A parent’s natural response to God’s call for modesty is usually to enforce a set of rules. We determine an appropriate length or strap width and enforce it faithfully.
Growing up I encountered several dress codes, all explicitly concerned with enforcing modesty. At the church camp I attended shorts needed to reach beyond my fingertips. At the Christian college I attended shorts were to be a credit card’s length above the knee. At a friend’s summer camp, shorts were prohibited. Similar rules existed for sleeveless shirts, dress hems, etc.
What I found most confusing about all of this was that no two sets of rules were ever the same. When I finally graduated from college and stepped outside any established dress code, I had a difficult time deciding which rules I should follow. Too many conflicting voices clouded my understanding of what modesty truly was to be.
I think it’s important to notice that God doesn’t give explicit modesty guidelines in the text of the Bible. He asks us to “flee sexual immorality” to be “transformed” and to dress with “decency and propriety.”
God’s concern with outer modestly is wrapped up in His desire to see our inner spirit transformed. Modesty begins with the cultivation of a heart like His.
In their book The Beauty of Modesty, Diane and David Vaughn write:
The condition of the soul shapes the life—in all its choices. Simply telling your daughter that an item of clothing is inappropriate is to miss the point. The point is, she likes it, even though it is morally ugly. That’s the real problem. And more rules won’t fix it. What is needed is a transformation of the soul by the Word and Spirit of God. When the soul loves God, it loves holiness, which means it also loves true beauty.
Are rules wrong? Not at all. Oftentimes they provide helpful guide rails for girls without the wisdom to fully express their convictions in their clothes. Still, I would suggest making those rules with your daughter, allowing her the opportunity to explore what would and would not please God. When she’s encouraged to ask questions about her clothes—questions like “Why do I like this shirt?” “What will people think about Jesus if I wear this dress?” or “Is this skirt speaking louder than the image of God inside me?”—she’ll begin to see the connection between internal and external beauty, to understand that modesty begins in her heart.
And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll also give her a fuller picture of her God—not as a giver of seemingly arbitrary rules but as a Father Who wants to grow her into a truly beautiful woman.