Modesty, sculpture by Louis-Léopold Chambard, 1861
Recreation on a California beach in the first decade of the 20th century

Modesty, sometimes known as demureness, is a mode of dress and deportment which intends to avoid the encouraging of sexual attraction in others. The word modesty comes from the Latin word modestus which means 'keeping within measure'.[1]

In this use, revealing certain body parts is considered inappropriate, thus immodest. In conservative Middle Eastern societies, modesty may involve women completely covering their bodies with a burqa and not talking to men who are not immediate family members. In Christian Anabaptist and similar sects, it may involve women wearing only ankle-length skirts, blouses up to the collar, and often a small head covering or shawl. Among both and others, a one-piece swimsuit may be considered modest while wearing a bikini is not. In most countries, exposure of the body in breach of community standards of modesty, as well as public nudity, is considered indecent exposure and is usually punished by law.

Nudity may be acceptable in public single-sex changing rooms at swimming baths, for example, or for mass medical examinations of military personnel. A person who would never disrobe in the presence of the opposite sex in a social context might unquestioningly do so for a medical examination, while others might allow such examination but only by a person of the same sex.

Overall, standards of modesty vary widely around the world because of sociocultural and contextual differences and particular situations.


1868 diagram from Harper's Bazaar showing proper girls' skirt lengths increasing as they grow up

Standards of modesty discourage or forbid exposure of parts of the body, varying between societies, which may include areas of skin, the hair, undergarments, and intimate parts. The standards may also require obscuring the shape of the body or parts of it by wearing non-form-fitting clothing. There are also customs regarding the changing of clothes (such as on a beach with no enclosed facilities), and the closing or locking of the door when changing or taking a shower.

Standards of modesty vary by culture or generation and vary depending on who is exposed, which parts of the body are exposed, the duration of the exposure, the context, and other variables. The categories of persons who could see another's body could include:

The context would include matters such as whether it is in one's own home, at another family member's home, at a friend's home, at a semi-public place, at a beach, swimming pool (including whether such venues are considered clothes-optional), changing rooms or other public places. For instance, wearing a bathing suit at the beach would not be considered immodest, while it likely would be in a street or an office. The context may change during specific events or rituals such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans[2][3] or during neopagan Skyclad work.[4]

Excessive modesty is called prudishness. As a medical condition, it is also called gymnophobia.[5] Excessive immodesty is called exhibitionism.[6]

In the law

Indian Penal Code (IPC), and penal codes of other nations other nations based on IPC such as Singapore Penal Code, Malaysian Penal Code, Pakistan Penal Code, Bangladesh Penal Code, etc have gender-specific female-oriented cognisable offences and punishment to protect women which include imprisonment for the outraging of modesty of a woman. For example, "IPC Section 354" deals with the use of criminal force for outraging the modesty which is punishable with imprisonment up to 5 years,[7] "IPC Section 354(A)" for sexual harassment, "IPC Section 354D" for stalking, "IPC Section 509" for using words gesture selections to outrage the modesty of a woman.[8] [9][10][11][12] Well known cases are Tarun Tejpal who was acquitted[13] and Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh who is chargesheeted after the 2023 Indian wrestlers' protest.[14][15][16]

In medical settings

Main article: Modesty in medical settings

At times of public or private emergency, expectations of modest dress may be suspended if necessary. This may apply to decontamination after a chemical or biological attack, where removal of contaminated clothing is important, or escaping from a night-time fire without time to dress. For example, during suspected anthrax attacks in 1998 and 2001 in the United States, groups of people had to strip to their underwear in tents set up in parking lots and other public places for hosing down by fire departments.[17] On the other hand, even in an emergency situation, some people are unable to abandon their need to hide their bodies, even at the risk of their life.[17]

In dress

Orthodox pilgrim in the Laure of Kyiv-Perchesk. Pilgrims have to wear modest clothes and women and girls must cover their hair when entering a church or monastery.
Three Ukrainian men, wearing trunks and briefs, attract attention for immodesty relative to the local norm in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

Most discussion of modesty involves clothing. The criteria for acceptable modesty and decency have relaxed continuously in much of the world since the nineteenth century, with shorter, form-fitting, and more revealing clothing and swimsuits, more for women than men. Most people wear clothes that they consider not to be unacceptably immodest for their religion, culture, generation, occasion, and the people present. Some wear clothes which they consider immodest, due to exhibitionism, the desire to create an erotic impact, or for publicity.

Generally accepted Western norms

Appropriate modesty depends on context and place. For example, in single-sex public changing rooms, nudity is often acceptable.[18]

In Western and some other societies, there are differences of opinion as to how much body exposure is acceptable in public.[19] In contemporary Western society, the extent to which a woman may expose cleavage depends on social, cultural and regional context. Women's swimsuits and bikinis commonly may reveal the tops and sides of the breasts, or they may be topless as is common on the beaches of French Riviera. Displaying cleavage is considered permissible in many settings, and is even a sign of elegance and sophistication on many formal social occasions, but it may be considered inappropriate in settings such as workplaces, churches and schools. Showing the nipples or areolae is almost always considered toplessness or partial nudity. However, in 2014 newly elected Pope Francis drew world-wide commentary when he encouraged mothers to breastfeed in church if their babies were hungry.[20]

In private homes, the standards of modesty apply selectively. For instance, nudity among close family members in the home can take place, especially in the bedroom and bathroom, and wearing of only undergarments in the home is common.

In many cultures it is not acceptable to bare the buttocks in public; deliberately doing so is sometimes intended as an insult. In public, Western standards of decency expect people to cover their genitalia, and women to cover their breasts.

Since the 1980s it has become more common for young women in Western societies to wear clothing that bared the midriff, "short shorts", backless tops, sheer and other styles considered to be immodest.[21]

In the United States in the early twenty-first century, public breastfeeding has become increasingly acceptable, sometimes protected by law.[22] President Barack Obama's health care bill from 2010 provides additional support to nursing mothers, requiring employers to provide a private and shielded space for employees to use in order to nurse.[23]

Gender differences

Modesty in dress is a relative cultural concept, even in the West, as seen above in the plain dress of Amish women on an American beach in 2007.

Men and women are subject to different standards of modesty in dress. While both men and women, in Western culture, are generally expected to keep their genitals covered at all times, women are also expected to keep their breasts covered. Some body parts are normally more covered by men than women—e.g., the midriff and the upper part of the back.

In 1992 New York State's highest court accepted Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution arguments and struck down the provision in New York's Exposure of the Person statute that made it illegal for women to bare their chests where men were permitted to do so.[24]

Religious traditions

Modesty in dress for Buddhist monks visiting the Hindu-Buddhist temple complex Angkor Wat, Cambodia

See also: Religion and sexuality

Most world religions have sought to address the moral issues that arise from people's sexuality in society and in human interactions. Each major religion has developed moral codes covering issues of sexuality, morality, ethics, etc. Besides other aspects of sexuality, these moral codes seek to regulate the situations which can give rise to sexual interest and to influence people's behaviour and practices which could arouse such interest, or which overstate a person's sexuality. These religious codes have always had a strong influence on people's attitudes to issues of modesty in dress, behaviour, speech, etc.


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Modesty (appicchatà or hiri) is the quality of being unpretentious about one's virtues or achievements. Genuinely modest people are able to see themselves as they really are and rejoice in their good qualities without becoming vain or self-promoting, and acknowledge their faults without shame or self-loathing.[25]

Modesty in dress is important in Buddhism. The Sekhiya rules of Buddhist Monastic code, for example, provide guidelines on proper clothing as well as recommended ways of dressing for monks.[26]

I will wear the lower robe [upper robe] wrapped around (me): a training to be observed.

— Code 1.2, Sekhiya Rule, [27]

I will not go [sit] with robes hitched up in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.

— Code 9.10, Sekhiya Rule, [27]

The 'robes hitched up' phrase above refers to lifting one's 1 or 2 piece cloth robe, thereby exposing either side or both sides of one's body to other human beings in an inhabited area. Such exhibitionism is not recommended to monks. Beyond monks, the Buddhist belief is that modesty has a purifying quality for everyone.[28]


A painting of the Lutheran Divine Service shows women wearing a headcovering.
Women seen in modest dress outside a Russian Orthodox Christian, Old-Rite church
An engraving of Christian women in India (1869)

There are verses in the Christian Bible that discuss the issue of modesty.[29] Before the fall of man, "Nakedness was 'very good' from the beginning, but its innocence was corrupted by the fall", a concept taught in Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 2:25.[29] Genesis 3:8–10, Revelation 3:18 and Revelation 16:15 discuss that after the fall of man, "publicly exposed nakedness is a symbol of the shame of sin."[29] In Genesis 3:7, Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness, though their attempt was inadequate for God and so God properly clothed humans in Genesis 3:21.[30][29] Exodus 20:26 and Exodus 28:42–43 explicate that God instructed humans to cover their torso and thighs.[29] 1 Timothy 2:9–10 instructs Christians to dress in "modest apparel" rather than to adorn themselves; in the same vein, Saint Peter wrote to Christians that "Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God" (1 Peter 3:3–4).[31]

Historically, female communicants of traditional Christian denominations (including Anglican,[32] Baptist,[33] Eastern Orthodox,[34] Lutheran,[35] Methodist,[36] Moravian, Oriental Orthodox,[37] Reformed,[38] and Roman Catholic)[39] wore a headcovering while praying at home and worshipping in the church, or all the time as with Anabaptists such as the Mennonites and the Bruderhof, in keeping with their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, which has been practiced since the time of the early Church.[40][41][42] Apostolic Tradition commands: "let all the women have their heads covered with an opaque cloth, not with a veil of thin linen, for this is not a true covering."[40][43] John Chrysostom (c. 347 – 407) delineated Saint Paul's teaching on the wearing of headcoverings by Christian women, continually:[44][45]

Well then: the man he compelleth not to be always uncovered, but only when he prays. "For every man," saith he, "praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head." But the woman he commands to be at all times covered. Wherefore also having said, "Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head unveiled, dishonoureth her head," he stayed not at this point only, but also proceeded to say, "for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven." But if to be shaven is always dishonourable, it is plain too that being uncovered is always a reproach. And not even with this only was he content, but he added again, saying, "The woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels." He signifies that not at the time of prayer only but also continually, she ought to be covered. But with regard to the man, it is no longer about covering but about wearing long hair, that he so forms his discourse. To be covered he then only forbids, when a man is praying; but the wearing of long hair he discourages at all times.[45][44]

These ancient Christian practices regarding modesty continue to be normative among Christians in regions such as in Eastern Europe and in South Asia, though they have waned in the Western world starting in the 1960s.[46][47] Many Trinitarian Christians consider modesty extremely important,[48] though considerable differences of opinion exist about its requirements and purposes.[49] The early Church stressed the importance of modesty in the practice of Christianity, with early Church Father Clement of Alexandria teaching:[31][43]

Woman and man are to go to church decently attired, with natural step, embracing silence, possessing unfeigned love, pure in body, pure in heart, fit to pray to God. Let the woman observe this, further. Let her be entirely covered, unless she happen to be at home. For that style of dress is grave, and protects from being gazed at. And she will never fall, who puts before her eyes modesty, and her shawl; nor will she invite another to fall into sin by uncovering her face. For this is the wish of the Word, since it is becoming for her to pray veiled. (The Instructor 3.11)[43]

The early Christian manual Paedagogus (198 AD) teaches that clothing worn by faithful Christians should extend beyond the knees and warns against the wearing of expensive clothing, in addition to forbidding the excesses of jewelry:[50]

As, then, in the fashioning of our clothes, we must keep clear of all strangeness, so in the use of them we must beware of extravagance. For neither is it seemly for the clothes to be above the knee, as they say was the case with the Lacedaemonian virgins; nor is it becoming for any part of a woman to be exposed. Though you may with great propriety use the language addressed to him who said, "Your arm is beautiful; yes, but it is not for the public gaze. Your thighs are beautiful but, was the reply, for my husband alone. And your face is comely. Yes; but only for him who has married me." But I do not wish chaste women to afford cause for such praises to those who, by praises, hunt after grounds of censure; and not only because it is prohibited to expose the ankle, but because it has been enjoined that the head should be veiled and the face covered; for it is a wicked thing for beauty to be a snare to men.[51]

Early ecclesiastical writer Tertullian echoed the same teachings regarding modesty in his On the Apparel of Women, also including a prohibition on Christian men and women dyeing their hair.[52] Rather than to ostentatiously display the hair, Tertullian said that Christian women are to wear a headcovering in public.[52] He taught that Christians should be able to be easily distinguished from non-Christians by their wearing of modest clothing.[52]


An Anabaptist Christian lady wearing a cape dress and headcovering

Main article: Anabaptist theology § Modesty and woman's veiling

Further information: Plain people

Many Christians belonging to the Conservative Anabaptist and Old Order Anabaptist traditions (including the Amish, Conservative Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, Hutterites, Apostolic Christians, Charity Christians, Bruderhof, River Brethren and Schwarzenau Brethren) have plain dress prescriptions designed to achieve modesty and create a sense of church identity, as Petrovich writes: "Their dress standard is not only intended to specify a pattern which all members agree to be a modest covering for the human form but must also correspond to their vision of Jesus as meek and humble, dressed as a simple peasant from a common village. Since an established dress standard promotes uniformity, it also provides a sense of shared purpose."[53] These requirements are either written in denominational or congregational statements[54] or are understood and reinforced through informal pressure and ministerial reminders.[55]

Requirements vary across churches and denominations; however, all conservative Anabaptist women wear Christian headcoverings and a skirt or dress, and all men wear long trousers.[55][56] From there, considerable variation exists in men's, women's, and children's styles. Anabaptist adherents read a church group's relative strictness, distance from popular culture, and even religious ideas by their appearance and the speed of dress changes. Accordingly, the extent to which popular fashion elements show up in an Anabaptist person's dress often depends on the social distance of that church from popular culture.[56] For example, women's headcoverings have numerous subtle design elements that distinguish church association, age, and attitude toward modest dress.[57] Women in more fashion-conscious groups , especially among some Conservative Mennonites as well as young adults among some Old Order Amish, may wear a lacy doily that fits a stylized appearance, whereas groups and individuals holding to a distinctive form of modesty wear a fixed-style kapp with a back part that covers the hair bun and is pleated to a front part that vertically encircles the head.[58]

Churches vary in how much members may experiment with modesty and fashion in dress. Some groups, for example, may be less inclined to censure tight dresses so long as the church's distinctive style is maintained[59] or to censure popular swimwear worn while swimming in groups or in public;[60] others carefully observe and embrace their church's pattern for modest, distinct dress on all non-private occasions.[56][61]


A placard "Dress with dignity and respect the sacred place" informs visitors about the minimum dress standards required to enter the Lecce Cathedral in Italy.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that "Modesty is decency. It inspires one's choice of clothing" (CCC, 2522)."[62]

The wearing of a veil (headcovering) for women while praying at home and while worshipping at Mass has been practiced by Christian women since the time of the early Church.[40][63][64] The wearing of headcoverings during the celebration of the liturgy was mandated as a universal rule for the Latin Church by the Code of Canon Law of 1917,[65] abrogated by the Code of Canon Law of 1983.[66]

The standards issued by Pope Pius XI declared that "women who wear immodest dress shall be denied Holy Communion, and shall not be admitted as a godmother at Baptism or as a sponsor at Confirmation".[67][62] They further stated "Nuns, in accordance with the Letter of 23 August 1928, of the Sacred Congregation of Religious, shall not admit to their colleges, schools, oratories, or amusement centers, nor allow to remain there any girls who do not observe Christian modesty in dress; and in the education of their charges they shall take special care to sow deeply in their hearts a love of chastity and Christian modesty.

Pope Pius XI also issued the standard of decent dress, declaring that "A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat; which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows; and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper."

The Catholic Legion of Decency has been active from 1933 in monitoring morally objectionable content in films. It has condemned a number of films including several on account of the clothing worn. For example, the Legion has condemned the display of cleavage in The Outlaw (1941) and in The French Line (1954).

In 1944 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the so-called "Marylike Crusade" (formally known as the "Purity Crusade of Mary Immaculate") was initiated by Rev. Bernard Kunkel to codify Pope Pius' XII directives on the Catholic standards of dress, known as "Marylike modesty".[68] It seeks for Christians to emulate the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title "Mother Most Chaste" as the model for modesty.[69] Mary-like Modesty includes for women, wearing sleeves "extending at least to the elbows" and "skirts reaching below the knees", as well as having a neckline no more than two inches with the rest of the bodice fully covered.[70][68] The Marylike Crusade promotes a vow for Catholics to take: "While I am determined always to dress with Marylike modesty, both at home and in public, I intend to be specially careful to do so when visiting any place dedicated to God."[71] The Marylike Crusade received an Apostolic Blessing from Pope Pius XII on 14 July 1954 and on 11 May 1955, Pope Pius XII extended this "to the members, to their Directors and Moderators, to their families and loved ones, and to all who further their laudable movement for modesty in dress and behaviour."[69] The standards of Mary-like Modesty established by the Purity Crusade of Mary Immaculate continue to be promoted by Traditionalist Catholics as normative.[72]

In 2004 Cardinal Anthony Okogie sent letters to the priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos and asked them to prohibit "fashions promoting lust and immorality" within churches.[73] Under this rubric, people wearing "clothes which reveal sensitive parts of the body such as the bust, chest, belly, or upper arms, transparent clothing or dresses with slits above the knees" are forbidden to attend Mass inside the church.[73] The faithful Catholics in the Archdiocese have been wholly supportive of the dictum concerning modesty, with many women practicing Christian headcovering with the Virgin Mary as their model.[73]

Some Catholics have attempted to form cohesive theories of modesty. Sometimes this is from a sociological perspective,[74] while at other times it takes a more systematic, Thomistic approach, combined with the writings of the Church Fathers.[75] Approaches arguing primarily from traditional practices and traditional authorities, such as the saints, can also be found.[76] In various localities, from time to time the church hierarchy have given opinions on various matters regarding dressing and modesty of the faithful.[77] While Nicholas the Great wrote to the first Christian ruler of Bulgaria, Boris I, in the 9th century, that it was acceptable for the Bulgarian women to continue to wear trousers, Giuseppe Cardinal Siri stated in 1960 that trousers were unacceptable dress for women.[78] Many traditional Catholics have attempted to further expand on this latter standard.[79] Around 1913, it became fashionable for dresses to be worn with a modest round or V-shaped neckline. In the German Empire, for example, all Roman Catholic bishops joined in issuing a pastoral letter attacking the new fashions.[80]


Wesleyan Methodist girls enter the tabernacle at a camp meeting.

Further information: Outward holiness

Methodists belonging to the conservative holiness movement, such as the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection and Evangelical Wesleyan Church, have guidelines on modest apparel in accordance with the Wesleyan-Arminian doctrine of outward holiness.[81][82] The Fellowship of Independent Methodist Churches, which continues to observe the ordinance of women's headcovering, stipulates "renouncing all vain pomp and glory" and "adorning oneself with modest attire."[83] Their interpretation of Exodus 20:26 and Exodus 28:42–43 is seen as forbidding the exposure of the body from torso to thighs,[29][84] while Deuteronomy 22:5 is interpreted as God mandating gender-distinct clothing.[84] The 2015 Discipline of the Evangelical Wesleyan Church, for example, states:[85] "We require our women to appear in public with dresses of modest length, sleeves of modest length, modest necklines and modest hose; the wearing of split skirts, slacks, jeans, artificial flowers or feathers is forbidden." It goes on:

Moreover, we require our men to conform to the scriptural standards of decent and modest attire; we require that when they appear in public they wear shirts with sleeves of modest length. We require that all our people appear in public with sleeves below the elbows. Women's hemlines are to be modestly below the knees. Our people are forbidden to appear in public with transparent or immodest apparel, including shorts or bathing suits. Parents are required to dress their children modestly in conformity with our general principles of Christian attire. We further prohibit our people from participating in the practices of body-piercing, tattooing or body art.[85]


Pentecostal worshippers of the Christian Congregation, with women wearing headcoverings and dresses

Holiness Pentecostalism, the original trunk of Pentecostal Christianity, historically affirms the doctrine of outward holiness, which is reflected in the wearing of modest clothing.[86] Holiness Pentecostals have historically taught a distinction between the male sex and female sex with respect to gender distinct clothing; they do not wear adornment, such as jewelry and makeup.[86] The Apostolic Faith Church and the Free Gospel Church, for example, subscribe to these Holiness Pentecostal standards;[86] in addition to these, the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church adheres to the ordinance of women's headcovering (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:4–13).[87]

Oneness Pentecostalism, another branch of Pentecostal Christianity, teaches the wearing of modest clothing.[88] Oneness Pentecostal denominations, such as the United Pentecostal Church International, maintain the teaching of gender distinctions, including a belief that men should have short hair and women should not cut their hair (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:14–15).[89] While at the beach, women wear swimming dresses rather than what adherents would consider revealing bathing suits.[88] Oneness Pentecostals do not adorn themselves with cosmetics or jewelry.[89] Additionally, certain Oneness Pentecostal denominations, such as the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, observe the wearing of headcoverings by Christian women (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:4–13).[90][91]


Conservative Friends and Holiness-Orthodox Friends, two associations of Quaker Christians, wear plain dress as part of their testimony of simplicity.[92]

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

See also: Law of chastity

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has issued official statements on modest dress for its members. Clothing such as "short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back"[93] are discouraged. Men and women are also encouraged to avoid extremes in clothing or hairstyles. Rules on modesty also include women being asked to wear no more than one pair of earrings.[93] Women are generally expected to wear skirts or dresses for church services. Most LDS members do not wear sleeveless shirts or shorts that do not reach the knee.

The church-funded university, Brigham Young University (BYU), requires students and tenants of BYU housing to sign an agreement to live according to these standards of modesty.[94]


Dressing norms and concepts of modesty have widely varied among Hindus before the 20th century. Above is a topless Balinese (Indonesian) Hindu woman at a temple complex in 1922, during Dutch colonial rule of Indonesia. In the background, in the center left, one can see other topless women, as well as a woman who is fully covered in European dress. The colored image is typical dress observed in modern day Bali temples.

The premise and concepts of modesty have evolved under Hinduism. During Vedic times,[95]: 28–30  both women and men wore at least two pieces of draped dress that was largely undifferentiated, voluntary and flexible. Stitched clothes such as skirts and bodices were also common in the Vedic period. However, modesty was not determined by the precepts of religion, but by local traditions, social codes, profession, circumstances and occasion. The multiple pieces of draped dress for women evolved into a single length of draped cloth among Indian Hindus, now called a sari;[95]: 28–30  but it remained two or more pieces for Southeast Asian Hindus. For men, the draped dress reduced to one piece, now called by various names such as dhoti, lungi, pancha, laacha and other names among Indian Hindus, and kamben among Balinese Hindu.

The Hindu belief, suggests Christopher Bayly,[96] is that modesty through appropriate dress has the energy to transmit spirit and substance in a social discourse. Dress serves as a means of expression or celebration, with some dressing elements such as saffron threads or white dress worn by men as moral, transformative and a means to identify and communicate one's social role in a gathering, or one's state of life such as mourning in days or weeks after the passing away of a loved one.

The canons of modesty for Hindus in South Asia underwent significant changes with the arrival of Islam in the 12th century. The Islamic rulers imposed a dress code in public places for Hindu dhimmis, per their Islamic mores of modesty.[95]: 28–30  The sari worn by Hindu women extended to provide a veil, as well as a complete cover of her navel and legs. In the early 18th century, Tryambakayajvan—a court official in south central India—issued an edict called Stridharmapaddhati. The ruling outlined a required dress code for orthodox Hindus in that region.[97] Stridharmapaddhati laced social trends with Hindu religion to place new rules on modesty for women, but gave much freedom to men.

The concept of modesty evolved again during colonial times when the British administration required Indians to wear dresses to help identify and segregate the local native populations. Bernard Cohn[98] and others[99] remark that dress during the colonial era became part of a wider issue in India about respect, honor and modesty, with the dress code intentionally aimed by the administration to reflect the relationship between the British ruler and the Indian ruled. The British colonial empire encouraged and sometimes required Indians to dress in an 'oriental manner', to help define and enforce a sense of modesty and to identify roles and a person's relative social status.[100][101] Among Indonesian Hindus, the accepted practice of toplessness among teenage Hindu girls changed during the Dutch colonial rule, with women now wearing a blouse or colorful cloth.


Women dressed in saris, heading into a South Indian Hindu Temple

Inside most Hindu temples, there is an expectation of modesty rather than sexual allurement. Men and women typically wear traditional dress during religious ceremonies and rituals in a temple, with women wearing saris or regional Indian dress.[102] In Indonesia and Cambodia, Hindu temple visitors are often requested to wrap their waist with a traditional single piece cloth called kamben, wastra or sarung, with or without saput.[103]

Current trends

Hindus have diverse views on modesty, with significant regional and local variations. Among orthodox Hindu populations, sexually revealing dress or any sexual behaviour in public or before strangers is considered immodest, particularly in rural areas. In contrast, the dress of deities and other symbolism in Hindu temples,[104] the discussion of dress and eroticism in ancient Hindu literature,[105][106] and art works of Hinduism[107] can be explicit, celebrating eroticism and human sexuality.

In general, a disregard of modesty can be confusing or distressing, in particular to traditional Hindu women. Even in a health care context, some Hindu women may express reluctance to undress for examination. If undressing is necessary, the patient may prefer to be treated by a doctor or nurse of the same sex.[108]


A headscarf

Main article: Haya (Islam)

See also: Awrah and List of types of sartorial hijab

Islam has strongly emphasized the concept of decency and modesty.[109] In many authentic hadiths, it has been quoted that "modesty(Haya) is a part of faith".[110] Modesty is verily required in the interaction between members of the opposite sex and in some case between the members of same sex also. Dress code is part of that overall teaching.


"And tell the believing women to cast down their glances and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women." -Quran 24:31.

"O Prophet! Say to your wives, your daughters, and the women of the believers that: they should let down upon themselves their jalabib." -Quran 33:59. Jalabib is an Arabic word meaning "loose outer garment".

In some Muslim societies, women wear the niqab, a veil that covers the whole face except the eyes, or the full burqa, a full-body covering garment that occasionally does cover the eyes. Wearing these garments is common in some, but not all, countries with a predominately Muslim population.

A taqiyah cap

Though by some scholars these expressions of modesty are interpreted as mandatory, most countries do not enforce modesty by law. However, a few countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran, enforce specified standards of dress for women.


"Tell the believing men to cast down their glances and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is [well] acquainted with what they do." -Quran 24:30

Most scholars agree that men are required to cover everything from the navel to the knees; some men choose also to wear the traditional Islamic cap (taqiyah), similar to the Jewish yarmulke or kippah. The taqiyah may vary in shape, size, and color, with differences according to tradition, region, and personal taste.


Three styles of hair covering popular in Jewish women. From right to left: snood, fall, and hat.

Modesty in Judaism, called Tzniut (Hebrew: צניעות), is important beyond aspects of clothing. It extends to behaviour in public and in private, and depends on the context.

Typical Haredi dress for men and women
Typical Haredi dress for men and women


Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish women usually wear skirts that cover their knees, with blouses or shirts covering the collarbone and sleeves covering the elbows.[111] See-through materials may not be used, and clothes are expected not to be tight-fitting or "provocative".[112] Less strict Conservative Judaism recommends modest dress, but this is not broadly observed. Less restrictive branches of Judaism tend to adopt the fashions of the society in which they live.

It is the custom for a married Orthodox Jewish woman to cover her hair in public, and sometimes at home. The hair covering may be a scarf (tichel), snood, hat, or a wig called a Sheitel.


Standards of modesty also apply to men. While some Orthodox men will wear short-sleeve shirts in public, ultra-Orthodox men will not. More modern Orthodox Jewish men will be more lax in their dress when surrounded by other men (if it is not in a religious environment). Modesty for men most often translates to covering the torso and legs with loose clothing. Different groups of Orthodox Jews have different dress norms. But all have men dress in a head covering (kippah).

In the arts

Cupidon (French for Cupid), painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1875; the tip of the boy god's right wing covers his genitals.
Modesty, marble statue of a partly-draped woman by Jean-Louis Jaley, 1875

Expectation of modesty also applies in the arts, though standards of modesty have varied at different times and in different places. Nudity and various types of behaviour were sometimes depicted, sometime not. In many cases where society did not allow nudity or immodest dress, nudity was accepted in art. Where nudity in art was not acceptable, full nudity was not displayed; otherwise nude subjects had their intimate parts hidden by apparently accidental draped fabric, flowers, other people, a fig leaf, etc. In films, very brief nudity was accepted. Some nude artworks had fig leaves added when standards became less permissive.

In a given society, the criteria varied according to the circumstances; for example artworks on public display were more restrained than those for private display to adults.

Nudity in art was sometimes suggested without actual depiction by:

In cartoons, even in cases where the genital area is not covered with clothing, genitals are often simply not drawn, as is the case in Family Guy and other animated sitcoms. In the film Barnyard, showing anthropomorphized cattle of both sexes walking on two legs, instead of either showing genitals of male cattle or not showing them, the concept of a "male cow" was used, with an udder. In Underdog a partly animated anthropomorphized dog is shown with a penis when a real dog is filmed, and without one in the animated parts.

Paintings are sometimes changed because of changed modesty standards, and later sometimes changed back. During the Counter-Reformation there was a "fig-leaf campaign" aiming to cover all representations of human genitals in paintings and sculptures that started with Michelangelo's works. Works covered in this way include the marble statue of Cristo della Minerva (church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome) which was covered by added drapery, as it remains today, and the statue of the naked child Jesus in Madonna of Bruges (The Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium) remained covered for several decades. Also, the plaster copy of the David in the Cast Courts (Victoria and Albert Museum) in London has a fig leaf in a box at the back of the statue. It was there to be placed over the statue's genitals so that they would not upset visiting female royalty. The statue of Achilles at Hyde Park Corner now has an incongruous figleaf permanently attached, after it was stolen several times.

See also: Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

See also


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  31. ^ a b Winger, Otho (1919). History and Doctrines of the Church of the Brethren. Brethren Publishing House. p. 218. I. We examined prayerfully the scriptural grounds of Christian attire, and found that Jesus and the apostles taught modesty and simplicity of life and modesty in dress and manners. The scriptures bearing on the subject of dress and adornment are of several classes: First. Jesus condemned anxious thought for raiment (Matt. 6: 25-33; Luke 12:22-31). Second. The direct teachings, such as 1 Tim. 2:9, 10; 1 Peter 3:3-5. Third. Teachings on nonconformity to the world in general, and that apply to dress on general principles, such as Romans 12:1, 2; 1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Peter 1:14-15; 1 John 2:15-17. II. Investigation shows that the early church fathers and our own church fathers taught strongly and uniformly against pride and superfluity in dress, and constantly in favor of gospel plainness.
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  36. ^ Morgan, Sue (2010-06-23). Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800–1940. Taylor & Francis. p. 102. ISBN 9780415231152. Retrieved 13 November 2012. Several ardent Methodist women wrote to him, asking for his permission to speak. Mar Bosanquet (1739–1815) suggested that if Paul had instructed women to cover their heads when they spoke (1. Cor. 11:5) then he was surely giving direction on how women should conduct themselves when they preached.
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  39. ^ Henold, Mary J. (2008). Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement. UNC Press Books. p. 1968. ISBN 9780807859476. Catholic women who came of age at midcentury no doubt recall the hasty search for a tissue or even a handy parish bulletin to pin to their heads once they discovered they had left home without their regular head covering.
  40. ^ a b c Bercot, David W. (1992). Common Sense: A New Approach to Understanding Scripture. Scroll Publishing Co. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-924722-06-6. Hippolytus, a leader in the church in Rome around the year 200, compiled a record of the various customs and practices in that church from the generations that preceded him. His Apostolic Tradition contains this statement: "And let all the women have their heads covered with an opaque cloth, not with a veil of thin linen, for this is not a true covering." This written evidence of the course of performance of the early Christians is corroborated by the archaeological record. The pictures we have from the second and third centuries from the catacombs and other places depict Christian women praying with a cloth veil on their heads. So the historical record is crystal clear. It reveals that the early generation of believers understood the head covering to be a cloth veil—not long hair.
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  44. ^ a b "On Account of the Angels: Why I Cover My Head". Orthodox Christian Information Center. Retrieved 8 April 2022. St. John Chrysostom thought that Paul, in admonishing women to wear a covering "because of the angels," meant it "not at the time of prayer only, but also continually, she ought to be covered." Fr. Rhodes agrees: "The veil can be the constant symbol of the true woman of God … a way of life … a testimony of faith and of the salvation of God, not only before men, but angels as well."
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  47. ^ Gordon, Greg (31 August 2015). "Are Head Coverings Really for Today?". Evangelical Focus. Retrieved 2 May 2022. One of the most questioned practices in the New Testament in the modern day Western Church is the practice of Head Coverings for women. Yet to get perspective we need to look over the panoply of God's Church for 2000 years and see that this is not something new but old—and has been practiced diligently over the ages. It is hard to imagine but since the 1960s the Church almost entirely practiced this tradition. The influence of secular reasoning, feminism and liberal theology have led to the questioning and, ultimately, the casting aside of this practice in the Church at large in the evangelical world.
  48. ^ See, e.g., Modesty: The Undressing of Our Youth Archived 2007-05-03 at the Wayback Machine, by Lenora Hammond.
  49. ^ The Modesty Survey Archived 2009-01-29 at the Wayback Machine: An anonymous discussion among Christians concerning various aspects of modesty.
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  54. ^ Raber, Dan; Sheets, Gregory; Anderson, Cory (2019). "Ordnungs Briefen of 1865, 1917, and 1939: English Translations of Important Old Amish Church Orders". Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies. 7 (2): 109–114.
  55. ^ a b Scott, Stephen (1997). Why Do They Dress That Way?. Intercourse, PA: Good Books. ISBN 9780934672184.
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  57. ^ Enninger, Werner (1982). "The Semiotic Structure of Amish Folk Costume: Its Function in the Organization of Face-to-Face Interaction". In Hess-Lüttich, Ernest (ed.). Multimedia Communication I. Tübingen, Germany: Gunter Narr. pp. 86–123.
  58. ^ Anderson, Cory (2013). The Ornament of a Spirit: Exploring the Reasons Covering Styles Change. Lyndonville, NY: Ridgeway Publishers. ISBN 978-0984098514.
  59. ^ Boynton, Linda (1986). The Plain People: An Ethnography of the Holdeman Mennonites. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company.
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  61. ^ Graybill, Beth (2002). "'To Remind Us of Who We Are': Multiple Meanings of Conservative Women's Dress". In Kimberly D. Schmidt; Diane Zimmerman Umble; Steven D. Reschly (eds.). Strangers at Home: Amish and Mennonite Women in History. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 53–77.
  62. ^ a b Mark Pivarunas (21 June 1996). "Modesty in Dress". Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  63. ^ Fisher, Simcha (3 December 2019). "The types of women who veil at Mass". America Magazine. Retrieved 15 November 2020.
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  68. ^ a b Evans, Rachel Held (2012). A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband "master". Thomas Nelson. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-59555-367-6.
  69. ^ a b "The Pope of Fatima, Pius XII, Puts His Seal on Our Lady of Fatima's Request for Modesty". Behold Thy Mother. 19 (56). Missionary Sisters of the Holy Ghost: 22. 2017.
  70. ^ Kunkel, Rev. Bernard. My Life in Prayer Book, Book Two, Chapter III: The Marylike Standards for Modesty in Dress
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  73. ^ a b c Blunt, Elizabeth (9 August 2004). "Nigerian Catholics told to be modest". Retrieved 8 April 2022. In his latest circular letter to parishes, the Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Okogie, under the heading "nudity", calls on priests not to allow in church what he calls "fashions promoting lust and immorality". He says that any of the faithful wearing "clothes which reveal sensitive parts of the body such as the bust, chest, belly, or upper arms, transparent clothing or dresses with slits above the knees" should be "quietly asked to worship outside". As for boys, it says there should be no "jerry curls [long curly hair], tight jeans or earrings". A Sunday morning visit to the Church of the Assumption, in the Ikoyi district of Lagos, showed the Archbishop's recommendations were being well observed. … Everyone I spoke to had heard of the Archbishop's campaign for modest dressing, and said they were wholly in agreement. … I heard outspoken condemnation of people who come to the house of God half-naked, diatribes against tight trousers, skimpy tops and "spaghetti straps". Several women said they believed they should imitate the Holy Mother, Mary, and cover their heads, since she always appears in images with a veil.
  74. ^ Modesty and beauty - the lost connection by Regina Schmiedicke
  75. ^ The Modesty Handbook (describing the nature of modesty from a Catholic perspective, based on St. Thomas Aquinas and the Church Fathers).
  76. ^ See, e.g., Those Who Serve God Should Not Follow the Fashions by Robert T. Hart (2004).
  77. ^ See all the following citations, which all expound at least partly upon such guidelines.
  78. ^ Notification Concerning Men's Dress Worn by Women by Giuseppe Cardinal Siri (1960)
  79. ^ See G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, Part III, Chap. V, for an early attempt (1910); see also In Praise of the Skirt Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, for a more contemporary one (2006)
  80. ^ Gernsheim, Alison. Victorian and Edwardian Fashion. A Photographic Survey. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1981. Reprint of 1963 edition. ISBN 0-486-24205-6, p. 94
  81. ^ "I. The Church". Discipline of the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection. Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection. Should we insist on plain and modest dress? Certainly. We should not on any account spend what the Lord has put into our hands as stewards, to be used for His glory, in expensive wearing apparel, when thousands are suffering for food and raiment, and millions are perishing for the Word of life. Let the dress of every member of every Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Church be plain and modest. Let the strictest carefulness and economy be used in these respects.
  82. ^ Scott, Stephen (1 September 2008). Why Do They Dress That Way?. Good Books. p. 53. ISBN 9781680992786.
  83. ^ "Brief Description". Fellowship of Independent Methodist Churches. 26 January 2022. Archived from the original on 26 January 2022. Retrieved 3 August 2022.
  84. ^ a b Discipline of the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches (PDF). Bible Methodist Connection of Churches. 2018. p. 37. 71. Scripture uniformly regards the exposure of one's nakedness to other persons, except in the context of marriage, to be shameful and requires that it be covered.1 One of God's first actions on behalf of fallen man was to clothe his nakedness.2 We understand the biblical term "nakedness" to refer at the least to the area of the body from the knees to the neck.31Hosea 2:9 "Therefore I will return and take away My grain in its time And My new wine in its season, And will take back My wool and My linen, Given to cover her nakedness"; cf. Isa. 47:3; Rev. 3:18. 2Genesis 3:21 "Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made coats of skin, and clothed them"; cf. Gen. 3:7, 11. 3Exod. 20:26; 28:42; Job 30:18; Ezek. 16:7. … God created men and women to be distinct yet complementary reflections of His image.1 God's concern for gender-distinction is evident throughout Scripture in the gender-distinctions He requires in the church,2 marriage,3 and men's and women's clothing.4 We understand Scripture to teach that men should not wear women's clothing and women should not wear men's clothing; therefore, our people should avoid wearing clothing that confuses the sexes.5 Recognizing the call of Scripture for men's hair to be short and women's hair to be long, we admonish our men to cut their hair short enough to be distinctly masculine and our ladies to abstain from cutting the hair as taught in 1 Corinthians 11.61Genesis 1:26-27 "Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them"; cf. 1 Cor. 11:7-9. 21 Cor. 11:2-16; 14:29-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15. 3Eph. 5:22-33. 4Deuteronomy 22:5 "A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the LORD your God." 5Deut. 22:5. 61 Cor. 11:5-6, 14-15.
  85. ^ a b The Discipline of the Evangelical Wesleyan Church. Evangelical Wesleyan Church. 2015. pp. 41, 57–58.
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  87. ^ "Headcoverings". Ukrainian Pentecostal Church. Retrieved 9 April 2022. 1 Corinthians 11 We interpret 1 Corinthians 11 quite literally. "4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved." Why don't you interpret hair as being the covering? We do not interpret hair as being the covering because if hair is the covering the Bible is referring to then that must mean that men are not allowed to have hair or he dishonors his head. If a distinction is made between long hair as being the covering (in contrast to short hair) then in that case this piece of scripture must mean that women must have long hair as their covering. What is the purpose of headcovering? Some believe that the headcovering is an extension of other modesty guidelines found in the Bible. We believe that wearing the headcovering is about more than just modesty for women. Women are to cover their heads for angel's sake (1 Corinthians 11:10). "Through head coverings our women show all present that their position as a woman is also redeemed. No longer are they at war usurping and longing for the man's position of authority (Gen 3:16). Instead they're content in the role God ordained for them in Genesis 2."
  88. ^ a b Dawn, Eden (20 March 2017). "One of Oregon's Most Successful Designers Makes Modesty Garb in La Grande". Portland Monthly. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  89. ^ a b Miller, Emily McFarlan (9 September 2015). "What's an Apostolic Christian and why is Kim Davis' hair so long?". USA Today. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  90. ^ Bendroth, Margaret Lamberts; Brereton, Virginia Lieson (2002). Women and Twentieth-century Protestantism. University of Illinois Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-252-06998-7.
  91. ^ Luke, Shelton (2016). "Statement of Apostolic Policy". The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith. You are cordially invited to The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith regardless of race, creed, color or place of national origin. We ask however, that you abide by our Apostolic rules and the women have head covering and not wear pants.
  92. ^ Manual of Faith and Practice of Central Yearly Meeting of Friends. Central Yearly Meeting of Friends. 2018. pp. 107–110.
  93. ^ a b "Dress and Appearance", For the Strength of Youth.
  94. ^ The Brigham Young University Honor Code, which includes "Dress and Grooming Standards," agreement to which is required for application.
  95. ^ a b c Tarlo, Emma (1996). Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226789767.
  96. ^ C. A. Bayly, D.H.A. Kolff, Two Colonial Empires: Comparative Essays on the History of India and Indonesia in the Nineteenth Century, Springer, ISBN 978-9024732746
  97. ^ Lesile, J. (Editor) (1992), Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women, Motilal Banarsidass Publications
  98. ^ Bernard Cohn (1987), An Anthropologist Among the Historians and Other Essays, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195618754
  99. ^ Robert Ross, Clothing: A Global History, Cambridge, ISBN 978-0-7456-3186-8
  100. ^ Tarlo 1996, p. 12–59.
  101. ^ see Bernard Cohn, "Cloth, Clothes and Colonialism: India in the 19th Century", and Susan Bean, "Gandhi and Khadi: The Fabric of Independence"; both in Weiner and Schneider (editors), Cloth and Human Experience, Smithsonian Institution Press (1989)
  102. ^ Nye, M. (1995). A Place for Our Gods: The Construction of an Edinburgh Hindu Temple Community (Vol. 8). Psychology Press
  103. ^ Rubinstein and Connor (1999), Staying Local in the Global Village: Bali in the Twentieth Century, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824821173
  104. ^ Gupta, M. (1994). "Sexuality in the Indian subcontinent". Sexual and Marital Therapy, 9(1), pp 57–69
  105. ^ McConnachie, J. (2008), The Book of Love: The Story of the Kamasutra, Macmillan
  106. ^ Dwyer, R. (2000). "The erotics of the wet sari in Hindi films". South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 23(2), pp 143–160
  107. ^ Ichaporia, N. (1983). "Tourism at Khajuraho an Indian enigma?" Annals of Tourism Research, 10(1), 75–92
  108. ^ Culture and Religion Information Sheet: Hinduism Archived 2017-02-21 at the Wayback Machine Government of Western Australia (July 2012), page 7
  109. ^ Ali, Fatima (2016-06-10). "I used my religion as an excuse to hide my body – until now". The Tempest. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  110. ^ "Hadith 20 :: Modesty is from Faith". Archived from the original on 10 August 2015. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  111. ^ "Modesty: Not Only A Woman's Burden" Archived 2016-10-28 at the Wayback Machine, Patheos
  112. ^ The Laws of Jewish Modesty Archived May 10, 2015, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading