Why modesty?

burqabikiniWhat does modesty mean to you?

When I was a teenager, I planned to wear a low-cut polka dot tank-top to a movie with the swim team.  My mom put an end to that.  “No,” she said.  “That is not an appropriate shirt.”  I balked, but she was right.  I was going to a family-friendly event during the day.  What might be appropriate dress for a nightclub is not appropriate for the office.

Now when I see women and men of any age wearing tight or revealing clothing, it makes me uncomfortable.  I’m not sure what to do with that: am I reacting prudishly?  Is it latent body-shaming from our extremely sex-negative culture?  Does it make me insecure?

Generally I’ve tended towards more modest clothing as I grow older.  I try for versatility in my small wardrobe, which eliminates most nightclub attire.  Modesty makes me feel more comfortable out-and-about, too.  As Chaya Kurtz wrote, “life is hard enough without putting my body on display for scrutiny.”  At my job or while traveling I don’t want to be stared at or hassled.  I don’t want my coworkers to feel uncomfortable because of my clothes.

Chaya also wrote,

In my own life, the shift from feeling like I had to prove something to feeling strong and settled happened around the same time that I started dressing modestly. For a while, I was half-hearted about it. I was wearing skirts below the knee, but no socks. It was when I clicked into a pulled-together, tailored, totally modest style that I stopped feeling fat. That was when I started feeling like I could go anywhere, and do anything, and deal with any kind of person without being infantilized or talked down to. My body was not on the auction block anymore.

It is our individual responsibility to treat all people with respect and kindness.  If a woman reveals cleavage and I assume that means something about her, that’s my problem.  Yet we make judgments and decisions about each other all the time based on appearances.  Clothes are meaningful – they communicate information to viewers, whether true or no.  I love dressing myself, but it is partly presentation, impression-management, even armor.

My wardrobe includes looser tops and less cleavage than in younger years.  I like loose skirts, and I’m less comfortable in short shorts these days.  Still, I love fitted jeans and scoop-necks and cut-offs.  I like wearing less in the summer.  I’m curious how this will change as I grow and experiment with style.

What’s modesty for you?  Do you find modest dress beneficial or oppressive?  How do you find balance?

About Eva

Digital marketing entrepreneur. Niche: women-owned businesses. Polka dot enthusiast, space nerd, feminist.
This entry was posted in Clothes & Style, Me and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why modesty?

  1. Pingback: Project 333 Halfway | Style Me Minimal

  2. starfish says:

    Interesting points! Warning: long comment. Personally I prefer to dress rather modestly. Mostly it’s because I don’t want to have to think about issues like “can I sit down this way in the dress/skirt I’m wearing without letting people get a peak at my underwear?”, but another reason for me is wanting to look more neutral – I don’t ever want to be accused to have gained my good grades at university (and before at school) by showing a lot of skin, and even less I want this to happen for real. When playing sports I want to be able to move freely (I do capoeira, so hello cartwheels and backbends) without making other people feel uncomfortable when doing partner exercises – practising throws and blocks with a guy could be pretty awkward otherwise. This doesn’t mean I don’t wear spaghetti strap tops for capoeira practise in summer or that I never walk the streets in shorts, but I try to make them stay in their place and not ride up or down. Being extremely flat-chested makes wearing low-cut tops/shirts more or less impossible because they just aren’t tight enough; so modesty for me mostly means wearing layers of at least two tops to prevent people who are taller than me from looking too far down into my neckline by accident, and staying clear of short dresses when it’s windy or when I know I’m going to sit on something else than a chair. Another line for me is the visibility of bra straps, though since I switched to just tight tops I don’t have to think about this anymore – still I don’t like it when other girls wear loose tops and half their bra is visible. But I guess just like leggins without anything else on top that’s more a matter of taste than of modesty.

    • Eva says:

      That’s a good point – modestly can help one blend in whereas more revealing clothes often draw attention. I like not having to think about what could accidentally show, and not having to adjust things for coverage. I also like that modesty doesn’t tend to distract or cause discomfort to other people. However, I firmly believe that I’m not in charge of other people’s attention or comfort – clothes shouldn’t affect how people treat each other (in its extreme this causes victim-blaming, which is unacceptable).

      • starfish says:

        Victim-blaming is an awful concept, I hope humankind will grow more intelligent in the future and be able to leave this crap behind! Deciding on one’s own accord to dress in a way that does not cause discomfort in others on the other hand is not in itself bad, I believe.

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