Modesty Dressing: A New Definition

body positivity Mar 08, 2019

Recent years has seen a small increase in diversity within the fashion catwalk world and it is at last, a growing trend. Models of different ethnic origins, size and age are now becoming more widely used. But there is still much work to be done across not just the fashion and beauty industry, but the acceptance of diversity in everyday life too.

Change should not only be in the industries where looks have traditionally dominated. It’s time to educate boys, girls, men and women that those who choose to use their looks in terms of the ‘attractive gene’ or whatever nature has provided, is just as acceptable as using their bodies to become a top athlete or your brain to be a scientist.

Anyone who ends up in the public spotlight is often been considered ‘fair game’ and judged on their appearance, a target for commentary in the media and those internet trolls. This type of judgment has spilt over into workplaces, schools and families. Add in the influences of Baby Boomer parents, who also judged on appearance – but in the guise of ‘modesty.’

I’d like to take it a step further and pull this type of now dated and unacceptable judgment of someone, based only on their appearance, into the arena of what we as women choose to wear. I stumbled across this twitter thread where the term 'modesty dressing' is discussed. 

“The main premise of 'modesty' culture is that women need to dress in a way that doesn’t provoke a sexual response in men. Which is insane.

Men claim that a woman is worth more if she dresses in a certain way. As if covering flesh somehow earns a woman value, all because it doesn’t evoke a sexual response in men. And then, if a woman doesn’t cover up? Well, now a man has the right to chastise a woman, call her names, say she is slutty and wicked. All because 'he' is having a sexual response!

Newsflash: Women’s worth is STATIC. It is inviolable. It doesn’t change with what she does or doesn’t wear. And a man’s sexuality is HIS OWN RESPONSIBILITY."

Josh Weed (edited) 

It is important to remember that the definition of modesty depends on context, time and place.

The male gender is being called out in this tweet but the values of low self-worth are often rooted through female to female commentary too. Too old, too thin, too fat to wear ‘x, y or z’. Cover it up, has she no sense of decency? Leaves nothing to the imagination….How many of you have had your mother or father tell the teenage you; ‘You are NOT going out looking like that!”

Provocation, flirting, erotic, she was ‘asking for it’ behaviour. It’s much more than what she is wearing. But even still, the reaction is in the observer and both sexes need to recognise this and refrain from acting. With half of 18-24 year old women saying they've been sexually harassed in a public place it is a glaring issue that requires action. 

Some of you (though I hope not many) may have experienced this type of labelling and behaviour. From a fleeting remark or wolf whistle to abuse or discrimination as the result of being ‘immodestly’ dressed.

The view men need to understand today is that it is about much more than what a woman is wearing. It is about consent. They have to take ownership of their arousal and choose not to act on it. Heck, if I drank every bottle of champagne that winked at me I’d be a penniless alcoholic! It’s about recognising desire and choosing not to act on it unless consent is given. And that goes for any advance, verbal or physical. Let’s not lose sight either of balance. Not all men are triggered and certainly don’t act on their thoughts even if they were.

We need to include husbands, partners, sons, nephews and grandsons in this very important and seismic shift discussion. I didn’t grow up being told I was pretty or beautiful or lovely or any such looks based commentary. And that’s not a criticism of how I was raised. In fact, it’s probably given me the objective view I do have on the oh so fickle fashion and beauty world. As a child my relatives and peers would ask; what have I been doing at school, how was my dog or pony? What did I want to be when I grew up? Where had I been last weekend, what was I doing tomorrow? The current norm, to comment on appearance as the conversation starter; just wasn’t a thing back then – certainly not in my family circles. How lucky was I to escape this looks-obsessed ‘conditioning’ in my young years!

Clothes are self-expression and about how they make you feel. I am often asked, “Am I too old to wear this?” And the answer is not about your numerical age, it’s only if you feel uncomfortable. People are increasingly buying fashion based on their psychographics and I applaud that, rather than outdated stereotypes.  If you want to wear a mini skirt when you are 80, why not? Bikini on the beach and you’re not “Beach Ready” - bring it on. Skimpy dress and “she’s asking for it?” No, she’s not. She may be seeking attention, she may be incredibly proud of her body, she simply might not care what others opinions are of her barely clad appearance, but it is not our place to judge or comment.

Let’s not have men as bystanders in this culture shift and instead make sure they are part of this change. International Women's Day raises awareness of issues particular to women but the best solutions will happen when we include men and unite men and women together.  

Beauty is no longer in the eye of the beholder. Beauty comes from within each of us. 

Stylish Wishes 


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