This is a delicate subject especially today when fashions are so very immodest but I want to share with you some thoughts from a wonderful booklet called Immodest Dress, The Mind of the Church by Louise Martin.
"As far back as 1921, the Church spoke out strongly against immodest fashions. At that time, Pope Benedict XV, in his encyclical Letter "Sacra Propediem" stated:
"One cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and station. Made foolish by a desire to please, they do not see to what degree the indecency of their clothing shocks every honest man and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for such apparel as for a grave fault against Christan modesty. Now it does not suffice to exhibit themselves on p8public thoroughfares, they do not fear to cross the threshold of churches, to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seducing food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table, where one receives the Heavenly Author of Purity"
For some 25 years, the late Reverend Bernard A Kunkel (he died in 1969) , then pastor of St. Cecilia's Church, Bartelso, Illinois, carried on what seemed to be an almost hopeless fight against the immodest fashions of our day. The following excerpts from Fr Kinkel's writings on immodest fashions appeared in the July 154 issue and the 2nd quarter 1969 issue of Divine Love magazine, and in the November-December 1957 issue of the Marylike Crusader.
" Our Blessed Mother in all her apparitions, is fully covered. At Fatima in 1917 she appeared in a world that was beginning to cut sleeves and necklines and to curtail skirts. Shouldn't she, the model for girls also in the 20th century, show some signs of following the modern trend? True, as Heavenly Queen, she is attired in queenly robes. Even so, she could do a little cutting of sleeves, neckline and skirt. Why so determined to cling to the traditional standards? Why doesn't she give the modern girl a break and give some sign that she approves a little cutting here and there?"
" The answer is she doesn't approve of the modern trend of uncovering those parts of the boy as the chest, upper arms, shoulders and thighs. She disapproves. In fact, she came down from heaven to earth to warn against this disrobing trend. Listen to what she revealed to little then year old Jacinta of Fatima, while Jacinta lay dying in a hospital in Lisbon, Portugal in 1920: "certain fashions will be introduced which will offend Our Divine Lord very much. Those who serve God ought not to follow these fashions. The Church has no fashions. Our Lord is always the same" And she also revealed to Jacinta that "sins that lead most souls to hell are the sins of the flesh"
Another voice to speak out strongly against the immodest fashions was that of the late Archbishop Albert G Meyer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin who on May 1, 1956, wrote a Pastoral Letter to the Clergy, Religious and Faithful of his Archdiocese on the subject of Modesty and Decency. We are going to quote from his Pastoral Letter.........
"One area of human life in which modestly particularly must exercise its influence on those who would be chaste and to help others preserves this virtue is in dress. With regard to clothing, modesty requires especially two things :first, care that ones does not make purity difficult for oneself, or for others, by one's own mode of dress, and second, a prudent but firm and courageous resistance to the styles and customs, no matter how popular or widespread, or adopted by others, which are a danger to purity. Pope Pius XII, in an address to a group of Catholic Actions girls on October 6, 1940, stated. 'Many women...give in to the tyranny of fashion, be it even immodest, in such a way as to appear not even to suspect that is is unbecoming. They have lost the very concept of danger, they have lost the instinct of modesty.'
As far back as 1928, Pope Pius XI sensed where this trend to uncover more and more of the body would lead if not corrected, and, on August 23, 1928 ordered a "Crusade Against Immodest Fashions, Especially in Schools Directed by Religious" The letter containing the order was sent to all Ordinaries of Italy through the Sacred Congregation of Religious.
In carrying out these Orders, certain Standards of dress were issued by the Cardinal-Vicar of Pope Pius, XI, Cardinal Pompili, on September 24, 1928.
with regard to the Church's Standards, bear in mind that as recently as the 19th century and early 20th, women were wearing their dresses near or down to their ankles and their sleeves were generally 3/4 length or down to heir wrists. During the 1860's women wore full length hoop skirts. By the 1970's skirts were still full length but had narrowed. The dress of the 18180's had a bustle that made the full length skirts full in back. Around 1920 women wore "hobble skirts"-- full in length that were narrow at the ankles. In the 1920's came the "flapper style" These were straight line short dresses, usually sleeveless, that ended at or above the knee. That was the beginning of the present trend! From that time on women's fashions have come to reveal more and more of the body.
Then on January 12, 1930 Pope Pius XI directed the Sacred Congregation of the Council to issue a strongly-worded letter on Christian modestly to the whole world. Yet to this day, very few Catholics have even heard of this document and scarcely anyone seems to know it's gravely worded contents. This 1930 letter imposed the obligation of com batting the immodest fashions and promoting modestly on all persons in authority -- Bishops and other ordinaries, parish priests, parents, Superioresses, and teachers in schools.
"By virtue of the supreme apostate which he wields over the Universal Church by Divine Will, our Most Holy Father Pope Pius XI has never ceased to..condemn emphatically the immodest fashions of dress adopted by Catholic women and girls, which fashion not only offends the dignity of women but conduces to the temporal ruin of the women and girls and what is still worse, to their eternal ruin, miserably dragging down other sin their fall....."
1. "The parish priest should command that feminine garb be based on modestly, and womanly ornament be a defense of virtue. Let them likewise admonish parents to cause their daughters to cease wearing indecorous dress.
2. "Parent's, conscious of their grave obligations toward the educations, especially religious and moral, of their offspring, should assiduously inculcate in their souls by worked and example, love for the virtues of modestly and purity, and since their family should follow the example of the Holy Family, they must rule in such a manner that all it's members, reared within the walls of the home, should find reason and incentive to love and preserve modesty."
3. " Let parents never permit their daughters to don immodest garb"
9. " women dressed immodestly are to be debarred from Holy Communion...further, if the offense be extreme, they may even be forbidden to enter the Church."
Donate, Cardinal Sbaretti
Prefect of Cong. of Council
Rome, January 12, 1930
The Standards, previously issued by the Cardinal-Vicar of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pompill on 9/24/28 are:
In order that uniformity of understanding prevail...we recall that a dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not over the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent Materials are improper.
Is the origin of the 9/24/28 directives by pope pius XI well established?
Yes, it is. Bishop Douville of Quebec, Canada in his pastoral dated July 22, 1944, Quotes the exact directives given and adds that they were issued by the Vicar-Cardinal of Rome on Sept 24. 1928.
The Philippine Hierarchy officially recognized the 1930 Special Instructions of the Sacred Council as prescribing the Roman Standards of Modesty in dress for women and girls all over the world
Further, a "League of Modesty" was formed in Chicago as directed in the Instructions given by the Cardinal-Vicar of Rome.
Then in December of 1944, the late Father Bernard A. Kinkel (previously quoted in this article) began a modestly crusade, with Episcopal approval using these dress standers as a guide, codifying them and making a small, Ecclesiastically approved, temporary concession in the matter of sleeve length.
"marylike is modest without compromise, 'like Mary', Christ's Mother."
"Marylike dresses have sleeves extending to at least the elbow, and skirts reaching below the knees."
"Marylike dresses require full coverage for the bodice, chest, shoulders and back, except for a cutout about the neck not exceeding two inches below the neckline in front and back and a corresponding two inches on the shoulders."
"Marylike dresses conceal rather than reveal the figure of the wearer, they do no emphasize, unduly, parts of the body"
Pope Pius XII's refutation of certain sophism's:
In an address to the Latin Union of High Fashion on Nov 8, 1957, Pope Pius stated: "The most insidious of sophism's, which are usually repeated to justify immodesty, seems to be the same everywhere. One of these resurrects the ancient saying 'let there be no argument about things we are accustomed to', in order to brand as old fashioned the rebellion of honest people against fashions which are too bold..."
This fallacy consists in the implied notion that sin stops being sin as soon as one gets used to it. Imagine how many kinds of sin could be whitewashed in this way! The fact is that man can, so to speak, "get used to" just about any sinful practice but that does not make it any less offensive to God or less deserving of divine punishment. It is a common thing for such a one to say, though actually in self-condemnation, "It doesn't bother me at all...I see nothing wrong with it" And he is right: he doesn't' see anything wrong in it -- but this is no compliment to him. He has become morally and spiritually blind though repeated sin. His conscience is dead! Pope Pius goes ton to say:
There always exists an absolute norm to be preserved, no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of styles maybe..Style may never give a proximate occasion of sin, and clothing's must be a shields against disordered sensuality.
Other voices on Modesty in Dress:
St John Chrysostom: You carry your snare everywhere and spread your nets in all places. You allege that you never invited others to sin. You did not, indeed by your words, but you have done so by your dress and your deportment and much more effectively that you could by your voice. When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent? Tell me whom does this world condemn? Whom do judges in court punish? Those who drink the poison or those who prepare it? you have prepared the abominable cup, you have given the death-dealing drink, and you are more criminal than are those who poison the body, you murder not the body but the soul. And it is not to enemies you do this, nor are you urged on by any imaginary necessity nor provoked by in injury, but our of foolish vanity and pride"
Padre Pio had extremely strong views on female fashion and dress. Any women that came to confession with a dress or skirt above the knee was sent away without getting into the confessional. When a women would manage to get in the confessional dressed somewhat improperly , they were ordered out by Padre Pio with him sometimes shouting...."Out, out, out!"
Padre Pio never tolerated tight skirt or short, now necked dresses. His severity increased each year. He would dismiss women from the confessional, even before they got inside if he discerned their dress to be inappropriate. He would rebuke some women with the words" Go get dressed"
more recently Father Robert J Fox writing in the June 29, 1980 issue of the National Catholic Register titled "Where did Modesty go?" states;
Together with the loss of the sense of sin -- which Popes for decades have been warning us was happening -- has come the loss of the sense of modestly. I've discovered that teenager and young adults have been exposed to so much nudity in our sex saturated society that they are often not conscious of what is even meant by the word 'modesty'.
"Frankly I find repellent tight jeans, low-neck blouses and scanty bathing suits. They are not beautiful. They are attractive only in the sense of appealing to the baser elements in fallen human nature.
"Many are led astray into serious sin by immodest attire that places suggestive thoughts in the minds of others. While it is true this immodesty has become general, yet the individual Christian must work to change the tide, even if at times it means standing alone and being ridiculed for living according to Christian morality, of which the modern world knows little"
I will end with my thoughts. I know this is alot of information and you might be saying this is too strict or too hard or maybe you are interested but think it's a monumental task or that you cannot buy clothes out in the real world with standards like this.
I was overwhelmed when I started, I thought I couldn't do things I wanted to do in a dress or skirt! But I can and have. I have ridden horses, ice skated, roller skated, hiked etc all in a dress or skirt that is below my knee. And it's not difficult. I have made the decision to be different that society and to set a higher standard for myself. I want to be Catholic, Mary like and for people to look at me and see something different from the world.
“Preach the gospel at all times.
If necessary, use words.”
–Saint Francis of Assisi
This means that buying a wedding dress means finding one with sleeves, or a bridesmaid dress that is modest. It means a full bathing suit with board shorts to cover up. It means I need to be aware of my body at all times. Aware that men look at us differently than we look at ourselves. Modesty means, that I don't' tempt by my clothing, that I'm never a temptation and I cannot be viewed in a vulgar sense by what I'm presenting to the world.
I'd love your thoughts on this and if you are interested in the full version of this booklet let me know and I'll order some to give out!