What is modesty?
Nowadays, the meaning of modesty is not very clear. Some will understand it confusedly and reject the very idea with contempt. Others will grasp the meaning in some way and try to put it into practice, but with a result which rather resembles current fashions. Still others, and not a few, will just wonder what may be meant by modesty: lack of pretension, perhaps?
So here we would like to share what modesty means for the Christian faithful.
Modesty is directed, in the first place, to glorify God, by concealing the flesh and presenting a spiritual image of ourselves, so that we can better reveal God and what is spiritual. One’s countenance is in some ways the mirror of the soul, and if a woman wears makeup, the natural, spiritual appearance of her face will be buried by something artificial.
Secondly, modesty allows men and women to show their dignity. Greater dignity lies in a more spiritual outward image of ourselves; conversely, the more we uncover our bodies, the less dignified we are.
Thirdly, the point which is most important to understand is that modesty for men and women, greatly reduces the possibilities of provoking other people’s sensuality. Here again, it is important to go above the mere human level: sensuality is not only bad because it has the potential to drag individuals, families and society into the mud of impurity, but because it can take people away from God, who is our supreme end.
In the beginning, when God created man and woman, our first parents Adam and Eve, they were innocent and dwelt blessed and naked in the Garden of Eden. Then they were tempted by the devil and committed the original sin, an act of distrust and rebellion to God. Among other consequences, this led Adam and Eve to experience concupiscence, that is, the tendency to lust, especially in front of each other’s nakedness. This explains why we need to cover our bodies in the eyes of others, rather than expose them. Men are especially sensitive to such temptations, while women generally pay more attention to the expression of feelings. So it is honest and sensible on women’s side to cover themselves chastely in order to help men keep their mind and heart elevated to God. Also, the more pure and chaste women are, the more noble and respectful men will tend to be in their turn.
Our true models
If we really love Our Lord Jesus Christ and His and our Immaculate Mother Mary, we would naturally want to imitate Them as our models. The imitation of Christ and Mary is the core of Christian men and women’s lives. It would be seriously wrong, and even blasphemous, to think that Jesus and Mary, the Divine Son and His Mother, have been in some respect conditioned by human baseness and transience, with regard to the fashions of the age. Our Lord Jesus is supreme perfection in every aspect, and His Holy Mother is supreme among all creatures as willed by the Eternal Father. This naturally includes their clothing, and indicates to us the only and perfect way to dress. Therefore we are called at all times to uphold the same level of modesty as Theirs.
Their clothing has four qualities that all mankind is called upon to imitate, whenever possible in the same style, otherwise in a style that be as similar as possible to theirs: 1) complete covering of the body and concealing of its shapes, and for women covering of the head as well, but in a graceful way (so not, for example, like Muslim women); 2) solemnity; 3) simplicity; 4) timeless beauty.
The tunics God Himself made for Adam and Eve after their fall were the archetypes of Our Lord and Lady’s robes, which in their turn were the typical clothing of the ancient Jews, the people of God. And since Our Lord and Lady’s way to dress was shared by the people of God, their style has two meanings: holiness and civilization at its highest level.
Not only that, it is the mode of clothing chosen by women in the most Christian age of human history, the Middle Ages, while men began to wear trousers in those centuries.
As Robert T. Hart observes in his brilliant booklet Those Who Serve God Should Not Follow the Fashions (downloadable here), “It should also be noted that throughout the centuries, from Apostolic times until the 1920’s, Christian women […] have generally worn loose fitting dresses extending near or to the ankle. […] But why is it that the traditional form of dress for women is a long dress or skirt? The answer lies in the fact that dresses are a more dignified form of dress than pants, and thus they both adorn and safeguard a woman’s beautiful and delicate femininity. […] Yes, even judges, priests, and kings traditionally wear distinguished robes signifying the special dignity of their office. […] Their manner of dress evokes the respect of others. And while it is fitting for a man to dress in robes (of masculine character), as was the custom in Biblical times, the thinking here is that it is not fitting for a woman to degrade her feminine dignity by wearing pants. […] Dresses drape over a woman’s form and veil in mystery and dignity her intimate center where new human life comes forth into this world. And long dresses aid women in safeguarding modesty while bending, stooping, working and going about their daily tasks”.
What about hairstyles?
The teaching of the Church about the Holy Bible is that its Authors only wrote what God wanted them to write. That is why true Catholics hold the Bible as the Word of God and not of worldly men. Now, regarding hairstyles Saint Paul teaches us so in the Holy Scripture: “Indeed, if a woman does go without a veil, she should have her hair cut off too; but if it is a shameful thing for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, then she should wear a veil”. “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but when a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” (1 Corinthians 11:6, 14-15). These are the golden rules to follow, even if special circumstances may allow a different hairstyle.
For example, if a woman unfortunately has very thin hair, letting it grow down to the shoulders would mean to highlight this natural defect even more. But then we see that wearing a beautiful veil can be a means of concealing a woman’s hair defects. Defects of one’s hair belong to our fallen nature, just like concupiscence and anything negative. Giving up the veil and even the good habit of keeping one’s hair tied has instead inaugurated for women an uncomfortable new state of things: now they are no longer at ease with their hair, which everybody can look at, and keep on dyeing and fixing it in all possible ways.
We know the West has passed from the Christian civilization of the Middle Ages to the so to speak emancipated society that lasted until shortly after the 19th century. Then the atheistic society of our times ensued. So what were the standards of hairstyles that accompanied society before the times of mass atheism? Let us read what history says: “From the time of the Roman Empire until the Middle Ages, […] women’s hair was tied up on the head and covered on most occasions when outside the home with a snood, kerchief or veil; for an adult woman to wear uncovered and loose hair in the street was often restricted to prostitutes. […] From the 16th to the 19th century, European women’s hair became more visible while their hair coverings grew smaller, […] Bound hair was felt to be symbolic of propriety: loosening one’s hair was considered immodest and sexual” (from Wikipedia).
Here is what an Italian author, Giulia Mafai, writes with regard to medieval women: “The image of Our Lady became the moral and aesthetic reference point for the whole female medieval world: all the women aspired to imitate Her perfection, Her detached, regal beauty: like Her they wrapped themselves in the spacious wide mantle which took the place of the Roman pallium, and which left visible only the face and the hands”. (Storia del Costume dall’età romana al Settecento, page 106, translated and quoted in Isidoro D’Anna, The Way of Purity: To be true children of Mary, page 34, available for purchase here).
We would be really to be pitied, if we did not learn either from the example of Our Holy Mother or from history!
It is surely understandable that women, while working in the present antichristian society, cannot always wear a veil like Mary. The ungodly men in power would probably dismiss such devout women from their jobs. However, covering one’s head like the Holy Mother of God would be perfection for women, and the highest grade of their dignity. Keeping their hair completely uncovered but tied gives them quite a chaste and dignified appearance. Having their hair flow loosely, but in a tidy and clean manner, is a little modest. Women’s hair flowing all around their head and face is not modest at all, although this may be beautiful and graceful to see.
Unfortunately, that old concupiscence is always among us, and there will remain until the new creation, new earth and heavens that Our Lord has promised to us.
From Christian history to the end of history
Towards the end of the XIII century, the Christian, Catholic West came in close contact with the corrupt Empire which had Byzantium, the modern Istanbul, as its centre. Then both the lifestyle and clothing of the great West began to follow the Byzantine worldly standards. Women started to uncover their heads, and little by little, over the decades, to wear less chaste clothing. Many women, as time went by, no longer looked up to the Immaculate as their model. They no longer wanted to imitate Her as they had done during the Middle Ages. Men changed too: their ideal ceased to be knighthood and shifted to the easygoing life of courtiers; sodomy soon made its way among men in Italy, which had been the heart of Catholic civilization. It was the beginning of a process that has turned the West from Christianity into antichristian people, governments and laws.
The last century saw a tragic turning away from God. In the course of a few decades the West experienced, besides two world wars, the degradation of art, music, literature, social values, esteem for life and procreation, family and clothing. Also, the Liturgy was degraded by an increasingly lax clergy influenced by modernism and the monarchy was all but eliminated.
It was in the 1920’s that women began to uncover their legs, in the 1950’s to wear trousers like men, and later on to wear miniskirts and all the like. In the meantime, the obscene beach life spread through the entire West, with millions of people showing themselves little less than naked in front of everyone. All of this took place in the XX century for the first time in history.
Our Lady of Fatima prophesied this degradation in her apparitions in 1917: “Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much”.
A warning regarding the contemporary situation was given in the years 1588-1634, when the Holy Virgin appeared to Mother Mariana de Jesús Torres of Quito, Ecuador. Mother Mariana, who has since been proclaimed Servant of God by the Church, received the following striking message among others, mainly concerning the XX century: “Further, in these unhappy times, there will be unbridled luxury, which will ensnare the rest into sin and conquer innumerable frivolous souls, who will be lost. Innocence will almost no longer be found in children, nor modesty in women. In this supreme moment of need of the Church, the one who should speak will fall silent”.
Knowing all this, what will we do? Will we be numbered among those who remain silent? Our Lady is appealing to you and me, in fact, to every one of us, to bring everywhere the Gospel of Christ, which, keeping in mind the subject of this article, naturally includes purity of which modesty is an integral part.
Therefore, the way we dress is not a mere trifle. On the contrary, the clothing we wear is an outward expression of our inner state. Society desperately needs God, Creator and Father of all, to be placed at the centre of our lives again. It is therefore of fundamental importance that Christians manifest this unambiguously to all and especially in the context of this article, by means of modest clothing which even in our day is still available. We need make only a small effort to lay our hands on it. Some items of truly chaste women’s clothing can still be found in some shops, online or from a dressmaker or even through the work of our own hands. So let us begin to search and act, without ever choosing what is borderline and shameful, over that which is truly modest and ladylike. Modesty does not expose, but conceals the body and draws attention to the eyes and the person, rather than to the flesh. The almost divine beauty of Mary Immaculate is a truth of our faith, but admiration is directed at Her sublime face, most pure hands and regal figure.
A devout and modest woman will do all she can to imitate Mary, the only and sublime model of Christian women. She will be honoured by true men who will treat her like a lady, or even a queen, regarding her with deep and pure admiration.
If we truly want to serve God and become saints, then we will not be content with this world’s low standards, but we will strive to take the highest road. A holy life is the only one worth living!
Let us invoke the Holy Virgin Mary and make haste to consecrate ourselves and our families to Her. And let us not forget the most important prediction of Our Lady of Fatima: “In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph!”
Before publishing this article, I submitted it to a faithful Catholic priest, who granted me his complete approval. I am also very grateful to an English-speaking married couple for their editing of the text.
“Seek, and you will find”