What God's Word Has to Say About Dress Codes

Recently published an article praising a high school senior for showing off her shoulders. They hail Tori DiPaolo for:

[fighting] back against her high school’s sexist dress code… [and calling] out rules held by… countless other schools that female students [must] wear clothing that fully covers their shoulders and bra straps so as not to ‘distract’ their peers—especially those of the male variety—from their schoolwork.

In her senior yearbook picture, DiPaolo wore “the off-the-shoulder gown all female students at [her school] are required to wear for their senior photos.” Below the picture is her senior quote: “I’m sorry, did my shoulders distract you from reading this quote?”

According to Allure, DiPaolo tweeted an image of her yearbook entry with the caption “Tori:1, Dress code:0.” The picture has “more than 300 retweets and 800 favorites,” and the accolades of dozens of DiPaolo’s new fans. The article cites two other recent examples of girls and their mothers fighting back against school administrators and their dress codes.

As a woman who has worked in youth ministry for more than a decade, I have had my fair share of dress code conversations. Straight out of college I was eager to engage in such discussions, confident that I could change hearts with my men’s length gym shorts and extra wide tank top straps. The more I studied modesty and sought to teach it to our students, the more I realized that the amount of fabric on any given article of clothing was irrelevant to the discussion. Instead of teaching girls to measure the inseams in their shorts, I wanted to model for them a heart that values modesty. God’s Word has given us guidelines for modesty that have outlasted all fashion trends:

 1. My clothes should respect those in authority

I Peter 5:5 tells us:

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Fighting the rules in place by those around you is a sign of pride. It is an attitude that says “I know better, so I will do it my way.” To knowingly go against the standards set for you by those in authority over you shows your focus is only on yourself. If you still struggle with this, Romans 13 has a great reminder that it is God who places those in authority in each of their positions. Knowingly violating a dress code is a sin because you have failed to respect someone that God placed in that position. If you are rebelling against the policy of an organization, you are disobeying God and placing yourself in a dangerous spot. Just as Peter reminds us, God is actively against the proud.

2. Our focus should be on showcasing Christ, not our bodies

The focus of lives should be to point to Jesus, not ourselves. I Peter 1:3-4 tells us to enhance ourselves not on the outside, but on the inside:

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

I Timothy 2:9 repeats these instructions:

Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.

These verses do not condemn wearing a necklace or braiding our hair, instead, they speak to the heart behind the pearls and the ponytails, shifting our focus to the heart. If my heart before God is wretched, it does not matter what clothes I have on. It is possible to cover every inch of your body with fabric and be displeasing to God.

God wants our hearts. He wants us growing to be more like Him and pointing others to Him. My favorite thing in working with women (of all ages, because modesty does not expire when one leaves high school) is when their heart for Jesus shines so brightly I do not even notice their clothing. But always, when I stop and think about such godly women, their clothing is just an outward reflection of their heart for Christ. Do likewise; draw attention to Jesus before yourself.

3. Not being a stumbling block is still required of us

I have noticed a troubling trend in modesty conversations. Instead of examining one’s heart, many argue: “Well, they shouldn’t be looking.” True, but do we live in a world of sinless men? No. We do not. While I pray you are surrounded by godly men who are actively fighting this temptation, the reality is that we live in a world full of sinners (just like you and me). While you are never responsible for the sins of others, we are commanded to think about our actions and how they will impact others.

Paul speaks specifically to the matter of eating meat that has been offered to idols in both Romans 14 and I Corinthians 10. Both passages remind us to “decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother,” and to not seek our own good, “but the good of [our] neighbor.” Scripture makes it clear that we should never knowingly create an opportunity for another person to sin.

Someday we will all stand before God and give an account for our actions. I know I would rather stand there knowing I shopped a little bit longer and spent time considering those around me, rather than just wearing what is convenient or makes me look good. These commands are for us, dear sisters in Christ, and we must take them seriously.

While I know nothing of the faith of the girl in this yearbook showdown, I do know that if you love Jesus, modesty is what God has called you to. Use your wardrobe to reflect the One who made you and knows you inside and out. When your heart is pursuing more of Jesus and living for Him, these three checkpoints will be natural for you to measure up to. Check yourself in the mirror each day and stop to consider if your outfit draws more attention to your curves or to Christ. I promise you will be glad you did when you stand before Christ someday.