Modest Dressing for Catholic Ladies

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For so many years, my Catholicism was Mass on Sunday and that was it. Don’t talk to me about birth control, modesty or chastity. There were even a few years that I “fell away”. When I returned, being Catholic meant much more to me than “getting my sacraments”. I began digging deeper. I gladly fled the world for a time. Maybe too gladly. I love the Mass. I crave the nourishment of the Holy Eucharist. But there is even more. I want to live as a statement of the love of Christ. When I’m not busy sinning. Or being selfish. Or angry. Or pathetic. Being Catholic is looking to my faith for the answers to my shortcomings. It is getting back up after each fall and cleaning off with confession. Repenting. Again. Accepting that I cannot do this life on my own but that with Christ I can do anything. He can do anything.
I have looked to the Catholic Church for guidelines to modest dressing. I found some from the 1950’s. A very few Catholic writers have addressed modesty. Apparently it is not popular to stand for things that have been thrown to the wind, for each person to determine on their own. This is probably as it should be, but perhaps there could be some guidelines to look to as well. Not necessarily rules, but suggestions.
Modesty applies to both men and women. Modesty in dress and behavior would help heal so many of society’s ills. I am talking about striving for a respectful attitude toward others. As clothing has become more and more immodest, immoral sexual behavior has become more and more widespread. We are called bigots and haters if we do not accept this. It is the behavior and not the persons that we do not accept. Because I do not accept vegetarianism for myself does not mean I hate vegetarians. Because I am a Catholic does not mean that I do not have good friends that are atheist (I do). But back to modest dressing. As Colleen Hammond so eloquently points out in her book, Dressing With Dignity, eyes are drawn to the sexual areas. No wonder such over exposure of bodies has led to such widespread corruption of sexual expression.
There is concern about violent movies and video games desensitizing our children to violence. Have we ignored the same desensitization that has been caused by immodest dress? Undoubtedly, a return to modesty will not eliminate all sexual deviancy, but it will eliminate much confusion and tension present in today’s society. When the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have to pass rules protecting the rights of lgbt children to participate in scouting one has to wonder – why is sexual orientation even an issue pre-puberty and in early adolescence? Even in later adolescence? Something is very wrong with that.
I have a few guidelines that I follow. Some I have picked up from other Christian faiths that have actual guidelines, some I have added from my own ponderings. Here they are:
– Show no cleavage, male or female, top or bottom
– Opaque clothing, not sheer
– What is under should not show if you bend over or lift your arms
– Wear an undershirt
– Leggings should be worn under dresses and skirts, especially if they might blow up
– Sleeves at least to elbows
– Skirts at least to mid calf
– Shorts at least to knees
– Long pants preferred for boys and men
– Modest bathing suits for women – wetsuit style with long shorts and a skirt or sari cover up when not in water
– Same rules for children – do not expose their precious bodies to unknown eyes
I have been guilty of judging others by their dress, so I do not hold anyone to my standards, and I try to catch myself and behave. But I truly encourage you, if you are so inclined, to develop your own standards of modesty.
Lead us not into temptation and help us not to be a cause of sin to others, intentionally or unintentionally.
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Modest Dressing

I am a convert to modest dressing. I have only been conciously trying to dress modestly for about eight years now. Prior to that I was all about fashion and being “appreciated”. I have to put that in quotes because the kind of “appreciation” I got was not really what I was looking for. In my pursuit of guidelines for modesty, I ran across a book by Colleen Hammond called “Dressing With Dignity”, in which she discusses some very unpleasant but true facts about how we dress and how we are treated. I did some research on my own, and concluded that her evidence was real. In defense of women, I am not just speaking of us, here. Modesty is just as important for men. Women may not be as visual in nature as men, but we do take notice of physical attributes. And in looking around me when I’m out in “the world”, I realize just how important it is to encourage our children to dress modestly. I mean, is it really that “cute” when little children run around topless, or a first grader bends over and you can see her entire torso? Do we really think pedophiles are limited to the internet?
While there are many degrees of modesty, from fashionable to frumpy, I think most agree that basic modesty includes covering all cleavage and “privates”. This would include not only necklines and waistbands (as opposed to hip bands), but also sleeve lengths and hemlines. Ms. Hammond’s book gives one of the best basic guidelines I have found. To paraphrase: a woman’s neckline should be such that cleavage is covered and when you bend over you are not giving a display; sleeve length should be long enough that when you lift your arms, you cannot see through to undergarments or what is underneath. Also, fabrics should not be sheer or see-through.
For myself, I prefer dresses and skirts, and I like my hemlines to be mid-calf or below, without slits, wraps or buttons that can inadvertently open to show my legs. I like my legs just fine, but I don’t feel I have to show them off to everybody anymore. In cooler weather, I add a layer of leggings and socks under the dress. I prefer my sleeves 3/4 length or longer, I can always roll them up. Again, I wear an extra shirt in cooler weather, a sweater is also an option. I do wear shorter sleeves in hot weather. I do not bear the burden of excessive cleavage, however, I do try to keep my necklines up near that little dip in my collarbone (forget what it’s called). Sometimes this involves adding a pin to close a low neckline a bit higher, or wrapping and tying a pretty scarf.
As far as head covering, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. This is more because of the fact that I have very fine hair that doesn’t like to cooperate, and blows wildly in the slightest breeze. I frequently wear scarves and hats, and have always enjoyed them. I always try to wear a chapel veil in church, though there are many times I forget, and once in a while choose not to. But that is a whole ‘nuther issue.
Swimsuits are a challenge. Though there are many options and offerings for modest clothing, there is a severe lack of choices in the swimsuit area. I love to swim, and for years now, I have been wearing long shorts and a long sleeved tshirt to swim. I have tried different materials, but unfortunately, the skin tight spandex seems to be the best choice for comfort, quick drying, and coverage. Lately I have run across some great styles in modest swimwear, and hope to make a new modest swimsuit for myself for next year. My favorite style is from Simply Modest, and consists of leggings ending just below the knee, and a tunic style shirt with short sleeves (which could be lengthened) and the tunic ending just a few inches above the knee, thereby covering the hip and buttocks area. I am not sure how this would do in the water, but from my experience with the tshirts, I believe the spandex on the torso would stay put, while the longer area may ride up in the water, but could be smoothed back down upon exiting. Another trick to keep in mind here, is choosing a patterned material for the top to de-emphasize the cling, and a solid, darker color for the leggings, for a slimming effect. As for men and boys, I appreciate the long, baggy trunks, held up, of course, to cover their “cleavage”, and the mesh shirts, popular for many sports are preferable, in my opinion, to a bare chest. On a purely practical level, the more covered you are, the less need for sunscreen.
So there you have it – my take on modest dressing. Now that I’m started, I’m sure I’ll have more to say in future posts.
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