Modesty has been the subject of many a Christian article. The contents of such may no longer detail proper hemlines but they do focus on the number of fingers with which to measure the distance between collarbone and shirt scoop, the width of tank top straps, the length from fingertip to skirt tip. These are written with well intent and a desire to steer young girls from dressing in such a way that degrades their beauty. But can we all sigh and admit we found these sorts of chats a bit, well … uninspiring? That in these youth group talks we all agreed in principle but found ourselves yawning and wondering what creative ingredient was lacking in all this talk of fingertips? That when Peter wrote, “Do not let your adornment be external,” this certainly could not be the sum of what was intended for the sex meant to be the glory of man?
“Do not let your adornment be external, the braiding of hair and putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
As persons who find their utmost joy in their Creator, we ought to hold dear and delight in what he calls precious. To be repetitive, what is it that our all-wise Creator intends for the crown of creation? – gentle and quiet spirits. This is of utmost, never-ending beauty to the Lord.
So then, what does it mean to be gentle and quiet? Does this exhortation exclude the chatty or boisterous among us? By no means. Certainly, there is a time to literally close one’s lips or speak more softly. Peter, however, is addressing a quality of spirit. A quiet heart does not babble incessantly of worry and worldly affairs. A quiet heart is not busy and distracted. Psalm 131 briefly describes one with a quiet heart:
“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.”
Here one finds that a quiet heart is a heart that relaxes in the hand of the Lord. Though both male and female are called to this rest, women are uniquely told to participate in it. Proverbs 31 speaks of this:
“Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
In this oft-quoted verse, the woman is able to laugh at times to come because she has prepared for the time ahead. Her preparation satisfies her because she embraces the role of helper that the Lord has given her. She embraces this role wholeheartedly because she trusts that the Lord is wise in his decrees. To forfeit this role would be – fundamentally – an act of doubt.
In these verses we see also that the woman is graceful. Kindness is upon her tongue. More specifically, the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. So not only does she speak benevolently herself, but she demonstrates this gift to others. In the calling to grace we are called to represent the hands and feet of Christ. As his hands and feet, we are to minister to the needs of others – through warm meals and words, through working diligently for the comfort of those around us, and through a helpful spirit. As the Church is called to imitate Christ’s grace in sacrifice so we as women are to graciously sacrifice our own lives.
The Lord’s purpose for women is lovely. Thus, his intentions should play into our conversation of dress, much more than all that tedious, mind-numbing talk about how many fingers equal too much chest and shoulder. (How exactly did fingers become the measure of modesty anyway?) If our calling as ladies is to be of a quiet heart, a gentle disposition, full of grace, to be of a helpful spirit, and to teach kindness then we should wear clothing that reflects these traits.
The calling of a man is different, we are not called to imitate a man’s calling, thus we should not dress in such a way that speaks of manliness. To do so would be to confuse the purposes of the Lord. It does not bear well on our witness to a gender-confused world to dress in a way that does not lift high the distinctions God made at the dawn of time.
A man in a women’s dress rightly affronts our sensibilities because it is a perversion of what God has created. It is not conformed to reality. If what is real is what is true, then dressing as what one is not is untruthful. As Christians, we ought to live honestly in God’s good world.
Men are not called to be gentle and quiet. We are! This is the path the Lord has uniquely called us as women to live. A dress speaks softly. Elegance speaks of grace. Soft colors convey kindness. These are not prescriptions for what you must wear, but as we dress we must consider what best suits our witness to a world that denies the Artist’s glorious design. Our glory cannot be transferred to those to whom it does not belong. We must then, strive to bear it well.
Thus, as those summoned to put on an imperishable beauty, it is ever more significant how we dress. How we adorn ourselves externally conveys an internal reality. Our outward appearance conveys the pursuit we have been gifted. Therefore, we should self-consciously dress femininely. Our attire should resemble the gentleness of spirit to which we are striving. What is harsh, firm, angular, or deemed masculine should not be found upon us. What might be confused for a man’s outfit should not be upon us. As Christians, we are to be truthful in all aspects of life. Clarity honors Christ.
This does not mean we should advocate for the removal of jeans and joggers from our closets. However, the shirts and pants, blouses and skirts, earrings and dresses, shoes and necklaces we choose should be unequivocally feminine. There ought to be no confusion as to our gender and its wise and lovely purpose.
So, when we dress, we might ask ourselves, is this befitting of the eternal beauty I have been bestowed with? Does my clothing honor my calling? Does it convey a gentle and quiet heart?
I am of the persuasion that some clothing is more suited to this task than others. My precise opinions are for another time, however. What is necessary for this task is not a list of my own tastes, but discernment and elegance, as well as a heart bowed in submission to the Spirit. Whatever is lovely, dignifying, and graceful should characterize our dress. Let us then, ladies, put on gentle hearts and adornment that speaks the same.
To end, I’ll quote from a favorite “lesson” like chapter of Little Women. Here Meg allows herself to dress rather vainly and frivolously, which naturally leads to much vain and frivolous behavior. When she “fesses” to Marmee, her mother responds with characteristic wisdom. It’s with those words that I’ll close:
“Learn to know and value the praise that is worth having, and to excite the admiration of excellent people by being modest as well as pretty, Meg. … I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good; to be admired, loved, and respected to have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send.