Modesty Then and Modesty Now

Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary

MOD’ESTY, n. [L. modestia.] That lowly temper which accompanies a moderate estimate of one’s own worth and importance. This temper when natural, springs in some measure from timidity, and in young and inexperienced persons, is allied to bashfulness and diffidence. In persons who have seen the world, and lost their natural timidity, modesty springs no less from principle than from feeling, and is manifested by retiring, unobtrusive manners, assuming less to itself than others are willing to yield, and conceding to others all due honor and respect, or even more than they expect or require.

2. Modesty, as an act or series of acts, consists in humble, unobtrusive deportment, as opposed to extreme boldness, forwardness, arrogance, presumption, audacity or impudence. Thus we say, the petitioner urged his claims with modesty; the speaker addressed the audience with modesty.

3. Moderation; decency.

4. In females, modesty has the like character as in males; but the word is used also as synonymous with chastity, or purity of manners. In this sense, modesty results from purity of mind, or from the fear of disgrace and ignominy fortified by education and principle. Unaffected modesty is the sweetest charm of female excellence, the richest gem in the diadem of their honor.

Main Entry: mod·es·ty
Pronunciation: \ˈmä-də-stē\
Function: noun
Date: 1531

1 : freedom from conceit or vanity
2 : propriety in dress, speech, or conduct

Is it any wonder why there is no real understanding of modesty any longer?



12 thoughts on “Modesty Then and Modesty Now

  1. One of the things I find sorely lacking in the ongoing modesty debate is the point emphasized in the first definition on your list. Certainly it is important to be covered and not sexually provocative and I and my children take this very seriously.

    The other side, however, is the importance of denying your own importance. And this is one of the things that bothers me when I encounter people who are much more rigid with regards to clothing standards than I might be. Whether it is dresses only, or head coverings, or whatever, the aura of self-importance and superior holiness or dressing purely to stand out as different is immodest to me.

    I’m not saying these things in and of themselves are immodest. I have friends who live by these standards that have never made me feel immodest because I am comfortable wearing a pair of pants.

    But I have encountered plenty of believers who look at other believers with a “holier than thou” attitude on the basis of clothing even though the object of their ridicule is perfectly modest (at least by my estimation.)

    Good post!

    Berean Wife Reply:


    I think the key portion of the definition that addresses your comment is:

    “… conceding to others all due honor and respect, or even more than they expect or require…”

    Essentially, we would say along the lines of giving others the benefit of the doubt. But also thinking higher of others than they might deserve.

    While I have often seen what you described, which is a shame :(, I have also had the opposite happen to me at times. Since I do wear pants occasionally, mostly just at home, I don’t judge others for doing so or not. However, I’ve had others be critical of the fact that I’m wearing a dress when they were not. The “holier than thou” was assumed when I didn’t even think about the issue. Worry about another’s clothes is something I would rather not do. Now when it gets to immodest attire that will bother me! Mostly because I’m more aware due to having older boys.

    I don’t think society really has a clue about modesty in character any longer. The only thing society tends to understand is “looking out for number one” or being a “doormat“. Oh, but there is so much ground in between!

    In this sense, modesty results from purity of mind, or from the fear of disgrace and ignominy fortified by education and principle. Unaffected modesty is the sweetest charm of female excellence, the richest gem in the diadem of their honor.”

    Isn’t that what our women, young and old, need to regain?

    Berean Wife

    [email protected] grace Reply:

    I agree with you Berean Wife, wholeheartedly. While I am not a “dresses only” person, I do wear skirts regularly, about half the time, because I lament the death of femininity and the culture of androgyny that we live in.

    I guess my comment was more along the lines of, Which is worse: the woman who is less than modest but really doesn’t have a clue that she
    is immodest? Or the very ‘modest’woman who believes her holiness is tied to her modest dress and looks down the nose at another woman, who loves Jesus,but sadly doesn’t have a clue, thanks to this culture in which she was raised? A culture that sadly, infects even the church.

    The purity of mind and fear of disgrace, fortified by education and principle, is lacking in this society and the effects can be seen all around us by the lack of immodesty,even among believers. I am often shocked by the things I see young girls wearing.Girls whose parents are lovely Christian people and strong believers. it is astounding! But it far more common than it should be.

    Berean Wife Reply:


    I believe both the immodest woman and the self-righteous modest woman have sinned. But as we saw in the Bible Jesus had much harsher statements to say for the Pharisee attitude than for the harlots. It seems to be much worse to take the Word and twist it than to ignore it totally. We tend to always be bouncing from one extreme to another. 🙁

    This is definitely an area that the older women should be stepping into and helping the younger women to think about exactly why are you wearing that outfit.

    Why am I wearing this?

    That would solve many issues.

    I must admit I have issues when I see what many Christian parents allow their children to wear. Do parents not teach children anything anymore? Or is it once they go to school the parents are through? It is a shame.

    Berean Wife

  2. Wow, no wonder these young whipper-snappers look at us old dinosaurs like they have no idea what we are talking about when we mention modesty. 😉

    Berean Wife Reply:


    I think that means we really are talking a different language. We will have to define our words more carefully for the “young whipper-snappers” so that they even have a chance to understand. I guess it also explains how some feel they are modest and yet I wonder what they think that means. After reading this definition, even my modest daughters and I can benefit from working upon our modesty in character.

    Berean Wife

  3. I just wanted to stop by and say how much I appreciate and look foward to receiving your emails daily… I know it takes quite a bit of time. Thanks~

    Berean Wife Reply:


    Thank you. That was sweet of you to take the time to let me know. 🙂 It does take some time but usually it is part of what I’m studying or something that caught my attention. Now the different tangents my mind goes off on that’s a different matter ……. I never get written up a third of what is running around in my brain. 🙁 Oh, well.

    Berean Wife

  4. I concure with you Terry, it’s very ugly to see something that could be good turned into a self-righteous badge. There are churches in my area where if I’m out and about I can recognize that people of that church by seeing just a couple of the women together (of course unconverted church members can be a major factor in the extremes).
    However I commend those who seek to be ‘safe rather than sorry’ yet I hope when they teach about modesty won’t present it in a cookie cutter way, but rather setting godly boundaries and principles.
    Unfortuantely many young people (and older) think modesty is tied to a certain time period in the past, but a quick glance over the changes in fashion over hundreds of years reveals that as a lie, I think too many people think in terms of ‘well here we are, now let’s strive to be just a little more modest then them’.

    Berean Wife Reply:


    Other than a few Mennonites that are in the area I would say that around here there are few of the “legalistic, self-righteous” modest women around. Our area seems to be full of the “liberty” crowd which thinks they are free to wear what they like. I have read about churches though that are quite legalistic and cookie cutter about modesty; no more than four inches of ankle may show, sleeves past elbow, no bare footed sandals, etc. But as even our homeschool cover has found modesty cannot be delineated by such lines. A dress to the ankles may be horribly immodest. You can write out modesty rules, only guidelines, it must be dealt with in the heart.

    The “Well, I’m more modest than they are” attitude is easy to fall into. Just as we would never encourage another to hold another’s righteousness as their standard, we should never hold another’s modesty as our standards. Christ and His Word is out standard.

    Berean Wife

    P.S. Thanks for sharing that link. What a tribute for a mom!

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