Immodest Dress in the Church: Like Frogs in Boiling Water

August 5, 2008 ( – In recent years what with acceptable fashion standards taking a major plunge (literally) into the realm of ‘anything goes’, young women are left to face conscious decisions in how they dress themselves, not realizing the weight that such decisions carry.

Speaking to youth in Australia on July 18, Pope Benedict XVI mentioned modesty as he told of how becoming fully human means rejecting those voices that lead us into worshipping ‘false gods.’

“People sometimes treat others as objects to satisfy their own needs rather than as persons to be loved and cherished. How easy it is to be deceived by the many voices in our society that advocate a permissive approach to sexuality, without regard for modesty, self-respect or the moral values that bring quality to human relationships! This is worship of a false god. Instead of bringing life, it brings death.”

Those women who wish to remain modest in their dress have been increasingly left to their own defenses as recent fashion trends leave ‘conservative dress’ virtually impossible, if not extinct. Nowadays, anyone left clinging to conservative dress in the incoming tide of cleavage-baring tank-tops and clothing requiring classification (i.e. ‘is that a shirt or a dress?’) is left feeling, quite simply, alienated.

A specialized group called ‘Pure Fashion’ has suggested that being fashionable does not need to mean lowering ones standards and one’s dignity. Pure Fashion challenges young women to embrace the fullness of their femininity: which means recognizing the power inherent to the human body and respecting this great gift (through dressing modestly) instead of harvesting its power for selfish reasons.

In his bulletin article become blog entry entitled “Immodest Dress: A Priest Cries for Modesty,” Father John Michael Lyons OMV, addresses the issue of immodest dress even among the most faithful Catholics (‘daily communicants’) let alone the general population.

Defining immodest dress vaguely as ‘anything revealing,’ Father Lyons mentions that the problem is not only relevant for young women but more particularly for older women.

“Maybe [immodestly dressed older women] think that they’re beyond the age of posing a temptation (and maybe they are). However, they are giving bad example to others – most notably their own daughters and grandchildren. They, too, are committing scandal. Those who see them will think: ‘She’s a good Catholic, and she wears revealing clothing. It must be okay.'”

And so begins the downward spiral towards the complete dilution of a sense of modesty.

In a time where what was previously morally unthinkable has become our reality, it seems that modest dress has become an ‘irrelevant’ consideration, even amongst some of the Church’s most faithful. At the very least it seems to have taken a backseat in the effort to uphold the larger moral framework that continues to threaten its own collapse. Pro-life groups have even suggested modesty should not be ‘part of the program’.

In an era where the ‘wisdom of the ages’ has little to no weight, and, like rebellious teenagers, our society seeks to forge their own feel-good method of approaching morality, it is widely believed that traditional views on the intrinsic value of modesty have been proved to be laughable.

In the 1950s, however, Pope Pius XII was very frank with Christian mothers, underscoring the central importance of modesty:  “The good of our soul is more important than that of our body; and we have to prefer the spiritual welfare of our neighbor to our bodily comforts… If a certain kind of dress constitutes a grave and proximate occasion of sin, and endangers the salvation of your soul and others, it is your duty to give it up…  O Christian mothers, if you knew what a future of anxieties and perils, of ill-guarded shame you prepare for your sons and daughters, imprudently getting them accustomed to live scantily dressed and making them lose the sense of modesty, you would be ashamed of yourselves and you would dread the harm you are making of yourselves, the harm which you are causing these children, whom Heaven has entrusted to you to be brought up as Christians.”

In many efforts to ‘build up’ and to ’empower’ women, the world often facilitates precisely the opposite. Womanhood has been contracted and constricted to an unattainable, inhuman picture of pseudo-femininity and the sooner we jump out of the pot, the better.


4 Responses to Immodest Dress in the Church: Like Frogs in Boiling Water

  1. Thorzzz Daddy says:

    This is a serious problem for me, as I am sure it is for many others. It is hard enough to focus on the Eucharist with the self-congratulatory drivel blaring from the speakers during communion without all the panty-lines, bra-straps, skin tight clothes, and lingerie our women have been told is attractive to wear in public. How I long for the winter! Because “we” don’t want to offend any of these women for their lack of clothing, they cause scandal to anybody who struggles with pornography in the very place these Men come for respite and forgiveness. They have been told they are objects for so long, they know nothing else. Dignity. It all comes down to dignity. If these gilrs haven’t been given it by their Fathers, it’s all over.

  2. Owen says:

    There is a profound ignorance and I would even dare to say arrogance out there.

    I would go further and say that much of what we see, and dear God we *see* too much, exists in our Church because of the allowed influence and welcome embrace of things (here we go) protestant – yep, I do believe this. It took longer for Catholics to get slack(s) and shorts and Ts and what not (emphasis on not) that it did our separated brethen but as we attempt to mimic them in order to get with the times this too is what we get. Colour me unpopular now or what?

    Thanks be to God, the three women in our household (my wife, a young adult and a 16 year old) all dress modestly by their own choice.

  3. Owen says:

    In my previous life in one of my roles I was a children’s pastor. It was my job to oversee not a small number of volunteers the preponderance of whom were women. Sometimes I oversaw more than I wanted and while decidedly trying not to see.

    On one occasion I spoke with a not so young woman who was helping in our summer program in the JK-SK room. That means bending down, reaching over, and so on and so on. There was way to much of her anatomy, both top and bottom on display. I was as discrete as possible and explained the situation. She indicated the level of my perversity that I would even be looking there (and there and there as well) and in as Christian a way as possible she told me where I could go and what I could do with the volunteer position she was leaving. Later on I was called in to the senior pastor’s office. “About Sunday when you were speaking to my niece.” Oh man, I thought, here it comes. “Thank you.”

    As Thorzzz Daddy said, there were many a month where I was thinking – come on winter!

  4. laurazim says:

    …and here, we parents find ourselves in a culture where it is next to impossible to find modest clothing available to our daughters (and even, for the Mamas, ourselves). How are we to set an example? Hopefully it’s more easily said than done: haul out the sewing machine, dust it off, and get to work. If you can’t find it, then make it. I’ve been known to alter patterns meant for women to fit the waist measurements of my daughters, and to add flounces or ruffles to things I’ve found at garage sales or St. Vinnies. And it’s also important to state and restate that Mama must set an example for her daughters, just as Daddy must set an example for his sons.

    Do women even know the recommendations for dressing to honor our Lord at Mass anymore? I didn’t, until my husband was kind enough to search them out for me…and they include things like high necklines (less than two finger-widths from the collar bone is accepatable), full shoulder coverage (a cap sleeve vs. a sleeveless top is preferable), and for Pete’s sake, a decent hemline (two inches or more below then knee WHEN SITTING!)–not to mention the importance of purchasing and wearing clothing that actually fits. Too-tight clothing is at least as distracting as bare skin.

    There is nothing at all wrong with adding layers, if they will also add modesty. A lower neckline can be transformed with a camisole. A shirt cut just a little too short can be covered by a stylish cardigan or camouflaged with a long tanktop underneath. A skirt can have the hem let out or a bit of fabric added if it needs to be lengthened–and slits can be, thanks be to God, closed partially (or entirely). Fashion does not have to go entirely out the window, but it can certainly be adjusted to meet the needs of the modest woman. I am blessed to have a husband who prefers to see his wife not paraded in just a few stitches, but covered in a way which honors not just Jesus, but our marriage (and therefore my submission to him) as well. For us, this applies not just at Mass, but anywhere we (or I) go. I see this not as a limitation, but as something that I do to more fully honor our vows. Just as I would never flirt with another man, neither should I invite even his desire to flirt with me by my manner of dress.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when even at Mass our daughters wrinkle their noses and ask, “Why did that Mama let her daughter wear that to Mass?” (let alone anywhere public). While we are overjoyed that there are those who long to come and worship our Lord with us “just as they are”, we are at the same time saddened that they do not understand that it’s not a fashion show–the aisle on which we walk to Jesus at Communion is not a catwalk.

    I highly recommend reading Alice Von Hildebrand’s “The Privelage of Being A Woman.” We’ve forgotten our role in society, in the Church, in our families, and in the eyes of God–and that includes everything from piety to modesty to obedience and submissiveness. As the women go….so goes the Church.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: