Question

What does the Bible say about proper dress attire for both men and women? 

Answer

Thank you for asking that question. I’m afraid many people in today’s world don’t give much thought to what the Bible says about proper clothing, both for women AND men. Women are told to dress modestly so as not to call improper attention to themselves. Two notable passages are 1 Timothy 2:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:1:14. There are two vital aspects of this topic: (1) The emphasis must be on adorning the heart first, not the body (hence, the first thought should not be for fashion or style); and (2) a woman should dress “shyly.” This is the meaning of the word in 1 Timothy 2:9 which is translated “with shamefacedness” in the King James version (“modestly” in the New American Standard; “propriety” in the New King James version, and “with decency” in the New International version). There are two things that most people consider when wearing clothing: Style and comfort. But for the Christian, the first consideration must be modesty. I’ve reproduced here part of my outline on modesty in dress. If you would like the entire outline, please email me and let me know if you want it as a text file or as a Word file (*.TXT or *.DOC) or in some other format you can use.

Here are some general scriptures often used: Often, lessons along these lines deal with two aspects of modesty. The first is women’s clothing and dress: “modest apparel.” This is understandable, since all New Testament passages regarding this are directed toward women, but it doesn’t mean that men don’t have anything to be concerned about, either. Here are some of these passages:
I TIMOTHY 2:910 “…Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness.” (NASV)
I PETER 3:34: “And let not your adornment be merely externalbraiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” (NASV)
TITUS 2:35 is also often used, which urges older women to teach the younger to be chaste in their behavior and, as well as to be subject to their husbands and “workers at home.”

There are several observations to be made from the above scriptures:
1. There is no specifically stated reason given in these passages WHY women have to be careful about what they wear and how they wear it, BUT;
2. It is implied in I PT 3:3 that our appearance is an indication of what is inside. Simply put: The way we dress is a reflection of the kind of persons we are.

The criteria that people use when determining their apparel generally centers around comfort and style.
1. Ask someone, “Why do you wear shorts?” and they will invariably say, “Because they are comfortable.”
2. Ask a woman “why do you wear tight `designer’ jeans or shorts?” and they are likely to answer, “Because they are stylish.”
3. One may wish to argue here that besides the considerations of comfort and style, some women will dress for the express purpose of enticing men. With that I would agree, but my point here is that style in women’s clothing often embraces that very purpose. One need not be a Sherlock Holmes to notice what part of a woman’s anatomy is highlighted in most of the advertisements for “designer” clothing! It should not be necessary for us to expose the wrong in that for women professing godliness. This study is directed toward men and women who WANT to do what is right, but who may not have considered the influence that our society has had open them to compromise divine principles.
4. For the Christian, there is another consideration besides comfort and style when choosing clothing. It is MODESTY. In fact, this should be the FIRST consideration. It is not wrong to dress comfortably and stylish, but these ought not to be our primary, or even secondary motivators.

a. If comfort and style are our main concerns in choosing what we wear, then we are admitting to a selfcentered life.
b. “Braided hair” (or “plaited”)1Pt. 3:34was not a mark of immorality in those days, but of high fashion and style!
c. Modesty must always take precedence over style and fashion.

A CLOSER LOOK AT I TIMOTHY 2:
Is modesty really a matter of lust, or even of being “scantily” clothed?
1. Vv 910 The Greek literally reads: “Similarly, women in clothing ordering themselves orderly with modesty and sobriety, not with plaiting and gold or pearls or costly raiment, but what suits women professing reverence, by good works.”
2. In considering the word meanings, notice the emphasis to affairs of the heart:

a. “Order/orderly” (Translated “modest” or “modestly” in most translations; “proper” in NASV). From the Greek, kosmos; orderly arrangement, i.e. decoration; adorning, world.
b. “Modestly” (Translated “shamefacedness, shamefastness, with decency, with propriety, modestly”). From the Greek, aidos, carrying the idea of downcast eyes, bashfulness, sense of shame, having the ability to blush. In this instance, the word “shyly” or “bashfully” would fit well here.
c. “Sobriety” (Translated “sobriety, propriety, moderation, discreetly”). From sophrosune, soundness of mind, selfcontrol, soberminded. See also Acts 26:25: (Paul before Festus: “…I utter words of sober truth” NASV).

3. Applications:

a. Note I Tim 3:2. In listing the qualities of an elder (bishop, overseer), both kosmos and sophrosune are used (they are the second and third words after the phrase “…husband of one wife.” What’s good for the goose…etc.!
b. The terms “wellordered, soberminded and bashfulness” are the essence of modesty.
c. Clothing, like actions, is a direct expression of what is in the heart.

But modesty is MUCH MORE than: How short? How tight? How little? Matt 5:2729 is often used. It deals with men lusting after women. Some observations:
1. While this is addressed to MEN, lusting is wrong no matter who does it.
2. Matt 5 also does not indicate HOW the woman is dressed. The emphasis is strictly on the heart of the one lusting. But this does lead inevitably to another sobering thought:
3. Luke 17:1-2: Do not let yourself, by your actions, speech, or attire, contribute to another’s sin! Application in this discussion: If a woman dresses in such a way as to entice a man, then she becomes guilty of his sin as well. Immodesty in dress or action is ANYTHING THAT CALLS IMPROPER ATTENTION TO ONESELF

How to nitpick:
1. “If someone’s going to lust after me, that’s their problem!”

a. Not if you take Luke 17:1-2 seriously. Besides,
b. No one is likely to lust after a 600pound nude woman, but would you call her modest?

2. “I can go to the beech without lusting.”

a. Are you sure someone won’t lust after you?
b. Are you sure you won’t cause someone to stumble by your example?
c. Lusting is not the only issue, not even the main issue: what you wear and why you wear; what you do and why you do; these are the issues.

3. “What’s wrong with wearing…” If you have to ask, you haven’t understood: as in everything governing the life of a Christian, we should rather ask: “What is the best I can do” and “what is right and good about wearing…”

By Doug Focht

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