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The Christian Dress Code: Modest or Sexist?

As a female Christian, I have come across many individuals who’ve felt the need to remind or advise me to be aware of my wardrobe. It was never done in a rude way nor was I singled out or pulled aside. It was more like all the girls were rounded up and lectured for 10-15 minutes about what to wear and what not to wear. Why? The answer is always, always the same; lust or temptation. In one way, I appreciate the warnings. The female body is magnificent in many different ways; one pair of hips can entice a crowd, one curvy body can bring a man to his knees. In other words, men are weak so they need all the help they can get when it comes to lust…just kidding…kind of.

Growing up in church I’ve always wondered why the girls had to be lectured about their wardrobe but not the boys. Don’t wear heels too tall, don’t wear dresses too short, no bikinis at the beach, not too much makeup, find a shirt with some sleeves, do you really need eyeliner and mascara? The reason behind it was because ‘guys struggle with lust’ or ‘be careful not to entice someone’ … well, who says I want to entice someone? Who says a man struggling with lust is going to fall to his knees over me? And why am I being held accountable for his lecherous thoughts and/or actions?

Girls can’t wear certain things because it may lead a man into temptation.

There are two things wrong with this statement. The first is that its completely sexist; if girls can lead guys into temptation then the opposite must be assumed—that guys can lead girls into temptation in which case a dress code should be imposed on both males and females.

The second is that this statement displaces the individual responsibility of sin. 

If someone is racist against black people you wouldn’t force all black church members to sit on one side of sanctuary would you? No. So why is it OK for certain rules to be enforced on women in the case of men struggling with temptation?

Let me break this down…

If you struggle with alcohol, call on God for help.

If you struggle with lying, call on God for help.

If you struggle with adultery, call on God for help.

But if you struggle with lust … sit tight while the ushers beat the women into burkas.

Problem solved.

First of all, what turns on one man may not turn on another. I’ve had plenty of guys tell me they liked me because of my hair, they said it looked wild and sexy. 

So should I shave my head because a few guys happened to be turned on by it? Absolutely not.

Whether you agree with the sexiness of my hair or not is another argument. What I’m trying to say is that getting rid of high heels and makeup isn’t going to solve the lust issue. What if I was just so sexy that I looked good in a potato sack? Now I can’t come to church in my sack? What if that’s all I have?

Or, and here’s the big question, what if things were the other way around?

I’ll put it this way…

I like guys in polo shirts … so males at my church can’t wear them.

I like guys in glasses … males must get contacts now to prevent my lustful thoughts.

I like guys with muscles … Christian guys can’t stay in shape or else I’ll spiral out of godly control.

Do you see how messed up that is? It sounds ridiculous when the shoe is on the other foot yet that’s how Christian women are treated every day. Men like women in high heels so we can’t wear that, men like women with long eyelashes so no more makeup, men like women with long legs so we can’t wear dresses/skirts above the knee.

Now, some dress codes are understandable. I don’t think Christians should wear muscle shirts, super short skirts, super short shorts, tube tops, or baggy jeans TO CHURCH because its simply not appropriate for the occasion--in the same way that you wouldn't wear a sweat suit or pajamas out to a fancy restaurant. HOWEVER, what you wear outside of services is another thing. If I take a family trip to the beach, why can’t I pull out a bikini? Because it shows too much skin? Well, does it show any more skin than a guy swimming shirtless?

Let me wait while you try—and fail—to put together a believable defense for shirtless males.

There is none.

If Christian girls can’t wear bikinis then Christian guys can’t go shirtless.

If Christian girls can’t wear cropped tees then Christian guys can’t wear muscle tees.

If Christian girls can’t wear makeup then Christian guys can’t get their hair styled … that’s right, let it hang loose.

Some of you may say I’m just doing a males versus females rant … well, you’re exactly right. Because that’s how churches behave. They impose rules on females that would never be enforced on males—in my personal experience. Some churches may be different, some youth groups may be more open-minded but in my experience, that’s how it’s been.

I’m not saying Christian girls should be able to walk around in skin tight leggings with BOOTY JUICE printed on the back. I’m arguing that if there’s going to be a dress code for the sake of lust prevention then, by God, be fair about it and impose it on everyone. Take everyone’s struggles into consideration. Men fall weak to short skirts, women fall weak to button-downs. Men fall weak to exposed legs, women fall weak to large muscles.

Or how about this…

Drop the dress code and start praying. You are responsible for your own sin and your own struggles. That’s not to say that your Christian brothers and sisters shouldn’t be considerate, if your friend is on a fast you wouldn’t grill steaks in front of them, right? In the same way, if you’re on a fast, you wouldn’t show up to their barbecue and make things awkward for them in the first place.

Now, let’s get biblical.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and give the most common scripture ever quoted in defense of sexist dress codes. I Timothy 2:9 KJV In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.

The first and biggest misinterpretation about this scripture is that it has anything to do with lust or temptation. Paul didn’t say to dress modestly so that no one would struggle with temptation. Verses 8 and 9 are instructions on how to worship. Paul was an amazing man full of righteous wisdom, he was not someone to ‘beat around the bush’ if he wanted to address lust or temptation, he would have. Instead he spoke on modesty, encouraging Believers to beware of their attire so as to not put their clothing and their jewelry and their makeup above God. Not that wearing these things were sinful in and of itself, but that placing more importance on your wardrobe than on God is sinful.

That being said, those who put great emphasis on covering and even ‘veiling’ themselves are just as guilty of being immodest as those who put great emphasis on wearing booty shorts and cropped tees. Why? Because the idea of modesty in I Timothy 2:9 is not a direct reference to how much skin is showing but to how much importance was placed on outward appearance instead of a genuine relationship with God.  

The second misinterpretation is that it’s a legitimate commandment. Before anyone goes screaming that I’m adding to or taking away from the Word of God, let me explain. Verse 8 of that chapter says I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. The next verse says, In like manner also, that women… Notice the beginning of verse 8 where Paul says I will, in some translations I will is recorded as I want. Meaning, this is only Paul’s suggestion, his personal opinion, his own preference. It is not a concrete dress code for women, as hard as that may be for you sexists who call yourselves Christians to understand.

You have to remember that all of Paul’s letters are to specific churches and specific crowds. If modesty was an issue for ALL women EVERYWHERE, then he would have addressed the issue to EACH individual church. But he didn’t. His advice to the Corinthians was not the same as his advice to the Ephesians. What he said to the Galatians was not the same as what he said to the Thessalonians. The same goes for today, the definition of modesty in today’s era is not the same as it was in Paul’s.

I’ve said this in another post, some cultures are nudists, some are strictly topless. Would God send those women to hell for not being shamefaced? Or are we imposing our culture’s idea of shamefacedness on them and thereby unfairly judging them?

Think about that for a moment.

Our next scripture is the commonly stated, I Corinthians 6:19-20 KJV What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

This is a wonderful scripture, one of my favorite scriptures, but—again—it is not a cry for burkas and veils. Let me say this once more before I go into another page worth of ranting and rambling; I’m not saying that Christian girls should be allowed to attend Sunday school in a bustier and fishnet stockings. I’m simply making an argument that modesty has been unfairly enforced because of commonly misunderstood and misinterpreted scriptures.

Wearing makeup and sleeveless dresses doesn’t make a woman’s body any less temple-like than being plain-faced and unfashionable. Trust me, if I went around without makeup all day I’d be a walking offense. Dressing up is treating my body as temple. We are children of the Most High God, offspring of the King of all Kings. Why go around looking only half as good as you possibly could? When we take pride in ourselves as Christians we take pride in God. Present your best self because when people see you, they see what God has given you. You can dress yourself up without it being inappropriate or not focused on God.

Modesty isn’t about what’s on your outside, it’s about your heart. God looks at our obedience, at our prayer, at our fasting, at our sacrifice. He doesn’t look at our makeup, or piercings, or tattoos, or cosmetic surgery. On the other hand, if you truly love God with all your heart you would turn away from tattoos and unnecessary piercings, you wouldn’t place more importance on your makeup or your muscles or your appearance. You have to learn what is appropriate to wear and when it is appropriate—for both men and women.  

As always, God bless.

For more information on Christian dress codes, see my latest article on this topic: How Should Christians Dress? Can we Wear Piercings?