Immodesty and Women Wearing Men's Clothing

by Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.

Mrs. X was a daily communicant, a pious Catholic living in Quito, Ecuador, in the 1960s. As a lady of certain elegance, she was naturally influenced by the styles of the times. However, as a well bred traditional-minded Catholic, she would never wear men's trousers or a skirt above her knees.

One day as she arrived at the magnificent Jesuit Church of Jesu in downtown Quito, she realized that she had left her jacket at home. She made a quick decision that it would be better to receive Our Lord wearing the sleeveless blouse than to remain in the pew and only make a spiritual Communion. After all, she rationalized, the neckline was modest and her skirt was quite appropriate.

The serene and kindly pastor arrived at Mrs. X at the Communion rail. He leaned over as if to give her the Sacred Host. But instead of giving her Communion, he discreetly and firmly whispered into her ear, "Next time, sleeves."

There was no public humiliation. No one but Mrs. X and the priest knew what had happened. But interiorly humiliated to the very bone, she accepted the correction and, as she affirmed to me when she told the story, she has never appeared inappropriately dressed again in a church. It was a just and charitable correction, in keeping with the old Canon Law which prescribed that women should be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the Holy Table [Canon 1262.2]. 1

It is a simple story that throws light on just how far the revolution in women's clothing has gone in these forty years of post-conciliar ecclesiastical life. The simple "peccadillo" of being sleeveless would hardly seem worthy of notice today. How many good-willed women and girls come to church and approach the Communion rail ---- or "line" ---- wearing immodest clothe that overexpose the figure? The typical daily or Sunday Mass is assisted by women in tops that are low cut and revealing, blouses that an transparent and sleeveless dresses too short and pants too tight-fitting, and even shorts and cut-offs.

Comfort and convenience are the common excuses given ---- if excuses are even bothered with ---- for this lack of consideration of God and the honor due Him. Somehow the inappropriately dressed woman has become convinced that Christ will be so pleased to see her there in His house that standards of Catholic modesty and decorum can be ignored and transgressed. In fact, if a courageous priest would ask these women and girls to dress appropriately, in keeping with the holiness
and dignity of the place, most probably he would be the one considered to be out of line . . .

 A Forgotten Culpability

But, the woman in shorts might explain, the styles have changed. Clothing has become more relaxed and informal since the revolution of the '60s. That is to say, what was inappropriate in the past is considered appropriate now.

What has been forgotten is that there is always an unchangeable moral norm to be preserved in modesty of dress. No one is allowed to relax modesty for reasons of summer heat, the current
styles of fashion, or mere convenience. Pope Pius XII  clearly stated that the excuse that modesty is dictated by custom or time cannot be allowed. He called it "one of the most insidious of sophisms" used "in order to brand as old fashioned the rebellion of honest people against fashions which are
 too bold." 2

Many people have also become oblivious to the grave consequences of adopting the immodest fashion trends. That such styles would appear was predicted by Our Lady at Fatima in 1917, when She told the youngest seer, Jacinta: "Certain fashions will be introduced which will offend My Son very much. More people go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason." Her words seem to indicate a direct correlation between the fashions that would be introduced ---- which we are all familiar with ---- and the souls who go to Hell bbecause of the sins of the flesh.

Another very serious consequence often infuriates the modern women when it is mentioned. Nonetheless, it needs to be said. Immodest dress can lead men into sin, and thus the woman who dresses immodestly will bear some degree of culpability both for her own transgressions and for the sins others commit because of them. Pope Pius XII addressed this topic already in the '50s: "How many girls there are who do not see any wrongdoing in following certain shameless styles like so many sheep. They certainly would blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feelings they evoke in those who see them." 3

Today, unfortunately, there does not seem to be much of that healthful blushing to which the great Pope refers. Instead, one of the curious consequences of a society that denies the existence of Original Sin has been a naive ignorance of so many "good" Catholic young women regarding the effects that can result from their insistence on following immodest fashions.

The battle to keep the passions in check is continual for both men and women, but it must be waged with particular vigilance by men. A woman cannot dress immodestly just to be in style and then say that if a man thinks immoral thoughts because of her, it's his problem, not hers. This attitude is rooted in the great lie of the Women's Liberation movement that men and women are equal. In fact there are great differences between men and women. The man by nature is more aggressive and wants to conquer, and his sensual reactions are stronger than that of the woman. If a woman is immodestly dressed, a man's inclinations more readily develop into desires, thoughts and actions of lust. Therefore, while the man has a moral obligation to "fight the good fight" against sins of the flesh by practicing a careful custody of the eyes and thoughts, a woman has a moral obligation not to dress in an immodest manner which would lead a man to sin.

There is an especial distinction to make here. Woman by nature likes to adorn herself in order to be admired for her beauty, charm and elegance. This is not an evil in itself. A beautiful and charming girl or woman does not have the obligation to make herself ugly or dress in plain and uncomely clothing so that she will never run the risk of causing a sin. This puritanical type of thinking, which unfortunately has been adopted by some traditionalist Catholic women or our day is erroneous. There is nothing necessarily sinful or inappropriate in a women dressing exquisitely and femininely. It is this charm and beauty of femininity that adorns an authentically Catholic society.

One of the most dominant errors that underlies today's revolutionary spirit in clothing is egalitarianism. This egalitarian revolution has stimulated a constant process to do away with almost all differences in sex and in age. The very notion is absurd, because these inequalities exist in nature itself.

One factor that played a large role in the "feminist revolution" was women adopting the dress of men. That women should dress differently from men, as a symbol of their distinct roles in the home and society, is affirmed by Scripture: "A woman shall not be clothed in man's apparel ---- neither shall a man use a woman's apparel . . . such are abominable before God." [Deut. 22: 55] That is to say, clothing is not an indifferent topic or a simple matter of covering the body. I know many tradtionalists who have argued it is a matter of modesty that women should always wear skirts. I believe that this argument is faulty, since it can be claimed that at times modest and loose fitting trousers cover a woman's body more completely than do some fashionable skirts and dresses.

However, there is a much more profound principle at stake here. The promoters of the feminist revolution encouraged women to abandon their traditional dress that emphasized the delicate and feminine aspect of women. In the name of efficiency, comfort, modernity ---- women donned the pants of men. Along with the trousers of men, in their tendencies, they came to take up the ways of being and sitting and walking of men. they entered the workplace, joined the road crews, trained in the army, and even are invading the sanctuaries.

The motive that impelled women to wear men's dress brought about a mental attitude of being "like a man." An ironic side note is that with this frantic attempt to be masculine instead of striving to perfect their femininity, women unconsciously admit a dissatisfaction with their womanhood and, ultimately, God's plan for creation. This unnatural imitation destroys the complementarity of the sexes, whereby the woman and man complete and fulfIll each other; instead it sets up a relationship of competition.

This kind of erroneous and revolutionary way of thinking naturally found expression in clothing. The "pantsuit revolution" progressed to blue jeans, and has ended in the appearance of androgynous youth. Something more serious has occurred than the fact that the youth are dressed in the same clothing: the young woman's whole way of being appears to be almost more masculine than that of the young man.

The primary reason I would encourage good-spirited reasoning women to always wear dresses is to fight this egalitarian urge that would level the sexes and smash any symbolic expression of the marvelous natural differences placed there by God. This is to concretely and heroically counter the egalitarian revolution that ultimately represents a tearing down of the human order established by God.

Two Prophetic Warnings

Already in June of 1960, Cardinal Giuseppe Siri of Genoa sent this discerning warning to his Diocesan priests about the increasing use of men's trousers by women and the foreboding dangers this represented. He begins the circular with these words: "The first sins of late arriving spring indicate that there is this year a certain increase in the use of men's dress by girls and women, even family mothers." He notes with a certain shock that it is no longer just the American women tourists who have begun to wear men's trousers in public, but his good Catholic Genoese women. It is not the issue of immodesty per se that most concerns him, but a graver threefold result: "First, the wearing of men's dress by women affects the woman herself, by changing the feminine psychology proper to women; second, it affects the woman as wife of her husband, by tending to vitiate relationships between the sexes; and third, it affects the woman as mother of her children by harming her dignity in her children's eyes . . . This changing of the feminine psychology does fundamental, and, in the long run, irreparable damage to the family, to conjugal fidelity, to human affections and to human society." 4

Today we are witnesses of that "fundamental and irreparable damage" that the Cardinal warned would happen with the changing of the feminine psychology. In passing, I mention here a subject that could be analyzed in another article: In the trail of the masculinization of women came the feminization of men. As women usurped the headship of the family, relationships in the entire family were disoriented. Children were deprived of their natural role models and confusion followed. Both sexes suffered a loss of identity. At the university where I taught, I was constantly shocked to see how much effort and time was given over to the discussion of "what it means to be a man" and "what it means to be a woman." These would be moot points for these youths' grandparents, who would be amazed to see so much high level academic discussion about such evident first principles.

Cardinal Siri also asked his priests to speak out on the topic of women dressing like men: "They must know they must never be so weak as to let anyone believe that they turn a blind eye to the custom which is slipping downhill and undermining the moral standing of all institutions." Their action to correct this fault should be "sharp and decisive." His words indicate that the fathers of families should also be alert to correcting this revolutionary custom.

Cardinal Siri then invited those in the fashion industry to find suitable but dignified solutions as to clothing for women when they "must use a motorcycle or engage in this or that exercise or work." "What matters most," he quite judiciously observed, "is to preserve modesty along with the eternal sense of femininity. For that, good sense and good taste should always find acceptable and dignified solutions to problems as they come up." That very few dress designers or couturiers have accepted this invitation should not be a motive for discouragement for the present generations, but a challenge to take it up.

A Revolutionary Process

The revolution in women's clothing and the accompanying change of mentality was not some spectacular and isolated incident. It was a process that gradually rooted itself in the customs and then began to dominate the culture. Little by little, women and men became accustomed to increasingly immodest and revolutionary clothing trends.

A very respectable lady whom I know gave me a trenchant example of the process at work: She said that when trousers for women began to be stylish, at first she resisted. They would be fine to wear at home, she decided, but never in public. A little later, she changed her mind: a nice slacks suit [the poly-
ester pantsuit of the 60's] worn in public was not offensive, but women should never wear trousers to Mass. Just a little later, it didn't seem so horrible to wear a pair of modest, tailored slacks to Mass ---- it was certainly better than tthe short skirts that had become the fashion of the moment. The door opened an inch, and it wasn't long before it was wide open . . .

How much responsibility do we bear for the indecent and immodest trends and androgynous fashions of the day? It seems to me that the culpability belongs at least in part to the lethargic compliance of many Catholics to this revolutionary process that has completely transformed sound customs.

When we consider the restoration of Christian Civilization, there is a tendency for serious Catholics today to turn almost strictly to the religious plane and one's personal prayer life to initiate this restoration. To pray another novena or add another devotion to the mandatory daily Rosary are excellent things and should always be encouraged. It is extremely important not to sin against chastity, to follow the Commandments, to read edifying religious books. But there is another true duty of the spiritual life that has been ignored: that is, to fight the bad customs, revolutionary clothing and ways of being -and especially the immodest and egalitarian clothing that make up a significant part of the total corruption of customs that Our Lady forewarned would dominate in our times.

1. The Sacred Congregation of the Council issued a letter in 1930 by the mandate of Pope Pius XI that included this prescription: "#9. Maidens and 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." Donato, Cardinal Sbaretti, Prefect of the Cong. for the Council, Rome, January 12, 1930.
2. Address to the Latin Union of High Fashion, November 8, 1957.
3. Address to the International Congress of the Children of Mary Immaculate, July 17, 1954.
4. Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, Notification concerning Men's Dress Worn by Women, Genoa, June 12, 1960.

[Reprinted from the December 2000 and January 2001 Issues of Catholic Family News.]