[This post was one that I was working on before Easter but had to put on hold because of a lack of time. I’m finishing and uploading it now, roughly a month later.]
Elspeth posted a satirical video a few weeks back which advises women to “Put it on“, and in this case “it” happens to refer to clothing. Stingray “stole” the video to use with a post over at Girls Being Girls called “Tweezing Out Femininity.” A small sample:
We’ve all written about how, as women, we should strive to be pretty, wear modest makeup, but wear it well, have long hair, dress well and so forth. But as we all know, femininity encompasses so much more than that and trying to write about all it entails in one or two posts is nigh impossible.
With this in mind, I thought it best to simply just pick one small aspect of femininity and write about it. My hope is that it will inspire questions, comments, and further ideas for myself and the other writers here to spin off of and therefore continue the conversation of what it means to be a feminine woman. It’s not a simple thing and it goes very deep. However, the outer covering is a very good place to start in one’s journey to becoming more feminine. It’s why I love the video above so much.
Women today seem to go to either end of the spectrum, even in the course one day, in their dress. For the day it might be sweatpants and sneakers and for the night heavy makeup with a very skimpy dress or skirt. There is little in between. It is in this in between that we start to find what is feminine.
I think that my female readers would enjoy the rest of the post, and I would recommend it to them. In addition, those men who are fathers of daughters might also find some value there as well. And since I’m on the topic of female attire, I should also mention that TempestTcup has two
new somewhat recent posts up concerning Corsets and Tight-lacing. You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.
However, the primary subject of this post is modesty. I haven’t touched on it in a while, so I thought I would give a few thoughts on the matter. A major impetus is a post titled “Against the ‘Modest Swimsuit'” over at a blog called The Catholic Lady (whose tagline I very much like). A comment in that post stated this:
To really know what is modest when swimming, I think we’d probably have to ask truly virtuous men for guidance.
Now, I won’t be so arrogant as to claim to fit that description. But I do have a few thoughts I would like to mention when it comes to modesty, although extending beyond just swimsuits.
When we talk about modesty, we need to understand that there are really two components to it. The most obvious one concerns lust and sexuality- this is the modesty that most of us think of when the subject is brought up. For swimsuits especially, this is what modesty entails. The other kind of modesty involves envy and jealousy; this is modesty in the sense of being humble and not showing off wealth and status. I explained this a while ago in my fifth Selected Sunday Scriptures posts:
As I thought on it, I realized that there are really two different forms of modesty, one in harmony with chastity and the other in harmony with humility. To be somewhat clearer, one form of modesty is about dressing and acting in such a way so as to not call unnecessary sexual attention upon oneself. The second form of modesty is about not dressing and acting in such a way so as to flaunt one’s influence, wealth and station in life.
The thing to keep in mind about modesty is that its purpose is to avoid inciting sin in others. Whether that sin is lust, or avarice, we are not to become stumbling blocks for our brothers and sisters. When we talk about modesty, it is important to remember that.
This particular observation is important because there are a number of people out there who “believe” in modesty, and preach it, but don’t get it quite right. One of the more common manifestations of this is when people say they don’t want to wear “too modest” of clothing, otherwise they would draw attention to themselves. This sentiment demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of modesty, and especially how it relates to the world. Modesty is not simply about not drawing attention to oneself, it is about not drawing particular types of attention to oneself. Specifically, sexual attention and jealous attention. Remember, we as Christians are supposed to be noticed. People are supposed to recognize us: by how we dress, by how we act, and by what we say.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
If people notice a Christian, especially a Christian woman, because she is wearing modest clothing that is far afield from what other women are wearing, then guess what? That is a good thing! Yes, really, it is! As Christians we are called to not conform to the world; that will invariably result in us standing out. So the lesson of all of this is that when it comes to whether a particular outfit is modest, the question isn’t whether it draws attention to us or not. The question is whether it draws the wrong kind of attention towards us. With that out of the way, I will turn to what I suppose we can call “chaste modesty.”
While there are certainly immodest outfits that men can wear, when the topic of modesty is concerned female attire is what is talked about 99% of the time. Towards that end I will be addressing only modesty when it comes to women. A post on male modesty might be worthwhile later, although I think it would be relatively simple.
There are two components of “chaste modesty”, which I call skin and shape. The first refers to just how much bare skin an outfit shows, and where it shows it. It also includes any transparency effects in the clothing. The second refers to how much of the woman’s body shape or form is highlighted and emphasized by the outfit. An outfit might be perfectly acceptable in one area but fail utterly in another. An example would be a skin-tight black leather outfit that shows very little skin, but hugs to the body. Men can be tempted by a woman’s body shape just as they can be tempted by bare skin. Both are problematic.
Whether for swimming or another purpose, the amount of skin shown by an outfit cannot go too far without being immodest. Some areas it is easy to draw a bright line, while others can be a bit hazy. The following is my personal thoughts on it, based on my own nature and inclinations as a man, as well as what I understand about other men.
Overall I feel fairly confident in saying that most of the torso down to just above the knees should be covered up. Personally, I don’t think that bare shoulders are a problem, for me at least they don’t incite lust, and I don’t think they do for most men in general. But dipping too much below the collar bone does get to immodest territory, although the exact location where it becomes immodest depends on the body shape of the woman wearing it. Coverage would then extend down through the midriff, as skin showing there directs a man’s gaze to that location, which is between two area’s on a woman’s body quite apt to incite lust. The upper legs and thighs would need to be covered as well, because they also have a strong sexual correlation to them.
The problem with swimsuits is that their nature lends them towards showing a lot of “shape”, even if they don’t show a whole lot of skin. They tender to be tight fitting, as that makes for better hydrodynamics. So even if they cover up all of the torso, they still tend to hug the skin and show off any curves that a woman might have. Thus they are still in many cases immodest, even when they don’t show a whole lot of skin. The key to making a swimsuit more modest, in my opinion, is not simply to cover up skin but to break up the woman’s body shape. This means an outfit that uses some kind of ruffling or loose fabric that would cover up her curves, at least when she isn’t swimming (as when swimming shape is less of an issue).
That same line of thinking applies to other clothing as well- whether dresses or skirts or blouses. If something is tighter on the skin, then something to break up the pattern is required. A second layer or something similar can achieve that effect. Looser clothing will probably need to cover a bit more, though, in order to not show off as much skin when bending over or being in a position other than standing up.
The funny thing (to me at least) is that what I’m describing fits clothing that existed decades before. Old-fashioned swimsuits and dresses alike both tended to show less skin and less of a woman’s curves at the same time. The thing is, they did/can still look very good on a woman; they just don’t look as sexy on her, that’s all. But that is the entire purpose of most of the modern attire- to emphasize a woman’s sexual appeal in order to draw male sexual interest and attention towards her.
At this point I should note that I understand the practical advantages of a two piece swimsuit to women when it comes to using the restroom. But there is no reason you couldn’t have a two-piece that is also modest along the lines I’ve described above. It simply would need to have some overlap, that is all.
Those are my quick thoughts on modesty in female attire. If anyone has any other suggestions or thoughts to add, please feel free.
Update: Deep Strength has added his thoughts to the subject in this post here. I recommend reading it, as he goes beyond the external aspects of modesty, which is all that I have covered, to address the internal ones as well.