Figuring Out What Clothing is Modest

'Vintage Buttercream Eyelet Sweater & Boho Wrap Skirt' photo (c) 2011, jessjamesjake vintage - license: that posting has been light, but I’m on vacation this week!

And as I’ve been here, we’ve learned something very important. My oldest daughter fits my clothes.

And we’ve been clothes shopping a lot, which has opened up a whole other realm of problems.

Becca hasn’t bought very much, because she’s on a clothing allowance. She has budgeted herself a certain amount to spend while we’re here, and she wants to look around and make sure what she’s getting is attractive; affordable; and unique. No sense bringing something home that she could buy there just as easily!

But down here in Hawaii everything is about boobs. You know what I mean: the deep V’s, the boobs outlined, etc. etc. I know that’s the fashion right now, but I’m not comfortable with it.

I don’t mind deep V’s if they’re paired with a modest camisole, which is how she always wears them. Absolutely no cleavage is my motto. But I’m also uncomfortable with shirts, dresses and bathing suits that don’t just plunge in the middle; they also plunge at the sides. If you have a wide band of fabric over the shoulder, and the dress goes nicely under the arms, you can still wear a bra and camisole. But if the dress comes down at the sides, too, so that you’re seeing the side of the you-know-whats, I don’t think that’s right.

Becca listens to me and agrees with me on the whole, but even some of the things that are pretty and modest by comparison I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with. When we were teens fashions weren’t close fitting, but now everything is. All curves are revealed.

She looks great, but I just don’t know. So tell me, all of you who have gone through this or have opinions, how do you decide what to buy for your children? What do you think is modest?

I often ask my husband, since he knows what teenage boys think, and if he says it’s okay, I go with him. But I’d still like some better guidelines. Anyone want to offer some?


  1. >Crud, nobody has posted. Sigh. My daughter is two at the end of the month. I’m glad to say that my sons look out for her modesty. Once, my husband was putting her in the seat of the grocery cart and her coat and shirt slid up. My oldest was scandalized, “Dad!!! Pull her shirt down, she’s not being modest!!!”

    • @Tara, that’s funny! It’s sweet that her brothers are looking out for her. But she is still a little girl…she has time to learn more about modesty when she’s a bit older. It seems too early to impose body shame on a child that young.

  2. Terry @ Breathing Grace says:

    >I generally go with what my husband thinks is okay. Occasionally, I am uncomfortable with something that he thinks is fine and in those cases, they don’t get it.

    My motto: When in doubt, do without!

  3. Mrs. Querido says:

    >Well, my daughter is only 18 months so we don’t quite have to worry about that yet. But growing up, my motto was if you don’t want someone looking or touching don’t have it hanging out! Also, I think looking to your husband for advice is a great idea! I plan on tapping that when she is older. As for curves being revealed, as long as it doesn’t look painted on, I think you’re okay. Girls have curves. We could go around in mu-mus but that is just extreme. I believe that there is a balance to modesty and fashion. I don’t like looking frumpy and unshapely and I doubt my daughter will either. Besides, modesty and purity begin from the inside out. I am sure that because you have cultivated that in her, it will shine though to her decisions on the outside. :)

    Plus, you can think of this as all training ground. Better for her to be learning what not to wear now rather than realized she shouldn’t have worn that later on when she is out of the house!

  4. >With two daughters this has been trying for me also. I try to follow the guidelines you listed, but the hard part is having the girls agree with them also. It gets even harder when they are older and buying their own clothes. I always ask them if they would wear a questionable outfit if God were in the room. This sometimes make them think twice and then they make the decision to not purchase the item on their own (which is nice to not have to be the “bad guy”). Have a great vacation. I enjoy your blog.

  5. >Hi I am not sure if I can post a link (I’m not sure it will even work. Any way here is an article that is kind of related to your post from “the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary” I found it interesting and thought provoking.

    I agree with the earlier poster about training now. I f I let my toddler wear what is in fashion now then when she is older and I say no then it will be why is it different now when Icould wear short skirts before but not now.

    Any way I am rambiling as ssit is past my nap time.


  6. >hi sheila,
    totally agree with you.
    i have 3 daughters (14, 11, 7), and have gone on the theory that it is better to start out where you want to go, rather than change once their bodies change. so when they were little, we didn’t do tummy-showing tops, even if it was cute and fashionable.
    we never have made a big deal out of it – just matter-of-fact.
    one guideline that has been helpful along the lines you are raising here, is that for us, shoulder straps must be wide enough to hide a bra strap – so spaghetti straps are out. underwear is supposed to stay UNDER the clothes! can’t understand why it is fashionable to have straps hanging out!
    my girls are not into being ‘trendy’, just sensible without being ‘daggy’.
    am i making sense??
    sim in oz

  7. Mrs. Sprinkles says:

    >This has worked for me: when you put a potentially low-cut shirt on, bend over in front of the mirror, as if you were picking something up or setting the table. If you can see something you shouldn’t, it’s too low cut!

  8. The Peterson Family says:

    >My girls aren’t quite old enough that they have opinions…yet, but we do dress modestly, and they always have. I wanted to comment, because I attend a private university (in Hawaii) that has a dress code – the basics are that we much have sleeves (short sleeves are ok, but no cap sleeves – we’re not suppose to be showing our underarm as a rule), it has to be loose enough that you cannot see your undergarments, no bare midriffs, no low-riding pants/skirts/shorts and they must come to at least the knee (no shorter). As far as the low cut necks, I agree with Mrs. Sprinkles. Even with all those “rules” (and living in Hawaii) I still feel like I can find clothes that are in-style and look great. I dress my kids by these same rules, though sometimes we have to buy a size or two bigger to cover bellies!

  9. >Well I don’t have daughters – but I have five sons – three still teenagers, the other two in their early twenties. I have to tell you that there are times I blush when I see what girls at church wear. As a mother of boys I’m concerned about the temptations and difficulties they must have in arresting their thoughts when they see some of these outfits. At the risk of sounding prudish, if an outfit draws attention to any ‘private’ body part, then it’s inappropriate. That includes those super short skirts that stop just above the thighs. Even with leggins or pants underneath they are going to draw the male eye. I’m glad to see a mother of daughters seriously considering this. I think too many are prepared to let their daughters wear whatever is fashionable as long as it’s not too indecent. But as Christians, should we not be setting a higher standard?

    • @Jules…I understand your dilemma. Perhaps you might consider talking with your sons about this, and hear their thoughts? I don’t believe we should blame the girls though. It is natural for young men to look at girls and fantasize about them. But I see what you’re saying, in that there is a time and place to wear certain attire. I agree that miniskirts probably should not be worn to church. To me, it is vital to teach boys the importance of self-control and respect for others so that even if their minds or eyes do wander, they won’t act on whatever supposedly “impure” thoughts they may have. That seems more important than what a girl wears, IMO.

      As a (former) Christian, there needs to be a happy medium, I think. It is important to be kind and accepting of our fellow human beings but if we do set a higher standard for dress/behavior, it should be done in the spirit of love instead of shaming.

  10. >My two cents: it really is different from girl to girl. There are people who try to say that there should be one iron-clad standard, but it’s very different for a girl with a slim, boyish figure and a girl with a curvy, va-va-voomy figure! The first girl (or a pre-pubescent girl) might be able to wear a v-neck top without showing a hint of cleavage, while the second girl would struggle to find anything besides t-shirts to wear!

    One thing I think a lot of ladies neglect is the undergarment issue. An ill-fitting bra that’s too thin, unsupportive, causes gaping or that, um, “runneth over” so to speak, is HIGHLY immodest because it draws attention to that area! But some women seem to be under the impression that it’s immodest to invest in nice foundation garments, so they buy any old cotton bra from wal-mart, and end up being jiggly or lumpy… Eek. Sorry if that was TMI!!

    Anyway… just go to a good department store and find a bra that fits properly, and it will go a long way toward modesty.

  11. Fiery By Design ? says:

    >The rule I’ve used since my DD was little is a something I created called: BOSSY

    B- Bend
    O- Over
    S- Sit
    S- Stand
    Y- Yawn

    When we’re in the fitting rooms I say ok now I’m going to be BOSSY. We always have a good laugh and she knows what to do. Bend over-can anyone see down her shirt or up a skirt? Sit down-does it cause a skirt to ride up too high or a shirt to bunch down too far? Stand up-does switching from sitting to standing cause anything to move in a direction that would be embarrassing? And finally Yawn-if you stretch and yawn with your hands above your head does it cause your belly to show at all or does it cause a skirt to rise too high?

    To type it out sounds so long but really it takes seconds in a fitting room. With today’s clothes many things don’t make it past “B” unfortunately. My DD and I have learned what to look for though…so that does help to get at least a few nice garments to wear. I will also add I do believe we still look stylish. We both love clothes and fashion. We just make sure it covers the parts that are for husband’s (and in her case future husband) only. 😉

  12. >it can be very difficult to find modest clothes for a girl, no matter the age. i have 3 daughters and sons, and clothes for the youngest daughter (2) can be as diffucult as for the oldest (19). it is shocking what people allow thier daughters to wear- even in church! my daughter goes to Bob Jones University in SC, and they have some pretty strict, but reasonable, rules. no sleeveless, no cleavage, no flip flops, skirts below the knee when you sit, and 1/2″ fabric ease on the shirts. there might be more, but i don’t remember. for our youngest, we wear dresses on her, and sometimes overalls. no writing on shirts, (mostly) or butts! anything too flashy or flamboyant is too much of an eye drawing temption for the teenage boys. stand your ground now, becasue it’s harder to go back and change your mind! hope that helps!

  13. >I don’t have girls, so I can’t offer advice. But I wanted to say, as the mother of two boys… Thank you! I am praying that the mother of my future (hopefully a long furture away for my 10 and 12 year old) daughter-in-law is struggling with these same questions and looking for Godly advice as you all are. I applaud you all on your efforts to teach your daughters modesty today.

  14. >Hi Sheila! I found your blog by accident, but this post caught my eye. A group of teens has actually put together something called The Modesty Survey, which asks over 100 guys how they feel about certain types of clothing. It’s not meant as a list of rules but, rather, a valuable insight into what goes through a guy’s mind when he sees certain clothes on girls. I highly recommend it. :)

  15. >A shirt test I used to teach my 6th-grade girls as an alternative to bending over in front of a mirror:
    Put your thumb at the bottom of your neck, in the little notch in your clavicle. Now put your hand flat against your body (fingers parallel to the floor). Fabric should be between your pinky and your chest; if not, your shirt is cut too low.

  16. Paula Rice says:

    Another one that is good is everything that is not covered: If you care if someone you don’t know very well touches those areas, then they should be covered.

  17. …as to the shirt test; it’s not going work for everyone!
    I am tall, but high & full busted; enough where the hand to collarbone test might be ok straight on, but not from the sides, or *any* movement… picking up my purse, leaning over a shopping cart, book from a shelf, etc.
    Tanks or “shells” are my lifesaver.
    My best one is an athletic, breathable thin knit. It glides under anything, yet clings to me. I can pop any pretty top over, with a flattering neckline to my jawline, and stay covered!
    I’m so glad comanies are coming out with modest layering tops that are smooth and thin, and high enough for us gals that need to not fuss over grasping collars (or forgetting to!)
    A solid colors that tie together with your outfit aren’t that hard to find! It makes so many pretty styles an option!

  18. Hanlie Wessels says:

    I’m 26 and my mom still went clothes shopping with me today. We’ve always made big outings out of buying clothes. My mom and sister and I have an absolute ball trying on all sorts of things. She vetoed some stuff for being immodest. I honestly don’t mind. Modesty is really important to me. Our rules have always been no cleavage, no tummy, no short skirts/ shorts. Our tops shouldn’t strain over our boobs, no underwear showing through. Also pants shouldn’t be so tight that you can see a panty line. If the pants are tight your top must come down over your bum. No-one should see your privates. I refuse to wear sleeveless stuff.
    This isn’t stuff she started when we were teenagers. She started when we were really small. Now we all know what flatters our shapes, how to be modest and how to find good quality clothes that fit right and look great.

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