What and What Not to Wear

Mary Kassian

Mary Kassian | 05.17.11
Twitter: @MaryKassian


In 1 Timothy 2:9, the Lord provides three guidelines that help Christian women figure out what and what not to wear: “She adorns herself with respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” Let’s examine these three guidelines to help us ensure that our looks are in good order, properly arranged, and ready to display Christ. 

Is It Becoming or Unbecoming? 

Kosmio is the descriptive form of the Greek noun kosmos (to put in order, trim, adorn, or decorate), which is related to our English word cosmos—the universe. The Greeks regarded the universe to be an ordered, integrated, harmonious whole. Kosmos is the opposite of chaos. So when Paul told women that their adornment should be kosmio, he meant that like the universe, all the parts should be harmoniously arranged with the other parts. It should be “becoming”—that is, appropriate or fitting. Given the context, I believe Paul was implying that our adornment ought to be becoming on a number of different levels. 

First and foremost, your clothing ought to be becoming, fitting to, and consistent with your character as a child of God. But it also ought to be becoming to your body type, becoming to your femininity, becoming to your husband, becoming to the other clothes you are wearing, and becoming to the occasion and place you intend to wear it. There’s a tremendous amount of guidance in that small word, becoming. It challenges you to evaluate your clothes, shoes, purses, makeup, and hair from multiple angles as part of the harmonious, integrated whole of your life—to line up the seen with the unseen and the temporal with the eternal. It challenges you to bring a cosmic perspective to bear on your everyday decisions. 

I like the word Paul chose. It has enormous implications. Kosmio means that a Christian woman’s “look” ought to be consistently put together, inside and out. This challenges those who put an undue emphasis on external appearance as well as those who neglect their personal appearance. It’s a corrective to women who dress extravagantly. It’s a corrective to those who dress seductively. But it’s also a corrective to those who think that “holy” means frumpy, ugly, unfeminine, and out of style. Becoming indicates that running around in baggy jeans and T-shirts all the time is just as inappropriate as being obsessed with stylish clothing. It means that a woman’s appearance ought to be put together nicely. It ought to be pleasant and attractive—on the inside and the outside. 

Is It Decent or Indecent? 

The second word, aidous, is based on the Greek term for shame and disgrace. The word is a blend of modesty and humility. When I think about a word picture that personifies this concept, I think of approaching God with eyes that are downcast. 

It involves a sense of deficiency, inferiority, or unworthiness. It suggests shame, but also a corresponding sense of reverence and honor toward rightful authority. It’s the opposite of insolence, imprudence, disrespect, or audacity. Downcast eyes are the opposite of defiant eyes. 

So does dressing with your eyes downcast mean that you are self-conscious? No. It means that your clothing tells the truth about the gospel. Your clothing shows the world that Jesus covers your shame and makes you decent. Your clothes cover your nakedness as the clothing of Christ covers your sin. 

Dressing “with eyes downcast” means that you choose clothes that are decent in His eyes . . . not clothes that are provocative, seductive, and that honor nakedness. When you dress decently, you recognize that God ordained clothes to cover, and not draw attention to, your naked skin. You cover up out of respect for Him, the gospel, your Christian brothers—and out of respect for who He made you to be. Decency means you agree with the Lord about the true purpose of clothing and set aside your self-interest to dress in a way that exalts Christ. 

So in that dressing room trying on that skirt, take time to sit, bend, and stretch in front of that mirror, and ask yourself, Is this skirt decent? Does it do what it should do? Does it properly cover me up? Does it showcase my underlying nakedness—or exalt the gospel of Christ? 

Is It Moderate or Excessive? 

The final thing to ask yourself about clothing is whether it is moderate or excessive. Paul uses the Greek word sophrosunes. It means “of a sound mind; curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate.” The word indicates that our adornment should be reasonable and not crazy. We ought to rein in our impulses and avoid extremes in fashion, hairstyles, and makeup. We also ought to avoid spending crazy amounts of money or stuffing our closets full of crazy quantities of clothing. We ought to govern our wardrobe choices with a sense of moderation, simplicity, and self-control. If the outfit is crazy extreme, crazy expensive, or if it’s crazy for you to be buying another one, then you ought to pass it up. 

Understanding the purpose of clothing and asking yourself the three questions, Is it becoming? Is it decent? and Is it moderate? will help you figure out how to dress. And don’t forget to include your “Helper” in the process. The Holy Spirit is an invaluable source of assistance when it comes to figuring out whether or not your appearance glorifies God. If your heart is right and you seek His guidance, He will be your personal wardrobe consultant and teach you what and what not to wear. 

© Moody Publishers. Adapted from Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, pp. 103-108.


  1. Great message to keep me concious not to go to extreems of any side. This is a very serious issue which is not being checked out in most churches today. Thankyou for reaching out to many of us women of today. Its true that we ought to involve the Holy Spirit in all we do. I have attended a lunch hour fellowship today and the teaching was on letting the counselor do His work in our lives. Where there is no counsel, purposes are frustrated. This directly means that with counsel they are accomplished. All round even in our dressing. Thankyou very much.
    posted by Anne
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 8:31 am
  2. Dead On, Elyse! Thankyou.
    How this message is needed even in Christian circles.
    I see how some Christian women dress to come to church, in jeans that are too tight, and tops that display breasts that should be covered, and what a distraction it is while I'm singing praises to God. And I can only imagine the distraction it is to the "brothers in Christ"!
    True Woman Blog
    posted by Brenda from Ontario Can
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 8:42 am
  3. Always love that each spring as the weather gets warmer, it is a good time to remind ourselves and our daughters about modesty. Thank you for this wonderful reminder!
    posted by Julie Burkett
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 8:43 am
  4. Great thoughts to keep and to share!
    posted by Susan McCurdy
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 8:46 am
  5. Thank you so much.
    posted by Juliep
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 9:52 am
  6. Great post. Thank you for taking these principles and giving them practical application. I will be linking to this post from my blog for others to be challenged and encouraged by!
    posted by Desiring Virtue
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 10:04 am
  7. I enjoyed reading your blog. THis is very important to know and to apply and to teach our younger even when they are still little.
    thank you for sharing.
    posted by Denise E
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 10:14 am
  8. Thanks for posting this! Over the past couple months the Lord has convicted me on the way I dressed (generally unkept) and I've since filled my closet with clothes that take all of the guess work out of getting ready in the morning, there's nothing too short, to low or too baggy anymore it wasn't easy parting with some of my favorite baggy clothes, but I've found it easier to feel like up too being a woman when I adorn myself as one.
    posted by Amanda
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 10:33 am
  9. In the day that we live when some men are wanting to be women and women are glorified when they act, look and behave like men, I know that God has always, throughout the Bible, shown His desire for His people to be separate and set apart for HIm. God doesn't change! If you study the word abomination in the Old Testament and how God always had a separation for men and women in dress, you will be surprised what you will find. An abomination to God doesn't change. If it was abominable for women to dress like men in the Old Testament, it is just as abominable to look dress like a man in our dispensation of Grace.

    I know society has accepted so many things and if we are honest, they are now trying to get us to accept horrid things that are definitely an abomination to God, then why can't we just as easy see that God likes a distinct difference in men and women. We have different roles and when we are out of sync, things don't go as well as they could and there is a ripple effect in our children.

    We, as His church, should take all scripture and seek His truth no matter how unpopular.

    I agree with what someone wrote here in the comments, how can you go to church or the grocery store, for that matter, after getting dressed in the morning and every crevice is exposed and when you bend over, everything is hanging out and have no conscience about it. Teenagers see it, young men and mature men see it and it is wrong on the part of ladies to know how men are effected by sight and flaunt ourselves in front of them as if we are innocent. We are not innocent when we don't take our modesty or lack thereof seriously. It is serious. Yes, people can just pass it off as "going to extremes" but if you shake yourself and look at the pornography in our society and what it has done to pollute the good sense of men and boys everywhere, we might think differently and be much more prudent in the way we dress.

    Great article today and one that can be delved into even deeper if one desires. Thank you for addressing this ongoing issue.
    posted by Lynn
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 10:45 am
  10. My daugher and son-in-law started setting "boundries" when my granddaughter was tiny. She has never dressed her in 'spagetti' straps on her tops and dresses, and they have rules for how low the tops can be. She is twelve now and knows how to dress modestly. Thanks for sharing this great reminder for all ages!
    posted by grammy4him
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 10:45 am
  11. Thanks for the article. I've been a little grieved at what I've seen in church lately. Dresses that may not be too bad when standing straight in front of a mirror are not quite as modest when the hard winds are blowing outside. And, please, moms, shorts would be a good idea under these short skirts. The church I attend has balconies that have open rails around them. I have seen more than I care to, and I desperately don't want my husband and son faced with that every Sunday.
    posted by Jackie Walker
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 10:49 am
  12. thank you very much this is so important to know and I always believed the holy spirit
    Revive our Hearts
    posted by marsia Diaz
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 11:08 am
  13. I often wondered if there would ever be a way to address this to women in their 30's, 40's and even 50's in our church. It is fairly affluent, and the clothing is fairly expensive, and yet, can be revealing all the same. Not all women mind you, but a good portion. Very high heels, snug dresses, bare arms, cleavage, shorter skirts, lots of expensive jewelry, exposed skin, and so on.

    And then we have the complete opposite....women who dress twice their age, unflattering, baggy, turtle necks tops with to-the-ankles denim, out of style jumpers, no style with hair, and no make-up at all. These are the type of women that non-christian women are "afraid of becoming" when considering a Christian lifestyle when they become a Christian.

    Such extremes, and it seems everyone is turning a blind eye to it. I will be honest and admit that I was afraid of being "one of those" (the dowdy women) when I became a Christian not too long ago and yet, I don't fit in with the wealthy ones, "let it all hang out" either.

    Does anyone else see these two extremes, or is it just me?
    posted by K
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 11:34 am
  14. As mothers, we are not teaching our children these things. Modest clothing applies to our boys and girls. Boys run around shirtless regularly. Girls were shorty shorts. Partial nudity is now accepted in our homes, and churches. This must stink in the nostrils of a righteous God! Oh that women and men, boys and girls, would seek God's Word for direction in everything, including dressing.
    posted by Teresa Forrester
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 11:52 am
  15. Dowdy christians who go to an extreme to hide their sex is repelling. God made man and He made woman. They are different. The balance we need to observe in the church is going to be a fine line. A woman needs to be modest and yet at the same time she doesn't need to 'hide' her femininity by wearing baggy, out of style jumpers and looking like she is on a hayride. A woman can be modest, feminine and clothed. It takes an honest heart, a desire to be a daughter of the King and a willingness to know His word on this issue. I personally love to see women who are well kept, modest, but not dowdy and uncaring, prudent women who love their Maker. Sometimes women in the church can have an attitude that hey, "I am married, got my husband and now he has to live with who I am," and then do nothing to make herself appealing. I don't think that is what God means when He wants His 'bride' to be modest. That is a point too, a bride would not slop herself together. I don't think she would go around in jogging pants and a wrinkled t-shirt either, maybe if you are painting your basement or something, that would be appropriate. Consider what a daughter of the King would be like, also His bride...that may help in the modesty area and the upkeep of oneself. These are just things to consider.
    Remember, one can dress like a lady, be a lady, be modest and still becoming. One just has to find that balance and look to His Word for clarification.
    posted by Lynn
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm
  16. K's comment made me think a bit. Would you consider very high heels immodest? I always thought that high heels helped us express our femininity to a greater degree. I wear heels to church often but have never considered them a temptation or an immodesty. Thank you in advance for your input. I appreciate like-minded sisters who are on this journey together. Lynne
    posted by Lynne
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm
  17. I remember when I was young I would sit next to my mother as she put on her makeup and coiffed her hair in the bedroom mirror. I always thought that she was beautiful. My mom taught me how to be modest. She taught me the importance of taking care of my appearance without being vain or overly obsessed. She did not condone wild hair styles, loud and excessive makeup, and overly strappy, extremely high heels. Yes, even shoes can be sexy and present an image that is less than wholesome, especially now. I am 30, and the young women my age are wearing ridiculously high heels that they cannot walk in and that makes them look quite frankly like they should be dancing in a gentleman's establishment. It grieves me to see so many women, young and old, not dressing modestly but also behaving immodestly as well. I am thankful that someone is still preaching the truth of God's word even in our "modern" society.
    posted by Teneshya A. Miller
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 1:08 pm
  18. Good discussion, but please don't make "rules" ... Godly people can wear this but not that ... Refrain judging other people's decisions. Consider Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 7:3-5, Romans 14 etc., and quietly lead by your own example and choices.
    posted by Frank Ferguson
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm
  19. Passing this on to women's ministry leaders and recommneding this to our Raising a Modern Day Princess leaders. Excellent!(Really helpful here in Ca, close to beach . . .often we women need a reminder where weather is warm:)
    posted by Pam Farrel
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm
  20. Modesty--thanks for a reminder. I will never forget a discussion that even talked about how immodest can even mean staying in clothing that used to fit.

    I agree that teaching our children how to dress should start young, but I love talking to my daughter when combing her hair about how God wants our hearts to be beautiful.

    I also have learned in time, pray for your men ladies!!Unfortunately this is something they have to face, even in the church.
    posted by Melissa
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm
  21. Thank you for addressing this issue. Seems like most churches have given up mentioning this part of the Bible. The comments here show many opinions about what being modest in dress should look like. There is a wide variety of personal taste expressed by our outward appearance. Many women (and men) grow up without any understanding of modesty/purity or the need for it. In fact they hear opposite messages all the time. "Frumpy" may not be desirable but it isn't likely to lead men to lust instead of worship on Sunday morning, or any other time. Hopefully with the Holy Spirit's guidance and some self examination we can learn to honor God with true modesty and lead our children to do the same.
    posted by Julie
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm
  22. I agree with Julie. Faced with a choice, I would rather err on the side of too "frumpy" rather than too "flirty". That said, I have found, in the past 10 or so years, that it is increasingly difficult to find nice tops that do not have plunging necklines. Turtlenecks don't flatter me, so I wish clothing designers would create attractive sweaters and tops with modest necklines.....also,
    decent length skirts. I envy women who know how to sew, and have the time to make their own clothes to please their taste and also honor God!
    posted by Karen K
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm
  23. This topic is so very important to mothers who purchase their children's clothing and sometimes even encourage younger girls to wear seductive clothing.

    Our church instituted a wedding dress code after a bride came down the aisle in a strapless, see-through past the naval gown. Other mother's of brides complained so much about the new dress code that it was changed back to no dress code.

    I continue to pray for women's hearts to be broken in this area.
    posted by Nana
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm
  24. I really liked this article. As a pre-teen, I was majority of the time made fun of due to my glasses, uncool clothes, not wearing makeup or had bad acne and long braided hair. People from in my family, classmates, friends, and all made fun of me or had some critical comments. These people would say the most cruel things to me about my physical appearance and modesty. They would tell me to be like someone else or fit in with the changing times. I always thought that something was wrong with me and would get hurt. More and more people were belittling me saying negatives about me who I am or what God had given me. There were many times that I cried. I always wore clothes that were modest and all. Even in my 20's I still got made fun of, but God kept me strong and considers me very beautiful. It's not about the clothes, accessories, shoes, haircuts, makeup, and such that make up a person's identity. It is the character of the person. I really feel that times have changed and more younger boys and girls are brainwashed into conformity from social networking sites, media, fashion, and all. It doesn't surprise me that people from different age ranges have low self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, and all. I maybe an uncool person to many people due to not being a fashionista, but I have a good character and I honor God through living a life of service and appreciating the finer things in life. This world is messed up teaching people that beauty defines a person along with wealth, education, etc. It's all about the character. I wished more people would be modest in their dressing habits. I always see people on tv, magazines, at malls, worship places, and all dressing inappropriate. I don't expect that will changes or the problems associated from that dressing. It seems that fashion is getting worse with shorter shorts, more revealing tops, shorter skirts, and all. If you look at the juniors section the clothes are not appropriate. It seems that fashion and media will target even younger children. My advice is dress modestly and teach your family as well.
    posted by Godsgirl
    on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm
  25. You Go, Godsgirl! Love what you said and how you said it!
    posted by Lynn
    on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 12:12 am
  26. I don't want to sound dense, but Melissa said to "pray for our men" - I have heard that before regarding men and what they face when it comes to this issue. But what exactly do I pray about? What would my prayer be exactly? Can someone help me with my prayer?

    Thank you
    posted by L
    on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 10:11 am
  27. L,

    Praying for our men to make a covenant with their eyes that they would only have eyes for their wife. I also pray for a hedge of protection about them that temptation would be lessened for them to look or desire after another woman. That is my two cents.
    posted by J
    on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm
  28. Yes, women of all ages KNOW (or should, over the age of say, 10) what Jesus would approve of.

    But I'd just like to share the comment of my 30 year-old daughter.

    For Mother's Day, she bought me a rather lovely skirt and when I tried it on, she said it was WAY too short (and I'm 58 :o) so, I wear it with leggings! (And she said, oh that's cute, Mummy!)

    And yes, men do respect women more who conceal more (in addition, it's far more elegant) at all ages, and the same applies to make-up, jewellery and general behaviour and body language.

    It also makes them feel more comfortable when they don't have to avoid seeing it all "hang out".
    posted by brownjudy
    on Monday, May 23, 2011 at 12:17 pm
  29. My soul is just filled with Joy because of this Article,
    I was recently at a gathering and we had a talk about how women should dress and how they should carry themselves this article is a perfect example of how women should think before they buy their clothing because in holiness we as woman have to be covered and I just love 1 Timothy 2:9 because it states that a woman should dress themselves in a respectable manner not just kind of what and being in Christ doesn't mean that you can't look nice because I wear skirts everyday all day and as I was brought up you wear them at knee length or longer and I still get compliments. But inspite of all this our purpose is to serve God and wittness and draw souls but you have to look becoming to holiness to do so. Pray for me that I be everything that God is calling for in these last and evil day!
    posted by Jessica
    on Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 12:11 pm
  30. Jessica,

    Praying today that the presence and power of the Risen Savior would be seen through your life and would be used to draw many to His glorious gospel. May His light shine brightly through you, precious friend.
    posted by Carrie Gaul
    on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 11:57 am
  31. What about covering the hair? I know it says in the bible women should cover their hair while praying or going to the lords house.
    posted by Heather
    on Monday, June 17, 2013 at 7:34 pm
  32. @Heather..Thank you for your question. Concerning the verses in 1 Corinthians 11 about head coverings, godly people have different views regarding the application of this particular passage. In such cases, the Bible instructs us that we are to avoid violating our own sense of what is right because acting in unbelief is always sinful (see Romans 14 for what the Bible teaches about disputable matters). We encourage women to really look to the Lord for guidance to determine His will for each specifically in this area.

    We believe that there are two things that are clear from Paul’s words: First, it is vital that Christian men and women maintain clear-cut distinctions—men ought to be distinctively masculine and women distinctively feminine. While masculine and feminine distinctions will vary from culture to culture and era to era, the lines should not be blurred. The second thing is that it should be evident that women are walking in submission to God-ordained male leadership. She can demonstrate that she is in submission to God as she submits and responds to the leadership of male authority.

    The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has a section on their Web site which addresses various gender-related questions. If you are interested in reading what they have to say about the passage in 1 Corinthians 11, this link (http://www.cbmw.org/Online-Books/Fifty-Crucial-Questions/Fifty-Crucial-Questions) will take you to a page that addresses that question. Click on Question 32.
    posted by Sarah, with the TW Team
    on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 10:07 am
  33. It's all about the flesh, the pride of life. Ladies want to do things the way it suits them, regardless of what the scriptures say. We dont want to stand out. We'd rather blend in with the crowd. It took me 28 years after giving my life to Christ to yield completely to the Lord in the area of hair, jewellry, make up and covering. Like one of commentators pointed out, I would rather err on the side of caution than be sorry. It must be a crucial matter to the Lord for Him to have these things in the Bible. If it wasnt important, He wouldnt have mentioned them (modesty). No wonder the world and the devil are wrestling and twisting the Word so hard in order to confuse people. That everyone is doing something doesnt make it right!! I have done away with these stuff because I want to please the Lord. Its not about me but Him. Whether we like it or not, our (in)actions will echo in eternity. What a shame to find out in eternity that it ACTUALLY did matter!!!
    posted by Ucy
    on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 9:18 am

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