We learn from Genesis 3 that clothing is not an arbitrary choice on the part of man. The need for clothing is closely connected with man acquiring the knowledge of good and evil. It is also obvious that not every choice of covering is acceptable. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves into an apron (Genesis 3:7). The Hebrew word for the garment is chargorah, which means a garment that covers the midsection of the body, tied about the waist. The same word is translated in other passages as a girdle or a belt. Adam and Eve's attempt at clothing was unsuccessful, because they still considered themselves naked wearing the fig leaf aprons. When God visited them in the Garden, they hid themselves because they were naked. After God issued the punishments to Adam and Eve for their sin, he took animal skins and made tunics for the man and woman (Genesis 3:21).
The Hebrew word for tunic is kethoneth, which describes a shirt that hangs on the shoulders and reaches to the knees.
Why did Adam and Eve consider themselves to be naked with the fig leaf garment? Nakedness is the exposure of the sexual organs. Any clothing that allows a view of these areas is considered equivalent to being naked. In Job 22:6, the Bible talks about stripping the naked of their clothing. In other words, it is possible to be naked and clothed at the same time. The phrasing in Job refers to a person who is thinly clad, wearing clothing whose material is transparent, leaving people with no doubts about what exists underneath the clothing. A person can also be naked by wearing clothing that does not completely cover the genitals in all situations or positions. God told the Israelites not to place the altar up where the priest would have to climb steps to reach it (Exodus 20:26). As the priest walked up the steps, there would be the possibility of a worshiper at the base of the steps seeing underneath the priest's garments. As an additional precaution, the priest's garments included short trousers that went around the waist and covered the thighs to cover their nakedness (Exodus 28:42-43). The breeches would be similar to long boxer shorts that extended to the knees. For women, the exposure of the groin region or the breasts was considered nakedness (Ezekiel 16:7).
Therefore, any clothing that does not cover your genitals in all positions would be improper for a Christian to wear. String bikinis, bikini briefs, short shorts, and shorts that are split on the sides up to the waist would not be adequate coverage. Clothing made out of very thin material or loosely woven material, such as a fishnet weave, would be improper material for the groin region. If you are uncertain, place your hand behind the material. If you can "see" your hand, find another article of clothing. When you are trying on trousers, notice whether you can see the edge of your undershorts through the pants. If you can, find something else to wear. Clothing that is tight or form fitting would not be modest either. Some athletic clothing, such as those made out of spandex, hugs the body so closely that you can easily see the outline of a man's genitals. Very tight jeans can be a problem as well. Form fitting jeans can leave little doubt about what is underneath the pants.
For women, the groin, thighs and breasts must be covered. This means that bikinis, short shorts, short skirts, shorts that are split up the side, or skirts with revealing splits are not adequate for proper attire. Slacks made out of very thin loosely woven material would not be proper. If you can see where your underclothing starts and ends through the slacks, you should find something else to where. If skirts allow light through, wear a slip underneath or find something else to wear. Loose weave sweaters need something underneath to prevent a view of the breasts. Tight or form-fitting clothing should also be voided, such as leotards, spandex shorts, or even tight slacks and jeans.
Clothing that does not cover your nakedness is definitely not modest. However, clothing that does cover your genitals may still be considered immodest. For example, under the Old Law a man was not allowed wear women's clothing and a woman could not wear men's clothing (Deuteronomy 22:5). What is considered to be appropriate dress for a man and a woman varies greatly over time and between societies. However, whatever is the current standard, that is the standard by which you must abide.
Paul addresses that idea of modesty in I Timothy 2:9-10. This commandment was specifically written for women, but principles taught in this passage can be applied to men as well as women. Christians are to be modestly attired. Few people dispute this. However, when we try to define what modesty is, we are faced with many different opinions. The Amish (a religious sect that wears clothing styles dating back to the late 1600s) debate whether suspenders are modest or immodest. Some say they are modest; some say they should not be worn; still others say that only suspenders that form a "Y" in the back are modest, the "X" style is immodest.
So how do we figure out what is modest? The latest fashions are constantly changing. In the late 1800s it was immodest for a woman to show her ankles. Therefore, women wore long dresses and high top boots. Today, no one thinks twice if a woman's ankles show. A woman wearing high top boots and a long full skirt would have many people staring at her as she walks down Main Street. Even if we restrict ourselves to the current fashions, there are some outfits that everyone would agree are definitely modest and others that are definitely immodest. However, we can't rely on popular opinion to totally define modesty. It shifts too much and often allows things that would offend most of our tastes as Christians. What we need is an unchanging yardstick to learn if an outfit is modest. That yardstick will be the Bible.
At a minimum, modest clothing covers a person's nakedness. If it does not, then it is not modest, no matter what the current fashion dictates, Christians cannot wear these clothes.
Let's look at I Timothy 2:9-10 again. The Greek word for modest is kosmious, which means orderly, well-arranged, seemly, or modest. In other words, "modest" refers to clothing that is neat and appropriate for the occasion. The Greek word that is translated shamefastness is aidos, which means having a sense of shame, modesty, and reverence. A shamefaced person can blush when faced with things that are irreverent or immodest. The Greek word for sobriety is sophrosuna. This is a person of sound mind, with self-control, of good judgment, and is moderate in all that he does.
Modest dress doesn't call attention to the wearer. This is a reason why clothing that exposes your nakedness is immodest. Costly jewelry or elaborate hair styles can also be immodest. People should notice a Christian because of who he is and not because of what he is wearing. The clothing that I wear should fit the occasion so that my attire does not outshine my Lord, whom I represent. When going among farmers, I won't wear a formal three-piece suit; jeans and a flannel shirt would be more appropriate. If I need to teach someone of the Amish faith, I'll wear a dark suit with no metal buttons and a broad brim hat. We should always be modestly attired because we represent Jesus to those around us every moment of our lives.
Before we leave the topic of clothing, I would like to mention one more thing. Right or wrong, people judge us by the clothes that we wear. If we dress as if we are going to dig ditches, but we are not, people will conclude that we don't care. If we greatly overdress for the occasion, people will conclude that we are stuck up and aloof. When you begin searching for a job, notice what the administrative people are wearing before you apply for the job. When you go in for an interview, dress at least as well as the person with whom you will be talking. When you are formally stopping by to teach the gospel, recognize that people have certain expectations about what a gospel preacher should look like. Don't place a stumbling block in front of your message by dressing so that people lose credibility with you.