Last Updated on April 16, 2018

About this time of year, I begin getting letters from moms “disgusted” that their daughters cannot wear their bikinis to the youth group pool party, or that there are “no shorts” allowed on the summer missions trip. Recently, a mom emailed me and told me that she was not going to attend the church anymore because of these “dumb rules.” Is she justified?

I really wish that today’s church would have more loving guidelines for women and our teen daughters as far as dress. That’s pretty clear in the ministry that I present. But let me play the devil’s advocate a bit in taking a look at how we should respond to such guidelines.

It’s vital that these standards not be based on legalism. I really find the issue of asking women to wear only dresses and to wear their hair up quite legalistic if the church is presenting those as God’s standards. Those are not God’s standards — it is the preference of their leaders, just as girls wearing one-piece bathing suits might be a preference of youth leaders when they take their teens to summer camp. If they present it as a preference, I really don’t see a problem. (I happen to have the same “preference” in my own home.) When I’m speaking at a church with such a preference, I honor it. Many times I’ve worn a dress when I speak, even though my closet has a lot more pants than skirts. An attender of a church that strongly encourages or requires women to wear skirts to church — or one-pieces to pool parties — must realize that she is placing herself under the authority of that church’s leadership and must be obedient. In choosing to attend that church, she is choosing to obey their standards of dress. (This should be done without complaining! Period.)

If you choose not to attend a church — or an event — based on this single issue, it is possible that you’re more concerned about fashion (and your comfort) than spiritual meat. First Peter 3:3–4 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (NIV). The original Greek actually did not include the word “fine” before “clothes.” And certainly the point is not that we should walk around naked. So, this verse is not saying that we cannot adorn ourselves beautifully. Rather, it is pointing to the fact that our emphasis should be on our internal beauty and not our external beauty. I like to put it this way each day: “Did I spend more time in God’s word today adorning my heart than I did in front of the mirror in my bathroom?”

While there are some churches that get really legalistic — and make it sound like it is God’s will for women to wear hats or skirts — most churches today are just trying to plant some good solid truth into the hearts of a fashion-vulnerable society! So, go buy a stinkin’ one-piece for your daughter, help her learn to be grateful for a youth pastor who cares about her spiritual growth — and about the guys in the youth group who could be tempted by too much skin — and help her learn the lesson of submission and obedience.

Secret Keeper
The Delicate Power of Modesty

Since the original release ten years ago, Secret Keeper: The Delicate Power of Modesty, has sold over 165,000 copies! Why? Exactly! Because Secret Keeper answers the ever-present “why”s about modesty. Why can’t I wear what I want? Why can’t I keep up with every fashion trend? Why do my parents care so much about what I wear? Why is it my fault if a boy stares or is tempted?

In this 2011 updated edition, Dannah adds current fashion language and icons, brand new photos in the new and improved “Truth or Bare” Fashion Tests, as well as a brand new chapter on the progression of fashion. Order now to discover the life changing power of modesty.

Shaunti Feldhahn on Modesty

In this week’s video Tracey and Shaunti talk about modesty and the importance of teaching this virtue to our children.

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  1. I agree totally! I think that the parents need to respect the authority of the church if they choose to send their daughters to the church functions. They also should be teaching their daughters about modesty in their appearance. I have three young daughters and they are already being bombarded with dressing sexy. My 9 year old wanted to get a bikini this year for her new swimsuit and my husband and I had to sit down and talk to her about why it is inappropriate to wear one. Unfortunately, the fact that they even make skimpy bikinis for 9 year olds (and younger) is a very sad fact of the world we live in. I'm so saddened when I go to the beach and she little girls, some as young as 3, running around in skimpy little bikinis. They are being taught at such a young age that all they have going for them are their looks! Our concern needs to be on the heart people! Now, I am not in any way legalistic, but I think we should dress modestly and teach our daughters to dress modestly as well.

  2. I think the main issue here is that parents don't realize the impact of what their daughters wear. As a mom of a pre-teen son, I certainly don't want him exposed to such temptations. This is not an issue of legalism. This is an issue of training our children to be godly in character. And I feel our dress speaks to that. Not that women should wear dresses all the time, but that women have more self respect to cover up that which should not be exposed. This is just one more instance where christians have become desensitized to what the world offers. I think if more women really understood how men are wired and think, they would realize what damage they are causing by not teaching their girls to dress more modestly.

  3. Thank you for the great post. As a youth leader, we must protect the young ladies from the lustful eyes of wolves that would devour them. At the same time it is also important to protect the young men in youth group. It is hard to gaurd your minds all the time and some do not even have any idea that there are young men struggling with pure thoughts and these girls make it very hard for them. Youth group should be one of the safest places for young girls and boys to hang out together and grow in the Lord. As sister in Christ we should be honoring to our brothers by not leading them into temptation.

  4. Anne Marie says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for all you do!! My daughter and I recently attended the Secret Keeper Girl event in Hot Springs, Arkansas and are currently working through the Secret Keeper Girl set. She will turn 10 in August and is so readily absorbing the reasons for why this stuff is important. It is so easy to stand back and just say "it's ok" to following the latest fashion trend. I love that you have stood up and said "NO". We have to protect our daughters but more than that we have to give them the tools on how to make good decisions not just for today, but throughout life. I don't want to just keep my daughter safe, I want her to be smart and know how to think for herself when and stand up for who she is and what she believes in!! Great job Dannah!! Thank you again for all you do!!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I agree with this. I expect my daughter to dress modestly and she has always worn a 1-piece or "tankini". She wears uniforms to school, so we don't have trouble with day-to-day dressing, either. The short shorts and itty-bitty tops are a huge problem. The concern I have is that some of the language being used about how the girls are "leading the boys to temptation" sounds a bit like the old rape defense that "the girl was asking for it with revealing clothes." I know that nobody is explicitly saying that, but, as adults, we have to emphasize that ultimately, boys have responsibility for their actions and thoughts. I would hate to think that if my daughter was victimized (at any level- from harassment to rape), she would be ashamed to seek help because she has been made to feel that her manner of dress had caused it to happen. I have a daughter and a son, so I can really appreciate the balance that we have to strike between encouraging modesty among the girls, but emphasizing self-control with the boys.

  6. I like it that our church as this policy, and I don't look at it as legalistic, but protecting both our daughters and sons!!! My teenage son does not need to be looking at a girl in a skimpy (and that appears to be all there is out there at beaches today!!!!) bikini's. We should care more about our children then fashion.

    I mean really! Last saturday we went to the beach and I believe girls have to shave their pubic area in order to wear some of the bikini's I saw!!!

  7. I appreciate your article greatly as we are dealing with the same issue in our youth group and I appreciate your conclusion; however, I disagree that this is a "preference" issue and not a Biblical issue. Modesty is most definitely a Biblical issue and skimpy two piece swim suits fall into the category of imodest, no matter how you look at it. I don't consider myself legalistic at all, so that isn't the issue either. Thank you for tackling a subject that most just want to forget. I wish there was an easy answer, but we have found that there is not….other than just a "either follow the rules, or don't come," said with LOVE, of course!!

  8. Christina says:

    I understand the debate regarding swimsuits, however it isn't always as simple as buying a one-piece suit. My daughter is 8 years old, 4ft. tall and 45lbs with a 14 inch waist – not exactly the normal build for a young lady of her age. Every one-piece suit she tried on exposed her private and bottom. We had to chose between her belly being exposed more than we'd like or it gapping at the top and revealing too much there. We had to resort to buying her a mix and match two piece suit. Finding mix and match pieces for young girls isn't easy. There are only a handful of retailers that carry them and they're priced accordingly. We were able to find mix and match pieces and finally found a combination that fit, however her suit cost more than what I feel many parents would be willing to send on a child's suit.

  9. Christina says:

    Part two…I'm a bit wordy.

    We have the same issue when it comes to shopping for clothes. Shirts that are long enough look unkempt and are way too large at the top. Pants with a rise high enough to fit her are ridiculously baggy, about 1ft. too long, and not permitted at our school. We do our best to find tasteful and modest clothes for her to wear, however like the swimsuit it comes with a price tag higher than most parents (at least the ones I know) are willing or able to pay. Church leaders need to be sensitive to this issue. My daughter often ends up in tears because she can't find things that are modest and look nice. _

    1. My daughter also has a very long torso/waist–a trait that she's inherited from me. I've found that the Shirts/Shorts swimsuit combo is ideal for her. A few years back, I bought a set at Target {which also came with a bikini top that we don't use} that was roughly $16. Not too bad of a price, if you ask me. While it obviously isn't's a small price to pay for me to have my daughter covered up, yet comfortable.

      As for too short of shirts? We layer. Under all of her shirts that are too short, she wears a tank top underneath–sometimes bought in a larger size so it'll be long enough {if it comes down a bit low, it's gonna be covered up by a real shirt anyway}. She's fashionable, and modest and I'm still frugal. 🙂

  10. should there even be a co-ed youth pool party??

    1. VERY good point. We should not and thankfully we have found a church that separates the teens for swimming and water activities. We have 3 boys and 2 girls and I see all sides of the situation…. 🙂

  11. I totally agree, two piece suits show too much skin. I recently began to take my daughter who is 10 to the city pool along with her little brother. I was shocked to see how skimpy some of the suits other girls wore, many were even younger than her. I wanted to scream DON'T YOU CARE! to the mothers letting their girls prance around half naked! We have a modesty rule in our home, we follow Dannah's Secret Keeper girl guide for dressing. Meaning NO bikini's ever! My daughter accepts this and loves the idea,on a recent shopping trip she reminded her grandma (her father's mother) that "mom and I have a dress code, we follow it all the time." I know grandma was baffled, but it's what we choose.
    I also am an author, my two recent books(Faith Hope and Love and Beautiful in His eyes) both center around modesty, purity and self confidence for teen and tween girls. I also feel the lady written about should honor her churches request's. They clearly had the best interest of the kids involved, and perhaps she might want to cool off, and step back and look at how her daughter (in said bikini) would look to teen boy's? Maybe this might change her perspective a bit? I'm prayerful more mothers will realize what our girls wear does matter!

  12. Try Lands End. If you shop the sales you can find modest suits without a big price. My daughter is super slim at 9 years old and being able to get a slim size and different size top and bottom is a huge help. Also their tankini tops tend to cover well, and they often offer a skirt or shorts option as a bottom.

  13. Standing “O”! Well put!
    And what in the world is wrong with swimming in shorts and a t-shirt?? If the swim suite is too expensive or hard to find, just cover it up. The long term effects on the mind and emotions will only be healthier for it.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Nearly all the pools in our area forbid wearing street clothing in the pool due to the safety risk it poses. Street clothes get very big, heavy, and bulk when wet.

      1. I wear a long skirt and tshirt and no problem in pool

  14. As the wife of a youth minister and the mother of a 10 year old daughter, we chose one piece bathing suits from the time she was an infant. Although there is nothing more adorable than baby rolls, how can we expect modest teenagers if we don’t lay a solid foundation in regards to modest clothing when they are young? My daughter heard about Dannah Gresh’s “Truth or Bare” fashion test at a youth conference when she was 3 years old. I never though the truths she would learn that day would still guide our clothing purchases! She thought the “raise and praise” test was so cool, she has been using ever since. This is just one example proving that if you teach a child in the way she should go when she is old she will not part from it! Thank you for providing a resource we can use to let inner beauty shine from within, while still looking cute and modest.

  15. Just wanted to say thank you for a well written article that balances carefully laid out guidelines with not jumping to legalism. I also agree that if you attend a church you are putting yourself under the authority of that church. My daughter is 2 and we are expecting baby #2, also a girl; and I am already gearing up for the modesty discussions we will have. I did not learn modesty until I was in my 20's when I had a good Christian guy friend who came along side me a discussed some of the things that guys struggle with as far as women and revealing clothes. Needless to say I was shocked to hear that guys struggled that much! I do agree with an earlier comment about not laying all of this on our daughters but dressing modestly is something we can control, it's up to the guys to bounce the eyes.

  16. Stars Family says:

    I am blessed to have two girls, ages 16 and 9, as well as a 13 year old son. I am so thankful that my girls are on board with being modest. This doesn't just happen on it's own, however. They are exposed to the advertising and peer pressure that all girls have to deal with and it's us as parents who have to stay strong and lovingly guide them. For now, my 9 year old only wants to wear boys swim trunks with a boys swim shirt. Tis is completely her idea. Boy, is she covered up. The shorts come down to her knees and the swim shirt sleeves are to her elbows. The added bonus is that I don't have to worry about her fair skin being damaged by the sun. Both girls have attended a Secret Keeper Girl event. In fact, when I took my 16 year old, a friend also took her daughter. The girls have remained friends but are now at different schools. My daughter is constantly shocked and amazed by what her friend chooses to wear and cannot understand why her mother and father are on board with her being so exposed. She fully understands her responsibility in protecting herself but also in respecting young men enough to dress modestly. It's not always easy for her and she has definitely had to sacrifice being just like everyone else or doing what everyone else is doing. But, isn't that what we are called to do? Praise God for Dannah's teaching and I thank God for my wonderful children.

  17. BelongToTheKing says:

    You know I just was having my first "talk" with my 6 year old. She is my oldest and I've just been the wrong example to them for how they should live as a wife, mother & friend.The Holy Spirit has been teaching me that the role I've been playing in my life is far from the one He wants for me, the one He planned for me. The importance of training our children for their roles in HIS plan, not our own for them. Training is more then telling or informing our kids what they should do but we as parents we are to live it and it has to be real. I was sharing with her how God created her for that one man. That she "in a sense" is the rib bone for her future husband. I shared with her that this world is evil and showing her ways the devil covers the evil so we can't see it. This issue of modesty was something I talked about. My question is would God approve of what I or my daughters wear? Would it cause a man to look upon us with lust? Are you causing someone to stumble in their thought life? If its yes to any of these then we shouldn't wear clothes that only hide the most private of parts. You know even if there are only girls at a party I still want my girls being modest. As a mother I have to train my children every second of every day on every issue in life so when they live my husband and I's covering they won't depart from the way of Jesus. If I let things like vanity & self get in the way I'm setting them up for destruction. My children are spiritual beings living in human bodies.. I want to feed their spirit not their flesh.. We as mothers should be more worried about how are children are dressed spiritually then fleshly.. Also I have a son, granted he is only 3, but I have to raise him with his future spiritual life in my thoughts and his future wife. I have to think further then my own selfishness in mind and raise them with God's kingdom in mind.. The devil has/had so many of us blinded and there are so many of us who know the truth but are to afraid to speak it as not to offend. But Jesus was never afraid to offend. I say we should start speaking this in love and get the message out that we want sons and daughters of virtue! Don't take what I"m saying wrong please. I've been going to church since I was 6 and I was trained pretty much like the world in a lot of ways b/c my parents didn't know better. But God has gotten a hold of me within the last year and I'm having to completely jack-hammer my & my family's foundation b/c I've raised my children so far with the idea that times change and we must change with them. Well the bible says God does not change. So I'm going to train my children based on His words. Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." I am so convicted that I for so many years these words and others like it have meant nothing. That I have not taken God's wisdom and used it in my own life. If I continue to raise my children in the ways of this world, won't the same outcome my life had happen to them as well? Sorry I've went on about this but this is so heavy on my heart right now:)

  18. I just came back from a beach trip/worship time with 100 youth. Our guideline was “modest swimsuit”. Most girls wore 1 piece, but some wore modest tankinis…I didn’t see ANY skin around the middle!

  19. “BelongToTheKing”…..your post spoke volumes to me as I am in the same life-changing area you are in. Where I used to be the woman, wife & mother that liked to be fashionable & ‘look good’ for my husband in public…..I’ve recently experienced the realism of how the mind of a man operates in todays world. Sex & pornography is plastered everywhere we turn and has been made into just another sport. I truly believe that young women & teenagers need to be taught what pornography (for example) can do even to a Godly committed relationship. The drug addicting effects of pornography can start as early as the age of 9 or 10 years old. And the part that females can play a role in is learning the importance of being modest

    Women……having your cleavage hanging out @ a doctors appointment is not my idea & thought of showing what the dainty & simple cross pendant you’re wearing around your neck represents to you.

  20. I have a slim soon to be 12 year old and we have almost shunned normal swimsuit altogether. We bought an exercise top and leggings. Both are the dry fit material that is made to be wet. Then we found that boys/mens swim trunks cover well and look great with our tops. Both mom and daughter wear this. We are modest and stylish. As far as boys, my son is now required to wear a rash guard shirt with his trunks. The stumbling can go both ways and I would hate to know one of us was the object of that stumble.

  21. Mrs. Matteson says:

    I, for one am not a fan of teens swimming together in conventional “swimwear.”. Even a one-peicer or tankini isn’t very modest. My pre-adolescent son and husband wear short-sleeved rashgaurds with their trunks and my daughters and I wear rashgaurds with board shorts/skorts. I don’t think I should wear any less to the public beach or pool than I would to Walmart or a back yard barbecue.

  22. Ladies, do you REALLY want modest AND feminine swimwear? Some may view these as extreme, but I think they should be the norm in Christendom. If your first thought when seeing these is, "I wouldn't be caught dead in that!", I strongly suggest you check your motives. Do we truly seek modesty and femininity or, when it comes down to it, do we fear looking different or "uncool"?

    1. I love simply-modest's suits! I recently reviewed a pattern for my blog, and I have to say I think it's the prettiest swimwear I've ever owned.

  23. I agree completely with your statement!

  24. I just know that when I was on a mission trip our youth group had the same 1 piece rule. However, I went shopping earlier in the season for a swimsuit that was expensive. It was a 2 piece tankini that showed approx 1″ of my midriff. I thought it would be dumb if I had to buy another swimsuit just to accommodate my church’s modesty requirement for girls only. They made me put a huge tshirt over the tankini and made me feel like I was a terrible human being for wearing such a suit. I was annoyed because many girls swimsuits were more revealing (low neck line) than my 1″ inch of skin. It has forever since given me a bad taste in my mouth. Men have to deal with girls all their life and in our culture bikinis are ok swimwear. Why put all the pressure on girls for a problem men have? Why not teach men to value women instead of making modesty requirements for women only. I feel that it really teaches females that their bodies are dangerous and women are responsible for men’s actions.

  25. Sisters in Christ Jesus, let me tell you that I found this sight by checking the history on my son’s computer! He has been looking at all the church pool party pictures he can find on the web!!! Anything tight or skin showing can turn men to look and lust!! PLEASE COVER YOUR GIRLS, or they are part of some boy’s mental adultery !!!!!!!

  26. I am a youth pastor and forced at one point in time to enforce the “one piece” rule. Thankfully I switched churches and am no longer the modesty police. I wrote a post here about the modesty police I think it’s the parent’s role to help their child figure out what is appropriate or not. It shouldn’t be the youth pastor.

  27. Ok,here is something else that i need to get an opinion on.We are Catholic and our parish is quite strict and highly stresses purity and abstinance before marriage on the preteen and teens.For their sacrements the preteens and teens have to wear all white outfits.For all the kids being baptized at easter vigil,the boys have to wear a white suit and the girls have to wear a poofy white,top of the knees baptism dress with a head bonnet,white undershirt,cloth diaper,plastic pants,white tights and white mary jane shoes.In the past,most of the teen girls push the dress length to midthigh length and even shorter! Our daughter is 16 and will be recieving her sacrement of baptism at easter vigil this year and she is talking about her dress being midthigh length! Keep in mind,the girls bend over to recieve the water on their heads just like the boys do,and since the girls dresses are poofy,they go up in back and everyone can see their diaper and plastic pants thru the tights.I am afraid this will happen with our daughter and have mentioned it to her,but it doesnt seem to phase her.what can i do?