Sunday, August 16, 2009

Modesty: Living in Balance

It isn't easy for a father - or mother - to try encouraging modest clothing and behavior. The culture we live in seems to reward immodesty. And it is not easy to remember that modesty is not staying covered up: it is a matter of living in a balanced way.

A few years ago, young men were wearing trousers that looked like they were about to fall around their ankles. Occasionally, they did.

Recently, young women have been wearing pants that start a few inches below their navels, and tops that don't go quite that far down.

Fashion Hits Bottom

It looks like styles may have finally hit bottom. On January 25, a fashion model waltzed down a runway with about half her rump hanging out the back of her pants. This happened in Brazil, in Cavalera's 2005 Fall/Winter collection show at the Sao Paulo Fashion Week.

Lack of modesty has a few benefits. Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl ensured that she would get more exposure than just the song-and-dance number she had been booked for.

That bare-butt fashion model in Sao Paulo, Brazil, put Cavalera's 2005 Fall/Winter collection show and the Sao Paulo Fashion Week in the faces of people around the world.

Turning a "Who" into a "What"

The problem with immodesty is that it makes people into less of a 'who.' and more of a 'what'. Immodest clothing focuses attention on a person's appearance in a way calculated to turn on sexual passion at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

Today's low-cut, skin-tight, see-through styles give us an eyeful of what immodesty is.

Saying what modesty is may take a little doing.

Modesty, Yes; Prudery, No

First, modesty is not prudery. Modesty in dress, speech, or behavior, St. Thomas Aquinas says, means moderation: doing something in a thoughtful, balanced way that avoids extremes. Prudery or shameful inhibitions and shamelessness are both "immodest." Both extremes are out of balance.

Modesty, according to the tradition of the Catholic Church, is one of the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit, along with charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, and chastity.

Modesty is a part of temperance. It
"...protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

"Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one's choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet." (Catechism, 2521-2522)
A teacher at the Franciscan University at Steubenville, Benjamin D. Wiker, suggests avoiding clingy clothing and having a knee-to-neck rule for people at Mass. His guidelines would guard us from distractions like miniskirts and bicycle shorts at Mass, and sound like a good idea for most occasions.

Giving good advice about modest behavior and clothing wouldn't be worth much if there were no way to find decent clothes. Happily, enough folks have been looking for an alternative to tube tops and hot pants for at least two stores specialize in modest women's wear:

Modest Apparel USA
122 Airport Road
Buffalo, MO 65622
Toll free 1-866-269-0907
A family owned home-based business offering women an alternative to today's promiscuous fashions.

Modest by Design
252 E. Winchester Street
Murray UT 84107
Toll free 1-888-756-0944
A clothing company specializing in a variety of fashionable modest clothing at reasonable prices

Related post:
This post was originally published as an article in the Knights of Columbus Bulletin for Knights of Columbus Bishop Busch Council 4863 (February, 2005). I confirmed the contact information for Modest Apparel USA and Modest by Design, and made the format compatible with this blog's.


Brigid said...

Cool. I may check those stores out if I ever need something that can't be found at a rummage sale.

Also: "less of a 'who. and more of a 'what.." Might want to fix this.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Thanks for catching that. I think I see how I made those typos. Fixed them.

On a tangent: I'm catching up on almost two weeks' of blog comments - and have (again) run into a few that follow a pattern: I find that in many cases, cultural differences and the occasional case of extremism notwithstanding, I often find myself more nearly in agreement on basic issues with conservative Muslims, than I do with my secular 'fellow Americans.'

Interesting times, these.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.