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". Standards of modesty are culturally and context dependent and vary widely. In this use, it may be considered inappropriate or immodest to reveal certain parts of the body. In some societies, modesty may involve women covering their bodies completely and not talking to men who are not immediate family members; in others, a fairly revealing but one-piece bathing costume is considered modest while other women wear bikinis. In some countries, exposure of the body in breach of community standards of modesty is also considered to be public indecency, and public nudity is generally illegal in most of the world and regarded as indecent exposure. For example, Stephen Gough, a lone man attempting to walk naked from south to north in the United Kingdom, was repeatedly imprisoned. However, nudity is at times tolerated in some societies; for example by Digambara monks in India, who renounce clothing for ascetic reasons, and during a World Naked Bike Ride.
In semi-public contexts standards of modesty vary. Nudity may be acceptable in public single-sex changing rooms at swimming baths, for example, or for mass medical examination of men for military service. In private, standards again depend upon the circumstances. A person who would never disrobe in the presence of a physician of the opposite sex in a social context might unquestioningly do so for a medical examination; others might allow examination, but only by a person of the same sex.
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.
At times of public or private emergency, expectations of modest dress may be suspended if necessary. 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. 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. 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.
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.
In Western and some other societies, there are differences of opinion as to how much body exposure is acceptable in public. 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 some circumstances partial breast exposure may be officially sanctioned in church, as in 2014 newly elected Pope Francis drew world-wide commentary when he encouraged mothers to breastfeed in church if their babies were hungry.
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. In the early twenty-first century, public breastfeeding has become increasingly acceptable, sometimes protected by law. 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.
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.
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. Organizations such as the Topfree Equal Rights Association advocate for gender equality regarding display of the body. In 1992 New York State's highest court accepted 14th Amendment 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.
Traditional indigenous cultures, such as some African and traditional Australian aboriginal cultures, are more relaxed on issues of clothing, though how much clothing is expected varies greatly, from nothing for some women, to everything except the glans penis for men of some tribes. In some African cultures, body painting is considered to be body coverage, and is considered by many an attire.
Modesty doesn't have to be related to having more clothes especially in the case of native tribes. Some feel exposed when seen in certain clothes even though normal attire is much more revealing. Having ear or lip stoppers is seen as modest with the opposite being true as well.
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 peoples' attitudes to issues of modesty in dress, behavior, speech, etc.
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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.
I will wear the lower robe [upper robe] wrapped around (me): a training to be observed.-- Code 1.2, Sekhiya Rule, 
I will not go [sit] with robes hitched up in inhabited areas: a training to be observed.-- Code 9.10, Sekhiya Rule, 
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.
According to the New Testament: "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).
Historically, communicants of traditional Christian denominations (including Anglican,Baptist,Eastern Orthodox,Lutheran,Methodist,Oriental Orthodox,Reformed, and Roman Catholic women) wore a Christian headcovering while worshipping, or all the time, in keeping with their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Although this practice has waned in some parts of the world, such as in North America, it is commonplace in other regions, such as Eastern Europe and South Asia.
Many conservative Anabaptist Christians, including the Amish, some Mennonite groups in the Conservative Mennonite and Old Order Mennonite traditions, Hutterites, Apostolic Christians, Bruderhof, and German Baptists, 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." These requirements are either written in denominational or congregational statements or are understood and reinforced through informal pressure and ministerial reminders.
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. From there, considerable variation exists in men's, women's, and children's styles, and practice is constantly in flux as members experiment in small ways to see what is acceptable. 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. For example, women's headcoverings have numerous subtle design elements that distinguish church association, age, and attitude toward modest dress. 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 cap with a back part that covers the hair bun and is pleated to a front part that vertically encircles the head.
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 or to censure popular swimwear worn while swimming in groups or in public; others carefully observe and embrace their church's pattern for modest, distinct dress on all non-private occasions.
Catholics are expected to dress modestly; it is recognised that the forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. The wearing of a Christian headcovering at Mass was for the first time mandated as a universal rule for the Latin Rite by the Code of Canon Law of 1917, abrogated by the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Apart from that, there have never been any "official" guidelines issued by the Catholic Church. But from time to time the Church hierarchy, and some popes, have given opinions on various matters; although these guidelines are not binding, they are often followed.Pope Pius XII stated that women should cover their upper arms and shoulders, that their skirts should cover at least as far as the knee, and the neckline should not reveal anything.Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa stated that trousers were unacceptable dress for women. Many traditional Catholics have attempted to further expand on this latter standard.
Some Catholics have attempted to form cohesive theories of modesty. Sometimes this is from a sociological perspective, while at other times it takes a more systematic, Thomistic approach, combined with the writings of the Church Fathers. Approaches arguing primarily from traditional practices and traditional authorities, such as the Saints, can also be found.
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.
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).
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. The girls at the right are going to a Wesleyan Methodist tabernacle meeting at camp. The 2015 Discipline of the Evangelical Wesleyan Church, for example, states: "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.
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" 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. 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 premise and concepts of modesty have evolved under Hinduism. During Vedic times, 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; 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, 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. 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.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 and others 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. 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.
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. 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.
Hindus have diverse views on modesty, with significant regional and local variations. Among orthodox Hindu populations, sexually revealing dress or any sexual behavior in public or before strangers is considered immodest, particularly in rural areas. In contrast, the dress of deities and other symbolism in Hindu temples, the discussion of dress and eroticism in ancient Hindu literature, and art works of Hinduism 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.
Islam has strongly emphasized the concept of decency and modesty. In many authentic hadiths, it has been quoted that "modesty is a part of faith". 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.
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.
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.See-through materials may not be used, and clothes are expected not to be tight-fitting or "provocative". 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.
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).
Some individuals adopt modesty standards of other groups or standards of previous generations.
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 behavior 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.
Many fairytales and other related media feature women from or of ethnic origin from Western Europe and Northern Europe to be demure due to their typically soft features. Famous examples include Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Wendy Darling from Peter Pan, Maid Marian from Robin Hood, Christine Daaé from The Phantom of the Opera, Ophelia from Hamlet, and Dorothy Gale from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
In England radical Protestants, known in the seventeenth century as Puritans, we especially ardent in resisting the churching of women and the requirement that women wear a head covering or veil during the ceremony. The Book of Common Prayer, which became the ritual handbook of the Anglican Church, retained the ceremony in a modified form, but as one Puritan tract put it, the "churching of women after childbirth smelleth of Jewish purification."
The holy kiss is practiced and women wear head coverings during prayer and worship.
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.
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.
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.