Sunday, June 14, 2009

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 Lady-like clothes have been replaced by either scanty attire or boyish sportswear, as Genevieve Kineke ponders in her book The Authentic Catholic Woman: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


Michelle Therese said...

"by dressing themselves in bleak, shapeless, androgynous clothes..."

I fell for that at one point but I ended up getting creeped out by the "modest Christian" styles ~ they were too much like little-girl outfits!! Just... no.

"Wherefore if a married woman adorn herself in order to please her husband she can do this without sin…"

That's good to know!!

I go for "modified old fashioned" styles purchased from a fantastic seamstress. (Fashions In Time) Many of them work great for a buxom figure, they are feminine, *womanly* vs. girlish, and not a present popular style so I don't end up a slave to fashion.

BTW ~ I'm expecting baby #2 !! :-)

elena maria vidal said...

Congratulations, Coffee! I am so happy for you.

I prefer a classic look, too.

Clare said...

Excellent, excellent post. I couldn't agree more. The frumpy clothes are, I think, a natural reaction to the blatant immodesty we see so often these days; but as Dietrich von Hildebrand pointed out, as Catholics it's important that we guard ourselves against knee-jerk reactions and look for the Truth rather than just swing the pendulum the other way.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Mademoiselle Duroc. I agree with you, too.

Diamantina, aka Gentillylace said...

Excellent post! I am an unmarried woman who does not feel called to the vocation of marriage (and who is attempting to discern a vocation to consecrated virginity in the world), yet I like to wear modest, pretty clothes, some jewelry and a touch of makeup. Would St. Thomas Aquinas consider that suitable, I wonder? (It is hard to find modest, pretty clothes in a size 22, but that's a different story...)

Viola said...

I don't think that God wanted us to wear frumpy clothes! I would like to be like European women. How do they manage to look so well-groomed and dress so well all the time?

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Diamantia. It sounds like you dress very appropriately for your state in life, considering you have not yet made a firm commitment to the consecrated life but are still discerning. Also, it is important to dress in manner that makes you most effective in whatever your present work might now be. If you have any doubts I would consult a confessor or spiritual director. God bless you.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Viola! And they are so nice and thin, too! I'm jealous! ;-)

Lindsay said...

I think that European women buy high quality clothing that looks good on them in a classic style that won't easily go out of fashion. Then, they make their more fashionable fashion statements with accessories.

I do find that being a nursing mother makes finding feminine, non-frumpy clothing just that much more challenging. Not impossible, but not easy either!

elena maria vidal said...

"I think that European women buy high quality clothing that looks good on them in a classic style that won't easily go out of fashion. Then, they make their more fashionable fashion statements with accessories."

Lindsay, that's it, absolutely.

Anonymous said...

EMV, this is a perfect explanation of what we are called to. Now if only someone would supply me with the wardrobe...:)

Kate said...

Just found your excellent blog and I really like this post.The idea of dressing with care to please your spouse seems almost countercultural today, yet it's such a lovely compliment to your spouse when you do.
I think a well dressed (not the same as expensively dressed) woman uses modest clothing to conceal, rather than reveal, her human form, not out of a sense of shame, but out of respect for the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. And I agree that 'modest does not mean 'frumpy'!

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Margaret, that can be a challenge!

Welcome, Kate! I am glad we are in agreement on this!

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle said...

What an excellent post, Elena Maria! Thanks for writing it. It's very timely and important!

God bless,


Aron said...

I love your blog, and read it almost daily as it deals with topics dear to my heart/mind. (Such as history, faith, and Marie Antoinette!)
From a man's perspective, may I say that you've hit the nail on the head! The women who...ummm...display all in the shop window, so to nothing for me, if you understand. If anything I am repelled by it. Not so much by the women who dress modestly and womanly--and that is, as has been pointed out--not to say frumpily or dehumanizingly. Nor does it mean, in my opinion, that women must wear skirts/ dresses or be "dammed" but that is a whole other arguement. Something that may not have been thought of is that men are as guilty of this as women. I have seen some dress in such snug clothing or little clothing attracts the wrong kind of woman. I supposed that that is what they want, but still...And I have observed some men ressed in such a manner that one would think they were heading to the barn ot muck out the stalls!!
About the only time that I "dress down" or "badly" is when I work out at home, or on laundry day, when I literally have nothing left to wear! At least one tries to make the effort. There's something to be said for dressing to please one's spouse--from either side of the gender fence--and out of respect for one's body and the Lord.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Donna!

Thank you, Aron! I am glad you enjoy the blog!

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