A glossy new “Vogue” magazine, the August fall fashion issue, was in my purse. We were about to get on a plane, and I needed some lightweight reading material for the gate area and early airborne time before passengers are allowed to use laptops. My interest was piqued by the cover title, “The Age Issue.” In my 20s, I bought the fall fashion issue every August. But in my 30s and beyond, there was no need.  Surviving spit-up didn’t work so well with being “in style.” Durability, stain-resistant, and no dry cleaning became priority clothing requirements.

The magazine’s table of contents features a photo of a voluptuous beauty, reminiscent of an old world painting with the title, “The Return of Cleavage,” page 210. Have you noticed this new trend? Sadly it’s hard to miss. Plunging v-neck blouses, dresses, and jackets sans blouse or top are everywhere. Most disturbing to me are the women on conservative news channels who often, though not always, dress for an evening dinner date rather than reporting and commenting on the news which is usually somber and serious. The cleavage shown while they are displayed on American big screen TVs is truly distracting. And I’m a female. I honestly can’t imagine men watching in their living rooms or the men in the live studios not fighting their eyes dropping the 12 inches from face to breasts!

Fashionistas have always pushed the boundaries in skirt lengths, the sheerness or elasticity of fabrics, and, of course, in the various ways a woman’s breasts are enhanced or hidden. Though I find this new trend disturbing, it’s not surprising. Real women — we moms and sisters and friends — have in return taken the popular fashion trends and subdued them to much more appropriate forms. Intuitively, we know the extremes suggested by designers are not practical, nor are they modest.

Our daughters are the ones for whom I fear. These single girls and young women are particularly susceptible to fitting in, to being attractive. Wendy Shalit’s book, “A Return to Modesty,” is the best rebuttal to the article, “The Return of Cleavage” and to the flagrant displaying of cleavage from the newsroom to the schoolroom. Every Christian woman needs to own this book, especially if you have daughters. My copy is heavily underlined. Ms. Shalit writes, “We’ve mixed up the proper objects of our shame. We are ashamed of smoking, but not see-through clothes for young girls. At college, we are to be ashamed of wanting to learn,” and I would add, but not of dressing like what we used to call “street walkers.” Wendy makes the claim in one chapter, well-documented with facts, that immodesty is a factor in the rise in crime against women in our society. “In our well-intentioned effort to keep our daughters ‘independent-minded,’ we have grown too afraid to give them any advice, to step in on their behalf,” she states. Too many young women would never believe they are inviting not just stares, but far more from young men who are led by their passions. We must tell them. Don’t be afraid of your daughter’s response. Be afraid of what could happen to her if she is advertising her body too freely.

And I sometimes wonder if we should risk telling those girls who are not our daughters and the young women we do not know. Perhaps they have no one thinking about their safety. What do you think?

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6 Comments

  1. Janel Breitenstein says:

    Great points, Barbara. Thanks for talking about this!

    I had a friend once in church with me who was given a note by a woman asking her to please dress more modestly for church, because her husband struggled with lust. Unfortunately, the woman didn't personally know my friend–who already felt like an outsider at church and didn't have an especially close relationship with God–and my friend felt ashamed, ostracized, and angry. I think the woman's intentions were good, but possibly could have been passed through someone who knows her better (like my friend's mom), or just speaking to her gently so that tone of voice could convey love and gentleness and the heart behind her words.

    As the Church, I think you're right–I'm thinking we need to be our sisters' keeper more than we do,areas of modesty included. And now I've experienced personally how important, but also sensitive and potentially volatile these talks can be, warranting a prayerful and very caring approach. (Even in my own experiences, I wish I'd known that earlier!)

  2. I totally agree, Janel, that this is a volatile topic. We must be so careful and wise in pointing out any error we might observe in someone else. Unless we have a relationship it is destined to fail. Which makes the importance of each marriage and family supremely critical. It is in these relationships that the issues of modesty and other "hot" topics be discussed and evaluated. And our churches must be safe places for those who are simply unaware or who do not know Christ.

    May we who do know Jesus be wise and gentle and may we be examples to those watching, not in arrogance or in uniformity of style like the Amish, but in humility ever listening to the Spirit who will guide us into all truth.

    My goal in crossing this river on thin ice is to spark conversation and help us think proactively.

  3. I understand the point Wendy Shalit is trying to make about girls and young women dressing in a way that it may invite the wrong attention from boys/men. It certainly does and girls/women often don't realize exactly how they are effecting males. However, to assert that immodesty is the reason for a rise in crime against women in our society puts the blame on the wrong group of people. If the type of crime Shalit is talking about is sexual assault (obviously it is), the man who is perpetrating the crime is the ONLY ONE at fault. Focusing on how women dress is dangerous territory. Do no fall into the trap of excusing a heinous crime by blaming the victim.

    Women should dress modestly and at the same time men should have self-control. The problem is not just how women dress. It is also how men learn, in our society, to view women.

  4. Rachel, I appreciate your comments to my post. I do not know Wendy Shalit personally but she is an intelligent woman and I do not believe she would place blame for sexual crimes on the victim. Neither do I. Perpetrators bear or should bear total responsibility for their actions. I also believe a woman bears responsibility for her dress and actions before God.

    My point in quoting this sentence from Ms. Shalit is to remind women that we have a responsibility to understand that our immodesty can send unintended messages. It is a sad fact of life in a broken world.

  5. I remember as a teenager my older sister once spoke with me about how females can affect males. I was dating at the time and she and my brother-in-law thought I needed to have this conversation because they knew I was completely unaware of the things my older sister (a young adult) explained to me. At first I felt guilty…as if I had done something wrong, but my sister did a good job of talking straight and reassuring me that I had done nothing wrong, but I needed to be extra careful for the good of myself and this young man. It prompted a short and to the point conversation with my boyfriend who did tell me that there was a particular dress I wore that caused him to struggle. I was appalled and embarrassed. I never wore the dress again. My mom noticed I wasn't wearing the dress and asked me about it. I explained and she was at first annoyed, but then she understood. She was very careful to buy modest things and Dad had to approve so the dress was not immodest in their eyes…but to my 17 or 18 year old boyfriend who had integrity, it was a stumbling block. I may have been embarrassed at first when my sister approached me about being careful, but I am VERY, VERY grateful she cared enough to talk to me!! I think girls need to be reached about this subject in a loving way when they are young, before their dressing habits are formed.

  6. Barbara

    I am a 31 year old newly (1.5 years) married man and like many males have struggled with lust and in the past have been the perv who has gazed where I should'nt have. I have been accountable before and have taken the steps to overcome this; however I beleive this is a struggle most men face, and if a man is not a Christian he cant struggle but only engages. As a husband and one who has had issues in roving eyes, I believe I am a bit sensative in this area and have had to tell my wife about certain gaments she wears in combo with a certain bra that lifts (and she has put on a little weight) that I am not comfortable with. In the past she has heard me and disagreed and therfore it caused fights and hurts on both ends. when she stands striaght up there is no issue but with everyday activity and the fact that she hunches and leans alot and is in class with other men and I dont want them oggling her cleavage. What is the best way to approach this topic so she would care about my feelings. I have enough stress as a husband and just dont need another thing to worry about. Do you have any words of advise or encouragemen.

    Many Thanks