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?