What It Is and Why It Is So Crucial
+++ 1. The Subject Simply Put +++
What is modest dress?
Modesty is wearing enough clothes to cover the flesh or figure of your body so that you don’t tempt or shock another person, while, at the same time, anyone who sees you can know whether you’re a man or a woman and that you’re not trying to be the opposite sex, or to dress flamboyantly.
And why, if modesty demands it, should Catholics dress differently from everyone else nowadays?
Catholics must dress differently because we are to be chaste, humble & obedient. Most of the world today is filled with lust for sexual pleasure and wants to show off for others to look at them. They are also rebellious, often not wanting to fulfill the duties of the sex they were born to be. God forbids us to indulge fornication & adultery, even imaginarily (Exodus 20:14 & Matthew 5:28), wants us to be humble (Matthew 18:4 & 1 Peter 3:8) and tells us to obey our authorities (Deuteronomy 5:16 & Matthew 23:2-3a). In short, Our Creator made us to be the sex we are, creating people to be either men or women for a very definite purpose --- a purpose which is not merely for sexual pleasure or showing off, and which very much does require us to follow His rules and be what we’re supposed to be.
+++ 2. What Covering Your Body Means, to Be Precise +++
So what does it mean to cover the flesh or figure of the body enough?
For a man, it means he should never uncover his genitals, buttocks or the top length of his upper legs in public, especially in front of the opposite sex, and that he should never wear clothing so tight that the shape of these parts of the body are too much revealed for someone else to see. He should also avoid uncovering his chest, back or the bottom length of his upper legs, doing so only when the day is hot or he is working and exercising hard, and he should not do so where he can expect the opposite sex to be gathered. Too, he should avoid way-too-thin, way-too-skintight clothing on the chest, back or the bottom length of his upper legs except in more casual situations. But if he knows this will offend or tempt someone in his presence, then he should avoid it altogether. An excellent rule of thumb for coverage of his body at a bare minimum is this: as long as it is up to him and under his control, he should never, ever, in any situation, voluntarily wear clothing that exposes his flesh further down from his navel than two inches, or further up from his knee to a point that is less than at least three inches below his genitals. (This, though, is an absolute bare minimum, not a routine everyday standard under most normal circumstances. Otherwise, let it never be below his navel more than an inch, or further up from his knee to a point that is less than six inches from his genitals. Such greater coverage of this most private area of a man’s body is highly recommended in most situations, especially places where the opposite sex can be expected to gather or be very nearby, apart from being in the presence of solely his wife under more private circumstances.) Finally, he should never wear flesh-colored or transparent clothing on any part of his body that is supposed to be covered.
For a woman, it means she should never uncover her genitals, buttocks, chest, back or upper legs in public, especially in front of the opposite sex, and that she should never wear clothing so tight that the shape of these parts of the body are too much revealed for someone else to see. (Clothing that is too tight is particularly important for females to shun since women are more curvaceous than men, and since men are usually more attracted to, and concerned about, a woman’s looks than most women are about a man’s looks.) She should also avoid uncovering her upper arms or the top length of her lower legs, doing so only when the day is hot or she is working and exercising hard, and she should not do so where she can expect the opposite sex to be gathered. Too, she should avoid thin, skintight clothing on the upper arms or the top length of her lower legs except in more casual situations. But if she knows this will offend or tempt someone in her presence, then she should avoid it altogether. An excellent rule of thumb for coverage of her body at a bare minimum is this: as long as it is up to her and under her control, she should never, ever, in any situation, voluntarily wear clothing that exposes her flesh further down from her collar bone than two inches, further up her arm than just an inch past her shoulder, further up her leg than at least at her knee, or her midriff. (This, though, is an absolute bare minimum, not a routine everyday standard under most normal circumstances. Otherwise, let it never be below her collar bone than one inch, further up her arm than at her elbow, further up her leg than seven inches below her knee, or her midriff. Such greater coverage of these most private areas of a woman’s body is highly recommended in most situations, expecially places where the opposite sex can be expected to gather or be very nearby, apart from being in the presence of solely her husband under more private circumstances.) Finally, she should never wear flesh-colored or transparent clothing on any part of her body that is supposed to be covered.
If your mind isn’t quite able to wrap itself around these rules, my dear reader, then a simple table chart here at this webpage might help you understand. In addition, if you wonder where I get the standards that I explain here in chapter two, then please read below from chapters eight to ten.
+++ 3. Showing Off Is a Sin When It Comes to Clothes +++
Yet what is flamboyance of dress?
It is clothing the body in a way that is not merely practical, or demanded by your position and responsibilities, and which is, compared to everyone else, over the top. What’s more, it’s doing this to get attention, especially admiration. In other words, putting yourself on display for others to gawk at.
A perfect example is young people. Unless painfully shy, immature youth love getting admired for their handsomeness or beauty. Total show-offs will even try to get people to stare in order to shock them or frighten them. This is why some young men grew their hair extremely long during the 1960s, or why some young women of the same era flaunted ridiculously short skirts and refused to wear bras. Later, in the 1980s, it became short, spiky or colorful hairdos and ever more androgynous clothing. By the start of the ‘00s, it had morphed into garish tattoos, baggy pants, metallic teeth and intimidating glares that warned passers-by either to fall at their feet and worship their deadliness or else stay out of their way entirely lest a sudden & unprovoked attack result.
Other kinds of flamboyance are perhaps less violent or extreme, if just as harmful in the long run. For instance, men who wear so much cologne that it overpowers the senses of helpless bystanders, causing them to stagger and retch. Or women who sport such intricate braids and ornate styles that it takes an hour or more for them to prepare their hair. Or clothes --- whichever the sex that dons them --- so rich, gaudy or eye-catching that the person sticks out like a smoldering cigarette at an anti-smoking convention.
This is flamboyance. It smacks of arrogance & pride. And while it almost goes without saying, we’ll say it anyhow just in case… Catholics should not adopt these kinds of fashions. Unless your responsibilities demand it or the style becomes a dominant custom --- and the style is not morally offensive or utterly impractical --- then you should usually stay with what is simple, pragmatic & normal according to the conventions of the place & people where you live.
+++ 4. Men & Women’s Bodies Are Made to Look Different; +++
Hence, Their Apparel Must Be Made to Look Different, Too!
But what about men and women dressing differently?
Our Creator made people to be either male or female. And He did so for the propagation of the human race. Too, He intended men to lead. That is to say, in most typical situations involving adults, the woman is to be subject to a man’s authority --- be that man a father, a husband, a bishop or what-have-you.
This is not popular to say anymore. It is politically incorrect.
It’s also the truth.
When men & women dress alike, this stark truth is obscured. And it is almost never the man who suddenly up and decides he wants to dress like a woman… rather, it is almost always the woman who wants to dress like a man. In other words, relatively speaking, you almost never run into men who want to wear dresses (there are some, but they’re still the rare exception). Whereas, nowadays, you almost always run into women who go around wearing pants.
Maybe the youngest generation is starting to forget, but a simple study of history or talking to someone old enough to remember reveals the following fact: women in our part of the world prior to recent times never wore pants and would not have been caught dead in them since they were considered to be men’s clothing. As far as I’ve been able to tell, a woman in our part of the world did not dare to wear what we call pants until the French Revolution of 1789, when a particular female revolutionary protested masculine dominance. Her bold fashion statement did not catch on.
Then, in the mid-1800s, a female temperance reformer by the name of Amelia Bloomer in America began to wear and advocate what was thought to be a kind of Turkish pants (very fluffy & baggy, hiding the feminine figure), overlaid by a skirt, for a similar purpose. She was thought very strange. Indeed, the only reason her peculiar fashion choice did start to catch on, sans skirt, in a small way by the end of the 19th century, was that some women wanted to ride bicycles or do gymnastics without the bother of skirts or special bicycle frames made for women in dresses. Which is why, too, such pants became known as ‘bloomers’, in honor of the first woman to try to popularize them.
Then came the 20th century. Certain movie actresses ---
wanting to be just as free & promiscuous as the worst of men --- took to
wearing pants much less baggy than old-style bloomers as a way of proclaiming
their independence of the male sex. The academy award winning Katherine Hepburn
was the most prominent of these women. World War II also occurred, when many
females in the
+++ 5. The Real Problem with Women Wearing Pants +++
The point of this brief history lesson is not to claim that women can never wear pants. Or, to put it differently, pants are not an intrinsic (in and of itself) evil. Provided that the pants are modest and can be distinguished in some adequate way from the clothing of men, then they can be an option. A pope even said as much in his letter to the Bulgarians, answering one of their many questions as they sought to convert to the Catholic Religion. (Response of Nicholas I to the Bulgars in AD 866, Letter 99, Chapter 59. As of 3 September 2011, the reader may find an English translation by William L. North at www.pravoslavieto.com/history/09/866_responce_pope_Nicholas_I.htm #gen52, from the original language edition of Ernest Perels in MGH Epistolae VI, published in 1925.)
Rather, the question in our part of the world is:
Why did women start wearing pants in the first place?
And the rejoinder:
Mostly because they wanted to be just like men.
And that, my dear reader, if you are truly Catholic, is wrong. It makes wearing pants, at this point in time for our part of the world, a very dubious option for any Catholic woman in her right mind to consider. Because a Catholic woman must distinguish her clothing from the opposite sex. (Deuteronomy 22:5) She must also be subject to her husband’s authority. (Ephesians 5:22-24, 33b) Not only that, but our part of the world has practically no tradition of women wearing some sort of pants; it is a novelty of most recent decades, borne of the desire to challenge men for the supremacy and to be thoroughly independent from them, even if married to a man.
Don’t get me wrong. I am aware that most women today don’t consciously wear pants in order to purposely challenge the leadership of men. They were raised wearing pants and simply take it for granted. Too, most women wear pants that are ‘feminized’ and not identical to the pants that men wear. But almost all women nowadays do, nevertheless, have a desire to be as strong and independent as a man. They don’t want to be thought of as ‘the little woman’ (and even though most women truly are littler than most men, and even though, as far as I can tell, almost no woman ever wants to marry a man that is smaller or shorter than herself). In other words, most women today at least sometimes act like being a woman --- smaller and less strong --- is something that is wrong, and therefore terrible.
Hence, while they may not say so straight out, if confronted with the facts of Catholic modesty and what that requires of women, they don’t really want to give up wearing pants since that would somehow be capitulating to the leadership of a man, of conceding to him the right to be not merely different from the woman but also over her. Thus, wearing pants is not just a choice of ‘style’ --- it’s an issue of personal identity. I mean, think about it. Most men don’t want to wear dresses or skirts, thereby limiting their ‘clothing options’ tremendously compared to the woman… but try finding a woman today willing to do likewise and so limit herself to wearing dresses & skirts, giving up pants as an option.
It’s nearly impossible. Why is that?
Because both contemporary men and contemporary women want to be like men. That is to say, everyone wants to be strong & independent like men. Wearing pants is a symbol of that strength & independence. Whereas almost no one nowadays wants to be like a woman!
Or, to put it still another way, we in our part of the world are confused. Most of us don’t know why we do as we do when it comes to clothes; we simply take things for granted, doing what is handed down as ‘normal’ to do. For women, that now means dressing in pants. But if confronted by the facts that wearing pants is not a wise option, most women today react with scorn & derision.
Not because they don’t ever want to feel feminine… it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Sometimes women do like feeling weaker & protected by the man. But because, in giving up their ‘freedom’ to wear pants, they would then be giving up, too, the desire to be just as strong & independent as men. A desire that not all women have all of the time, but which many of them have at least some of the time --- and which they know instinctively they would end up admitting is wrong were they to stop wearing pants.
+++ 6. You Can’t Have It Both Ways: Either +++
Pants Are Immodest on a Woman, or Else They’re Ugly
But there is another problem, too. A pair of problems, as a matter of fact. Because although a woman might say she wears pants only to be ‘practical’ --- as if all the millions and millions of women who came before her and wore only dresses or skirts for centuries on end were somehow stupidly ‘impractical’ --- a good Catholic woman must dress modestly. (1 Timothy 2:9-10) The catch is, how is this to be done when a Catholic woman must not wear clothing so tight that her far more curvaceous figure (relative to the male sex) is revealed too much and causes visually-oriented men to think lustful thoughts?
And the answer:
The pants must be baggy. So baggy, in fact, that the pants look ugly and ridiculous on a woman. How do I know? Because I’m a man. And I can tell you for a solid fact, speaking as a man raised in our times, that baggy pants are most definitely not attractive on a woman. Even if the woman is young and beautiful, it still doesn’t make her attractive in baggy pants. It may have been so faddish in the last two decades that many young women (especially in urban areas) adopted it like a uniform --- trying to be fresh, cool, phat, dope or whatever --- but if they look alluring, it is not because baggy pants flatter a female and make her look so very attractive, but because she wears something so tiny, tight or thin on the top that it’s her upper torso which is attracting men’s lustful stares.
Indeed, this is why the tiny minority of women who followed Amelia Bloomer’s lead in the 1850s wore their ‘bloomer suits’ the way they did --- loose & baggy so as not to offend decent modesty, and mostly covered on the top by a skirt so as not to appear totally unfeminine. Were they to have done otherwise, then they would have been run out of town or hanged high on a gibbet. Even so, despite being both modest and feminine, women wearing these bloomers were mocked so mercilessly by the general public that the fad died out completely by the mid-1860s. Amelia herself was part of the retreat!
Yet why… why were they ridiculed so harshly?
Because the fad was totally disconnected from any previous custom for female clothing in our part of the world, and because the few women adopting it were obviously doing so in order to proclaim their equivalence to, or liberty from, men. In short, they as human beings were rejecting their role as females and the God-given responsibilities of their sex. Men and women of that time still recognized this truth innately, if not fully, consciously & intelligently. They were not completely blinded by our contemporary prejudices. They knew instinctively that it was, at the very least, silly for women to go around trying to dress like men --- although probably not many of them knew how spiritually dangerous it was.
If a woman dresses in pants and wants to look attractive & feminine, then she must wear pants so tight that she is immodest. (Which, of course, leaves women who are older or more stout out in the cold.) But if a woman dresses in pants and wants to be modest & inoffensive, then she must wear pants so baggy that she is unfeminine. Or, if she would solve these two difficulties at the same time, then the woman must wear something like the original ‘bloomer suit’ that was cuffed at the ankle and covered above by a skirt. Yet if a Catholic woman is willing to do this in order to be both modest and feminine, then why not just stay with the traditional clothing of women in our part of the world to begin with?
To wit, dresses and skirts!
+++ 7. Are Children Held to the Same Standard? +++
Yet what about children? Do the same standards of modesty apply to them, too?
Yes and no.
Yes, because they must be raised to be modest adults, covering their bodies correctly and not dressing flamboyantly or perversely.
And no, because when they are very little, the exact same standard cannot apply.
For instance, a tiny baby relieves itself whenever the need strikes. He or she has no ability to do otherwise. Mothers cannot bind infants in clothes that would take forever to change in order to clean the child, nor do they need to worry overly much about exposing their little figures to the view of others when doing so. If you were around dangerous people who could molest your little one, then obviously you would be extra careful about exposing the baby’s nakedness to these hideous persons. (This is why, for example, parents should be cautious on the Internet about displaying intimate pictures of their young children where potential lechers, whores or perverts could see them. Not to mention that intimate moments are most often best kept private inside families and not revealed to outsiders.)
But an infant cannot even be aware of modesty yet, and no normal adult is going to be tempted by seeing the flesh of such tiny children. Hence, the standard of modesty is more relaxed for little children. Which is not to say that caution is thrown to the wind! A parent should still guard the modesty of their baby carefully. Merely that it is not as important as it becomes when the child is a bit older. As a result, if the mother has to change the child in public, she should not carelessly reveal the infant’s nakedness, but there is no reason, either, usually, for her to fret about a stranger seeing the baby’s flesh as the child is being cleaned and changed. Simple good sense must prevail.
Likewise a baby’s masculinity or femininity. The differences between very tiny children are much less than the differences between grown adults. Ergo, there is less need to put babies in clothes that starkly distinguish between boys and girls. A wise Catholic mother will do at least a little something, wherever possible, to distinguish between a boy baby and a girl baby, but the danger of androgyny is much less.
Rather, the need for modesty and distinction becomes greater as the child grows. By the time the children reach five years of age --- or seven, at the very most --- the parent should work hard to instill in that child a sense of propriety & modesty. The little girl should be put in proper dresses or skirts and not encouraged to be a tomboy. Modestly long shorts or pants can be worn by her underneath her more feminine attire until she is old enough to reliably practice lady-like discretion. The little boy should be dressed in proper pants and not allowed to be made an object of mere ‘cuteness’, wherein his youthful features are paraded and fawned over like he is a little girl. He should also be taught how to treat girls with respect and concern, protecting them and preserving their modesty, instead of like competitors that are just another boy to roughhouse with. In all things the goal should be this:
That they learn how to be good & modest Catholics when they are grown up. That cannot be done overnight. It will take years of correct training. But it must be the goal and the training must advance and become more and more earnest until the outcome is assured.
+++ 8. The Case of the Missing Instruction… +++
So where do we get the detailed standards for modest clothing that I mentioned back in chapter two?
Bear with me, because the answer is not simple.
Before the last century, only complete savages in warmer climates
had no concept of decent modesty. Most non-Catholic people --- even total
pagans --- knew what modest clothing was and what it was not, especially for
women. They may not always have dressed modestly like they should (e.g., male
athletes in certain places or times of ancient
Now that knowledge is nearly gone. People are almost totally clueless when it comes to knowing the difference between clothing that is modest and immodest… or why it is important. Modesty is not even a word that is hardly used anymore. Clothing is merely ‘inappropriate’ for certain places, not indecent, immodest or immoral. For instance, a woman would not wear bikini swimwear to work at an office or in a factory. But she wouldn’t refrain from wearing the bikini in public because it’s immoral. She’d only avoid it because it wasn’t ‘appropriate’ for her job. Yet the beach? Ah, that’s a different story.
That’s the kind of mentality we’re dealing with today. It’s utterly flip-flopped from just a century or two ago. Earlier Catholics didn’t have to face this problem. They may have run into immodest dress once in a while, but they didn’t have to go into excruciating detail to explain to people what made the particular clothing immodest. The standard was simply understood; everybody already knew what was modest.
Which is one big reason why extensive & detailed standards of modest dress are not to be found written down anywhere in older times. Leastwise, I haven’t been able to discover anything yet. It just wasn’t necessary. General admonitions instead sufficed. Nor did good Catholics want to get into explicit detail and risk arousing sexual lust in the hearts of others by their candid descriptions. Instead, all a priest or bishop or pope needed to do was make a broad statement like, “We beseech you to dress modestly and not scandalize another or cause the loss of a soul to the sin of impurity.” Nothing more precise needed to be said since everyone already knew what dressing modestly meant… and even if they themselves were guilty of often wearing immodest clothes!
For instance, many Catholic men in the 1400s or 1500s wore tight hosiery and codpieces that were scandalously immodest. Catholic women of the same time period, especially in the upper class, often wore dresses where the neckline plunged far past the collar bone, not to mention that statuary and paintings imitated the ancient Greeks and frequently portrayed men or women who were naked.
This was disgusting and shocking to a decent Catholic. Unfortunately, just because someone is Catholic doesn’t mean he’s a good Catholic. And many, many Catholics --- almost certainly most --- were very bad Catholics during those two centuries. Which is why Protestantism found it so easy to take root in the 16th century since most Catholics didn’t care and weren’t interested in saving their souls anyway.
The point is, despite the wickedness and immodesty of those two centuries, leaders and saints back then didn’t necessarily have to get into detailed explanations of what modest clothing is. They just made general condemnations of the prevailing bad practice or general exhortations to practice good modesty. And even if they did get somewhat specific in public, they didn’t necessarily want to get more detailed in the description or write it down, since it might scandalize someone or tempt that person into lust.
This, by the way, is the reason I’ve been very careful about how I describe modesty. It may seem laughably outmoded to our contemporaries, who are without shame, but good Catholics cannot go around talking about these things like a shameless lecher or brazen whore. We must guard our souls from lust and fight hard to preserve ourselves from impurity of thought. This means being cautious when it comes to talking about the intimate details of the clothing of either sex.
+++ 9. …And Where to Find That Instruction If You Look +++
Where then do the standards of modest clothing come from?
From Sacred Tradition handed down by word of mouth and visible example from one generation to the next. In other words, it didn’t have to be written down in intimate detail, it was simply lived in daily life. That’s how everyone in Catholic countries knew --- and in non-Catholic countries, too --- what was modest and what was not. So if we want to find out what we should wear to be modest, then we must study the clothing of our ancestors centuries ago, particularly our Catholic forebears, and we must remember the teachings, examples and warnings of our more modest grandparents, or great grandparents, or great great grandparents, and etc.
This is how we can know, in tandem with the private stirrings of the Holy Ghost in our hearts. It’s not as simple as just looking into a book of systematic instruction for laymen, like some sort of catechism. You cannot find it written down like a series of rules in a papal document. And the link to our recent past has now been nearly severed. Most people have forgotten what our forebears took for granted as common knowledge, not imagining there would come a day that it would be unknown. No catechism goes into exquisite detail about how men & women should dress in order to be modest. No saint, to my knowledge, wrote in detail about all of the precise rules for modest clothing.
We are left to put together the pieces for ourselves.
That’s where the history of clothing comes into play. If you study the knowledge of clothing through the centuries --- which I’ve done as part of my training in the theatre during my university days --- you gain a broad outline of the ways people have dressed. That study has continued informally during my post-college life. And a lesson to learn from this study is this, as I noted above: people have almost always, until most recent times or except for the most savage of tribes, retained a sense of what is modest. Even badly behaved Romans or rather licentious Greeks knew, at their worst periods in history, when they were being immodest. That is to say, they hadn’t forgotten what it meant to dress modestly. They just didn’t particularly feel like doing so. They preferred being wicked.
And we, too, in our part of the world today, aren’t completely ignorant. Many of us know very well that our grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents dressed quite differently from how we dress now, and that the difference between us and them is not explained by the mere change of outward ‘styles’. To the contrary, the morality of our inward person has changed. Or, to put it another way, first we had to change our opinion about what is right & wrong before we could conclude that it’s okay, for example, that a woman put on the mere ‘style’ of a tiny thin bathing suit. The change inside of us had to occur first (it’s not wrong for me to wear next to nothing in public) before the change outside of us could happen (that almost-nothing-there swimsuit looks great --- I think I’ll wear it!).
The question is, why have we dared to defy what our great great grandparents took for granted? Are we really so arrogant and thick-headed as to assume out of thin air that they were just stupid or uptight and didn’t know any better… but that we, so very ‘enlightened’ and ‘liberated’ people of contemporary times, are just somehow so much smarter and more clever about these things?
Pretty dumb of us.
Not that our great great grandparents were necessarily so very smart. They may not have really known quite why they dressed as they did, other than that that’s what they were taught to do. But they did have a sense, deep down inside of themselves, that it was shockingly and rudely immoral to dress like a whore or a pervert. Such a person wasn’t --- and shouldn’t ever be --- considered ‘normal’. And so they reacted, very naturally, with horror and scorn when some smart mouth or young rebel dared to defy common morality back then by dressing immodestly, flamboyantly or like the opposite sex.
And, yes, our great great grandparents could be pretty silly sometimes. The most extreme of corsets during the Victorian era were ludicrous. They were not only impractical but could be harmful. No one period of time or place is ever completely free from the foibles and idiosyncrasies of fallen human life. Notwithstanding, even non-Catholics in our part of the world could still preserve much truth when it came to modest clothing. Because most non-Catholics were, prior to more recent years, really only one other thing, broadly speaking --- Protestants. And Protestants came from Catholics, not Catholics from Protestants, who began in the year AD 1517. So where did most of their notions of how to dress properly come from, amongst Protestants, especially at that earlier date?
From Catholics, of course. Hence, Protestants up until the last century preserved much of what was modest in their dress from good Catholics, who in turn knew what was morally decent clothing from most ancient times with Jesus & His Apostles. Moreover, the dress of good Catholics in our part of the world prior to the last century is a most excellent source of instruction on how we should dress. Not that we have to wear exactly the same styles or fashions as they wore, but that we should not be uncovering what they did not dare to uncover in public for others to see, nor should we be trying to dress in ways that are utterly at odds with those around us as long as the prevailing styles and sentiments are not immoral or impractical. That’s what our Catholic forebears did, mixing in with the dominant fashions of those around them, and that’s what we should do, too, apart from adopting fashions that are immodest, androgynous or etc., etc.
+++ 10. Detailed Quotes About Modesty in Recent Times +++
Which brings us to a final observation in this particular matter. Because although good & wise Catholics in centuries past did not see fit, apparently, to record in detail what exactly is modest clothing, we did have a few Catholics --- who were Church leaders or had the reputation of great holiness --- grappling with the immodesty of our times, namely, just as it was really getting bad in the 1950s or 1960s. And they gave us some valuable instruction, preserving Sacred Tradition about what modest dress is for Roman Catholics, and thus what it has been since most ancient times regardless of fashion.
For instance, we have the Cardinal Vicar of Pope Pius XII reportedly saying the following, as imprimatured for publication in 1956:
“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.”
And Cardinal Siri is known to have instructed his Italian diocese about the growing phenomenon of women wearing pants in 1960:
“Firstly, when it comes to [the] covering of the female body, the wearing of men’s trousers by women cannot be said to constitute, as such, a grave offense against modesty since trousers certainly cover more of [a] woman’s body than do modern women’s skirts.
“Secondly, however, clothes to be modest need not only to cover the body but also not to cling too closely to the body. Now it is true that much feminine clothing today clings closer than do some trousers, but trousers can be made to cling closer, in fact, generally they do, so the tight fit of such clothing gives us not less grounds for concern than does exposure of the body. So the immodesty of men’s trousers on women is an aspect of the problem which is not to be left out of an overall judgment upon them, even if it is not to be artificially exaggerated either….
“In truth, the motive impelling women to wear men’s dress is always that of imitating, nay, of competing with, the man, who is considered stronger, less tied down, more independent. This motivation shows clearly that male dress is the visible aid to bringing about a mental attitude of being ‘like a man.’
“Secondly, ever since men have been men, the clothing a person wears demands, imposes and modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior, such that from merely being worn outside, clothing comes to impose a particular frame of mind inside….
“When we see a woman in trousers, we should think not so much of her as of all mankind, of what it will be when women will have masculinized themselves for good. Nobody stands to gain by helping to bring about a future age of vagueness, ambiguity, imperfection and, in a word, monstrosities.”
Lastly, a biography of Padre Pio --- who many regard as a saintly man, and who had to contend with the chaos arriving on the heels of the Vatican 2 Pseudo-Council, not to mention that he was also suppressed by the Novus Ordo Vatican after this Pseudo-Council --- says that he posted these two guidelines for all men or women who wished to partake in his Mass or enter his confessional for the Sacrament of Penance during the 1960s:
“The Church is the house of God. It is forbidden for men to enter with bare arms or in shorts. It is forbidden for women to enter in trousers, without a veil on their head, in short clothing, low necklines, sleeveless or immodest dresses.
“By Padre Pio’s explicit wish, women must enter the confessional wearing skirts at least eight inches below the knee. It is forbidden to borrow longer dresses in church and to wear them to confession.”
(All quotes taken from webpages at www.catholicmodesty.com, as current on 16 August 2011.)
+++ 11. Why Modesty Is Harder on a Woman +++
Now, these truths apply to both sexes. However, the heavier burden is on the woman.
Because women were made by God to be the beautiful sex. Meanwhile, God made men to be the strong sex, and, when proper, to enjoy the beauty of a woman. But this enjoyment of her beauty did not have anything to do with sexual pleasure at first. It only became connected to sexual pleasure after the Fall of Humanity when Adam & Eve committed the first sin. Thus, though women are capable of sexual desire, they are not usually the ones most tempted by what they see of the opposite sex. But men, made to enjoy the beauty of a woman --- a beauty now connected to sexual pleasure due to the corruption of our flesh after Original Sin --- usually are the ones most tempted by seeing the opposite sex.
As a result, while Catholic men must dress modestly, a Catholic woman must dress even more modestly for the sake of not tempting men into sexual lust. She must cover her body well enough that her flesh & figure are not a snare to the men around her, especially men who are supposed to be Catholic and keeping their minds chaste and pure.
I can certainly sympathize. However, let us remember one thing… God is in control of everything.
It is He Who permits some human beings to be born as men and some as women. Hence, none of us have a choice in the matter before it happens, just as none of us can choose beforehand whether we will be short or tall or smart or stupid or white-skinned or black-skinned. We’re dealt the cards we have and then it’s up to us what we do with them. In some things, men would seem to have the general advantage. In other things, it would seem to be women that have the upper hand.
In reality, neither is better or lesser than the other in the grand
scheme of things for all eternity --- there will be no marriage, as we know it
on earth, in Heaven, as Jesus tells us, where its human inhabitants are like
the angels forevermore. (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25 & Luke 20:34-36) Indeed,
Which is not to say that being a man or a woman is not
important. God made us the sex that we are to fulfill a purpose here on earth,
a purpose that, if we marry, is, first and foremost --- and under the usual
circumstances --- the bearing of children. He also made a woman so that she is
“the weaker vessel” in comparison to the man, as St. Peter teaches
us. (1 Peter 3:7 DRC) A weaker vessel that, God via
+++ 12. A Final Exhortation +++
Yet think about it. Is covering up your flesh & figure really that big of a sacrifice? Is it really that hard to do? Aside from being fashionable or fitting in, are you really giving up anything? Is it a matter of life and death, or serious maiming? Till very recently in the last century, haven’t most women in our part of the world dressed very modestly, and haven’t they been able to do so while looking lovely and chic?
So why can’t a good Catholic woman --- provided she is not a nun or prohibited by poverty or lack of interest --- dress not only modestly & femininely, but beautifully and fashionably, too? Why must it be an either/or choice between modesty and beauty or femininity and fashion? Why must beauty be equated to nudity, and femininity only to the stark & vulgar display of a woman’s figure?
There is no good reason for this. And women, while typically the more timid sex, must be brave and learn to not care what other people think about their peculiar fashions… fashions that are now thought strange and rather antiquated, or pathetically prudish. If able to do so because they have the money and like to dress nicely, they can find ways to be elegant & lovely without sacrificing modesty or femininity. But they must not endanger a man who looks at them, particularly the soul of a fellow Catholic. Nor should they endanger a woman who is shocked and scandalized by their immoral dress, or who imitates their bad example. The everlasting fate of such souls must not come back to haunt them at judgment and so turn out to be the damnation of their own most precious and immortal souls. Catholic women must follow the Blessed Virgin Mary’s holy example and be the very epitome of chastity & purity.
The same goes for men, too. Just because our requirements in clothing are somewhat less than a woman’s, does not mean that we can be careless and wicked. We, too, must guard our propriety and not needlessly tempt or scandalize another human being, especially our siblings in Christ’s Catholic Body. We must love our neighbors just like ourselves, and even our enemies. Part of doing this is learning to dress modestly. Let us charitably and compassionately admonish one another in the communion of God’s Roman Church when it comes to modest clothing in order to do so.
Most Sacred & Suffering Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us! Most Immaculate & Sorrowful Heart of Mary, pray for us! Help us to do that which our fathers have failed to do, and to pass on to our children what we learn, thereby saving both our own souls and the souls of all those under our care. Amen.
+ + +
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