Sunday, August 26, 2012

Women's Wear: What Should Be Revealed—and What Shouldn't

Our culture has some double-think going on when it comes to what we wear. We have an incredible increase in raciness with a simultaneous denial that it’s of any significance. Anyone who questions it is labeled a prude. But if it’s really so insignificant, why do so many ads take full advantage of it?

Surrounded by immodesty, often we recognize it only when it’s extreme. I've heard that the definition of a slob is “anyone messier than yourself”. It would seem that we define immodesty in a similar way: it's what those people wear, on the screen, on billboards, or in magazines. But think about it: what used to be the hallmarks of a prostitute only 30 years ago is the fashion of today.

So, although as Christians we know our culture’s morals are shrinking steadily, we have to be aware that our culture still influences us. And if we merely avoid what society considers to be immodest, we will not be modest enough. We must “not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind[s]” (Rom 12:2).

Moreover, men's minds work differently than women's in this area, so women need some enlightening. In addition to what I mentioned here last week, there's also the matter of what psychologists call “visual closure”. This is the mind's ability, when presented with a partial picture of something, to fill in the gap.

Something similar can happen to a man when he's given too much information about a woman's figure. For instance, when a woman sees another woman wearing a low-cut, strapless dress, she'll just see what's in front of her: the face, the bare shoulders and arms, and the dress. But a man's mind, on the other hand, might automatically leap to what the rest of the bare torso probably looks like.

So between our cultural astigmatism and this imagination dissimilarity, many of us need a little help in recognizing immodesty. Here are some factors to keep in mind.

Three Factors of Immodesty

The skin factor is what we usually think of when it comes to “immodesty.” But it’s made light of now because standards have changed so much in the past century. While in our culture the sight of a mere ankle is no longer titillating, a lot of visible skin is still suggestive. Too much information yields too much imagination.

But immodesty isn't merely a matter of showing too much skin. In fact, other factors can be more alluring. Some women look more immodest in a pair of snug pants than in a bathing suit. Why? Well, pants can accentuate the shape while hiding imperfections. Which brings us to the next factor...

The shape factor is the kind of immodesty most commonly overlooked by Christian women today. I suspect this is due to the fact that the male imagination can be lightning-fast in this department, whereas the female imagination in this area is usually slow or even requires a push.

Low-cut tops and mini-skirts aren’t the only triggers: for countless men, form-fitting pants and tops are also triggers. And “form-fitting” doesn’t just mean “tight”. We need to expand our notion of what is "revealing" to include what reveals one’s shape.

Anything that emphasizes the lower half of a womanly curve (in front or back) is probably too shape-revealing. Unfortunately, nowadays, this includes a large proportion of pants and tops.

Clingy, silky materials are also suggestive even without being close-fitting. (Hence their use in lingerie.)

The accessibility factor is also frequently overlooked. It’s what makes a mini-skirt immodest when shorts the same length would be fine. “Accessible” clothing requires only a minor cause to reveal key areas of the body. We can't be naive about how music videos, racy movies, and pornography have exacerbated the unfavorable tendencies of the post-Eden male imagination.

Even items that only appear to be accessible—such as “skooters”—are problematic. Many a man won’t realize they include shorts. He sees what appears to be a mini-skirt, and the accessibility factor kicks in.

Now if you've gone shopping anytime in the last ten years, you may be feeling some dismay about the possibility of finding any clothes without one of these factors, especially for the younger generation. I know! I have five daughters—and the only who's easy to buy clothes for is the five-month-old.

But don't despair or conclude it's impossible. Next week, I'll discuss the practicalities of dressing modestly.

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