Still gasping over Kate Middleton’s high heels?

Why such attitude against Kate Middleton? I think she is lovely. That she appeared shortly after delivering a baby, dressed and in heels, only speaks to her fulfilling what she and/or her family feels is her duty. As part of the royal family, they belong to the public so to speak, and so, just as she would have her intimate family view the baby, they chose to appear in public to show the baby with their family, England.

Heels? Beautiful hair? An actual dress? Kate Middleton is very slender and the dress is flattering, no doubt made intentionally or carefully selected for her. It may have been very expensive because great design usually is. You want to critisize her footwear? I know women who wear heels throughout their third trimester because it is easier on their lower back. As a public figure she wears heels, a lot. You think its unthinkable to wear heels after delivery? Do you wear them every day? Some women are so used to them they actually find them comfortable. Relax. You don’t have to be here, so don’t be in shock that you wouldn’t make the same choices.

Yes, she looked amazing. I keep thinking, a team of stylists will do that. It’s nothing against her and nothing against the average, non-royal woman. But I have no doubt a hair stylist, a makeup artist, and someone from wardrobe helped her prepare for that short moment.

If as a married woman, part of my way of loving my husband is to dress in a way that makes him happy (he is so visual after all) then why wouldn’t the Duchess of Cambridge have a responsibility to dress with care, showing the dignity, strength and joy of the future leader of their country?

Some women are still in a tizzy over it, as if the Duchess’s appearance sets a new standard. It doesn’t, unless you are also delivering babies who may rule a country. You may focus on your family. Perhaps it simply means smiling. Perhaps, God forbid, it means choosing a simple hairstyle and getting dressed postpartum so you don’t look quite as awful as you feel. Then rather than inciting others to pity you, you will inspire them to be joyful for you. It isn’t a matter of hiding how you feel, but sublimating it.

Smile even when you don’t feel like it, they told me when I was in youth group. Fake it till you make it. You don’t have to wear heels, you don’t even have to wear make-up, but it might feel good to tidy up a little, shower, look in the mirror and know that you did this, you accomplished something amazing and you look incredible doing it. This is my Duchess of Cambridge moment when my first was born. I braided my hair! The second time I put on pajamas. The third time I wore a little make-up.

Baby 009It’s all subjective. The right level of self-care at the particular time under the particular circumstances. Maybe it means wearing real pajamas instead of a hospital gown that second day and that is your Duchess moment. Maybe it means make-up. It doesn’t have to. None of this is a have-to. It isn’t the Duchess’s job to teach you how to be a mother of however many you have or a wife or a woman in the United States. She is doing her thing. Now you go do yours.

Conversations in Modesty: Room with a view

This is the Fourth installment of a five-part series on modesty. Check back each day to read the latest. Click on the Catholic Church Tab and scroll down to see the other Articles of the series.

In that third post on this series of modesty, I considered the influence of fashion on women’s choices of dress, particularly liberating the concept of beauty. It isn’t helpful to issue people a series of “no’s” without any particular “yes’s” and it isn’t appealing. If it isn’t helpful and it isn’t appealing, it isn’t good evangelization.

Free yourself from a repressive (as in “this is the only standard of beauty”), profit-driven (carefully crafted to associate for product buying), objectifying (see the 2002 film, Killing Me Softly), and engage a new concept of beauty that includes attainable ideas, driven by genuine cultural values. I don’t know what your values or culture are, but if Christian, there are some pretty good concepts laid out. I’ll speak from that perspective.

Women are beautiful. Unlike birds, women are more beautiful than men. It is fitting then, that women should dress more ornately then men. In the view of integral complementarity posited by John Paul II, women have a particular feminine genius to acknowledge and care for the person. She can apply this care in her dress by considering how her clothing affects her and others in the room. This might mean she dresses with more coverage, or more athletically (caring for children), or more ornately (dressing to the nines for her wedding), or in a way that she knows is particularly attractive to her husband. She can use her style of dress to please herself or as a gift to others. She has that power.

The masculine genius is that of leadership and protection. A man may express this through his manner of dress by “dressing for the job” so to speak. Power suits, sturdy work clothes. He does not dress as a slob, a bum, or a gangster. He shows respect by covering his underwear, he shows good taste by wearing a shirt in public (not going bare chested and not wearing just an undershirt). He is ready for action through the practicality and cleanness of his dress.

Attire is a mere expression of these things. It’s important, but it isn’t that important. Conversations about modesty that have to do with sin do not mean “stop being attractive,” but do mean “don’t lead the other in temptation.” Some have argued satirically that this means men should not wear suits because they look so handsome. But I think it is rare that a woman would mentally undress a man when she finds him handsome in a suit. Women can dress very attractively without dressing suggestively. Suits are not suggestive.

Cologne and perfume ads are suggestive.

Modesty is subjective because it is related to virtue, en medio stat viritus, and some people don’t like that because it does not provide clean codes of conduct. When codes are applied, people get angry because then cute little 5-year old’s aren’t allowed to wear spaghetti straps but that is only because the rule is meant to be applied to a developed six grader.

I hope I’ve shown a balanced perspective in these articles. If you’ll grant me that, I hope you’ll allow me to propose some guidelines for appropriate public dress. Repeat for emphasis: this has to do with how people dress in public. Emily Post said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners.” Modest dress is a form of being polite in society. Not everyone who is immodest provides a sexual temptation for others, so this is actually more about showing respect.

– Undergarments should be hidden, this applies to men and women. No boxers, no thongs, no bras. Bra straps are part of bras. Black bras showing through white t-shirts means your bra is showing.

– Don’t show your pecs: this means cleavage or going shirtless. This is difficult for women with larger busts, and I recognize that. Worth attempting though. If you don’t wear as shirt in public because you’re exercising or doing yard work, it makes it awkward for other people. Or really exciting for teenagers, depending on who you are. Play it safe. Wear a shirt.

– Don’t show the entire length of your legs in public: length varies by person, the fingertip thing can be helpful. Don’t wear mini-skirts that are shorter than your finger tips reach. Men, don’t wear tight bike shorts without a looser cover for them. Men or women, don’t wear super-short shorts.

– If it looks like underwear and covers like underwear, I think it’s underwear and should have some cover up in public square. A lot of people disagree with me on this. I don’t think itsy-bitsy bikinis are appropriate. I get the whole racing, aerodynamic stuff for Olympic athletes but I’m still not for it. At a public beach or pool, would it kill men to wear a shirt? I know I sound like a prude now, but let’s just ask: what motivates the style? Real women report dreading swimsuit shopping. Why? Does it make them feel good to feel so bad? Why do it then? Call me crazy, but I’m think this style of swimwear overcomes a lot of modern problems:

– Check out a what to wear to whatever occasion guide like this one from Real Simple.

It may seem petty if you’ve always been carefree, but it does show respect for your host or the establishment to consider it. The importance of this to people varies by region and climate.

Conversations in Modesty: The Group Talk

This is the Third installment of a five-part series on modesty. Check back each day to read the latest.


They Ask, Men and Women Respond.

So far we’ve discussed the ways a Christian man can mess up his request that a woman dress more modestly, and a way he can more successfully communicate what he is asking for, which is help. Now, let us consider when there is a group conversation about modesty. As before, acknowledging the standpoint is the key-starting place. God willed each person for his or her own sake, not to exist solely for the use or in relation to another person. We stand in relation to God. It is in God that we find our relationships to others.

Modesty is a fruit of the Spirit, part of the virtue of temperance. “The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1832). If we are debating a lack of modesty in the culture, this approach will look markedly different then modesty —as the term is commonly used.

Temperance is subjective to the culture and the situation. Any virtue practiced is a matter of us acting for the good in the right moment to the right degree. Prudence guides this. To a degree modesty is culture bound: developed over time in a given culture, is largely related to etiquette, and is more common among educated or religious people. There are some basic standards based a given culture. I am not familiar with any cultures in which grown men and women do not cover their genitalia (though I do not claim to be an anthropologist).

If one talks about standards in culture, it is not unlikely that a reference to changing times will come up.

Cultural norms have shifted for both men and women. It does not focus solely on sexuality, but rather on what is decent or appropriate in public.

If discussing modesty with both men and women, exhorting them in the practice of virtue may be the best approach. There are many personal benefits to developing the virtue of temperance. To be virtuous is to have a habit of acting in a way directed towards the good. Difficult or painful at first, continuing to act in a way that is virtuous will develop the habit in the individual. In time, the virtuous actions will become enjoyable to the person practicing them. The acknowledgement of the initial difficulty recognizes and empathizes the position of the person attempting to change. This will help prevent frustration or encourage hope for he or she to continue.


So how would modesty be promoted then, as part of the virtue of temperance? Aquinas connects modesty in dress to temperance through praising the honesty and simplicity possible in one’s manner of dress. He writes that a lack of moderation in dress occurs in two ways.

  • Dressing against custom, for example, dressing in a sexually revealing way in a place of worship, wearing white to a wedding in which you are not the bride, wearing loud, provocative clothing to a funeral.
  • Using things that will produce an inordinate attachment. This can happen when one seeks glory (attention, praise), seeks pleasure through comfort (refuses to wear formal/business attire because it is uncomfortable), or obsessively thinking about dressing.

Practicing the virtue of humility can help overcome the search for glory or attention. Practicing contentment can help overcome the search for pleasure through comfort. And practicing simplicity will help overcome the obsession with how one is dressed.

Aquinas also acknowledges that that a person may be deficient in the virtue (may error in the opposite direction). The person may not pay attention or make an effort when it comes to how he or she should dress, or he or she may seek “glory from the very lack of attention to outward attire” demonstrating visibly how humble, simple, detached he or she is from worldly things.

It is not sinful to care about one’s clothing or dress according to custom. When Aquinas asks whether how women dress can be an occasion of sin, he states the importance of the woman’s intention. If she desires to dress so as to incite lust, she may be committing a mortal sin. If she does not have that intention, it may still be a sin, because it leads others to sin, but gravity varies based on her knowledge and intention. With this in mind, telling a woman she will go to hell for dressing immodestly is likely a flat our lie. Don’t try that approach.

And lest the woman feel the blame solely on her, Aquinas takes the time to blame the maker of the clothing and promoter of the fashion.

The rational explanation of virtue, how to grow in virtue, and how virtue involves the use of clothing for both sexes can go a long way in promoting it for people. It provides the foundation, the reason, and avoids the blame and inordinate focus on women often included in these conversations.

If a woman didn’t dress for men to begin with, it allows her a more general focus (to dress in moderation according to the situation) that will be healthier for her than to focus solely on dressing for men.

Conversations in Modesty: Man Asks, Woman Responds…Take Two

This is the second installment of a five-part series on modesty. Check back each day to read the latest.

In our last conversation on modesty, the woman responded negatively to the Christian man’s request that she dress modesty, whether for his own sake or as an organizer of an event. She felt objectified, angered at the implication that she is for man’s consumption, or angered to be judged only in relation to him, as if her motivations centered on caring about what he thinks.

How could the conversation go differently?

Man Asks, Woman Responds, take two

He acknowledges her standpoint.

  • You are beautiful, regardless of the style in which you dress.

He explains his weakness.

  • The media bombards us with images of women sexualized and objectified. Growing up, I was taught…
  • Now, I realize…
  • This is my struggle, this is my problem, I should never have begun this horrible way of thinking because you do not deserve to be objectified in any person’s mind or action.

He asks, humbly, for help.

  • I’m trying to grow. I’m trying to treat every person I encounter with dignity and respect, especially women. I was taught the opposite growing up and am committed to overcoming it.
  • I’m asking, as your brother in Christ, to help me.

I’m not trying to make a villain of the man, but if Christian men want to ask women to help him, it would be better that he seek a way to do it in the most effective way possible. It will not help to tell the woman she is sinning, perhaps sinning mortally by leading him to sin. It will not help tell her that she is the temptation. To say that she is the temptation or temptress implies an act of the will on her part, at least it may seem so to her.

Before the Wedding – Firs Sergeevich Zhuravlev 1874

Thus the reason for acknowledging her dignity and her existence separate from man first in the conversation.

If he is asking for his own sake, perhaps a boyfriend to a girlfriend, he does not need to spell out everything about the sexual psychology of man. But a little information will help motivate the woman, keeping the blame squarely on the one who’s asking. If he wants to attack her for her sin, he’d be a fool to then turn around and ask her to help him.

If he is asking for the sake of the virtue of others, a youth minister to a group, then again, a little information can go a long way. This won’t be appropriate in every setting, for example, a conductor stating the dress code to the orchestra. In either type of setting, time should be taken to apply the concept of modesty to both sexes.

And then, how might a woman respond? If she responds positively, it may be that she sees the value in helping her brother, working as a team to help each other get to Heaven. She may think the effort it will take her to dress a little different worth the impact. She may like the idea that men who desire to lust will pay less attention to her, but men who seek virtue will be more interested in her as a person.

These are some ways she may respond to a more carefully crafted request on the part of the Christian man to the woman.

Nevertheless, she may still respond negatively. In this instance, the man should continue what he should have been doing all along. Praying for her, striving to see her in her complete personhood (which can be helped by praying for her), praying for help for himself to overcome sin.

What about conversations among women? These could take place in a youth group, in a family, in some situations in the work place. How might these look? Next time we’ll discuss approaching the conversation of modesty in a more general setting.

Comments are welcome!

Conversations in Modesty: Man Asks, Woman Responds

When I was in a high school youth group, we heard many a talk on modesty: what it is, why it matters, etc. Creatively, we separated by gender and a spokesperson from one group spoke to the other group. A young man testified that he was affected by a woman’s immodesty, and apologized for the way he treated women, his attention reinforcing her reasons for immodest dressing.

When I served with the National Evangelization Team (NET), for the first time I heard the concept that modesty is dressing appropriately to one’s sex. It was not focused solely on women or solely on coverage. After NET, I became very zealous over this modesty crusade. I encountered Christian men who were frustrated by the immodesty of women surrounding them. I encountered men who blamed women for making them weak.

I began to question what modesty really is, what it means, how it ought to be applied, and what its goals are. In this post and future posts I’ll share the fruit of my reflection.

Modesty: man asks, woman responds

What happens when a Christian man asks a woman to dress more modestly? She may (A) feel honored that he seeks to respect her or (B) feel offended that he could see her as an object.

In common use, modesty refers to a style of dressing that adequately covers one’s body, in order to give due reverence to one’s body and protect the virtue of the opposite sex by not providing a temptation that could be avoided. Conversations considering this type of modesty usually focus on the role of the woman, claiming men are more visually tempted to lust.

Modesty does relate to sexuality, as we read in Pope St. John Paul II’s massive work, The Theology of the Body. When the first man and woman lost their original innocence through shame, we learn that the man looked at the woman and felt a reaction outside his will. He felt ashamed because it could not be controlled, and wanted to hide it. The woman was looked at by the man and felt his look at her body, distracted from her personhood, so she felt shame and wanted to hide her body. After the conversation with God, in Genesis, we read God made a covering for them in the Garden of Eden. The Bible does not say how much of their bodies were covered.

Adam and Eve - Lucas Cranach the Elder
Adam and Eve – Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531

That women should dress modesty is important for men. For too many men, the female body is, erroneously, first sexual, and then a person. Some men see a woman dressed immodestly and find it difficult not to view her naked. Men striving to look at her with purity experience the temptation to lust. Widespread pornography can drive a man’s imagination. He, possibly, would have struggled less if he had not been exposed to pornographic images.

All of this may seem absurd and enraging to women. She is angry that he thinks of her as an object. Her objection to dressing modestly is her way of saying, “I am a person no matter what I wear. He should consider me a person no matter what.” She is right to feel that way; no man should view her as an object.

The man and woman end up talking past each other. He is working to overcome a sinful habit of objectifying the woman by looking at her as an object. Men are often oriented towards non-emotional, solution-oriented problem solving. The problem is sin. The solution: remove the temptation. He has perhaps removed pornographic images from his life, but because of the heroin-like nature of the pornography, the images do not go away. Immodest dress acts as a trigger, hinting at particular images he has seen in the past. So, non-emotionally, solution-oriented, he asks her to cover up.

Or it may be more distant than that. He may be merely an organizer of an event and requests a particular dress code for the sake of decorum. He calls it “distracting.”
In both cases, his request may seem to the woman as blaming her for man’s weakness. This view pits men against women, rather than viewing the relationship as one of complementary teamwork, where women and men can help each other in unique ways.

Or the woman may  say, “I don’t dress for men, I dress the way I want to because I want to, not because I care about what men think.” Too often, women are viewed only in relation to men, rather than her own person. This again, makes her an object, and he the subject. Christian men may attempt to plea with women, “if you want to be beautiful to us…” but what she desires when she dresses is to be beautiful to herself, to be an attractive person, likeable and appealing to anyone she meets. Her conception of beauty comes into play. To define her motivation to dress as having to do only with thinking of what men think of her limits her personhood.

Anger and defensiveness ensue. The conversation goes no where.

This is one instance in the conversation on modesty. I’ll be addressing other viewpoints in future posts, but please feel free to comment!

Conversations in Modesty: Fashion Forward

This is the Fourth installment of a five-part series on modesty. For previous articles click here, and here, and here. Check back each day to read the latest.

Continuing these conversations on modesty, let us consider the importance of fashion for women. I have known some who have despised the idea of fashion and its subsequent culture in the name of the Lord. My time serving with NET Ministries introduce a concept of modesty that was not wholly negative. Rather than focusing simply on what not to wear, there was a strong emphasis on the goal of how we, as women, dress. That goal engages the concept of beauty, of femininity, and a modesty which saves the viewing of one’s body for one’s future spouse.

Girl Looking in the Mirror by Alfred Emile Léopold Joseph Victor Stevens

What is beauty? The media presents an extremely narrow view of beauty and this concept changes over time. From the 1920’s boyish figure (made popular by the feminist movement of the time) to the voluptuous 1940’s gal, to the hourglass domestic of the 1950’s, the twiggy 1970’s liberated woman, the stick straight woman from the 2000’s, we’ve seen the gamut in America. If we consider the patterns, we can see the fashions mirror the role of feminism in America. In the 1920’s women fought for social equality, taking greater control of what they could do in public (drinking) and how they approached men, for good or ill (consider seeing The Divorcee, a film staring Norma Shearer, 1930). During the upheavals of the second World War, women experienced a surge of involvement in the work force. Styles, though still skirted, were more masculine, more practical. After the war, fashions demurred as the country sought to return to it’s more stable, predictable way of life and defined roles. In the 1960’s, second-wave feminism fought again for social equality, towards work and sexual liberation. Women’s fashion move beyond dresses and skirts to pants and styles so provocative the 1930’s were put to shame.

Norma Shearer, 1930’s


The Stepford Wives, 1970’s


What does all this mean? Women seek to express themselves in dress and the styles and silhouettes reflect the values of women and the culture at the time. In what way do current values in the culture motivate popular styles?

I argue that as marketing has replaced local community and religion as the driving force of culture, that the fashions and subsequent concept of beauty are primarily driven by profit. When my grandmother was a young mother, she saved a little of her grocery money each month to buy a green coat or a dress she saw in a shop window on the way to work. Now fashions turn over so quickly, this would likely be impossible. In a few months, the object will be gone.

Quick turnover, cheaper quality, endless sales in order to promote greater sales drive a lot of the clothing industry. In order to make products more appealing, super slender models are used, on whom the clothes will hang without difficulty. In advertisements, models are airbrushed and photo-shopped to look more attractive. This, in term, affects the way the consumer sees herself. The goal is to buy this clothing, this make-up, to look good in them, as that woman looks good in them. John B. Watson (famous for his Little Albert experiment) worked in advertising and popularized the use of the seductive woman to sell products. We associate these products with beauty, happiness, pleasure and that method has stuck, shaping the concept of beauty.

Does that mean women should reject it all? No, it does not. Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign seeks to point out the inconsistency many women live with in how they judge their beauty contrasted with how they judge others (Real Beauty Sketches), the process of photo-shopping in ad campaigns (Evolution), and the way women are afraid to call themselves as beautiful (Dove Choose Beautiful).

Healing that concept of beauty will lead to better fashion choices for women. Instead of this:

She can choose this:

or this:

or this:

Aquinas actually makes the point that a person should consider what to wear in a given situation and make the effort to wear it, rather than dismissing it or making a show of his or her detachment from worldly things through visible lack of effort (Summa II-II, 169).

As Christians, we are called in the world, but not of the world. This means spending a bit of time on our appearance. Our bodies communicate a message. Immodest dress communicates: come and get it. Professional dress in an interview communicates: I’m competent and responsible, I care about this. Quiet, modest clothing at a funeral communicates respect for the deceased and the family. Doing one’s hair with some effort (whether simple or elaborate) as a bridesmaid communicates a desire to celebrate and honor the bride. And if one is married, take the time to dress in a way that pleases his or her spouse, as he or she did when they were dating (Aquinas supports this last point).

In the next post, I’ll go out on a limb and write what I believe to be some reasonable standards of modesty as we consider that third goal: saving the view of one’s body for one’s future spouse.