Monday, May 3, 2010

Immodest Dress, the mind of the Church

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.

You can.

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!

God Bless!


  1. I would hope this would be common sense! My most cringe-worthy aspect of looking back at my wedding photo is that my boobs are practically hanging out! Not b/c I chose this as a style but the girls are...not small:) I am embarassed whenever I look/think about it that it was my wedding day and it was very immodest.

  2. This really gave me a lot to think about. One question. . Is it modest for a woman to wear pants capris or shorts?

  3. the booklet goes on to talk about pants/shorts and they say no. Because where it quotes saying " conceal rather than reveal" they say pants/short do reveal more than dresses/skirts that go below the knee.

    I personally don't wear them either. Pants will always form the body and show off bum/legs etc There is no imagination required to see the body....skirts hide this.

    And going back to Mary, can you imagine her appearing is pants or shorts? No, only very feminine dresses fit for a Queen.

  4. While I probably won't be giving up pants or capris (you should have seen what I used to wear, ha ha!), I do love the discussion and the need for modesty, especially since boys and men are so visual and immodest dress becomes a near occasion for sin for them. It is awful what boys have to see and deal with! My daughters both went through a Catholic-based program called Pure Fashion. You would like it....

    Thanks so much for this post, which is very thought-provoking!!

  5. I understand this but I won't conform to all of it... ;) I am by no means an immodest dresser either.....

    Dresses below my knees or to the floor on me look awful. Right above my knee or too my knee is a good length on me....Unless I'm wearing heels in the ones below the knee and I don't care for them every day....

    I wear tank tops in the summer and tank top dresses. I wear capris and jeans.

    But I do not think I dress immodestly either....I think there is definite balance to the whole thing as well....

    I promise I'm not bucking the system here! hahahaha

  6. Hi!
    I was talking with my good friend about this who has studied theology and is likely on her way to PhD.
    I wanted to share some of her thoughts (just to play devil's advocate out of charity!) and I have added in my own to the mix

    Modesty is absolutely important. In reading the information above the most recent letter cited was 1980, in regard to an oversexualized culture. The other points are personal preferences of priests and citations in encyclicals from the Victorian era that are not fundamental tenets of the faith or even morality. Modesty is a virtue, that like any other virtue, has to be adapted to circumstances. If you're going to be courageous, you'll show that virtue differently as a nun or as a soldier. If you're going to be temperate with food, it depends on your weight and height as to what the "middle way" will entail. If you're a linebacker, you'll need to eat more to maintain a healthy weight than another person. If you're going to be modest in this culture, it will look differently than it did back in 1880. Modesty changes even from the historical Mary to the Mary in the apparitions. The hard and fast guidelines are contrary to the Catholic Church's longstanding tradition of appropriating the message of the gospel in each historical and cultural era. The Church asks us to "read the signs of the times" and respond accordingly.

    So, this is said with the utmost respect and charity! You are the most lovely dresser and I think your commitment to modesty is lovely.
    I agree with Sew, I take modest VERY seriously. I think that we are called to be modest where we are in life. Sometimes wearing dresses everyday is not appropriate and I don't think necessary or morally wrong. I wear dresses/skirts right to the knee/ slightly above because I'm short and look frumpy (and I'd say immodest) them. For me, frumpiness does not= modesty. I wear jeans but am not wedded to them. I wear sleeveless tops but they are never low cut. They are feminine and modest. I think modesty is all about attitude and disposition too.

    Ok, I'm done! Thanks for sharing this... such an interesting discussion!

  7. What a great post! Thanks for all the info!

  8. Wow. You are so thoughtful for sharing this with all of us to ponder and reflect upon.
    I do think that too few practice the virtue of modesty in their dress. And I do see, especially among the youth, that fashion trends seem to get worse and worse in this regard.
    Modesty, being a virtue, really protects the dignity of the human person and since it falls under the larger virtue of temperance, I think what is reasonable and modest in one situation will not in another and vise versa.
    That being said, I think certain standards (given the way our bodies are viewed in our society (either under appreciated or simply seen as an object)) should be considered and followed. I think clothes should not be suggestive or "innocently" too revealing. I think one's physique plays a part in this.

    I personally wear pants (currently most of the time) because I run around sometimes like a chicken with its head cut off! ha ha But my pants are not skin tight like those skinny jeans that some people wear (which I think are often too revealing). I do love wearing long skirts and you have encouraged me to start wearing them more often again, friend!
    Thank you again for taking your time to post this.

  9. Some of this is new information. I really appreciate hearing this. I think pants can be modest, but I also think that they are not feminine and I see your points about skirts and dresses. I have come a long way from how I used to dress, but I have a long way to go. I can get very immune to this type of thing and I really appreciate you calling my attn to it. I agree that modesty doesn't equal frumpy. There are some great books out there and also am grateful to pure fashion. I am scared to raise a girl with all these neg influences in our culture!

  10. I'm still so excited about this site. Can I suggest future topics? Women as Eucharistic Ministers/lectors and Head-coverings. This has been a big question mark in my mind for the last two months, and I've done a little research, but not as thoroughly as I want. (In the mean time I've taken myself off the schedule for lectoring and EM.) Just wanted to throw a couple ideas out there!

  11. I was thinking of doing those topics next! Thanks Lauren!

  12. Shannon,
    The one critique I would have for your comment (I agree that modesty does NOT equal frumpiness) is that the standards of Christian modesty do not change with the times or with the culture. The nature of that which is modest does not change because human nature does not change. Just because we become more or less sensitized to the amount of flesh revealed by the dress of the day we are not to assume that the standard has changed to match our sensitivity.

    As a man, I find it more and more difficult to keep a pure mind as my senses are constantly assaulted by scantily-clad models in newspaper ads, tv ads, on billboards, magazine covers, internet banner ads ... not to mention the skin-revealing young ladies walking around in stores, malls, parks, even at work ... it's EVERYWHERE and cannot be escaped.

    I've heard it said that women do not dress for men ... they dress for other women. Well, I'm asking women to cover up a little more; not for them, but for me! In other words, I would never suggest that a woman is less than chaste because of her revealing fashion, but that men become less than chaste when they view women in these fashions.

    I hope this makes sense.


    I was brought up with extreme modesty and attended a Catholic College where you were fined money and given "work crew" (jobs around campus) if you were caught on campus in immodest dress. Shirts could not be skin tight, sleeveless, nor low cut and must come down past your pants/skirt. Pants could not be tight and skirts must be AT least BELOW the knee. This was merely for campus life dress. As far as dress code for classes went, it was MUCH stricter and for as far as Mass went, girls had to be in a skirt/dress and men had to have a tie and suit coat. It was great because everyone dressed modestly and there was no worry about temptations of the flesh from seeing others around campus.

    PS we also had curfew and NO intervisitation in our dorms (NO girls in the guys dorms, no guys in the girls dorms...EVER)

  14. We are to "put on the mind of Christ" when we select what we will wear. We women and girls can do no better than to follow the example of His Blessed Mother, which means to be covered in some feminine way--simple shirt/blouse and skirt, or jumper, or dress--from neck to well below knees (sleeves below elbows).

    Some women claim that they look frumpy in below the knee skirts. For them the answer may not be shorter, but longer! Ankle length skirts complete the line of flow in a way that is pleasing to the eye for virtually every figure. Also ankle length skirts allow you to abandon those wretched pantyhose. Nor do you have to spend hours of your life shaving your legs. There are style tips to reduce bulk of fabric at the waist and hips if they run to heavy--bias cut, gores, semi-fitted A-line. But you have to ask for this at the stores if you really want the choice (or else make it).

    If pants are an occupational safety or modesty requirement (e.g. climbing on ladders or working around moving machinery) then they should be loose fitting slacks, worn with a tunic style top that covers the outlines of the crotch area. Same in healthcare situations (patient and caregiver). Other than facilitating legitimate occupational needs, pants are not to be chosen, and as Barbie says (paraphrased)there is very little in ordinary life and recreation that can't be accomplished in a below the knee skirt of the correct style. Scotsmen have for millenia performed Herculean athletic and military tasks--in below the knee skirts.

    My family's transformation to these standards hasn't happened overnight, but thanks to Our Blessed Mother's prayers I have persevered. Whenever the going gets rough, or I'm not sure if something is suitable, I ask her for guidance. She wants us all to please Jesus always in our choice of dress.

    Last, Our Lord will not be outdone in generosity. His Sacred Heart is so touched when he sees us try to please Him by advancing in holiness. He rewards the tiniest of sacrifices with overflowing blessings. I hope everyone who reads this blog will begin--or continue--to advance in holiness of dress.

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  18. This change to a primarily skirt / dress wardrobe is helped by many things. Not the least of which is having a few other women in your church that follow the guidelines at Mass and during daily life. IF this doesn't exist, then it's extremely hard to be THE ONLY ONE to dress differently. I agree with finding materials and styles that are common to the culture .. not overdressing for events or daily errands is important. Before the 20th century, women had long dresses and proper underthings. After the early 20th century, hemlines got shorter and shorter, material was thinner and thinner and undergarments were often inadequate or just incredibly confining and uncomfortable. Nowadays girls growing up don't even know what slips are for! Tights and nylons are often uncomfortable, too hot ... bare legs aren't modest enough, depending on length of skirt.. Skirts to the ankles can be unbelievably uncomfortable due to temperature and material (find a cool material that doesn't need a slip, and slips can be very hot during the summer... And that doesn't include shoes..the never ending battle of flimsy shoes, uncomfortable shoes, ugly shoes.....It's beyond belief how difficult something that should be so basic and simple is to accomplish. God Bless all of you who have found all the types of clothes, undergarments and shoes that make this way of life possible. I'm still struggling.

  19. Beautiful site!!! One more thing about woman wearing pants and how it all started was from the homosexuals. For in this documentary I am posting below, filmed back in 1967 on television, at 30:50 they say that the homosexuals dominated the fashion industry and they wanted to shape the woman between man and woman to create a boy woman to suit their fantasies. Homosexuals wanted to strike back at society, and wanted to unfeminine the woman, to carve her into a boy woman, to the convert the female into a neuter form. They blended the sexes through the fashions. They replaced curve and contour with sexless geometric sterility. They distorted the cultural values and family structure of the U.S. through fashions, art, theater , music, dance etc..... It is a horror, just watch this video below for yourself, the Church forbid pants for a reason and as Cardinal Siri says "To sum up, wherever women wear men's dress, it is to be considered a factor in the long run tearing apart human order." Us woman should stand together with church teachings and should bring back femininity by wearing dresses (below the knee etc..), like our Mother Mary, model of all women so we can put back "human order" as Cardinal Siri states and forbid us women to wear pants. I have talked to many young girls wearing tights no longer under their garments, leggings, jeggings, tight jeans etc... and they all say they won't wear baggie or loose pants because they will look like a lesbians. Look how many woman think they are guys today. Pants are men's clothing, forbidden by God and the gay industry knew that.