Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dress Codes and Fish Net – This one’s for the girls

Once upon a time – you know it is going to be a great story when you read those words – I was part of an organization that had a dress code. The dress code was put in place by people who wanted to insure that all of us involved were decent and modest in our apparel. An admirable goal, but difficult to define.

I have always tried to play by the rules. Not because I always agree with the rules but because I believe that God places people in authority for a reason and we should respect God’s decisions – that and I really don’t like getting in trouble. So one day I thought I was operating in accordance to the rules and wore a long dress and sandals to our gathering. As I sat sipping my coffee, I was corrected.

Of all the scandalous things I could do, I was showing about three inches of bare leg. Horrors!!!

I was politely but firmly informed that this was immodest and I need to wear hosiery to avoid such impropriety. So of course the next day, I complied. Sorta.

I wore a slightly shorter skirt (it barely covered my knees), tall boots (they almost came to my knees), and the two inch gap (slightly under and over my knees) I covered with the prescribed hosiery. Imagine my shock when once again, I was corrected and admonished not to be so lewd, but a decision had been reached, I had pushed them over the edge and they did not want to turn it into an issue, bare legs were fine.

I don’t know, but it might have been the fish net that did it.

So why am I telling you this story?

Well, once again, I am having to deal with some issues of modesty and appropriate covering for women. And I find myself asking, what constitutes modest dress for a woman of our time? I know Christian women who feel like the only truly modest attire is one that subverts all hints of our sexuality. Shapeless shirts that cover that provocative collar bone, skirts that conceal that alluring ankle, and good sturdy shoes built for comfort, lest we indulge in the vanity of heels.

I know some Christian women who are so unaware of their bodies that their dress is completely immodest, not out of a desire to arouse but simply because they fail to recognize they aren’t covered. Many of us were taught that any attempt at dressing ourselves in an attractive manner is immoral and un-Biblical. Some of us were even threatened with the idea that to dress in a way that betrayed our sex was inviting rape. A few of us were told it was our moral duty to hide our femininity to preserve the morals of the men in our lives, that we are responsible for their purity. I even know a few Christian women who do not believe for one second that they have any obligation to be modest, and dress however they please.

As usual, I can’t just fall neatly into one camp. I have to agree with them all, in part, and then I have to figure out how to live (and dress) in accordance to what I believe is right. And as you may have gathered from my story, that means I have to curb a teensy little rebellious streak that runs through me.

As women we have been a great and wonderful gift, our bodies. Think about it for a minute. Too often we tend to focus on the hormone swings, periods, and the agony of childbirth, but really, how awesome to know that our bodies were designed to give and sustain life. And how great is that all our plumbing is indoors? (Okay, except when you’re camping.)

There is something amazingly freeing when we recognize the value of that gift. What’s more we should conduct ourselves in such a way that others recognize its value, and I don’t think that we do that when we dress like we are ashamed of our bodies. We aren’t asexual. We are women. Designed with care and intent, God didn’t make a mistake and its time we stop acting like it.
Does this mean that we go around displaying our wares? Of course not! That also shows a lack of value for this gift, and there is a huge difference between dressing in an attractive manner and dressing like a . . .well, you know. (And if you don’t ask a good friend, or your kids, they will tell you.)

Look, we don’t put Tiffany crystal in a Wal-Mart bag and we don’t hide set our treasures out on the street corner. It’s all in the balance, somewhere between vanity and denial. It is time that Christian women be beautiful women and we stop believing that our bodies are the source of all evil. It was woman who ate the fruit, but it was a woman who first proclaimed the coming the Messiah and woman who gave birth to our Lord. Those are some pretty great things to be proud of for our sex.

It is time that each time we dress, we dress in a celebration of who we are, who we are created to be. If we dress with remembrance that God decided that we were to be beautiful and our beauty is to serve a purpose we have a pretty good guide as to what to wear.


crystal cobb said...

Love this story. Good stuff Em.

Melanie said...

Some great perspective here! Surprisingly, the first encounter I had with modesty (other than the literature) was nursing my third child in the lobby of a church we'd just begun attending. Up until that point I had publicly nursed all my children and it had never even occurred to me that it could cause men to stumble.
I was humiliated and relegated to a back room with a hard backed chair and the floor to change diapers because I couldn't nurse in the nursery in case dads were in there.
Thinking back, how sad it was that it was the very thing my body was created to do, displaying the wonderful sustaining of life beyond the womb that only a woman can do that caused me to be rebuked and feel ashamed! I wish I had protested.

April said...

Hilarious. I think it's a matter of the heart. Many of us dress provocatively-or even slightly sexy because we want attention. That's when it's dangerous-when our hearts are seeking after the attention of man instead of honoring God. But, it IS hard because there is no black and white line. Christians 100 years ago would call abominable what we say is OK. And yet 200 years ago, Christian women were wearing extremely low cut dresses in the Regency era that I wouldn't be caught dead in unless with my husband. :-)

Emily said...

Welcome to the Pagus, Melanie and April. I hope to see you here again.

Melanie, I went through the same thing with my girls. Maybe I am thick headed but I can't see how nursing a child is offensive. I always kept myself covered and tried to be discreet but I wouldn't eat my dinner in a public restroom so I never understood requiring that my baby did.

Since that time many of my friends have experienced the same thing, and I take great joy in jumping into the fray on their behalf. Amazing how we have turned something so beautiful and innocent into something so sexually charged.

April, I agree completely. It was harder when I was single, but thankfully, I now have a great husband who helps me. He never dictates what I wear, but when I speak publicly he is quick to point out anything that might be unduly provocative. And yet, he never requires that I deny my tendencies to be feminine or even a little over the top as long as I am not displaying things that belong to him alone.

I believe we are responsible not lead men into temptation, but neither are we responsible for the thoughts of others. This includes men who are aroused by even innocent displays of sexuality - that's their problem. Our femininity was designed to arouse, but not just on a sexual level. As women we should arouse the most masculine parts of a man, including his sense of honor, valor, and chivalry. Too bad both sexes seem to have forgotten this.