You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Guidelines for Taking Up Modesty

My disciplines for this Lent are not modesty-related, but I've had several people approach me this year and last thinking about taking up some form of modesty for Lent. Although this is a little late for your Lenten practice, if you're considering taking up modesty next year or for another reason/season, maybe this will help.

So here we go: basic instructions for taking up modest dressing.
1) Do your research! And start with your own tradition. I know that sounds hypocritical coming from someone who chose to go outside their tradition, but I looked at mine first! It's just about getting to know your options. Many denominations of Christianity have rich traditions of Plain dress, like the Mennonites or the Quakers, and many other Christians have adopted these traditions. Many others have traditions of modesty, such as the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) or the Pentecostal Church and Christians from all walks of life consider head covering. For Muslims, obviously hijab is the main form of modesty, but hijab can mean many things to many people. Jews have tzniut, but that too can vary in what people consider to be modest and so you should check out all your options.
I also encourage (women as well as men) to look at the requirements for male modesty in religion. My Woman once said that the only modesty requirements she ever felt a real connection to were those for Muslim men-- covering naval to knees. For me, I find that I'm compelled to cover my head, but I identify more with why Jewish men cover their heads than why Christian, Muslim or Jewish women cover their heads. In the interest of equal devotion to God, many Reconstructionist or Reform Jewish women will cover their heads with kippahs like the men do.

2) If you are adopting someone else's tradition, be mindful of how you present yourself both to followers of that tradition and outsiders. For instance: is it a good idea to wear a hijab and a mini-skirt when you go out drinking? I don't have the answer there. I can tell you, though, that if the answer is yes, you're going to be explaining yourself to a lot of people.

3) Go shopping! I have to admit, I like this part. :) But it doesn't have to be expensive! If you're going tzniut, check out, if you're going hijabi, check out For anything, check out Etsy! And don't forget to check out your local Good Will or second-hand clothes store. But not Salvation Army, please.

4) Do not throw away your old clothes! Unless you have been debating this move for years and years and years, please do not throw away your old clothes. I have a couple of reasons for this. For starters, you never know when you might be able to incorporate your pre-modesty-modest clothes into your new modest get-up. Check out this hijabi mini-skirt idea. Secondly, at least for me, that throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater attitude tends to mean that what I'm getting into is not actually a calling, but a fad. (Tarot cards in your teenage years, anyone?) In that regard, I think keeping your old clothes around gives you a way to ease back into your old life if it is a fad with as little drama as possible. Again, I'm not saying any one practice is always a fad, just that bandwagon-jumping is not modest and if you are looking to practice modesty, one should do as little bandwagon-jumping as possible.

Those are my thoughts for anyone considering a modest dressing path. Questions? Suggestions? I'd love to hear them!


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