Question: "What does it mean to dress modestly?"
Answer: In describing the mode of dress appropriate for women in church, the apostle Paul exhorts them to dress “modestly” with “decency and propriety” then goes on to contrast immodest dress with the good deeds which are appropriate for those who profess to be true worshipers of God (1 Timothy 2:9–10). While the Bible only specifically addresses the need for women to dress modestly, the same teaching would apply to men in principle. Both men and women should bring glory to God in their manner of dress.
Modesty in the way we dress is not just for church; it is to be the standard for all Christians at all times. The key to understanding what constitutes modesty in dress is to examine the attitudes and intents of the heart. Those whose hearts are inclined toward God will make every effort to dress modestly, decently, and appropriately. Those whose hearts are inclined toward self will dress in a manner designed to draw attention to themselves with little or no regard for the consequences to themselves or others.
A godly woman endeavors to do everything with a “God-ward” perspective. She knows that God wants His people to be concerned for His glory and the spiritual state of their brothers and sisters in Christ. If a woman professes to be a Christian yet she dresses in a way that will unduly draw attention to her body, she is a poor witness of the One who bought her soul by dying for her on the cross. She is forgetting that her body has been redeemed by Christ and is now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). She is telling the world that she determines her own worth on a purely physical basis and that her attractiveness depends on how much of her body she reveals to them. Further, by dressing in an immodest fashion, displaying her body for men to lust after, she causes her brothers in Christ to sin, something condemned by God (Matthew 5:27–29). Proverbs 7:10 mentions a woman “dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent”—here, the woman’s heart condition is displayed by her manner of dress.
The Scripture says that we are to dress modestly, but what exactly does that mean in modern society? Does a woman have to be covered from head to toe? There are cults and religions in the world that demand this of women. But is that the biblical meaning of modesty? Again, we have to go back to the matter of the attitudes of the heart. If a woman’s heart is inclined toward godliness, she will wear clothing that is neither provocative nor revealing in public, clothing that does not reflect negatively upon her personal testimony as a child of God. Everyone else in her circle may be dressing immodestly, but she resists the temptation to go along with the crowd. She avoids clothing designed to draw attention to her body and cause men to lust, for she is wise enough to know that type of attention only cheapens her. The idea of causing men to sin against God because of her dress is abhorrent to her because she seeks to love and honor God and wants others to do the same.
Modesty in dress reveals a modesty and godliness of the heart, attitudes that should be the desire of all women (and men) who live to please and honor God.