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July 29, 2009

Too Sexy for Church?

Ever have one of those days where you open your closet, and there isn't one appropriate outfit to wear? That's been my experience every Sunday morning for the past month. Suddenly, I can't seem to find anything to wear to church. Skirts that I've worn for months or years now seem too short, too tight, too thin, or too flashy. Every top seems either to show too much skin, or have too much detail around the neckline, or just to fit me a little too nicely. And in my mind, my shoes are either too high, too strappy, or too revealing, what with my heel being exposed and all. I've also eschewed wearing anything with sequins, beading, lace, bows, ruffles, or elaborate stitching - because in my mind, these trims now scream, "Look at me! I'm excessive and flamboyant!"

In short, I'd concluded I didn't have any "appropriate" worship-wear. Just as I planned to run out and buy a whole new wardrobe, a thought hit me: What has happened that's made me now perceive my clothes as too showy and sexy?

For starters, my husband and I recently moved, and I'm now attending a new church. It's tough to be the new gal who's longing to fit in and be accepted. I used to attend a church in Los Angeles, full of 20- and 30-somethings who wore everything from upscale trends to t-shirts and flip-flops. In others words, a gal could blend in whether she came casual or dressy. My new home is in a conservative suburban area, and my new church consists largely of senior citizens. I've been observing other church members, trying to figure out the "rules" for attire here.

And it seems I haven't quite figured out their "dress code" yet. Despite the soaring summer temperatures in Southern California, there have been a couple Sundays where I've been the only gal in the sanctuary who's sporting bare shoulders. Suddenly, my sleeveless tops from Ann Taylor Loft - which I'd once considered ultra conservative - now make me feel like a harlot.

No one at my new church has criticized my appearance. Yet I've felt I've perhaps dressed inappropriately. To get to the bottom of my skewed perception, I asked several of my Christian girlfriends if they ever worry about what to wear to church - and they all answered in the affirmative.

One curvy friend explained that she tends to buy loose shirts to de-emphasize her bust. Another, who is tall, told how she'd been mortified when her knee-length skirt rode up a bit on sitting down, exposing her leg a couple inches above the knee. And another told about the tacit rule of dressing up for church that had been built into her: As a teen, her then youth pastor instructed, "Dress for church like you're going on a date." (Presumably, a date is associated with looking one's best in the teen-age mind.)

My friend's story made me wonder: What's the Scriptural basis for wearing our "Sunday best" to service? Does the Bible anywhere mention that God will be upset if we look too frumpy when we come together for corporate worship? Or too flashy? I've heard some church leaders use the Apostle Paul's words to Timothy to suggest that women shouldn't get their hair done or wear jewelry, lest they sin by drawing the wrong kind of attention to themselves.

But consider Paul's words in context: "Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness" (1 Timothy 2:8-10, NASB).
Is Paul's objective to establish a rule banning hairdos and shiny accessories? Or is he making the point that all believers need to cease being self-focused, and to instead keep our attention on worshiping God? Eugene Petersen offers this paraphrase of the passage in The Message: "Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray - not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God. And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it."

This made me realize: I can't focus on God if I'm constantly worrying that others are judging me. Sadly, my outfit anxiety has kept me from worshiping fully during the past several Sundays. Instead of worrying, I need to ask God to provide friends at my new church, to share my fears with him about being rejected, and to let him comfort me when I feel lonely.

But I'm not going to dismiss my concerns about modesty, either. This has been a reminder to pray for discernment about my future clothing purchases. And when in doubt, I'll take a Christian gal pal to the store with me to get a second perspective.

What causes you to fret over your appearance? In what ways does clothing distract you from focusing on God?

Related Tags: Modesty


I've wondered myself about what is appropriate as I sometimes lead our congregation in the music part of the worship service. I grew up taught to dress up for church and my husband feels the same way. We go to a church that the majority of our peers wears jeans. I really appreciate this perspective. As a leader I think about what I wear per my influence, but I have to remember to not let it override my relationship with God. Is there really any woman out there who doesn't have minny identity crisis every Sunday morning standing in front of their closet?

I am going to a church full of high-fashionable young adults. They do really intimidate me a lot since they always wear the latest outfit in the store and I seldom see them wear the same outfit twice. But back to basic question, we go to church for some kinds of fashion show or for worshipping God. I agree with the statement 'a service is like a date' I just try to dress the best and be myself.

Hi, Bonnie,

I would like to offer a man’s perspective on your second question, “In what ways does clothing distract you from focusing on God?” I am sure my point of view is not the only male perspective, but nonetheless here it is. Since I got saved about 15 years ago, I have sought to sit as close to the front of the church as possible to help me to focus on God and to not get distracted by women in the church. It is not that I attend church where women are scantily dressed. It is quite the contrary. Most women dress conservatively. However, no manner of dress can stop a man’s mind from wandering (See Stephen Arterburn’s book, Every Man’s Battle). Only the man’s focus on God can do that. My conclusion is this: because of the presentation of women’s bodies in the “world” especially in the media and advertising, men have to really stayed focused on God (and their purpose in life) to avoid temptation. Sometimes it is not easy to stay focused on God when a half-naked woman appears in front of you in living color. I’ll tell you that it is enough to face that battle outside of church. I don’t want to face that battle inside of church. So therefore, my suggestion to women (from a man who wants to stay focused on God) is to use the Apostle’s Paul encouragement to “… to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly…”

Thank you,

Akili Kumasi


Here is an article I just read on that topic an hour ago. It is written as a letter to women/sisters in the church. I have also struggled with clothes and this article here on Kyria and on Pure Life have been helpful. http://www.purelifeministries.org/index.cfm?pageid=166&articleid=195

I've wondered, too, about the appropriate dress for church. In reading the OT where God told the priests the importance of how they were to dress, it seems to me that God wants us to think about the appropriatness of our dress. I believe we can honestly know if our dress is over the top and showing too much skin, either on the top or the bottom. This is an excellent article because we need to be all that we can be as women. If we are to stand up with men in prayer there shouldn't be anything that would make them uncomfortable or make me pull my clothes around to cover me.

I have to say I struggle with my clothes because I don't want to look frumpy but yet I don't want to offend anyone. I try to dress well to church because I'm going to worship God, I want Him to know I respect him. I would never go to somewhere important dressed sloppy but in contrast I never want to overdress to hurt anyone else. Take for example, there is a man I know that comes to church clean, hair combed, but his clothes are stained and have holes because that is all he has. I would never want to make him feel out of place because my clothes are flashy. So I think there is just a balance for everything. Just really think next time you are getting ready on Sunday, how would I feel if Jesus met me in church in His bodily form? Would you be tugging at a skirt or wanting to sit by Him. He would accept you as you were but what are your own personal feelings about your clothing. I like to stay dressed nice but if I'm asked to work in the nursery be confident to sit on the floor and play with babies without worry if they were going to pull down my shirt. Don't get me wrong, I struggle with this situation all the time. This is just the way I try to deal with it. My church is mostly older people but then my husband always questions why I wear certain things that cover me. Certainly a skill that must be practiced to stay balanced.

This is always an interesting topic. One good rule of thumb to use when getting dressed is to make sure that they see the picture and not the frame. I have always been taught since I was a little girl to wear my very best for the Lord. I often say tot he young people who say they do not have anything to wear to church, to wear whatever you have but if you can go out and buy new clothes to go clubbing then surely you can use that same zeal for God. I am always in very nice suits and sometimes a hat but I try not to be to flashy as I do not want to be a distraction to anyone trying to stay focused on the word of God.

May i say that this is such a great topic. I myself try and dress conservative for church, however comming to think about it i dress conservative anyway. Not to say im in suits and not showing an inch of my skin, but that im stylish and beautiful without showing all of my skin. Ive been to church and see other young girls wear sexy dressess and when they walk past i see the men in the church Stare at them! This to me is a complete distraction. I believe to dress modestly so the men (and women as they look at each others clothes) can focus on God

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for such a wonderful topic. Form the sound of the comments, most of you are young and it is wonderful to experience young people contemplate and discuss wisdom in thought and deed. Please let me encourage you that our Lord and Savior wants you to render your hearts not your garments when you come to worship Him. I take that to mean that anything that interferes with rendering our Hearts to Him is cause for concern. What I also hear is a concern for what others think when we can't read minds - only God knows what one is thinking; without the obvious nonverbal clues. This kind of bondage can be dangerous if left unchecked. As for me; my guage for church wear is what is comfortable for me - not that I disregard what is appropriate; but comfort is primary. In our church (a very conservative and older congregation) it is not normal to raise your hands in praise to God; until we came. I don't allow anyone or anything to distract me from worshipping our Lord and Savior and if in doing so it disagrees with someone; then my brother or sister has the obligation to point it out to me. So my advice is to keep your priorities straight when you are going before Him. He knows your heart and that is all that is important.

Mrs. Lauretta
Marriage Expert and
Sinner Saved By Grace


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