September 11, 2005
by Harry Osborne
A few years ago, you could stay away
from the beach and avoid the exhibitionism. Now it
seems like you cannot go around the block without
being confronted by someone in an outfit which used
to be associated more with a pornographic movie than
public attire. However, this trend is not limited
to the wrong side of town, but is increasingly apparent
in more "up-scale" areas. What in the world
has happened to the concept of decency?
On magazine covers and TV shows about
the latest fashions, headlines are similar. They speak
of "sexy," "revealing," "eye-catching,"
"provocative" and "hot" styles.
Hemlines are going up, necklines are going down in
the fashion world. Commercials for under garments
leaving nothing to the imagination are now broadcast
on television. A recent survey showed that the average
span of fabric between the armhole and leg hole on
a one-piece bathing suit is between four and six inches.
It is clear they were not designed that way to facilitate
swimming. The target market for such styles is not
the poor who cannot afford as much material, but the
affluent who seem happy to pay more for less.
The rich and famous celebrities of
our times show a clear acceptance of these immodest
styles. Among the teen pop stars like Britney Spears,
Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey,
there appears to be a contest to see who can wear
the least. Country stars like LeAnn Rimes and Shania
Twain are no better. Male rappers seem clueless as
to placement of a waistline on pants. Hollywood events
are little more than exhibitions of trashy dress.
Male stars are also trending towards a greater level
of undress. Not only is this trend present in the
celebrity world, but the exposure of the stars is
being imitated by their fans. A visit to your local
school will verify that fact. Many early teen and
pre-teen girls are spending large amounts of money
for skimpy outfits to emulate their idols in revealing
styles. Numerous boys have pants pulled down so low
that they more closely resemble shin-guards -- and
they paid good money to look that way!
The Bible condemns such outrageous
and lustful displays. After commanding men to be characterized
by holiness, it instructs women to be of the same
mind or manner which causes them to "adorn themselves
in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety;
not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly
raiment" (1 Tim. 2:8-9). If both men and women
are to be guided by holiness and that holiness causes
one to dress modestly, would it not cause the same
result in both? Obviously it would. Thus, the attitudes
and characteristics of proper dress are equally applicable
to both. Let us examine a few of the things said about
that which causes and characterizes "modest apparel."
The Bible says the modest apparel
to be worn is associated with "shame-fastness."
What does that mean? The original word from the Greek
referred to a sense of shame or modesty which is rooted
in the character. In other words, it is that inner
decency which recognizes the lack of clothing to be
The word of God speaks of the lack
of full clothing or "nakedness" as being
shameful (Rev. 3:19; Isa. 47:3; 2 Sam. 6:20; Jer.
13:26). However, the Bible term "naked"
does not only refer to nudity, but also to a lack
of sufficient clothing (Jas. 2:15-16). The book of
Job speaks of one who "stripped the naked of
their clothing" (Job 22:6). How could one strip
the clothes off of a person who was already totally
without them? Thus, the "nakedness" which
is shameful is not just total nudity. Isaiah spoke
of the uncovering of the thigh as resulting in nakedness
being uncovered (Isa. 47:2-3). Since many modern fashions
totally expose the thigh, how do you think God views
them? "Shame-fastness" causes one to blush
if seen without being fully covered. It is a rare
quality in our time! However, it is demanded of those
who would please God.
The Bible also says that modest clothing
is associated with "sobriety." The sobriety
under consideration is not solely speaking of being
free from intoxication due to alcohol, although that
may be involved, but is describing a state of sound
judgment. W.E. Vine makes these comments (Expository
Dict. of N.T. Words, vol. 4, p. 44-45):
It is that habitual inner self-government,
with its constant rein on all the passions and desires,
which would hinder the temptation to these from arising,
or at all events from arising in such strength as
would overbear the checks and barriers which "shamefastness"
opposed to it.
"Sobriety" would keep one
from wearing the "sexy," "revealing,"
"eye-catching," "hot," and "provocative"
styles currently in fashion. It would see such as
the "attire of a harlot" (Proverbs 7:10).
While "shamefastness and sobriety"
are the allies of modesty, the New Testament depicts
the clothing characteristic of wealth as that which
opposes modesty. Paul cautions against being clothed
in "gold or pearls or costly raiment" (1
Timothy 2:9). Peter warns "of wearing gold, or
of putting on fine apparel" (1 Peter 3:3). Were
these writers merely prejudiced against the wealthy
or is something else involved?
To answer that question, we need to
find out what kind of clothing was the "costly
raiment" or "fine apparel" of the New
Testament time. This is not difficult since a great
number of historical sources clearly and unanimously
tell us about the fashions of the day. The following
is an extended quote from Robert Collen's book, East
to Cathay: The Silk Road (pages 44-46), dealing with
the introduction of silk clothing into the first century
Silk in its natural state clung to
the female form in a way that was infinitely more
pleasing to the eye than Parthian banners. But Roman
ladies did not stop at that. For one thing, there
was not enough pure silk to go around at first. And,
anyway, it was not sexy enough for those freewheeling
days. So, they unraveled the close-woven Chinese fabric
and rewove it into a flimsy gauze which left little
to the imagination. So unlike Chinese silk was this
Roman adaptation that the Chinese, when they eventually
saw it, named it "ling," assuming that Rome
was growing a special product of its own. For the
average Roman girl-watcher those were golden years,
but the moralists raised a fearful outcry. "I
see clothes of silk, if clothes they can be called,"
wrote the philosopher Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 64), "affording
protection neither to the body nor to the modesty
of the wearer, and which are purchased for enormous
sums, from unknown people." Pliny told of garments
that "render women naked." Other writers
waggishly referred to clothes "made of glass."
Thus, the expensive clothes of New
Testament times were the revealing clothes that lacked
modesty. It was not a prejudice against wealthy people
or luxuries they could afford which caused Bible writers
to condemn "costly raiment." We know Lydia
sold purple, a costly garment, but she was approved
by God (Acts 16:14). It was the indecency associated
with clothing that condemned it.
Late in the first century, Clement
of Alexandria spoke of the same silk fashions as "fabrics
foolishly thin, and of curious texture in weaving."
He went on to speak of such as follows (The Instructor,
For these superfluous and diaphanous
(transparent - HRO) materials are proof of a weak
mind, covering as they do the shame of the body with
a slender veil. For luxurious clothing, which cannot
conceal the shape of the body, is no more a covering.
For such clothing, falling close to the body, takes
its form more easily, and adhering as it were to the
flesh, receives its shape, and marks out the woman's
figure, so that the whole body is visible..."
Clement said such clothing was associated
with "vice" and not "modesty."
The 2nd century Tertullian spoke of "garments
which, light and thin, were to be heavy in price alone."
He called them "prostitutionary garbs" appealing
to "the provocative charms of apparel."
He noted it was the opposite of "modesty."
In our time, the same is true. Modest
clothing that covers the body is relatively inexpensive
when contrasted with the price of the provocative
styles in vogue among the fashion world. One can buy
several decent changes of clothes for the price of
one fashionable swimsuit. The centuries have changed,
but the principles have not! Such fashions are no
more tolerable to God today than they were when He
condemned them through the New Testament writers.
Let us not take our direction from the sinful fashions
of our day, but from God.
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