I was on an island the other day with my Knight, and we were sitting on some rocks as we prepared to climb back up a cliff after having ridden our bikes up a hill much more strenuous than this out of shape prairie girl was anticipating, then climbed down the cliff to the seashore. I was quite hot, and bemoaned the fact that I was wearing denim capris with the thought "I wish I could wear shorts!" "Why don't you?" my Knight asked, chuckling a little. "Hahaha, my sister's would excommunicate me. Maybe. We've loosened up a lot, so maybe not," I joked. "I know a lot of girls who've been posting on Facebook lately that they finally worked up the courage to wear shorts." "I really don't get what the big deal is," my Knight shrugged. "Find something that's mid-calf or knee or whatever. I don't see the issue."
"You know," I said, "when I was younger the thought of wearing pants was horrifying. The whole 'Oh pants are an arrow to your butt and men won't be able to look away!'" My Knight laughed, thinking I was exaggerating. "I'm serious!" I said, "That's pretty much a quote I read in a book once!" "Wow," he shook his head, laughing. "That's sad."
I've been toying with the idea of writing a post along these lines for a while, but that conversation is what finally prompted me to do it. As a young girl caught up in the ferverence of The Modesty Movement, I had unquestioningly believed that wearing pants would probably cause men to sin and would certainly make them look at places where I didn't want them to. As I got a little older, I relaxed a bit, realizing that men are not creatures with only one thing on their minds at all time. Still, to find out that my Catholic, homeschooling boyfriend had not only never heard of this, but thought it was laughable, was eye opening.
Don't get me wrong, The Modesty Movement has it's heart in the right place, as a general whole. Dressing out of respect yourself and for those around you and for Christ is something we should strive for... but it has it's problems that it is working on out growing out of. You probably recognize them. Modest is Hottest. You're going to make your brothers in Christ stumble. Men are sexual creatures and it's the woman's responsibility to help them guard their eyes. Pants are an arrow to your most private parts.
There are extremes to everything, and it is natural for something new to go from one extreme to another. The Modesty Movement is relatively new still, starting in the wake of the conversions and re-versions of many of the member's of my parents generation. They came from a culture that was jumping headlong into the sexual revolution where anything goes and the more skin you show the better. It's only natural that in trying to correct this, a major part of the movement swung to the opposite extreme, the extreme that cried out for Little House on the Prairie dresses and Regency gowns as the only acceptable option.
Neither one of these extremes are the right answer.
We were placed in this period in time for a reason, it's okay if we look like we belong here. We don't have to dress in long sleeves and ankle length dresses with knee high socks year around to be modest. We don't have to dig up 18th century patterns, sew necklines up as high as we can and wear shorts under everything. Who does that reach? Who is going to see us imitating the Amish and say "Man, I want to be like them! I've been dressing wrong all of my life!"
Our goal should be to dress beautifully and modestly, but in a way that people around us don't even realize we are doing so. That's the true goal of modesty, isn't it? To be in the middle of two extremes, to be so natural that no one even notices, at least, not consciously. It's something I am still working on myself, finding that middle of the road, that balance between belonging to this day and age, and being appropriate and modest. I know some lovely young girls who have mastered it... I was at one of our homeschool group functions recently, and I was admiring how stylish and how beautiful they were. They weren't wearing Mennonite wannabe clothes, they were wearing pieces you could walk into any store in any shopping mall and find. They were modest, because they had layered or selected pieces that covered what needed to be covered (they weren't all wearing skirts or dresses either), but it was so effortless that you didn't look at them and think "OH, they are dressing modestly."
The swing from one extreme to another is a growing pain, and every new movement has it. I think we are slowly working towards that place of moderation. I've seen it in my community of friends and families as we've gone from a place where people who wore pants were ostracized to a place where we are less judgmental, more open to the realization of what modesty truly is.
Some people still wear skirts and dresses all the times, some people wear pants and skirts, but what they wear or don't wear isn't the point anymore. The point is the realization that moderation is key. The point is realizing that obsessing over how each piece of clothing that you wear could possibly cause someone to sin is the opposite of being modest. Modesty is taking care of your appearance, yes, but being... normal, about it. Being unassuming, being effortless. Being, well, modest.