I've never been very opinionated about whether women should dress modestly or not. Being a man, I've never having seen women arguing about how men out to dress, so I figured I'd return the favor. In seminary, of course, I heard talk about women's apparel routinely--how scandalously some women appear when they go to church, etc. I once received instruction (from a close friend) on how women's jeans are tailored to be deliberately seductive, with seam lines directing attention to the crotch.
I haven't missed the irony, that the men most concerned about how women ought to appear seem to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at, analyzing, memorizing the sundry ways they ought not. The objectification of women is a pathology to which both playboy and puritan are susceptible. Perhaps those two are not opposite ends of a spectrum. Perhaps they are, rather, two expressions of a single characteristic: being hot-blooded, and working out ways to deal with it.
Neither caricatures of the puritan or the playboy seem especially concerned with women's subjectivity. The playboy might pay superficial lip-service to the idea that "women can do what they want," but it's only for show. Throwing women's fashion to the lions of the free market can only have one result: a playboy-friendly skimp-fest. Both stances are male-centric; only the puritan is more transparent about it.
But I don't seek to argue that male perception is, or should be, irrelevant to the question. Neither, I think, would most female shoppers. Rather, male perception is one of many factors women think about. How does this make me feel? What aspect of me does this appearance express? What impression will I make on women? On my coworkers? On my family? How comfortable is it?
The issue of male perception remains a part of the whole, but perhaps it should be a lesser part than it presently is.
So given that, there is one word I want to explore and understand: modesty.
The initial impression I get (and I think I'm not alone) is that the word 'modesty' originates with the puritans and will never really shake a puritanical connotation in common speech.