Beyond Modest – What Fashion Rules Do You Follow?

by Jen

By Rebecca Bratsman

Modesty Manifesto

No crocs, no denim skirts, and no sweats in public. These are just a few of the rules my sister and I made up for ourselves as teenagers.

Some other guidelines we still follow: pantyhose always makes you look like a lady, jewelry should be fun, and dark denim is always a good bet.

Thinking of myself as merely modest brings to mind large flower-printed floor length dresses with sensible flats and a boxy cream cardigan to accessorize. And that’s not really my style.

What I also don’t want to look like is a store-front window with all of my, ahem, goods up front for display.

And I don’t want to be mistaken for anyone in my mother’s generation (bless their hearts, but I don't).

Fashion Rules to Live By

Here’s where my fashion rules come into play. I have to decide:

  • Do I look too casual? If I’m trying to buy some makeup at the store counter, will the salesclerk help me or will she dismiss me as someone not worth her time? It’s obvious if you only step into the high school hallway that casual is an epidemic. Are pajama bottoms and slippers really okay in the grocery store? 
  • Does the tunic shirt really work with my body shape? Or can I really pull off leggings? Not every style makes me look slim and svelte. Some styles, no matter how much I love them, always make me look an instant 20 pounds heavier. That brings me to, 
  • Do my clothes fit? If I want to gain a quick 10 pounds, I buy my clothes a size too small so that I look like I’m bursting out of them. But who wants to ever look heavier than they are? Not me. I buy clothes that fit and skim my body and don’t make me look like everything shrunk in the wash. 
  • An undershirt (in white, black, or a complementary color) can solve almost every modesty shirt problem. But leggings don’t serve the same function when you wear them under shorts. 

Style Inspiration

I also like to keep a fashion icon in mind when I'm dressing. Some of the style classics are the always chic Audrey Hepburn or the classically beautiful Coco Chanel.

Personally, I prefer Julia Roberts for during the week style and Anne Hathaway’s look on Sunday. And when I say Julia Roberts, think Julia-Earth-Mother with earth colors, ethnic bags, and comfortable shoes. And not Julia as Erin Brokovich with crazy push-up bras under a tank top and a mini-skirt.

On Sunday, I love pulling out Anne Hathaway inspired polka-dotted blouses with pencil skirts and modest kitten heels. To me, she always looks like a wholesome girl, a little bit like a bowl full of polka dotted raisin oatmeal. And I like that look on the Sabbath.

Find a style icon that embodies the look you’re going for. No Hollywood starlet is going to be 100% modest is hottest, but you can find a good number of them who wear clothes that only need a little bit of tweaking to make appropriate for you.

When you’re on your quest for your modest style inspiration, ask yourself this question:

When I first look at a picture, do I see the whole person?

If your eyes gravitate to an actress’s legs or a model’s cleavage, then that girl is more interested in showcasing her goods than letting you see the real her. Remember that when you get dressed in the morning.

And for heaven’s sake, leave the crocs at home.

Rebecca Bratsman writes from the perpetually chilly Northwest where she wears sweaters into June, winter coats to watch the fireworks, and never, never goes to the beach in a bathing suit. Brrrrrr.

What fashion rules do you follow? Leave a comment here to share!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen May 2, 2012 at 9:12 am

I don't personally have a problem with crocs and sweats, but I think it depends what your intention is behind it. For instance if I ran out of the house in something like crocs and sweats, it would be because I'm a busy mom of little kids and I was having "one of those days" where I felt like I was struggling to even do the basics and keep everyone alive and sane. It would be accompanied by no makeup… and I would be embarrassed to be seen looking so bad.

But a lot of teens dress in pajamas and slippers as you mentioned, just to make a statement and because it's trendy. It seems to say "This place isn't good enough for me to actually get dressed." or "I'm so busy or lazy I'm like a rock star – I just rolled out of bed. I don't care enough to get dressed for this." But of course the girl’s makeup would still be done ;)! It’s like dissing the teacher to show up to class in pajamas. Also I think it sends a bad message to guys, as if to say "I'm ready for a sleepover! Your place or mine?"


Eva May 2, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Good advice, but I have a question:  What does it mean when you say "Modest is Hottest"?  I think we should stand out from the world and not try to be "hot" or "sexy modest".  Instead we should aim to be pretty and comely and "praise the Lord in all things", even the way we dress.
Just a thought.


Hannah May 2, 2012 at 6:51 pm

My personal fashion rules that I've come up with are:
1. Keep skirts below my knees… a-line's are nice and really add class! Tiered and gathered… for casual.
2. Blouses that are feminine and NOT boxy (after all, boxes are for packaging) Yes, we are women… hiding under layers and baggy clothes isn't going to remove that… just add extra weight, fabric, and  bumps.
3. After putting on a shirt or blouse, bend over in front of a mirror as if you're picking a toy off the ground. Look up when your in the bent position. If you can see down your shirt, it's too low cut. 
3. Sporty has a purpose: sports! and the occasional exercise day… capris and running shoes, or a casual skirt (and running shoes) for when I'm on my feet all day.
4. By all means… please wear a bra with some padding! Sports bras were made for being active in then changing. It's not very attractive having little bumps showing through those tees!
5. And last of all… pants are a must when riding bikes. Skirts are a crazy idea… they get caught in the chain, fly up when a car zooms past; simply impractical. (Believe me, I tried it once… ((how embarrassing!!))
Thanks for the great article! 🙂


Rebecca May 4, 2012 at 8:56 am

Eva, the phrase "modest is hottest" is used by the teenage girls I worked with for two years to show that they thought modesty was better than the "hotness" that pervades the media today. It's a teenage expression, and not one I normally use in my day-to-day speech. =)
Hannah, LOVE your rules!


Abigail May 7, 2012 at 8:33 am

Too often, after a long day shopping at the thrift stores and finding nothing, it's tempting to buy anything that is modest and fits.  But I've found that if I don't "feel" pretty in it, I won't wear it.  So I've come up with these basic rules for me…..
1)  If it's green or yellow, don't wear it.  I love those two colors, but with the exception of hunter green, I don't FEEL pretty in them.  For whatever reason, those colors make me feel fat.  
2)  Is it totally my style, or is it just okay?  If I LOVE it, I will wear it a lot, and I'll love wearing it.  If not,  it'll sit in my closet and be a waste of space and money.  
3) Skirts and dresses.  I will default every now and then to a good, ol' pair of comfy jeans, clogs, and a nice T-shirt or preferably a blouse, but I feel so much more feminine and pretty in a full skirt or nice dress….even if I'm just running errands!  
4) Sweatshirts, hoodies, old t-shirts, flip-flops, and sneakers are reserved for working on the farm, cleaning house, chilling after a long day, or for one of those cold, rainy, still half asleep and rushing to be in time for class days.  
5) Change out of my pajamas first thing in the morning.  If I don't change, I will feel groggy and lazy the rest of the day.  Getting up and getting ready for the day helps me feel energized.
Lastly, don't worry about what other people think about my clothes!  As long as my dress is modest and respectful, if I want to wear a Nepali outfit to class an 18th century dress to the store, or long dress to a movie, who cares?  I'm determined to be classy, and not settle for casual all the time!  🙂


Eva May 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Rebecca- I understand that, but it still bothers me.


Jen May 8, 2012 at 9:20 am

It always bothers me when I hear people say "I want to be modest, but still sexy." To me that's an oxymoron. Sexy is in the eye of the beholder I guess, but if your whole objective and intention is to be "sexy" in other words to arouse sexual feelings in someone, then that's not being modest.


Francesca January 30, 2014 at 8:32 pm

I never thought about it that way. Thanks for making that point. I think, though, that sometimes women mean they want to feel pretty and up-to-date because people relate modest to plain, frumpy, or old. So a better way to say it would be, "I want to be modest but still stylish/cute." That is a realistic goal.


Laura May 9, 2012 at 6:40 am

I love some of your rules Hanna and Abigail.
I always lean over in the mirror as well. A good thing to do as I figured there is going to be at least one time a day when you bend over or lean forward, making your blouse ect immodest. Secondly, when young I always bought clothing because I loved IT! Now days I only purchase if I think I look nice or pretty in it. That way, I'm not chucking it out in a month's time. Personally, I love dresses!! If I could afford it, I would just wear dresses everywhere and my wardrobe would be full. But unfortunately I can't exactly afford 80$ 60$ or even 40$ per item. So I just slowly collect up more dresses while still wearing formal straight skirts and modest blouses. I also like swooshy, feminine ones with pretty prints. I enjoy a good maxi anything and wear with over jackets. Jeans are always loose for me and worn with a longish top or jacket that goes past my bottom.


Airi June 26, 2012 at 2:48 am

Hi, I enjoyed reading this article. I always thought modesty meant something frumpy, old-fashioned, and ugly (in short, stuff my "religious" aunt would wear). After reading this, I realized modesty is always in fashion! And modest dressers will always be respected.
I'm right with my rules not to wear shorts and sleeveless tops a lot (because I feel uncomfortable in them-not just because of religious beliefs though). Very short-shorts would always look tacky (no matter what belief you are). You're gonna attract jerks with that and also hushed whispers from other people. I like wearing pants but sometimes, I also wear dresses with just the right length. 
Propriety is also good, because going out of the house in your pjs means you don't make an effort to look decent and clean. It simply says, "I'm being lazy". About fashion inspirations, I got some from the blog entries here (especially the article "Color Lovin'"). 
In celebrities, I don't have many fashion inspirations from them, but I like Zooey Deschanel's dresses in "New Girl". I like her dresses there. More power to your blog! 


Ellie July 6, 2012 at 7:59 am

A few years back, we had a personal progress activity at my church, where our leader told us that we were going to play "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes." At first, we were thinking, "What? This lady is bonkers, if she thinks that a bunch of teenage girls are going to play 'Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.'" But, we listened and participated. Our leader told us to play it every time we got dressed for the day, or changed clothes. When you put your hands on your head, your belly should still be hidden. When you put your hands on your shoulders, We shouldn't see your belly or shoulders. When you put your hands on your knees, you shouldn't be showing your behind,  or your "goods". (Your shirt shouldn't be low-cut.)  Same things go for your toes. And you can just have fun with Eyes, ears, mouth, and nose.  
A few rules I live by are:
1. If the buttons are bursting, something else is going to burst. (I learned the hard way, now, I ALWAYS wear a tank under my button-ups.
2. Ditch the T-Shirts. I understand everyone has those days, but if you wear t-shirts everywhere, you will give off the vibe that you're lazy, frumpy, and don't own a decent shirt.
3. If your thighs are peeking, it's probably too short.
4. Earrings are for the ears, not the eyes, lips, tongue, or anywhere else.
5. Go light on the eye shadow, (hopefully), you're not a hooker.
6. Flip-flops should be worn to the beach, pool, or public shower. Contrary to popular belief, they DO NOT go with everything. If you're going to wear them, make sure it's not sunday.
While we teenagers do love the "modest is hottest" saying, we also use "flirt to convert" ! 😉


Seruno November 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm

There's nothing wrong with my mother's generation 🙂 I love the classic style. I think it's lovely.


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