What not to Wear: Thoughts on Christian Modesty

I’ve spent much of my life living in a rather conservative and religious settings in the south and the Midwest.  Often this meant interacting with individuals much older than myself, often from the world war II generation.  While I respected and befriended quite a few of these elders, I was always struck, by how judgmental and downright shallow they could be when looking at members of my generations.  This was especially pronounced when it came to fashion.

Simply put, they would be the first to complain that people don’t get dressed up anymore, that men and women wear too many of the same clothes and that new fashions are detracting from Christian modesty.  This was almost always the case, when the person being judged was sporting a look associated with one of the youth counter cultures that emerged after WWII:  Punk, hippie, goth, skater, hip hop ect.

Even more generally I have heard members of the older generation lament that my t-shirt or basketball shorts would have been considered underwear in their day.  In a related note young women were all too often given grief by the older generation for not wearing enough make-up, or more dresses ect.  It always felt like the older generation was wanting to go back to a time around 1953 when people simply had less options concerning how to look.  I even heard, some proposing the banning of certain articles of clothing, as if a local government should have more say over what people wear than the people themselves.

I completely reject this attitude as shallow, petty and all too often uninformed. In my view, the availability of practical, comfortable and affordable clothes that can be worn by everyone should be seen as positive development. As should the fact that we now have a wider array of choices to choose from. I have no desire to hark back to the time, when humans simply had less choices and we had to live with a rigid, mind-numbing, socially imposed conformity.

This desire to turn back the fashion clock is all too commonly associated with religious senses of morality.  The religious tend to be the first to complain that people’s clothing no longer reflects a person’s social position, profession, or even more fundamental characteristics such as sex and age. It is as if they thinks one identity is tied up in their age sex and social status and we should wear uniforms that reflect these things. Frankly, I think the t-shirts and jeans, tatoos ect, of my generation can be far more expressive of one’s real identity than the stuffy suits and ties of my parents. This is especially true of t-shirts with strong messages or clothing that is in some way counter cultural.

I’d hate to live in world where I was expected to where a stuffy suit and tie all the time or my girlfriend had to wear a dress or we had to get “dressed up” every time we go out. It is strange to me that so many people think this is what religious modesty entails.  There is nothing particular modest about wearing suits and ties or dresses or make-up, jewelry ect. If anything such traditional garb is often pompous, impractical and overpriced. On the other hand what could be more modest than wearing comfortable, inexpensive all-purpose, gender and age neutral clothing?

It is also strange to me that it is all to often Christians arguing for a return to modesty in fashion.  Christianity is utterly at odds with modesty. It is hardly modest to think you are in a relationship with the creator of universe, who created the world with you in mind. Furthermore it is even less modest to believe this creator permitted the execution of a flawless yet innocent man on your behalf. Furthermore the belief that one represents the side of good in some sort of celestial cosmic struggle between good and evil, and therefore gets to tell the rest of us, how to dress, what kind of family to live in and who we should go to bed and under what circumstances is the height of immodesty. Unsurprisingly, evangelists, ministers and other religious leaders are often some of the least modest, most self-righteous and arrogant people you will ever meet. This is only made worse by the fact that they view the rest of us as so vile, that we are worthy of nothing more than eternal torment.

It is in my opinion a much more modest, yet more inspiring view to recognize that we are merely insignificant pieces of carbon floating precariously on an insignificant planet in the far corner of an insignificant galaxy, in a universe far grander and more amazing than any of the superstitious nonsense in the bible. This is not to say our lives are meaningless or insignificant to ourselves and those around us.  The opposite is, in fact, the case.  It is just to say, that there is more modesty in dressing practically and recognizing the likelihood that the universe was not made for us.

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