Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Be Modest, Not Frumpy



We live in times when blatant immodesty is rampant. Everywhere we are bombarded with intimate sexual details of the lives of strangers. Topics which were once only discussed between married couples and their doctor are now bandied in front of children and in mixed company. The sense of shame has all but disappeared. What is more, as Our Lady of Fatima prophesied in 1917: “Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much.”

It is human nature to oscillate from one extreme to another. Lady-like clothes have been replaced by either scanty attire or boyish sportswear, as Genevieve Kineke ponders in her book The Authentic Catholic Woman:
The everyday dress of women should work to their advantage and call to mind the inherent dignity of a child of God. There is tremendous latitude in style today, but few current fashions really flatter women. From the nearly indecent clothing once restricted to red-light districts to androgynous athletic gear, young women are pushed into choosing styles that make social statements that may be far from what they have in mind. (Kineke, Genevieve. The Authentic Catholic Woman, Servant Books, 2006)
St. Paul enjoined his Christian women converts to cloth themselves modestly. "In like manner women also in decent apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with plaited hair or gold, or pearls or costly attire."(1Timothy 2, 9) Two thousand years later, the Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes the words of the Apostle: “Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love…. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing.” (CCC, 2522)

However, there seems to be a trend among devout Catholic ladies to react against the gross immodesty of the general society by dressing themselves in bleak, shapeless, androgynous clothes. Modesty does not imply androgyny; a woman can be modest and feminine without being frumpy.

Let us avoid the extremes of Gnosticism. Gnostics, such as the medieval Cathars, thought that the body was bad, created by the devil. We Catholics believe the body is holy. As author Colleen Hammond wisely counsels:
Remember, it’s about moderation. Not too much one way, not too much the other. Take, for example, someone who purposely 'dresses down.' This person ignores everyday decorum and dresses in a sloppy, careless manner. Maybe this is done on purpose in an attempt to show disregard for vanity, but what people like this end up doing is drawing undue attention to themselves, which is a lack of humility. ‘Dressing down’ or looking frumpy is not a sign of holiness! (Hammond, Colleen. Dressing With Dignity, TAN Books and Publishers, 2005, p.80)
In the thirteenth century, St Thomas Aquinas tackled the various issues of women’s attire in his Summa Theologica. Exploring the question of whether devout women could lawfully use cosmetics and wear pretty clothes, the saint and Doctor of the Church stated:
A woman may use means to please her husband, lest through despising her he fall into adultery. Hence it is written (1 Cor. 7:34) that the woman ‘that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband.’ Wherefore if a married woman adorn herself in order to please her husband she can do this without sin….(Summa Theologica, Question 169, Article 2)
St. Thomas reflects in the same article that unmarried women, who feel called to the vocation of marriage, may also “lawfully adorn themselves,” as long as they, like their married sisters, avoid immodesty and vanity.

Excessive preoccupation with oneself is never spiritually healthy. Nevertheless, it is possible to be self-absorbed while lounging about the house in sweat pants. Sometimes, taking the time to look nice to please one’s spouse requires extra effort and virtue. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand says it thus:
St. Francis de Sales does tell us that pious women should be well-dressed, but this doesn’t mean they must become slaves of fashion. There’s a way of dressing which is attractive, even elegant, but at the same time modest and simple. More importantly, attractiveness shouldn’t be reserved for guests and those you meet outside the home, while you ‘let yourself go’ when you’re alone with [your husband.] (Von Hildebrand, Dr. Alice. By Love Refined: Letters to Young Bride. Sophia Institute Press, 1989, p.116)
I look at it this way-- what would it say to our daughters if we who stay home with them looked like drudges all the time? It says that being a stay-at-home wife and mother is boring, tedious, dehumanizing and slavish. It would make any girl want to run screaming from motherhood. And while it is difficult, tedious and challenging at times, it is also a joyous, creative, God-given vocation. Being a Christian wife and mother has a certain dignity; it is a gift and privilege and the girls (and boys) need to be shown it as such. How we dress can say how we feel about what we are doing, that keeping our houses going for our families is of value, and that our husbands are worth looking nice for. And the children then a get a sense of their own Christian dignity, as well.

Modesty can be feminine and attractive. Of course, we will make a mess of ourselves in the kitchen, in the garden, and chasing babies around. But a dab of lipstick goes a long way….

(From the July/August 2008 issue of Canticle)

(Photo from Peruvian Connection) Share

14 comments:

Iosue Andreas said...

Great post! One of the things that surprised me when I visited some traditionalist parishes was seeing dresses like the FLDS women or Laura Ingalls (sp?) wore.

Dymphna said...

Go to any Catholic event and you'll find women wearing no makeup and those horrible shapless denim jumpers or the sack dresses down to their ankles. Do Catholic men actually find this attractive? I doubt it.

Colleen Hammond said...

Thanks for the quote!

I like to keep in mind what Pope Pius XII counseled:

"The trend of fashions is not in itself evil. It flows spontaneously from the social nature of man, in accordance with an impulse which inclines him to keep in harmony with his fellow-men, and with the way of acting of those amongst whom he lives. God does not ask you to live outside your times, so careless of the exigencies of fashion as to render yourselves ridiculous, by dressing in a way opposed to the common tastes and practices of your contemporaries, without considering at all what pleases them.
...
In following fashion, virtue lies in the middle course. What God asks of you is to remember always that fashion is not, and cannot be, the ultimate rule of conduct for you that beyond fashion and its demands, there are higher and more pressing laws, principles superior to fashion, and unchangeable, which under no circumstances can be sacrificed to the whim of pleasure or fancy, and before which must bow the fleeting omnipotence of the idol of fashion."


So, we can (and out of chairty should) follow fashions as long as they fall within the unchangeable guidelines of modesty.

Colleen Hammond said...

By the way, the Catholic guidelines for modesty are as follows:

“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 material are improper.” (Guidelines developed and released by mandate of Pius XI by Donato Cardinal Sbaretti, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Council under Pope Pius XI).

What I find interesting is that other group's modesty guidelines are similar (Natural Law). Actually, the Catholic guidelines are the most lax! :-)

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Colleen, I love the quote from Pope Pius XII. Yes, God does not ask us to live outside our times and our culture.

The comparisons with those other non-Catholic and non-Christian groups are most interesting. I am sure you would agree that the Catholic Church, having the fullness of the faith, presents the most balanced view regarding the modesty of the human person.

It is interesting the way styles have changed over the centuries, and what we would consider immodest was often considered proper, and vice versa. In previous centuries in the courts of Europe, low-cut gowns were worn even by very devout ladies and were considered proper attire. Corsets were seen as the bastion of modesty and propriety- the English often described the Irish women as being immodest because they did not wear corsets. A woman without corsets was seen as being a "loose" woman. It is fascinating to me how views of such things change.

In the twenties and thirties when Pope Pius XI reigned, fashions had changed dramatically from previous centuries, with women wearing shorter skirts, abandoning corsets, bobbing their hair, wearing transparent silk stockings. (I know you cover all this in your book.) Such fashions had never been seen before and were part of the drastic world-changing events of the World War, the rise of Communism and Fascism, etc. In those days of radical change on every level of life, it was the duty of the Church to give some basic guidelines.

Colleen Hammond said...

Of course, I would hope that it goes without saying that as a Catholic I believe that, "the Catholic Church, having the fullness of the faith, presents the most balanced view regarding the modesty of the human person." Thanks for allowing me to reaffirm my stance as a Catholic! :-)

I sincere hope people are edified and encouraged by observing other group’s guidelines.

Yet I get emails from some that say requiring more stringent guidelines is essential, but I disagree. Being “more Catholic than the Pope” doesn’t necessarily make one more Catholic—it makes one scrupulous and/or wrong.

Others say the modesty guidelines are outdated and too severe. To again quote Pope Pius XI: "To say that 'modesty is a matter of custom' is just as wrong as to say that 'honesty is a matter of custom'."

Yes, Holy Mother Church had the obligation to help us, and She did by giving us basic guidelines. May we continue to have the fortitude to use God’s grace to live our Faith!

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, dear Colleen, of course it goes without saying. Thank you for sharing your research on this topic!

de Brantigny said...

Good timing. There seems to be a misconception that it is ok to look like you have just come from the beach.

The director of religion at my parish, has daughters who dress like they are going to a club on a saturday night. Last week the strapon one of the girls broke, it was sad.

I know the deacon has talked to the mother but she responds that it is the fashion for girls to dress that way. The problem is they sit right up front.

Her sons are no different they dress like they have just gottten off their surf boards.

The one whose strap broke got mad when I in my official capacity as the dinstructor for the altar servers, made her take off her hoop earrings. she doesnot serve any more.

Before anyone who reads this questions girl servers, the Bishop has allowed it. There are only 4 boys but 10 girls.

Colleen Hammond said...

I didn't know the little item about corsets...very interesting! I'll have to read more about that... THANKS!

papabear said...

you'll find women wearing no makeup

That doesn't bother me, though I am still in the process of readjusting to "natural". The jumpers, on the other hand...

Martin said...

Speaking as someone who dresses down frequently and is therefore guilty of lack of humility, I would have to say that it's not the clothes that matter to me. It's the manner, the look, the glances, the eyes, the smile, the body language that matter. The inner light, as it were. But then I'd throw out all those fashion guidelines.

elena maria vidal said...

"It's the manner, the look, the glances, the eyes, the smile, the body language that matter. The inner light, as it were."

Martin, that is so beautiful.


And thanks to everyone for the interesting feedback!

DisneyWorld Dreaming said...

What a wonderful article. It is refreshing as so many Christian women do not carefully consider this issue. For example, you won't find many true women of faith dressed in a markedly immodest manner. But what about we stay at home mothers who wear huge faded t-shirts and black leggings, or ugly housecoats all day?? Certainly many of us do not think this as being sinful, as long as we are not immodest. I have seen many stay at home mothers going out, say to the market wearing flip-flops, (sometimes slippers), sleepwear type lounging pants, and sometimes even tank tops with straps. Truly, that is an unattractive picture. A woman should only step beyond her porch for the newspaper in sleepwear if she is chasing a child into the street, has a medical emergency, housefire, or is in labour. (Maybe some of that was a little humorous. And we have to be careful not to enslave ourselves with laws.) But I think it is so important--the message we send our daughters especially about our stations as wife and mother. I personally consider my vocation as a mother to be a precious calling, one I am grateful for. But, I admit I often do not consider how tiresome I might appear to husband and children to wear the same boxy athletic shirts and leggings day after day. It is not attractive, pleases no one, and certainly might send a depressing message to a daughter. Could this epidemic "frumpiness" be at least one of the reasons why so many of our young women say that they would rather be anything, except grow up to be like mom??

Hmmm. I think I need to take a second look at myself, and my 'wardrobe.'

Thank you for this; I certainly needed to read this..

elena maria vidal said...

You're welcome! Thanks for the great comment!