What’s Modest? What’s Not?

Q: My older sister thinks I shouldn’t wear leggings as pants (without anything over them) to school or in public. She says they are tight and show off the outline on your legs, butt, etc. I see her point, but at the same time, I don’t see the big deal. A lot of girls wear them. They are comfy and go with a lot of outfits.  I could really use another opinion. What are your thoughts?


You’ve got a great question, and I promise I’m going to answer it the best I can. But first, a story…

I was seventeen the summer I spent three weeks in Eastern Europe for a sports-outreach-themed missions trip. We traveled across the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Slovakia playing volleyball and basketball, sharing Jesus whenever we could and rustling up adventures in our down time. It was during one such adventure-rustling that my very Western view of modesty was turned on its naïve head. We had hiked to a somewhat secluded waterfall—a favorite local hangout—and were about to slip into the deep green water in our missions-trip-approved one-piece bathing suits, when my eyes were assaulted by a litany of bare skin. Apparently this watering hole was to be enjoyed sans tops, because there wasn’t a female in the vicinity—from the little tikes to the grandmas—who were covering their upper hemispheres. Ta-tas were everywhere, sister, in all their unbridled glory.

All us North American girls turned beet red, averting our eyes as we awkwardly swam across the lagoon toward the falls. No one around us seemed to think anything was odd, though—well, other than us: a flock of tourists disrupting their reverie. They kept on chatting, tanning and swimming. Just another topless day in the sun. We enjoyed a nice swim before hiking back to the vans. But as we walked back, air-drying as we went, a thought I hadn’t considered in all my seventeen years played at the corners of my mind: What, or who, defines modesty?

Now if you’re worried I’m about to go all nudist on you, I still wear a bathing suit to the pool, never you fear. But I also get uncomfortable when some Christians bust out their rulers and give black-and-white answers to the “what’s modest” question. I do believe we should be thoughtful about our clothing choices, but if you’ve spent any time at all around Life, Love & God, then you know that I am all about helping you girls 1) live in freedom, 2) ask why we do the things we do, and 3) search for answers—especially when it comes to areas the Bible isn’t crystal clear on. I want you to be able to think for yourself—comparing God’s Word with what’s “normal” (culturally, or in Christian circles) and figuring out where you stand on the big issues of life. But you also know that I’m happy to give you some guiding questions or advice to get you started. So here are “5 Modesty Questions” to help you decide whether your leggings (or any other outfit choice) match your beliefs about God and the respect I know you have for yourself.

  1. Why do I want to wear this? I believe God cares most about our motives—what we are really thinking and feeling in our hearts. Is there any part of you that is hoping for attention by wearing this? Or feeling a wee bit prideful that you can “pull it off”? Or ignoring how it might affect others?
  2. Is it a selfish or a self-less thing to wear? As we grow in Christ, we should increasingly live for others, and less for ourselves. Galatians 5:13 says that we shouldn’t use our Christ-given freedom to satisfy our own sinful desires, but instead to serve others out of love. In a sinless world, we could walk around buck-naked and unashamed. But because of sin, clothing should minimize the temptation to sin—both for us and for others. If an outfit shows off parts of your beauty that should remain mysterious to the guys around you, then you have the opportunity to pick different clothes in the name of love.
  3. Is it culturally acceptable? If God is King of your life, then His standards should ultimately define modesty, not the culture. However, culture still plays a role in shaping what is considered appropriate in any given place and time in history. There are dozens of definitions of “modest” around the world—from burkas in Afghanistan to loin cloths in the Amazon. Cultural norms even shift from region to region here in the United States. (Like, there are certain cities where I couldn’t be on stage in my favorite Rainbow flip-flops without raising a few eyebrows.) Is your outfit in line with the general cultural norm for your time and place in this world? Or would it be offensive?
  4. Is this the right context? Context matters. What is appropriate at the beach would get you sideways glances at church. You could sport a leotard and tights at a ballet performance, but that wouldn’t work for school. I explain this idea more in “Is My Uniform Immodest?” It’s mostly common sense, but for some reason, we sometimes push the limits (like the year our junior class president voted for a luau-themed homecoming dance so the girls could wear bikini tops and grass skirts to the dance).
  5. Does it work on my body? It ain’t fair, but some girls can wear certain styles and fit the above criteria while others just… can’t. If you’ve been blessed with curvy-curves, sister, you’re not going to be able to wear the exact same shirt, for example, that another girl might be fine wearing—at least not without foiling Tip #2. Or if you have really long legs, shorts and skirts are going to look shorter on you than others. I feel your pain, because I was right there with you, but I also wish I hadn’t fought it so much. Also in the “Does it work on my body?” category: Dress to your strong suits. Just because a style is “in” doesn’t mean it flatters your body. Pick clothes that highlight your unique beauty.

So… is it okay to wear leggings to school? I’m confident that you’ll make the right decision for you. Filter the question through these tips, ask God to help you be honest with your truest motives, and then wear your decision—for or against—with style.

By the way, I appreciate that you’re both respecting your sister’s opinion and trying to form your own thoughts on this topic about modesty. Keep asking questions and looking for answers!



Share this article!


Get new posts, my monthly Between the Lines newsletter, be entered into giveaways, and become part of my inner circle!

Recent Posts

Popular Topics

My Heart for You

My New Book Available Now

Welcome to Life, Love and God—a place for teen girls to find answers! I’m Jessie. Consider me a spiritual “big sis”—someone who cares a ton for you and wants to help you thrive!