The fashion world would like to introduce America's new top model -- Miss Modesty. With her grace and elegance, she glides down the runway with an appearance that silently screams "skin is no longer in!"
But who is this Miss Modesty, so named by a fashion editor at Seventeen magazine? According to Atoosa Rubenstein, editor-in-chief of Seventeen -- "America's most-read young women's magazine" -- consumers can expect to see a definite change in the 2004 fall fashions.
"Basically, it's really interesting because for the past few years what has constituted trendy and edgy has been either very punk or very sexy," Rubenstein explained. "I think there is a new trendy and that trendy is modesty."
However, "... I don't want to send the signal that these girls want to dress in potato sacks. They want to be stylish," Rubenstein explained.
The expected shift to a more conservative style is evident in this season's lower hemlines and higher waistlines found on clothing sewn from materials such as tweed, corduroy, plaid, argyle and knit accented with demure details such as bows. In addition, the blazer is expected to be a staple.
"... Maybe a girl's skirt is short but she will be wearing a blazer on top of it and flats. So there is a little more balance [of modesty]," Rubenstein added.
While the secular world's move toward modesty is a step in the right direction, it is important for Christians to measure such balance against God's standard of modesty as set forth in Ephesians 5:3 that states: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people."
"I was reciting that verse because I was working on memorizing it and that phrase, 'not even a hint,' really jumped out at me," said Joshua Harris, executive pastor of Covenant Life Church near Washington, DC. "It's a statement of how high God's standard is for us." (Read a review of Harris's book Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust .)
"I'm grateful if there [really] is a modesty trend. I would encourage it .... But the root problem in people's lives is that they're cut off from God. They don't have a relationship with Him," Harris said. "When I put myself in the shoes of secular people, how long lasting could a modesty trend really be?"
Rubenstein believes the modesty movement is not just a fashion trend but a cultural shift that is showing it's face in fashion.
"If it weren't for Britney Spears, if it weren't for that culture of very sexualized fashion and music videos, I don't know that we would be here right now in terms of the modesty trend," she explained.
"If our culture shifts towards modesty because there is kind of a backlash from the whole Britney/Janet [Jackson] kind of reaction, that's great," Harris said. "... but I think that the cultural shift apart from heart change through the Gospel will be short lived," he added.
A Heart Condition
"We can't let the culture war become more important than the Gospel going forward, or to think that just because modesty is real popular right now that real heart change has taken place," Harris said.
After all, "The lack of modesty in churches is just a reflection of what's true across the board that there's just a lot of worldliness in the church today and we're not that different from our culture," Harris added. "The church really dresses like the world and that should be to our shame. That should motivate us to want to change."
In an attempt to cultivate such a change within his own church, Harris and the pastoral staff speak to the issue of modesty without being legalistic. They also have a modesty checklist available and attempt to create an environment conducive for women to discuss issues of modesty.
"Go to godly ladies that you know who dress modestly and be humble and invite them into this part of your life," Harris suggested. "I think a big part of modesty is humility -- to recognize that you need help from others .... Modesty is a posture of the heart."
A Battle Worth Fighting
"The statistics clearly tell us that this is a battle worth fighting," said Dannah Gresh, co-founder of Pure Freedom, a ministry dedicated to "equipping men and women of all ages to live vibrant lives of purity." Gresh said a 2000 study released by the Medical Institute for Sexual Health "revealed the top five factors that place a teen at risk of early sexual activity." One of the five contributing factors is the appearance of a girl to be older than her actual age.
"How does a young girl appear older but by the way she dresses and presents herself?" Gresh added.
For Tami Young and her 10-year-old daughter Kara, modesty has been a recent topic of conversation. "Our children and our daughters are one of the most precious gifts God has given us. Our responsibility is to train them up as Christian mothers to be godly and teach them how to feel good about themselves and who they are as godly women," Young explained.
"It's good for a girl to want to look attractive and to be pretty ... [therefore] I don't equate immodesty with dressing in a stylish way," Harris added.
In other words, there is a way to be stylish without being immodest. "My mom and dad have a rule -- the pants [meaning shorts] can't be way up here," Kara said while pointing to her upper thigh. "I also can't wear pants that have writing on the back."
At this young age, Kara desires to follow her parents' rules "so when I get older and stuff, I won't be showing things and giving all the attention to my body."
When seeing others dressed immodestly, Kara said, "I don't think of them as being a Christian. I think of them wanting to be cool and only thinking about themselves."
The way a girl thinks about herself, better known as self-image, is an important aspect of modesty, as pointed out by Kara and elaborated on by Michael Pritchard, a 25-year-old graduate student seeking a master's degree in business administration.
"First of all, I think modesty isn't just shown on the outside, but it starts on the inside. [It's] someone who has enough respect for themselves that they're not so cognizant of how they dress because they are confident in themselves, period," Pritchard said. "So, if a girl is dressing immodestly [and] showing a lot of skin, to me, I think it shows that she is not confident in herself."
"Being a guy, the first thing I notice is how the girl looks. That's just how I'm wired and that's what happens," Pritchard said.
However, thanks to a spiritual grounding and a Christian upbringing, Pritchard realizes he must not dwell on what is enticing to the eyes.
"Do I always succeed with that thought? No, I don't. It's very difficult sometimes, but one thing that I do try to remember is that by thinking those thoughts you are not respecting the other person, and you're hurting yourself," Pritchard explained.
Since man's eyes are a potent source of his thoughts, this does not give women the permission to disregard the way they dress by blaming it on men and their inability to look the other way.
"Lust is craving sexually what God has forbidden. One of the motives behind modesty is to cover your body in such a way so that others are not tempted to want what isn't theirs," Harris said.
"So immodesty is basically using lust to market yourself, in a sense," Harris added. "The enemy is not our sexuality. It's lust. .... We can give thanks for our sexuality."
"It is the precious gift God has given to women to woo their husbands and create romance. Men in the Victorian era didn't write love notes, sing serenades and court young women because it was more fun than the casual sex movement of today. They did it because the virtue and modesty of the women required men to earn their hearts!" Gresh explained.
"So modesty for Christians, shouldn't be primarily about style or fashion or even just the standards of people around them. It should start with a desire to be holy -- to be set apart for God, for His glory," Harris said.
"Holiness is the seed from which modesty grows," Gresh explained. "Without planting that seed we're just hitting kids over the head with rules. We [Pure Freedom] love to teach them why God desires holiness and purity. Out of that a passion for modesty and discretion is natural."
So who is this new Miss Modesty? She should be a young girl whose outward appearance mirrors the inward desires of her heart, as she glides with elegance down the hallways of schools, aisles of churches, and avenues of life.
Secret Keeper: The Delicate Power of Modesty by Dannah Gresh
Secret Keeper Girl: 8 Great Dates for You and Your Daughter by Dannah Gresh
Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust by Joshua Harris
Rebecca Grace, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a staff writer for AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. This article appeared in the September 2004 issue.