“Vergüenza ajena” and 5 steps towards modesty in dress

To have vergüenza ajena in Spanish means “to be embarrassed for someone, to experience shame that they should experience.”

I personally have experienced vergüenza ajena many times because of someone else’s silly actions, but I’d like to talk about one subject in particular: clothing.

Yes, I know it’s summer, and it’s very warm. There are different ways of dealing with the heat and clothing. We could take our hot weather styling tips from the people in tropical areas who wear colorful, loose cotton dresses and flip-flops. That’s the perfect way to beat the heat.

Being a visual person, perhaps I notice things more than others. One thing is sure: Christian women are not taking as much care as they used to in their clothing choices.

It is not because there isn’t any modest clothing in stores. There is. Midis are in this year in lovely, flowing fabrics, pleated and not. Cute dresses abound. Tops are looser this year. So, it’s not because we can’t.

Getting married? There are more modest dresses now than in many years. Sleeves are back in style. There’s something for every taste for both bridesmaids and brides.

Not very long ago, I asked a large group of women in ministry, “How would you define modesty?” Many replied that modesty begins in the heart with a desire to please God in actions and dress. Some referred to the meek and quiet spirit that God loves (1 Peter 3:4).  

Modesty is more than dress. It’s an attitude.

But, it’s also about dress. God expects women to be dressed in modest apparel (1 Timothy 2:9). This passage is talking mostly about a woman’s spirit. I agree. It seems, though, that women who love God should also dress to please Him.

What modesty and pleasing the Lord looks like varies in cultures and climates. For example, a woman living in northern Alaska will dress to be warm, and the lady at the equator will probably wear a sleeveless, loose dress. Is the bundled up woman more modest because she’s wearing more clothing? Let’s not be ridiculous.

So, if a woman loves Jesus and wants to please Him in every area of her life, how should she dress? I believe we have some hints in the Bible.

  • How do the godly women we know dress (and act)? For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves (1 Peter 3:5a). Our clothing examples should be godly women.
  • We’re not supposed to call attention to ourselves by over-the-top dressing. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel (1 Peter 3:3).
  • Good works and dress go hand-in-hand. Both our sensible, controlled lifestyle and our clothing should form a sweet testimony for the Lord. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
  • Modest. The online dictionary defines modest: “(of a woman) dressing or behaving so as to avoid impropriety or indecency, especially to avoid attracting sexual attention. (of clothing) not revealing or emphasizing a person’s figure.” Granted, different people have differing ideas about what is proper, decent, or revealing.

In a junior-high camp one summer, I taught the girls about modesty. We did an experiment. I had bought a fashion magazine, similar to Vogue—high-class, with full-page fashion photos. We used about fifteen of them, holding one up at a time. I asked the girls as a group, “What do you look at first? What part of the model’s body draws your eye?”

Some of the photos showed off parts of the body Christians would not wish to emphasize. Sometimes it was the cut or shape, and sometimes it was bare skin. A few of the photos only emphasized the woman’s face. The girls responded immediately, shouting their answers. It was obvious in each photo what was emphasized.

I believe it is easy to dress modestly, if a woman desires to do so.

Any Christian woman or girl who wants to please God in her dress can take these steps:

  1. Try the item on in a room with the biggest mirrors you can find.
  2. Ask yourself, where does my eye go first?
  3. Determine: is any part of the item too tight, revealing, or short?
  4. Pray. Ask the Lord, “Does this please You?” Listen for His answer through the Holy Spirit.
  5. Consider if your pastor’s wife or any godly woman you admire would wear this.

Don’t cause other Christians to be embarrassed (vergüeza ajena) for you. Take the time to dress with care.

Modesty in dress is important. It pleases the Lord.

2 Replies to ““Vergüenza ajena” and 5 steps towards modesty in dress”

  1. Amen and AMEN!! I love longer, loose, flowy skirts under which I don’t need stockings; sandals that stay on my feet; loose, comfortable tops made of breathe-able fabrics that cover without smothering. As I age, I no longer wear sleeveless tops and dresses. Granny arms. Loose skin, wrinkly granny flaps instead of triceps :). I’ve been SO thankful to see bridal gowns coming full circle, away from looking more like a slip than a dress. I heard a pastor’s wife years ago say that if what you’re wearing draws attention to anything but your face, it isn’t modest.

    Sounds like a good guideline to me 🙂

    1. Thank you, Linda. I once looked at a guideline for dressing “problem areas.” For heavier arms, they said: wear longer sleeves. I have always followed this ever since! No one needs to see my arms. :o)

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