Catholic Girls Afternoon Out - Discussion
Modesty in the Modern World
How many of you have ever felt a conflict when you’re out shopping – you see this REALLY cute outfit that is really stylish and fun, BUT….
The skirt is just above your knees, it doesn’t have sleeves, and the neckline is a bit too much. We’ve all experienced it. We’ve all seen it. But does that make it right?
Well, here’s some maybe not-so-surprising news. The media and most clothing corporations today are pushing sleezy, “sexy” outfits at such young ages that it’s hard to find anything nice even in the children’s section anymore. Companies are even making bikini bathing suits and skimpy underwear for girls ages 6 on up! Do they need these things? NO. Even adults don’t need these things. Advertising in general is becoming more and more inappropriate.
A school in Canada wanted to do a test. They showed two advertisement images to a group of parents and girl teens and tweens. One was from a teen magazine, the other was from an adult pornography magazine. The assembled students and parents could not tell which magazine the ads were from.
So what has been happening to “girls”? The media and television and everything else claim that they are “empowering” us and that we are being encouraged to be great…”Girl Power Rules!” and a bunch of other stuff, but is this really happening?
What has been happening, especially in the last 50 years or so but even to some extent before that, is that women have been pushing feminism, which doesn’t really make a woman better or stronger.
They say, we are equal to guys, we are as strong as guys, we can do EVERYTHING. While there’s nothing wrong with being educated and having a job and voting, the media isn’t pushing all the GOOD we can do in the world. Instead, they are pushing the idea down our throats that the only power women have is how they look, how “Hot” they are, and how “Attractive” they are to men. Therefore, to the only way for us to succeed in the world is to be good looking, thin to the point of starving yourself, and scantily dressed.
Is this really liberating women? Doesn’t sound like it in my opinion!
And for traditional Catholics, even though we don’t believe that nonsense, it still has a bad effect on us because we see it all the time, and gradually we just get used to it and stop regarding it as a big deal. Well, it is a big deal!
HISTORY LESSON: We’re going to look at what the Church has always taught about modesty; how we can look beautiful and modern without falling out of our clothes; and – this is something we sometimes wonder about – what do people who aren’t Catholic think when they see us dressing nicely? We’re going to find out that there is some REAL “Girl Power” in that.
The Church has been concerned about modesty and purity ever since the Garden of Eden.
This may surprise you, but there have been Church condemnations of inappropriate dress (especially for women but also for men) since the Middle Ages!
At one point, a style was introduced where women wore a long, close-fitting, long sleeved dress, and over the top they wore a loose surcoat with very long armholes and no sleeves. It looked kind of like they were wearing two aprons, one in the front and one in the back. This style was called “Windows to Hell” because it was believed that it showed off too much of a woman’s figure.
Then, men began wearing extremely tight pants and other odd fashions, so there was a stir about that, too. It’s a good thing they can’t see what we wear today, I guess.
In general, though, the main concerns with indecent fashions began near the end of the 1800’s and the beginning of the 1900’s. Before that, most dresses that people wore in public had high necklines, at least ¾ sleeves, and skirts to the floor. Children’s skirts were shorter, to allow for playing and running around, but they still had long sleeves.
There was some problematic evening wear, with low necklines and shorter sleeves, but usually that was worn mainly by high society and people at court, and they usually weren’t the greatest anyway. Even in those days, there were women who became notorious for their indent dress; many of them were divorced and then remarried or had other scandals; it all stemmed from the fact that they tried to show off too much of themselves and they provided a temptation to others, especially men. They had money, very similar to a lot of “movie stars” today, and eventually they just flaunted themselves because no one could really stop them.
But shortly after 1900, MAINSTREAM fashion began to change. I won’t go into a whole history, but most of you have probably heard of Coco Channel, or at least the perfume named after her, Channel No. 5. She was a fashion designer who started making women’s dresses out of knits; started promoting a really straight, skinny dress look; and a bunch of other icky stuff. At first people were shocked; then they decided it looked “cool” and fell for it.
Hemlines began to rise – first to the ankle, then to mid-calf, then to the knee, then above the knee, and then lo and behold we have miniskirts! Eeew.
Sleeves followed the same trend. They got shorter and shorter and soon there was no sleeve at all. Then they got rid of the shoulders of the dress, then the back, and soon we have the phenomenon of dresses that manage to stay up without a back or shoulders or sleeves!
At any rate, way back around the time of WWI, Pope Benedict XV (He came right after Pope St. Pius X) saw how fashions were going and laid down some rules which still hold good nearly 100 years later. He urged very strongly that dress necklines fall no lower than two fingers below the pit of the throat; be no wider than two fingers to either side of the neck, that sleeves go to the elbow, and that skirts at least cover the knee while sitting. A concession was made allowing for slightly shorter sleeves, but they should at least cover half of the bicep. It’s a standard most Catholic parishes uphold today.
So if you were wondering, that’s where the “Dress Code” rules in the bulletins come from.
THE RULES: So how do those rules apply to us? We’ve all heard that we should obey at least the letter of the law, and that obeying the spirit of the law is even better, so how do we evaluate the stuff in our closets?
Well, quite simply, we try stuff on and do “The Tests.”
NECKLINES: The fastest way to check a neckline is to lay your hand flat on your chest, with your index finger against your neck. Does the neckline touch your pinkie? If it does, good; if not, it’s too low.
Now, a lot of modern clothes are low-cut; that’s one of the hardest things to fix about them. Here’s just a few ways to “help” them.
Blouses: If it’s one of those with the top two buttons missing, try wearing a neckscarf and tucking it in the front to fill up the gap.
Wide neckline: Wear a light scarf over your shoulders, or a jacket over it.
Loose neckline: When you bend over, can you see down your front? Not cool. Wear a vest or tuck a scarf in the front.
TOPS: Now we get to the big sticking points. Tops and Skirts and degrees of tightness. This is something that’s been getting harder and harder today – everything is made to be REALLY TIGHT and I practically have to buy Extra Larges, while I used to buy mediums or small larges and I’m still the same size.
Why do people wear tight clothing? To make ourselves look skinny, right? We want to eliminate the extra bulk that some clothes add on. We’re girls; we all want to look as good as we can, either to please hubby or to find a hubby eventually…
Take a look at these pictures. Which one makes the girl look skinnier?
Sweater & Knit Top Guidelines:
When a top is too tight, all you can see is bust and waist and you can see every little thing about her figure. Is that attractive? It’s gross! And if she’s a tad heavy, it only accentuates it, because it’s like saying, “Hey, look at me, I’m almost bursting out of my clothes!” And if the girl is super skinny it makes her look like a physical anatomy poster: “See all my vertebrae and ribs sticking out?”
You’d think that would make people feel a little self-conscious and nervous, wouldn’t you?
TOO TIGHT? So how do we tell if a top is too tight or just right, other than how it looks?
“Wear clothes that are tight enough to show you’re a woman but loose enough to show you're a lady." That's from the Grandma of one of my friends, and it's great advice.
This is what Colleen Hammond says in her book, “Dressing with Dignity.” It has a lot more history on immodest fashions, too, if you want to look at that in more detail on your own.
When you wear a top, you should be able to press it down in the front to touch your breastbone without it bouncing right back out again. In other words, it shouldn’t S-T-R-E-T-C-H across your chest. It all goes back to the looking dignified thing. Bursting out of your clothes is not cool.
Now, there’s also the thing today where people wear their tops untucked. I’m personally a fan of this in some cases, because it really does a good job of smoothing over some of my figure problems; I’m sure some of you feel the same way. Whether you like the style or not, and this even goes for tucked in shirts, try bending over and touching your knees. Does it show your back when you bend over? Then it’s too short.
It is suggested that you be able to bend over and touch your toes, too, but it kind of depends on what you’re going to be doing in it. Experiment with it – raise your arms above your head, dance around, see how much shows. There are ways to deal with too loose and too tight clothes, but looser is easier to fix than too tight.
Too Loose: Wear a vest, or a scarf diagonally. Or get somebody to take it in. Or, wear something too tight under something that is too loose.
If something doesn’t have sleeves: In the summer, this can be a blessing – layer it under something that has sleeves.
If something is too tight but covers enough, there’s not a lot you can do to fix it. Try wearing it under something looser that has other problems – it looks more like a fix but the result can still be pretty.
Sheer: Wear a modest, solid-color top underneath – same color preferably. The lining has to cover everything that needs to be covered.
Overall, though, remember: Too tight does not make you look thinner. Proper fit has a little room to “give”.
SKIRTS: Now we’re finally at Skirts. By the simple fact of mentioning skirts, welcome to the SKIRTS vs. PANTS debate! Some people think skirts are just for Sundays, and that pants are all right during the week. Is this the right attitude? Let’s find out!
First, let’s talk about pants.
Pants as we know them today were invented in the 1600’s. They first became a fashion statement during the French Revolution, because the poor people wore long pants, and the nobility wore short pants, called culottes, and long stockings. So if you wore short pants, you might get your head lopped off by Madame Guillotine.
The first time women began to wear some version of pants was with the invention of the bicycle. Women wore full “bloomers” so their long skirts wouldn’t get caught in the chains. They still wore skirts the rest of the time.
Women began to wear men’s pants, or slacks, in the 1900’s, right around the time of WWII. More women were working in factories and other more dangerous jobs, so they needed the ability to climb around and so they wore pants. Gradually this became accepted street wear for women, mainly young women, but they still wore dresses for special events and any time they wanted to look pretty.
From a modesty standpoint, pants are sometimes seen as an improvement over skirts because they cover the body more thoroughly, all the way down to the ankles, and there’s no chance of your skirt flying up and showing your legs.
HOWEVER. Tight pants are completely contradictive to modesty, and this is why:
Vertical lines draw the eyes up and down, visually lengthening us but also drawing our eyes along the lines. When a man sees a woman wearing pants from behind, his eyes immediately track up her legs and land right on her rear end. The same thing happens when he’s facing a woman. This is extremely distracting and disturbing for men, especially good Catholic men.
Even for women it is extremely distracting to see another woman wearing tight pants, because you immediately see all her figure flaws and every ounce of fat on her body, and your eyes are drawn to her rear even if she’s wearing a loud or provocative shirt. You automatically notice her legs more than anything else.
General consensus – stay away from pants. If you NEED to wear them, for some difficult job or maybe something that is kind of counterproductive for wearing a skirt, okay, do what you have to do. But remember what people see when you wear them.
Now that we know all those icky things about pants, let’s move on to skirts.
Women have been wearing skirts since the time of Adam and Eve, so we could say they’re about the oldest fashion statement out there. We already talked about when women started wearing pants vs. skirts, so we’ll go on to what a skirt does FOR you when you wear it.
A skirt is a GREAT figure enhancer – when it fits properly, because it minimizes your legs, makes you look taller, and also makes you seem to walk more gracefully.
A skirt – when it fits right and is long enough – proclaims to the world that you are a LADY and most people will treat you accordingly. Like, hey, open doors and stuff. Some will even automatically try to refrain from profanity.
My personal experience, with 3 years of wearing dressy skirts to college, is that people see you as professional, dignified, and someone to be respected. Men – older ones especially – open doors and find it easier to hold a conversation with you, because they know you’re a lady. Older women realize they can relate to you; younger women may be curious or wonder why you do it but automatically realize you are different as in “better” and may not want to discuss certain subjects. People with similar conservative mindsets seek out an acquaintance with you; punks and baggy-pants people stay away from you. Or if they do talk to you, they know to treat you with more respect.
So does any old skirt get the good results? Well, not quite. It has to fit the “dignified lady” image to some extent, even if it’s just a denim work skirt.
Just like with necklines and sleeves, there are some rules. The Church says a skirt should at least cover your knees.
Some people interpret this pretty loosely, and wear skirts that just skim their knees. No, it says COVER your knees. So I would assume that means when you’re standing AND when you’re sitting.
Sitting is the killer, really, because that’s one of the few times a skirt can be immodest. See, 50 years ago, women were taught to sit with their knees nicely together. Ladylike. Today, most of us don’t have that training, and it’s tough to keep your knees together for hours on end. IF your skirt doesn’t cover your knees when you’re sitting…and your knees aren’t together…people facing you see your underwear! Not cool.
It’s a good rule of thumb to make sure the skirt is long enough to at least go over your knees to the seat of your chair in the front when you sit down. (If a skirt is too short, try adding a contrasting ruffle around the bottom!)
Does the width of your skirt have any effect on how you sit and walk? Definitely!
If your skirt is tighter, like a column skirt, and just barely covers your knees when you’re standing, and then you sit down, suddenly your rear end takes up a lot more room and oops! Your skirt doesn’t even come close to covering your knees when you’re sitting. It suddenly looks more like a miniskirt. And unless it’s knit, you can’t S-T-R-E-T-C-H it way out to cover your knees. That would look kind of funny, anyway.
How to tell if a skirt is too short and/or too tight:
If your column skirt goes more to mid-calf length, however, it still covers your knees nicely when you sit. And remember, it shouldn’t just BARELY cover your knees when you sit. It should cover them all the way so you’re not concerned about your underwear.
Here’s the thing, though, if you have a just-covering-the-knees skirt that is pretty full. A full short skirt looks LONGER when you are sitting down, because it doesn’t have the problem of bunching up in your lap. Therefore, you can wear full skirts a little shorter than tighter skirts and still be modest.
How tight is too tight for a skirt?
Well, for one thing, you do need to be able to sit down… If it’s REALLY tight you won’t be able to move at all.
The other thing is, just like with the tops, a skirt is most attractive when it just skims lightly over your figure and doesn’t cling or pull or bunch over anything.
I’ve seen people wearing skirts lately that not only just skim their knees, but they also are knit or some other clingy fabric that kind of form-fits their hips and thighs. According to statistics, most women in America wish they could lose some weight on their lower bodies. These women I saw looked like they could lose some weight there too. But their skirts were accenting all of that!!!! Rather than making them look thinner by being tight, the skirts called attention to their problem areas! Plus, when a skirt is skin-tight over your rump, most of the time you get an underwear line. It’s a good idea to make sure your skirt is loose enough (and wear a slip, it helps) that you can’t make out underwear lines.
If it’s too tight, try slitting it and adding triangular panels of a contrasting fabric!
|Too Short/Too Tight|
NOW, ON TO THE FUN STUFF! How to actually flatter the figure you have with your clothes.
First, what is looking good in your clothes all about? What we’re trying to achieve is a sense of balance and proportion. Fashion, like a lot of other things, is an art form. It involves shapes, lines, colors, textures, proportions, and a bunch of other things that we may not consciously be aware of when we decide an outfit looks great on us, but they have a BIG influence!
Just like in art, we kind of need to follow some guidelines, and use them to our best advantage.
Color is the single easiest way to get people’s attention. It’s also a great illusion tool!
Bright colors make an area seem larger.
Dark colors make an area seem smaller
Prints draw more attention than solid colors. So if your figure is top heavy, wear a solid color, darker top and a lighter colored, print, striped, or plaid skirt to balance it out.
If you’re bottom heavy, wear darker, more subdued skirts with brighter, printed, or textured tops.
Proportion: For some reason, humans don’t look too good when they’re cut exactly in half, top and bottom. Suggested ratios are 5/8 and 4/6, or a 2/3 ratio.
Texture: Weave and even the amount of light a fabric reflects all have an impact on how it looks on us.
Big chunky textures like plaid and corduroy make an area look bigger, as well as shiny fabrics like satin.
Soft, draped fabrics that absorb light rather than reflect it make an area look smaller – chiffon and velvet.
So again, same as the colors – if you’re bottom heavy, wear your chunky texture on top. If you’re top heavy, wear the chunky texture on the bottom.
Or, use a combination of color and texture to balance out your figure and achieve even more stunning effects!
Line: Lines draw our eyes up and down or from side to side. Line can be implied or very explicit, and you can do optical illusions with line, too.
Vertical lines make people look taller, especially just one single bold line, like a loooooong row of buttons.
Horizontal lines make people look wider, especially when they’re in stripes.
The heavier the line in each direction, the stronger impact it has. Also the color(s) of the lines make a big difference.
Diagonal lines work in a similar way, only not as strongly. A long diagonal gives the impression of height, while a short, shallow diagonal gives the impression of width. Diagonals seem to work best when they go from left to right and from top to bottom, because that is the way we’re used to reading.
Curved lines are softer than just plain straight lines, but they can also have good uses. For example, a long, flowing drape from someone’s shoulder works about the same as a vertical line, but it agrees more with the way our bodies are shaped.
If you look at dresses from back when people used ribbons and other trims a lot, usually the bodices have vertical lines, to make the women look as skinny as possible, and then lower down on the skirts there are horizontal lines to make the skirts look as full and wide as possible.
Then there’s just common sense. If we have an area that we think is a problem, we don’t want to call attention to it! Duh. If we have a good point, we want to set it off nicely without shouting attention at it (That’s what low necklines do!). We want to be ladylike; we want to be subtle, not tacky or brash.
THE CHARTS: (Sorry, this section only works if you came, and got the handout) I thought they were really cool because they through lots and lots of figure types and then what to wear to help or hinder them, kind of along the same principles we were just talking about. It’s all about balancing things out. (And so you don’t have to try to remember everything off the top of your head)
The first two pages go through the basic silhouettes and types of collars, jackets, sleeves, skirts, etc. I included these so you know what the next part is talking about. Some of them are obsolete except in costumes; most of them we still see today. The book was published in the 70’s. There isn’t really a section on formalwear, but we’ll talk about that afterwards.
Once you’re more or less familiar with the styles, go to the grids. These charts are REALLY cool, because they tell you how to apply those little style pictures to YOUR FIGURE. The way you use these charts is:
First, you have to decide if you’re tall or short. They used the guidelines 5’4” on down as short, and 5’7” as tall – the main thing is, how do you see yourself? If you feel you’re average height, I’d go with short if you’re heavier and tall if you’re skinny.
Next, you look at the grading scale in the top left corner. Checkmark means it’s REALLY good, no mark means it’s okay, and X means it’s REALLY bad for your figure.
Then you take a highlighter and mark the things that you feel apply to your figure – take the line all the way across the columns.
Along the top, it goes through all the basic groups: Silhouettes, Jackets, Sleeves…ignore the section on pants…and then there is a section on necklines, collars, and sleeves; it’s just a continuation. Cool? Very cool. It means you don’t have to think about it as hard.
Now, you can get into a little bit of a dilemma here, because you may feel you have several different “problem areas” you want to fix – for example, you may feel you’re broad in the shoulders AND have large hips, and a short neck.
You kind of have to use some judgment. Your hips may definitely be big, but you may need to “break” some of the broad-shoulder rules in order to balance your hips. Or, if you have a long neck and broad shoulders, focus on minimizing the thing you think is the worst.
The chart is just guidelines, and to give you some ideas. Overall, though, it is very good. I personally was going through it, and evaluating how some styles work on my figure compared to how they say they should, and they were pretty much right on. So the chart is a good place to start if you have absolutely no idea what might look good on you or not.
FIXES AND PROBLEMS: Now, you’ve looked at the charts and the styles, and you have a better idea now of what is good for you or not, at least in a general sense. The only problem is, now we run into some interesting dilemmas and also some VERY interesting style blunders that modern fashion is trying to push on us.
Say you have a short neck, and the charts are recommending a deep V-neckline to give an illusion that you have a long neck. We’ve already seen, modesty-wise, that we can’t do that. But, we can cheat here. We can wear a plain, quiet-colored modest neckline, then wear a V-necked sweater. Or, wear a long bold necklace to give that long impression.
Or, say the chart says that a great solution for you is to wear pants. Why pants? Because they have long, straight lines. So wear a long, fairly straight skirt instead. You get the same result. See how it works?
I’m just going to say a word about sleeves here because there wasn’t really a good spot earlier. If you look at the charts, what types of sleeves are crossed out for the two types of arms listed? Sleeveless, Cap Sleeves, and Short Sleeves! While this is interesting from a fashion perspective, remember the Church guideline: Sleeves over at least ½ of the bicep, or to the elbow. See, the popes knew what they were talking about, even in regard to fashion!
Sorry about all the oddly lined up pictures - the blog is being tempermental and needs a cup of coffee or something to improve its mood.
I’m going to make Wedding Dresses and Formalwear a new post, because that is a whole different kettle of fish. If you have any questions, just send me an email.