Christians should dress in a modest and decent way, showing respect for God, themselves, and others. This principle is found in Paul’s use of the terms kosmios and aidos—“well-ordered”and “decent”—to describe the appropriate adorning of the Christian woman (1 Tim 2:9). With reference to clothing, the terms mean that Christians must dress in a well-ordered, decorous, decent manner, without causing shame or embarrassment to God, themselves, or others.
We can violate the Christian dress code of modesty by neglecting personal appearance as well as by giving excessive attention to it. “Dress neatly and becomingly,” Ellen White counseled, “but do not make yourself the subject of remarks either by being overdressed or by dressing in a lax, untidy manner. Act as though you knew that the eye of heaven is upon you, and you are living under the approbation or disapprobation of God.”2
To dress modestly and decently implies that clothing must provide sufficient covering for the body so that others are not embarrassed or tempted. This principle is especially relevant today when modern dress fashions reject modesty and decency as the basis for constructive human relationships. The concern of the modern fashion industry is to sell clothes, jewelry, and cosmetics by exploiting the powerful sex drives of the human body, even if it means marketing immodest products that only feed pride and sensuality.
The Bible explicitly condemns the lustful look: “Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). The revealing clothes promoted by the modern fashion industry awaken lustful passions in the heart of the beholder and contribute immeasurably to the depravity of our time. By dressing modestly, the Christian woman plays a key role in maintaining public morality.
God calls us to dress modestly and decently, not only to prevent sin, but also to preserve intimacy. People who want to sin will sin no matter how modestly dressed the people they see are. The purpose of modesty is not only to prevent lustful desires, but also to preserve something which is very fragile and yet fundamental to the survival of a marital relationship: the ability to maintain a deep, intimate relationship with one’s spouse. If marriage is going to last a lifetime, as God intended it to, then husband and wife must work together to preserve, protect, and nurture the intimacy. When all is said and done modesty will preserve the joy of intimacy long after the ringing of the wedding bells.
The apostolic admonition to dress modestly and decently summons us to reject the seductive dictates of fashion, choosing instead to reflect in our outward appearance the natural beauty of simplicity and of elevated purity.