomplish this, however, it means that short shorts and short skirts do not belong in your wardrobe!
Tailor It Longer
If you find a great feminine skirt that is a little too short, consider having a seamstress add a layer of coordinating fabric to the bottom edge. This can add a bit of length and also a fun splash of color and style – making your skirt even more unique. Another option is to layer “pencil-pants” (not tight leggings!) underneath a shorter skirt or dress. This look is both elegant and feminine – allowing you to enjoy the cute style of the skirt or dress and still maintain dignity. As for short shorts – the only tasteful alternative for these, in my opinion, would be to clean them out of your closet! If you love wearing shorts in the summer, remember that there are now lots of longer-length options that are both stylish and modest.
Watch Out For: See-Through Skirts
If you are going to add a layer of fabric to the bottom of a light-weight skirt, consider having your seamstress put a lining in the skirt as well. All too many skirts look fine in a dimly-lit dressing room, but out in the bright sunlight they can be just a little too translucent, which of course defeats the purpose of a longer skirt! A sewn-in liner makes the skirt more modest and also spares you from having to wear a slip which can slide around uncomfortably when you sit, stand, and move around.
5. Low-Cut Skinny Jeans
Many of today’s jeans are so low-cut that you cannot lean forward without flashing your underwear to the person behind you, and so tight that you might as well be wearing a ballet leotard instead of pants. Jeans can either be seductive or classy, depending on the style you choose. Ultra-low-cut skinny jeans are designed for no other purpose than to show off sensual areas of your body (i.e. glimpses of your underwear) and draw extra attention to the curves of your body. Definitely not the best choice for a set-apart woman.
There are many stylish and looser-fitting pants that are feminine and flattering without “giving away the farm.” They may be hard to find in the teeny-bopper stores at the mall where every pair of jeans is labeled “ultra-low-cut-stretch,” but I have found that some of the “young professional style” stores have some pretty good options for wide leg or trouser-style jeans. You may have to pay a bit more for them, but it’s better to have one or two pairs of classy, feminine jeans or pants, than a whole closet full of super tight ones that only get tighter every time you wash them!
Watch Out For: Muffin Tops
Even tasteful jeans can gap open in the back, creating a “muffin top” when you sit down. This is not only immodest but also extremely unfeminine and unflattering. When trying on jeans, make sure to check and see what happens in the back when you sit down. If you have a hard time finding jeans that do not gap open, adding a simple well-fitting belt can make a world of difference.
Remember, Christ-built men are not just looking for girls who purposely drab down their feminine beauty or hide behind tent-like clothes. They desire to see young women who exude a loveliness and graceful feminine beauty that flows from the inside out; a feminine dignity that is both modest and stunningly, refreshingly beautiful. Modest-yet-stylish dressing is not a mere obligation we follow in order to prevent guys. Rather, it is one of our most powerful tools in restoring respect, dignity, and nobility to modern femininity. What an incredible (and fun) opportunity!*
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