Modest Fashion Trends — Rebellion or Reflection of Virtue?
(ChurchMilitant.com) – A Catholic priest shares some wisdom about the virtue of modesty and the embrace of the latest fashion trend.
In December, during a Democratic Caucus meeting to discuss the METOO Congress Act, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur “shocked her fellow lawmakers” by suggesting that revealing clothes and plunging necklines were an “invitation” to harassment. Kaptur said she was appalled by what some staffers were wearing and appealed to fellow lawmakers that women in government should have a dress code akin to what the military or big corporations require. She noted that the dress code for men is defined, and they are required to wear suits and ties.
Kaptur was quickly blasted for “blaming the victim,” putting her on the defensive and skirting the real issues — immodesty and the violation of confidentiality of the closed-door meeting. To Kaptur’s credit, she didn’t back down and continued to call for women to dress “more professionally.” Kaptur told the Toledo Blade, “You don’t invite encounter. And dress can be part of that.” Kaptur is a co-sponsor of the METOO Congress Act that will overhaul the harassment reporting process and would stop the use of taxpayer money to settle complaints against politicians and their staff.
Kaptur is not alone in her opinion. Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and celebrities such as Mayim Bialik, Angela Lansbury and others have been blasted in the media for “blaming the victim” because they suggested that the way a woman presents herself can be “an invitation.”
Church Militant spoke with a priest who wished to remain anonymous about the virtue of modesty. He mentioned that there are a number of effects immodesty has on both the individual and the onlooker.
Father said that even though some women may dress immodestly without any impure intentions, he said it is really a “lack of knowledge of human nature,” noting that a woman’s heart can be reached through her ears, but a man’s heart is reached through his eyes. “Impurity is still the effect of immodest dressing, so much so that we even have jurisprudence to back this up,” he said. In the past, judges have reduced the gravity of sexual assault based on how the girl was dressed at the time.
“If you launch yourself as an object of looks and pleasure, then don’t be surprised if someone treats you like that,” Father said, also making the point that “Modesty is not just for women. Men shouldn’t be mowing the lawn with their shirts off.”
Modesty is not just for women. Men shouldn’t be mowing the lawn with their shirts off.
“The way we dress, the way we carry ourselves should reflect who we are interiorly,” he said. “We shouldn’t think that we are moral creatures living in the presence of God but then dress like we are not in the presence of God,” Father said, noting that we must also be modest with ourself and remember that we are always in the presence of our guardian angel.
“Modesty in dress or clothes is just one aspect of the virtue of modesty,” Father notes. He said we are meant to be modest in our speech and conduct as well. We all know that bragging and promoting our past achievements is not modest, but he also noted that an excessive amount of bantering or silliness in public is not modest either. “Modesty is not just some kind of external imposition of a dress code, it is a virtue that guides how we talk, how we act and because of that, how we dress.”
“When we dress modestly, we veil what is not for all to see so that all can see what is meant to be seen,” he said, noting that the individual who dresses immodestly ultimately has a lower self-esteem. “We eventually have less of a sense of self-worth when we dress immodestly because we’re reducing our dignity.” This is because “instead of esteeming oneself based on our more important qualities of being a person, by our deeds and our virtues, we’re more focused on wanting a more natural quality that is passing or vanity,” he said.
“We show that our bodies, our physical attributes are more important than our personal dignity which is based on that we were made in the image and likeness of God.”
Father reminds us that we have spiritual faculties, explaining, “The more we cover ourselves, the more we uncover our personality, our virtues, our acts. People are able to see something deeper about us rather than stopping at the superficial.”
Michael Kors Spring 2018
Church Militant asked Father how to discern what types of attire are modest. He replied, “While the styles of the times may change, the virtue that guides modesty doesn’t change.” He noted that we should be looking for an attire that promotes women as women and men as gentlemen.
“We want a garb that promotes our dignity,” he said. He explained that pants for women cannot be made an absolute wrong, noting a professional pantsuit is more modest than a miniskirt or tight-fitting skirt. “We want to avoid clothes that are form-fitting and we also need an attire that suits our work,” further explaining that gardening or other types of physical activity require different attire.
“Being modest can also be done with style, dignity and attraction. Being modest doesn’t mean throwing on a tent,” Father said.
Several fashion designers have even embraced modesty as the latest fashion trend, and their looks can be found on the runways, with varying results.
Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic for The New York Times, even claims it is “The end of the naked look.” She wrote in April that modest fashions are on track to be the decade-defining look of the 2010s. She notes the political, social and cultural factors such as Hilary’s election loss and anti-Trump sentiment, the #Metoo movement, and a rejection of bare-it-all reality television have converged into the modest clothing trend.
Friedman also suggests it is a new form of power dressing: “when you feel secure, comfortable and protected, you feel stronger.”
Fashion designer Michael Kors is one of those designers that has embraced the trend towards modest clothing in his line of designer fashions. He said, “I am convinced that there is something far more alluring about women wearing things that give them confidence, that doesn’t make them feel as if they have to tug at their hemlines or yank at their straps.”
Virtue promotes the individual.
By embracing the covered-up look, you declare yourself part of a particular psychographic tribe, one whose members don’t just dress for other women but for a particular subset of other women — those who get it, who are sophisticated enough to understand that opting out of conventional beauty standards makes for its own kind of conceptual, better-than-thou fashion.
Fry notes the type of women embracing this type of modest fashions wouldn’t be doing so for religious reasons but would be the first to reject any sense of traditional. Even the style of modest fashion she embraces is different. Fry calls it a “radical dowdiness.”
Father said there is almost an Amish caricature about Catholic modesty, explaining “if there’s virtue behind it, that’s what gives a diversity of legitimate style. The way we dress is in continuity with who we are.” He explained being a slave to fad actually makes people into something they’re not, whereas if they’re living virtuous lives, their personality finds an external manifestation.
“Virtue promotes the individual. Virtue makes the individual the best individual they can be. It gives us a freedom to manifest our personality, our temperament in style.”
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