Is Modesty in Dress for Women Relative?
These pictures show the process of gradualism in dress from the 1870s to our days. Initially both society & farm women dressed modestly, above
Above, the hats started immitating men's in the 1890s
In the 20th century the skirts shortened & the body's shape became visible, above & below
In the 1960s seriousness was replaced by the fever of enjoying life - the smile became obligatory, above. It was followed by mini skirts & pants, below
So, below, we reach our own times: anything goes...
It is true that modesty is primarily about interior dispositions, and clothing alone cannot make a person virtuous. Nonetheless, modest dress is the safeguard of purity, and no culture or situation can erase our fallen nature.
Pope Pius XII said in 1957 with regard to modesty:
“There always exists an absolute norm to be preserved, no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of styles may be … Style may never give a proximate occasion of sin, and clothing must be a shield against disordered sensuality.” (1)
Catholic societies prior to the 20th century innately understood the importance of modesty. Throughout the world, Catholic women wore long skirts and dresses. Tribal peoples, such as those of Latin America, were not permitted to retain their immodest dress once they converted to the Faith. Instead, under the guidance of the Church, they adopted and developed beautiful and modest clothing that still reflected their cultural personality.
Some, noting the low-cut dresses of the Renaissance or the hourglass silhouettes of the Victorian era, might object to the claim that standards have always been consistent.
What these critics miss, however, is the working of the principle of gradualism, by which bad customs and beliefs are slowly introduced to a society over time. Because initial changes are small and generally appear innocent, they are often adopted even by upright members of society. Still, these changes serve to advance the revolutionary cause because they lead to greater changes later on.
The problems with certain historical fashions, therefore, can be understood as marks of a decadent, already-decaying world. Revolutionary development in clothing that took place over the span of several centuries paved the way for an explosion of immodesty that was to come. The dramatic changes in fashion that came in the 20th century can hardly be called an organic development. In fact, they were abrupt, unprecedented manifestations of the Cultural Revolution.
Hemlines and sleeves shortened, garments became tighter and more transparent, and clothing began to take on a more vulgar tone. By the 1960s, pants were widely worn by women, symbolizing their desire for “liberation.” All of these changes were concerted attempts to overturn the established social order and create a casual, egalitarian and impure world.
The Communist and Sexual Revolutions, which coincided with such changes, cannot be viewed in isolation from these developments in fashion. In 1917, not long before the influx of immoral fashions, Our Lady of Fatima warned young Jacinta of what was on the horizon.
“Certain fashions will be introduced which will offend Our Lord very much,” she said. “Those who serve God should not follow these fashions. The Church has no fashions; Our Lord is always the same.”
With this last line, Our Lady seems to directly address those who suggest that modesty standards depend upon the culture.
On the contrary, they remain always consistent. Centuries before, Our Lady of Good Success predicted that, during the 20th century, “Innocence will scarcely be found in children, or modesty in women.”
Sadly, this prophecy has been fulfilled. Immodesty and vulgarity have grown so widespread that, in most settings, it is rare to find anyone who is dressed properly. The Catholic Hierarchy of today rarely warns the faithful about the dangers of improper dress.
Nonetheless, the pre-Vatican II Church expressly condemned the immodest fashions that were becoming popular in the early and mid 20th century. For example, the Cardinal Vicar of Pope Pius XI famously stated:
“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 materials are improper.”
He said this in 1928, when fashions were “conservative” by today’s standards.
If Catholic ladies had followed his words and refused to go along with the world, society may never have reached the level of utter depravity to which it has fallen today. Unfortunately, Catholics continued their slide into immorality, leading Pope Pius XII to issue another warning in 1954.
Bewailing the immodest fashions of his time, he said:
“How many young girls there are today who do not see any wrong-doing in following certain shameless fashion styles like so many sheep! They would certainly blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feelings they evoke in those who see them. What sins are committed or provoked by this public display of deliberate and calculated immodesty? How lax have consciences become, how pagan morals!”
The Pope illustrates that clothing is not merely about the wearer and how she may feel in an outfit. It involves more than intention, but rather, what is objectively proper. Regardless of what the Novus Ordo Church says, Catholic teaching on modesty cannot change.
It is imperative that Catholics stand against the immodest fashions that have become so common. While standards need not be legalistic, it is still possible to follow the example of the good, modest Catholics from ages past.
The process ends here, total immodesty
& immorality in teenage girls