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 Lady-like clothes have been replaced by either scanty attire or boyish sportswear, as Genevieve Kineke ponders in her book The Authentic Catholic Woman: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