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.
- I Timothy 2:9-10
As you read this, please remember that good works and a gentle, quiet spirit are more important than this minor issue of modest clothing.
Over the years, I have often been more than a little confused about what constitutes modest clothing. It appeared that most Christian women's manner of dress imitated the world, being just a few years behind the times.
Compared to the world, we are modest. Underneath this, though, aren't we still allowing the world to direct our ideas of modesty?
Another problem I had was with I Peter 3:3-4. 'Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.' (KJV)
Why does Peter say not to wear apparel? We're surely not supposed to go naked, are we?
The only logical interpretation could be that Peter meant not to be extravagant: no extravagant braids (plaiting), no extravagant jewelry (gold), and no extravagant clothing. Why didn't Peter say what he meant?
I have recently discovered he did.
'Apparel' in I Timothy 2:9 is 'katastola' (kat-as-tol-ay) in Greek. The stola was the basic dress of Roman women in the first century. It was a true dress, cut from fabric, shaped and sewn as we do today. Sleeves would be snug or loose, and short or long. In order to imitate the Greek chiton (which was a length of fabric draped and pinned at the shoulders), Roman women wore jeweled pins at the shoulder. Stolas of the upper classes were made of silk and decorated with silver or gold thread and embellished with pearls and jewels. Gold braid embellished the neckline and the hems were decorated with fringe or bands of a contrasting color. The dress was floor-length, but women changed its length by blousing the bodice section over belting. If the belt showed, it would be made of rich braids studded with pearls and jewels.
Returning to I Timothy — The prefix 'kata' means 'down from'. A katastola would be a stola 'let down', that is, not shortened by girdling or belting.
'Apparel' in I Peter 3:3 is 'himation' (him-at’-ee-on) in Greek. The Greek himation was a sophisticated outer wrap consisting of a single rectangle of fabric wrapped in various ways around the body. Men commonly wore it alone, but women would wear it over the stola or chiton. It was not worn for warmth, but as a status symbol. (The outer wrap used as a coat was a palla or a type of cape.)
Paul, in I Timothy, is instructing us (among other things) on dress length. Peter is teaching us not to wear clothes as a status symbol or fashion statement. I find this study fascinating!
I haven't yet decided what this means as far as my wardrobe is concerned (I don't wear toga's!) but it appears to be saying basically, 'don't be flash' and 'don't be showing too much flesh'.
How much is too much? As in all things, follow the Lord's leading in this, not necessarily my example. Pray, ask God for His guidance, but don't fashion yourself after the world. Be intentional about being beautiful in the modest way that the Lord wants you to be.