Interesting fact: When women started wearing the male-inspired doublet pictured on the left, many considered it immodest. The one pictured right was exclusively a female styled garment preserving the very definite gender differences. It didn’t matter that a very large portion of cleavage was showing. (Both portraits are of Elizabeth I at different points in her life.)
There are many different interpretations and definitions of modesty. Many books have been written. Debates have raged. Over time interpretations and definitions have changed and evolved.
As far as I’ve seen thoughts on modesty can fall into two basic categories: Coverage and Attitude. You can ascribe to either or both. Coverage, of course, is mostly concerned with clothing. To what degree should someone cover themselves? How tight or loose should a modest garment be? Attitude is a catch-all for everything that isn’t clothing.
Coverageis less simple than it may seem on the surface. It becomes more complicated when you are trying to develop a personal standard as opposed to following a community standard. For me coverage does mean avoiding clothing that is too tight or too tight for a certain situation. I wear skirts all the time. I don’t own pants. (Read my entry Put Some Pants On! to find out more.) I am covered to the knee, generally my elbows are covered and you won’t see my cleavage. I cover my hair in public, but bangs are seen fairly often. (I suppose this counts as cleavage, albeit, hair cleavage.) This is true for every time I step outside my house or there is an unrelated man in my house.
I am currently undecided about my swimwear situation. Before I started covering my hair I had a one-piece swimsuit that is commonly worn by fitness swimmers. I haven’t been swimming in three years or more. (I plan on a post lamenting the disappointing shopping trip.)
I decided on my personal standards after much research and experimentation. It was easy for me to decide to adopt something close to the Tzniut rules on dress. Being an Orthodox Christian, we commonly hear about our Jewish roots. There is respect for what came before. It is hard for me not to respect something that has been around for such a long time. The reason I don’t follow the Tzniut dress code exactly is not a fully formed decision. I think it is more a matter of ease and comfort. I cover my elbows because I feel more secure. I’m not sure why I feel more comfortable exposing my knee caps than my elbows. It just came to be that way. I don’t work to cover my collar-bone but the majority of my shirts nearly make it. My chest is fully covered, so I’m happy. Deeper necklines are easily filled with a scarf drapped overtop or a high-necked shirt beneath. I haven’t worn a turtle-neck in years. The one thing I am conscious about is bringing too much attention to my chest. (I’ve never been considered small) One thing that can make you look like you have a ski slope is a single coloured, turtle neck. No Thanks.
I have facial piercings and don’t feel these are immodest. I think people are just a tad confused. (post on piercings coming up!)
Attitude is an all together different matter. I swear, have been known to drink and am painfully blunt. These could be considered immodest. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. Though I wouldn’t whole-heartedly agree either.
What I do attempt to avoid is talking about certain things in mixed company. Things like birth control, the female cycles (other women’s as well as mine), hygiene (such as waxing), etc. The basic rule of thumb is if it is gender specific or sexual in nature then it is not something to be discussed in mixed company. When it’s ladies only, all bets are off.
These are my personal guidelines. I tend to struggle more with the attitude more than coverage. Attitude is easier to slip up with than coverage by far. It’s all a process.
What are your thoughts?