On Modesty and Personal Style

A blogger I occasionally read posted recently about how she dislikes having the “modest” label applied to her personal style. This comes pretty soon after I received a couple of comments from people in my life about the modesty of my own personal style. One came from Boyfriend, who joked that he never sees my knees when I wore a dress that bared them to work the other day, and the other came from my boss, who was commenting about how he didn’t worry about my adherence to a dress code because they generally just needed to find something to “cover up” some of the employees who showed too much skin at a meeting we host every year.

I’ve written before about how I like dresses that go below my knees and tend not to show much of my body. I joke that my personal style is somewhere akin to “severe English governess,” with my pulled-back hair, below-the-knee dresses, and relatively high necklines. But the reality is that I, too, don’t consider myself a “modest” dresser. I don’t dress this way out of some misplaced dislike for the display of the female body. In fact, I feel nothing but mild envy for those women I see in tiny, fluttery skirts, midriff-baring tops, and backless outfits on a regular basis. In Enchanted April, I’ve had to play a character who is considerably more comfortable baring her body than I am.

The reason I don’t like to wear clothing that shows my body is because I don’t like my body. I don’t consider that a positive thing about myself. I try to find flattering styles that make me feel pretty within the limitations of my own hang-ups, but the fact remains that I often feel frumpy in what I choose to wear, and yet I feel uncomfortable in anything more revealing.

I will take a sidebar to mention how I interact with the men in my environment. When I was younger, I had a problem being harrassed by random men on the subway and on the street downtown. Misguided female relatives would tell me “One day, they’ll stop commenting and then you’ll miss it.” Well, in the six months since I’ve had a job downtown, I’ve gotten exactly one catcall (that may not have been directed towards me, honestly), and I would like to say it is amazing not to have to deal with that on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s because I’m over 30 and perhaps it’s because I dress like Frau Blucher. But I can honestly say that the only sadness I feel is that I don’t immediately assume it is because men in this city have become more respectful. I have gotten a few compliments from women on some of my cuter dresses, which was lovely.

Anyway. I suppose there’s no real conclusion to this other than this: I am not modest; I’m hung-up on my body. I don’t consider it freeing to work within the limitations of my own hang-ups. I don’t consider it freeing to think back to my body when I danced 5 hours a week or ran marathons or woke up at the crack of dawn every morning to do an hour of yoga whenever I try to wear something more revealing and see the softness that has set in (despite the fact that I am not actually fat). So I dress as best I can within my personal limitations. Vintage style has certainly gone a long way towards providing me with positive examples of styles that make me feel pretty and covered. But I imagine the real victory for me would be to go ahead and wear that crop top without wishing I looked like I did a bit more exercise and ate a bit less chocolate on a daily basis.

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8 thoughts on “On Modesty and Personal Style

  1. I related so much to this,I hate people judging me and making conclusions on me because of what I wear.Amazing post.I would really appreciate it if you could check out my blog if you want to x

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  2. This is a GREAT post. I have to tell you, I’m way over the age of caring what others think of labeling the way I dress. At 61 years old, I consider myself a classic dresser with a bit of an edge. I love maxi dresses but not in the Duggar-fundie-modest way. I love them because I don’t have to shave my legs, fake tan and I can even go commando when I wear them–not very modest, I suppose! Look–after three kids and a body that fluctuates between a size 6 and a 10, there are times when I cannot stand my body. Then when I’m at the beach in France, I’ll say phuck it and take off the bathing suit top. It is all a matter of personal taste.
    I do want you to learn to love your body though. You are a great writer!!!! Thank you for a thought provoking post!

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    • Haha, I also eschew shaving and tanning. I hope I’ve come to the kind of peace you have when I’m your age. Honestly, I think I’m on my way, despite how this post sounds. I’ve come a long way since my teens and 20s in appreciating my body for what it is. Thanks!

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  3. I am a modest dresser as well, and it’s not because I don’t like my body. In fact, I cringed as I read your entry and the two comments — please, women of the world, learn to love your bodies!!

    I dress modestly because I like vintage fashion, and the eras that I like — and those that suit my figure — are more modest than current styles. While 1930s gowns are very form-fitting, they are fluid and drapey; they are not sprayed on. Also, those gowns make a choice: leg, cleavage, or back. One thing is revealed; not everything.

    I often look to Dita von Teese for fashion inspiration. She is interesting: she earns a living stripping and posing for “scandalous” photos, but in her daily life, she dresses rather modestly and conservatively. I like that.

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    • I feel the need to clarify that I’m not attacking anyone for not liking their body. It makes me sad that so many people feel this way. I would love for everyone to feel proud of their body — and to come to a place of peace with it.

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  4. I think modesty is something that we can embrace as a good thing, rather than having to clarify that this is not our intention. I used to dress scandalously before I turned my life upside down for a new belief system, but I actually feel more free now that I dress modestly. I have found that I am respected more as a person when I dress modestly and that my ideas are heard and validated. It allows the true me to shine through, rather than everyone focusing on all that is uncovered.

    I hope you can learn to love your body and dress in any way that makes you happy!

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    • I completely respect women who find modest dress freeing rather than restrictive; however, I would not call other styles “scandalous.” I hope you can see that it’s not unreasonable for other women to want that same respect regardless of how they dress.

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      • I by no means think that other forms of dress are scandalous, though I do think the way I did dress would be termed that way. I respect anyone’s decision to dress in anyway they please, just commenting on my own personal journey from baring all to baring none. I believe that everyone should receive respect regardless of any factor.

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