Written by Maggie McCarthy
When Christian women enter discussions about fashion, we constantly encounter the same advice. We hear the Church and Christian culture telling us that “modest is hottest” and we shouldn’t “cause our brothers to stumble.” From a young age, girls hear people telling them to make sure their shirts and pants don’t reveal too much. Obsessing over whether or not our skirts pass the four fingers above the knee test, we struggle to uphold seemingly unattainable standards while also dressing fashionably and tastefully. This standard that we strive for puts a great deal of responsibility on women and creates much disagreement in contemporary Christian culture as a whole.
Although people attempt to back up the overall consensus on modesty with scripture, these standards often stem more from our cultural standards than our spirituality. In her book A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, Wendy Shalit states that Christians must be careful about how we define this illusive principle. True modesty stems not from a list of rules, but finds its source in the woman who possesses an internal definition of self. We must rise above legalistic standards of modesty and focus on the overall image that our fashion choices portray to the world.
Whether or not we care to admit it, the concepts of fashion and modesty are inextricably intertwined. Our clothes have an effect on others and the way they perceive us. The ways we dress and carry ourselves illicit certain responses that we may not intend or realize. Because of the message that clothing choices send, we often categorize people based on their fashion choices.
Oftentimes, we label people based on their dress and draw conclusions from their fashion choices about their personality. For example, when we see high school girls wearing miniskirts, platform heels, and too much eyeliner, we label them as “skanks.” We automatically tend towards making assumptions about their character based on the way they dress and carry themselves. These assumptions often prove false and only hurt the people we judge. Rather than taking in their overall image and persona, we nitpick until we can find something to criticize.
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Listen to Maggie McCarthy talk about fashionable modesty | Media by Jenny Cayo
Although we all know we should not give in to the temptation to judge people’s character by their fashion choices, we automatically associate clothing with character. This temptation to tear others down usually stems from our own insecurities. Giving in to this tendency to criticize can take fashion from fun and experimental to competitive and cruel.
As Christian women, we should strive to rise above the harsh criticism and judgment tied up in the world of style. Instead, we should set a standard of love for beauty and fashion in culture. We must embrace the freedom to express our own individual style through our fashion choices, rather than getting caught up in the hard and fast rules of “modesty.” As CoCo Chanel once said, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
So what does a Christian fashionista look like? Well, unfortunately, this question does not have a simple answer. We can’t look up a scripture that tells us “what not to wear.” Instead, we must internalize our own standards for how we dress and choose clothes that uphold an image of dignity, poise, and style. This image runs much deeper than our outfits, but also flows from the way we carry ourselves and interact with others. God created each of us with unique taste and style. Through embracing our individuality and God-given beauty, we can better spread a picture of confidence and humility. This looks different for each of us and frees all women to dress in a way that displays their own unique allure and femininity to the world.
All Media/Photography by Jenny Cayo