Joshua also said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will perform wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)
“People in my grade look so much more mature than me,” said my 15 going on 16 year old sister. We peered into the computer screen, and looked at a girl we’ve all known since she was a wee tot, not yet 16, wearing a tight fitting tank top and shorter skirt. I felt a twinge of simultaneously feeling young and old at age 23, wearing a green blouse and blue jumper dress, and then felt sorry for her, so grown up in looks and not realizing her whole worth, and the need to protect her body, not just show it off.
A few Sundays ago, the head pastor at my grandparents’ parish wrote in the bulletin about proper Mass attire during the summer months. Father wrote,
Once again the summer months are here and we have to remind ourselves of proper Mass clothing. It is hot, and sometimes we don’t give it a second thought, but we should be conscious of what we wear to Mass. Remember our church is air-conditioned. Men and teenage boys should wear trousers and a dress shirt. Women should wear modest dresses that fall below the knee, and modest blouses and slacks. Flip flops, shorts, tee shirts, and any type of immodest clothing should not be worn to Holy Mass. Remember the rule: I am conscious of what I wear to Mass and it is modest for the Holy Congregation. We owe this respect to Jesus and Our Lady, and to each other. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
While I am in complete agreement—perturbed, even, at how people are so casually dressed at Mass—my grandmother, aunt and I said the same thing: good luck getting most women to wear dresses that fall below the knee.
Today’s retail stores simply do not offer many (if any) dresses or skirts that are long at the wide-scale level. Most of my dresses and skirts go to my knee, or slightly above. Pencil skirts notwithstanding, dress and skirt lengths today do not typically go past the knee unless they are going all the way to the ankle. Moreover, length is not the only litmus test for modesty.
In South Korea, women do not show their shoulders. They may wear very short skirts and high heels, but their chest area is completely covered. A lot of summer dresses in the States have skinny straps and lower fronts (and sometimes lower backs as well). I wear cardigans to work almost every day, especially if my dress has no sleeves. But what of the dress’s fit? I tried on a dress last week for an upcoming wedding. It wasn’t tight, but it was fitted, and made me self-conscious of my figure. I asked the sales ladies for their opinion.
“If you’ve got the figure, wear it!” was the consensus.
I did not buy it. Besides the color being too muted for my Irish skin’s liking, I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea that this dress would fit me so well. Clothes should fit, but there is a line between fitting and fitted. I do not like being stared at, or wearing something that I know will prompt stares. I was stared at a lot in Asia because I was usually the only Caucasian walking around, but that was different than prompting men to give you the once-over.
Since we are now under a Democrat president again, there has been a lot of Bible thumpin’ across America, calling for a revival, religious and political. Take back America! But what are we exactly taking back? We do not live in the Founding days of the country. Since the major wars, women’s fashion has used considerably less fabric. The sexual revolution during the 1960s helped confuse the meaning and understanding of the word “decent.” Sex has become less sacred and more socially acceptable to talk about in common venues. Sex, as a symbol, has become an esoteric subject more related to fashion and less to the family, where, when sex happened, so did kids. Ephesians 5:1-4, 15-16 says, “So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving.… Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.”
Jennifer Moses, in her May 19 WSJ op-ed “Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?”, asked the tough questions: “Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this—like prostitutes, if we’re being honest with ourselves—but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards?”
We are the first moms in history to have grown up with widely available birth control, the first who didn’t have to worry about getting knocked up. We were also the first not only to be free of old-fashioned fears about our reputations but actually pressured by our peers and the wider culture to find our true womanhood in the bedroom. Not all of us are former good-time girls now drowning in regret—I know women of my generation who waited until marriage—but that’s certainly the norm among my peers.
If you have a problem with the way I dress, says the Modern Woman, you’re an old fart.
No, no, says the Modern Man- you keep wearing the short skirt and showing me your cleavage. More power to you!
A Christian who hopes to follow the teachings of Jesus needs to reckon with a singular fact about American poverty: Its deepest and most debilitating deficits are moral, not financial; the most serious deprivations are cultural, not economic. Many people living at the bottom of American society have cell phones, flat-screen TVs, and some of the other goodies of consumer culture. But their lives are a mess. R.R. Reno, the new Editor in Chief of First Things, wrote in the June/July issue about “The Preferential Option for the Poor.” His answer to our poverty problem is not only that there is not enough money going around. He writes about today’s “Gucci bohemians”:
And why? It’s a complicated question that I can’t convincingly answer here. But I want to end with a suggestion, if not an argument.
On the question of social justice, Pope John Paul II once wrote, “The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich.” For most of my life (I was born in 1959), the rich and well-educated in America have desired nothing more than the personal freedoms of bohemian liberation. The rich, we must be clear, include the secure and successful academic and professional upper middle classes. I am not talking only about people who live in penthouses, but about people like us and those we know.
This bohemian liberation has involved the sexual revolution, of course, with the consequent weakening of the constraining and disciplining norms of a healthy culture of marriage. But the ways in which the rich have embraced their freedoms hasn’t involved only sex and marriage. It also includes the verbal antinomianism typified by George Carlin’s campaigns to normalize obscenity, suburban librarians insisting on the right to view pornography, tech billionaires who dress like dockworkers, a feminism that mocks the social mores that make women ladies and men gentleman, and many other attacks on older notions of bourgeois respectability.
“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society,” wrote St. Francis of Assisi. The return of modesty comes with singular witnesses dressing appropriately and stylishly. Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, for instance, was beautiful as it was modest, and millions of people saw that, and loved it. I couldn’t walk through a grocery store without seeing magazine covers oozing over her and her dress, right next to a picture of an actress falling out of her own respective garments.
Reno went on to say,
The bohemian fantasy works against this clear imperative, because it promises us that we can attend to the poor without paying any attention to our own manner of living. Appeals to aid the less fortunate, however urgent, make few demands on our day-to-day lives…. Want to help the poor? By all means pay your taxes and give to agencies that provide social services. By all means volunteer in a soup kitchen or help build houses for those who can’t afford them. But you can do much more for the poor by getting married and remaining faithful to your spouse. Have the courage to use old-fashioned words such as chaste and honorable. Put on a tie. Turn off the trashy reality TV shows. Sit down to dinner every night with your family. Stop using expletives as exclamation marks. Go to church or synagogue.
I quote him at length not only because he says it well, but to show that this problem is not generational for the Christian Young Thangs. But it’s our cross to carry, and our creative outlet. We are blessed to uphold beauty and goodness and truth for the Church, and we get to show it through our dress as well as our actions and words. Modesty is not only about covering up – it is about acting, speaking and thinking in a way that is considerate of others, as well as one’s one being. Otherwise, the immodesty of one creeps into the others, inwardly and, soon enough, outwardly.
Modesty reminds me of when “Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”
It’s time to awaken our inner beauty, and seek virtue through the presentations of our bodies. It is written in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, “Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”
Glorify does not mean hide away in a brown sack; rather, the body can be used as a means of praise. By not using the body as a temptation, it is an opportunity for we Christians to preach the Gospel without words, helping attract people to God through our sanctified bodies and souls, and to show the goodness that is the Lord. Modesty is a person’s expression of this, and is a gift to all who come into its sight.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.