Tuesday, 6 April 2010

How To Look Like a Nice Catholic Girl

This is one of those mornings when I enjoy saying the truthful unsayable. I don't know why it is that when I switch from Seraphic Goes to Scotland to Seraphic Singles I get stroppy and cynical. Cheerfully cynical, mind you, but still cynical. Is it because I'm married now, or what?

Maybe it's because I keep thinking about the chastity speakers who were my age now when I was your age then, and I don't want to be like them. Poor women! I am sure they did their best. But all they talked about was sex, and I am more into the social dynamics of being Single and, if someone thinks they'd like to marry, stopping being Single. So I tell you all the stuff your mother would tell you if she weren't so afraid of you getting mad at her.

So today, assuming that the majority of you dream of marrying Nice Catholic Boys, I am going to tell you how to present yourselves as Nice Catholic Girls, always remembering, of course, that your vocational fate is ultimately up to God and He is the Boss of you. Auntie Seraphic ain't no Pelagian, that's for darn sure. Incidentally, most of these rules will suit Nice Non-Catholic Girls, too.

1. Don't cut your hair short. Of course, if you are one of the very few women in the world who can pull off pixie, go for it. But men are attracted to long hair, and traditional men associate short hair with grandmothers and active lesbianism. In general, no shorter than a chic chin-length bob, mes filles.

2. Don't wear jeans or trousers all the time. Men who like girls like girls who look like girls, okay? Jeans are great for a collegiate look, and younger, slender women look marvellous in them. But trousers and leggings do not say "Hello! I am the beautiful princess you've always dreamed of!"

3. Nice Catholic skirts have two lengths. There is the knee-length skirt, and there is the ankle-length skirt. I wouldn't, like nuns of yore, kneel at your feet with a judgemental tape measure, however. If your knee length skirt rides up when you sit down, I'm cool with that. If your ankle length skirt reaches the floor, that can look very hip. Just make sure you don't trip. N.B. I was wearing a knee-length, sleeveless blue silk shift dress with pearls the moment my husband fell in love with me. I was freezing. Should have worn a cardigan, too!

I do not like below-knee or mid-calf length skirts. They look dowdy on almost everyone. Modest does not equal dowdy. Too many traddie Catholic women make this egregious error, giving the rest of us a bad name. Think modest, yes, but always think pretty.

4. Nice Catholic shoes don't wreck your feet. Classic, trendy, rock star, sporty: all these looks can work as long as you are thinking "pretty and feminine" not "sexy". Spike heels are not pretty and feminine. They're sexy. (And stupid, almost as stupid as Chinese footbinding.) Nice Catholic Boys find sexy unnerving. Whatever their embattled sex drives tell them, they really want pretty girls who will make them happy and help them get into heaven.

5. Do not advertise things on your bottom. Western Civilisation hit a new low when girls began to wear sweatpants with "Juicy" written across the bum. It is a good rule of thumb never to wear words at all. None of my best-dressed Nice Catholic Girl friends allow themselves to be used as billboards. You belong to God, not Abercrombie and Fitch, and so the only signature on your visible person should be the cross at your throat.

6. Do not exhibit more than the veriest hint of cleavage. I'm serious, girls. If you're an unmarried Nice Catholic Girl, you cannot get away with overanxious boobage. If you go to a party with it all hanging out, other Nice Catholic Girls will shoot you foul looks and the Nice Catholic Boys will start sweating and looking for the exit. There are better ways to get attention. I once saw a very modestly dressed traddie girl in a whole new light when she accepted a cigarillo after dinner. One cigarillo once a year is not going to kill you; boobage can kill your chances with NCBs. Yes, you do so care.

6. Be Seen at Daily Mass. Now that I've got you nicely kitted out in a pretty, knee length (or ankle length) skirt, a modest but stylish top and cute shoes, I'm sending you to lunchtime daily Mass. I'm sending you for the wrong reason, in the hopes that you will keep going for the right reasons: to further develop your devotion to and relationship with God, giver of all blessings.

The truest hallmark of a Nice Catholic Girl is that she loves God and wants to obey Him. And the truest hallmark of a Nice Catholic Boy is that he loves God and wants to obey Him. And just as a Nice Catholic Girl wants to meet the right Nice Catholic Boy, a Nice Catholic Boy wants to meet the right Catholic Girl. And if he sees her at Daily Mass, so much the better, because Daily Mass is a clue to her NCG-ness. As we know, we have to go to Sunday Mass. And, alas, many of us do it out of habit or identity. Those who go to Daily Mass or evening devotions, however, show a more signal devotion.

Once again, here are the three stages of praying for a spouse:

1. Fun. "Saint Anne, Saint Anne, send me a man."
2. Petitionary. "Please, Lord, help me! Please, please, please! Help, help, help!"
3. Accepting. "Not my will, but Yours be done."

Obviously, #3 is best, but I, no saint, always found myself bouncing back to #1 and #2.

7. Don't, however, look bizarre. At the Extraordinary Latin Mass, wear a mantilla if that's what the other ladies wear. At the Ordinary Form of the Mass, wear a cute hat like a beret or go bare-headed. Never be the only woman in the church with lace on her head. Never be the only woman in the place with nothing on her head. Avoid being mistaken for either the Tridentine Avenger or the Feminist Crusader. Both ladies scare Nice Catholic Boys rigid.

8. Read historical romance novels on the bus. Yes, you have a fierce intelligence, and if you ever found yourself in an elevator with Christopher Hitchens, you would leave him a crying, defeated wreck of a man. But you don't have to prove this every second of the day. Contribute to discussions as well as you can, and do the best job at work or school you can do. But don't brag about how smart you are, and don't pose in cafes with Jean-Paul Sartre novels.

9. Don't say bad things about babies. In general, Nice Catholic Boys don't give a flying fig for your career until they fall in love with you. Then they care about your career only because you do. They aren't looking for husbands. They're looking for the feminine companion of their soul, the guardian of their home and the possible mother of their children. So although your guidance counsellor was impressed when you said you would rather be an astronaut than a mother, Nice Catholic Boys won't be.

10. Don't say the F-word. Alas, when I am in great perturbation of spirit (e.g. once a day), I say the F-word. And I am sorry because a cussing woman is not a lovely creature. It's called the F-bomb for a reason, you know. Do not use obscene or blasphemous language, however mild, and although you shouldn't nag men for the occasional mild indiscretion, in general do not allow them to use obscene or blasphemous language around you.

11. Think about how your words reflect on you. Do not trash other girls in front of men. Do not complain to men about all the past miseries of your life. Do not refer to the Holy Father as "Ratzinger". Do not talk non-stop about yourself, your parents, your friends, your anything. Ask other people about themselves, their ideas, their opinions and their feelings. That way, you'll never be a bore.

12. Be clean and smell nice. Clean you, clean hair, clean clothes, clean teeth, clean shoes. Not too much perfume: soap and deodorant are usually enough. A clean soul goes without saying, too, so don't forget to go to confession. As a priest once upbraided me in the confessional, "Don't stay away so long next time." Yes, sir!

The photo is from 500 Days of Summer, and no, Summer was not a Nice Catholic Girl, but she did dress like one.

Update: I'm reading and signing copies of Seraphic Singles in Crux Books at 5 Hoskin Avenue, Toronto (sandwiched between Wycliffe College and Hart House) on Tuesday, April 27, between 7 and 8 PM. Come on time and consume refreshments, compliments of Novalis!

Update 2 (April 14): Hel-lo, Catholic Match! I may be an "authorESS", but I'll trouble to remind you that I'm Canadian. Thanks ever so.

Update 3 (Jan 13, 2012): Okay, who is the super-popular person with a facebook account because I am having an avalanche of hits here today!


Ancilla Indigna said...

I generally enjoyed this post. I agree with most of it. However, I think that men can be provoked even by a woman's bare arms (that's what I've been told by men). I'm with the idea that two fingers below the colar bone, and no lower, should the depth of one's blouse lay. Also, I like 3/4 length skirts! I'm a shorty, and they look good on me, as long as they are cut right. They can look trendy depending on the print, cut, and how they are paired up topwise/accessory-wise. I think knees are just too distracting for guys, especially in church. I like the idea of wearing a hat if a mantilla is not the norm, such as a cloiche, but I think guys aren't necessarily intimidated by the mantilla if you dress modestly but modern.

Seraphic said...

Shoulders should indeed be covered at church, but if guys in the 21st West are driven into priapic frenzies by women's arms and knees, they have serious problems.

Knee length skirts have been popular for almost 90 years. They also have the merit of being considered appropriate business wear. I just cannot love the mid-length look, although I'm glad it works for you.

At a certain point we must ask ourselves who gets to decide what modest means. Sometimes men use modesty standards as a means to shame or control women.

Men are usually intimidated by women who look wacky, and the woman who kneels when everyone else stands, or stands when everyone else kneels, or wears a mantilla when everyone else is bareheaded looks wacky.

Really, the most important thing where eligible bachelors are concerned, even more important than modesty (shocker), is to look pretty. And, of course, not crazy.

theobromophile said...

Seraphic: thank you for emphasising that men, too, have a role to play in all this.

I like mid-calf skirts, provided that they are cut correctly. They look horrid if they are pencil-thin or cut wide at the hips and tapered inwards, but, if cut in a full, swingy manner, look incredibly cute. (I'm taller than about 95% of the female population, so this may be a reason that I don't mind them but other people hate them. Your mileage may vary, and all.)

Great post, as always - and a good reminder to not care what bad men think, but to prepare oneself to be a good girlfriend and wife for the right one.

hip2bsquare said...

Two thumbs up from this guy! This is a great list.

SJH said...

Define "Historical Romance Novels"... if we mean Jane Austen OK... but if you mean what we in the U.S. call romance novels, I don't think it's a plus over reading Sartre.

There's a nice piece on this over at Boundless:

But rather than try to decipher what a specific guy constitutes as a "marriable woman," you need to focus on what is godly womanhood — that's the criteria that matters.

"...I especially like the way John and Stasi Eldredge have described her, Captivating. Put simply, her heart is captivated by Christ, and as a result, she is a woman who is truly captivating.

Seraphic said...

As far as romance goes, I recommend Georgette Heyer. About 50 of her books are still in print, and she was a self-taught expert on the Regency Period. During her lifetime, no one in Britain knew more than Regency language, clothing, etc, than Heyer.

I am sure there are other historical romance novelists safe for Nice Catholic--and Evangelical--Girls.

KimP said...

I recently met a Very Nice Guy and this was his take: 1) Don't talk about how much you hate your job; 2) Don't talk about how past boyfriends have ruined your life; 3) Don't talk about how much money you have (or don't have); and 4) Don't talk about what clubs you have been to.

His advice: talk about your family. Tell stories about them, making it obvious that you love them. And talk about your faith.

Kate P said...

Great advice, Seraphic. Just about any skirt that hits you mid-calf (at the widest point) is a crime against fashion. I'm curious to see the swingy ones Clio mentioned, even though I'd be too short for them!

Also, KimP made a great point--watch the negativity. That goes for everybody. :)

fifi said...

As one of the lucky, pixie-wearing few, I can say that to pull it off you do have to be conscious of accessorizing a bit more (ie, earrings, scarves, eye makeup). The best advice I can give girls with short hair is to channel Audrey Hepburn at all times. If anyone was the epitome of femininity...

And I think when a Nice Catholic Girl's hair is long it should not worn in a style that makes her look like a refugee from a cult in Utah. That can also be a turnoff.

Regarding wearing words, I could not agree with you more about nixing name-brand advertising and words on the bum [shudder]. I am curious what your position is on A)t-shirts with cute retro-style "ads" or witty sayings (in good taste) and B) t-shirts that promote Catholic beliefs.

I once attracted the attention of a truly stellar Nice Catholic Boy because I was walking across campus wearing the pro-life club's t-shirt. But now that I'm out of university, I feel much less comfortable advertising my beliefs on my shirtfront, especially since many of the shirts I see promoting Christian beliefs or lifestyle strike me as belligerant in tone, or awkward/nerdy in execution.

Shiraz said...

I laughed out loud when I read that bit about reading historical romance novels on the bus -- because I have, in the past, sat on the bus reading the WRONG sort of historical romance after a particularly brain-draining exam period, trying the whole time to obscure the shameful cover from my fellow passengers. (To be honest, I sort of eye-rollingly skipped over the sexy bits as I found them so laughably historically inaccurate. Seriously, if the heroine is so smart and determined to be independent and respectable, WHY ON EARTH would she sleep with the local lord given the social and - well, reproductive - consequences? And it's completely laughable how she manages to do this but somehow manages never to get caught out or pregnant? Ha!) So anyway, I would recommend reading more acceptable novels on the bus. And more generally, if you don't want your brain to turn into mush.

I say as I pop on my knee-length skirt, jumper and cute boots to skip out the door!

Shiraz said...

Oh, and PS. I think you're totally right about not getting to obsessed with the precise meaning of 'modest'. I think it can be used as a means of control, or of pushing blame onto women for the lustful actions of men.

I tend to think modesty means respecting yourself enough to present yourself to the world as someone who deserves their respect too. And also, not sticking out like a sore thumb. I personally don't think it's modest to completely cover yourself up when nobody else in your society is -- then, you're actually drawing MORE attention to yourself, not less, and that's hardly modest, is it?

Right. NOW I'm off!

Seraphic said...

Shiraz, your outfit sounds great!

Fifi wrote a great comment, with advice for pixie-girls (haircut not Episcopalian), and it won't stick for some reason.

She asks about t-shirts with cute sayings and retro ads, etc. And I say (in general) no. Really, you don't want your chest to be more fascinating than your face. But if you are being super-casual, like washing your car or marching in a pro-life demonstration, well, no problem.

Fifi was approached by a young man because she was wearing the campus pro-life t-shirt. I hope Fifi wasn't taking her life in her hands. I never wore my Students for Life shirt on campus without trembling beforehand and picturing my martyrdom at the hands of Queer Nation, Students for Choice, et alia.

I think I am willing to relax my "no words" rule for very casual occasions, and then you can wear stuff that identifies your affiliation with a Catholic school or social justice cause. If it's the campus carwash, you get a vacation from pretty. Put on the jeans and your old school sweatshirt.

However, as does Fifi, I rather deplore aggressive Christian slogans like "Catholic--Not Just on Sunday". I saw this (in German) in Germany on a rather aggro-looking seminarian, and I rolled my eyes. "Goody for you," was my thinking.

healthily sanguine said...

Yeah, for various reasons two weeks ago I chopped my beautiful, long layered hair off in favor of an extremely short haircut. Since then, though I wasn't in the habit of wearing makeup before, I haven't gone a DAY without putting on makeup (mineral foundation and powder, eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick/lipgloss). I count this as a good thing for my discipline. I also haven't worn anything but skirts outside my home. So I agree with Fifi. A short haircut can be feminine, if some extra work goes into the overall look. Good post, Seraphic! :)

healthily sanguine said...

Yeah, for various reasons two weeks ago I chopped my beautiful, long layered hair off in favor of an extremely short haircut. Since then, though I wasn't in the habit of wearing makeup before, I haven't gone a DAY without putting on makeup (mineral foundation and powder, eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick/lipgloss). I count this as a good thing for my discipline. I also haven't worn anything but skirts outside my home. So I agree with Fifi. A short haircut can be feminine, if some extra work goes into the overall look. Good post, Seraphic! :)

fifi said...

[Haha!] I had to write back when I read your comment, Seraphic! I DID rather tremble when I wore that shirt, and I don't think I ever wore it to class. Just in friendly company or, in the abovementioned case, tripping merrily home from confession and daily Mass on my day off.

Alas, I feared something much more painful to my pride than martyrdom, which seems easy in comparison: I feared being mocked and written-off by my schoolmates, and passed over for awards and academic honors by the faculty. In retrospect, that last fear may have been unjust, but in any case, I noticed that the flamingly pro-choice girls never seemed intimidated, in their turn, by our school's "Catholic Identity."

My sister went to a much more homogenously conservative school, and wore her t-shirts emblazoned with rosaries and kick-butt quotes from the saints in peace and innocence. I envied her... and gently reminded her when she brought them home for the summer that we were not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

So much, my friends, for freedom of speech!

theobromophile said...

My sister (who is 14) found an adorable purple shirt with a green dinosaur on it, with "Vegetarian" printed beneath, and presented it to me before the bar exam. I wear it sometimes, okay? :)

Swingy skirt: 25 inches from waist to end, and about 85 inches across the bottom. Khaki. It's cute, I swear.

Seraphic said...

Hey, it's not me you should be thinking about. Any girl would find that shirt cute. And girls don't mind other girls wearing khaki (a Hindu word for dust, incidentally.) The 95% of men who eat meat and like bright colours, maybe not so much.

AveLady said...

Why DO men have such a thing for bright colors? I wear them fairly often these days but I've always been more attracted to soft greens, dark blues, tans, dark browns, grays... earthy tones. I don't like feeling like I glare out like a flame against my surroundings. How is that different from all the "bad" ways of standing out?

Seraphic said...

I am not sure why men like colours so much. Maybe it goes along with "men are simple; women are complex." The Number 1 thing we all (including men) have to remember is that men behave differently from women, and women behave differently from men. Men-in-general like stuff women don't like; women-in-general like stuff men don't like. Women-in-general, for example, LOVE Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie, and men-in-general think she looks like a horse. Men throw babies in the air as if they were footballs, and women fight the urge to scream when they see this.

Anyway, standing out like a flame is GREAT! People like candles for a reason. But exploiting your sexuality and men's weakness regarding sexuality is obviously wrong. You can-NOT compare wearing a cute red dress to wearing your shirt cut down to THERE, or your skirt cut up to HERE.

Wearing bright colours and an attractive hairdo is THE most acceptable way to be noticed. Consider the flowers of the field and the birds of the air, etc.

Anyway, the rules I learned were that bright colours make you look vibrant and fun; pastels make you look feminine and sympathetic; black looks harsh and authoritative, and greys and browns also make you look authoritative. Thus, black, greys and browns are great for work (and funerals) but not so great for social occasions.

The book where I read all this points out that the Queen (of England, Scotland, Canada, Australia, etc.) matches her hat shoes, dress, gloves, handbag. Often they are all in the same colour. That way the Queen totally stands out in a crowd, and everyone in the crowd can see her.

Red dress plus red hat plus red shoes plus red handbag is probably TOO much, but I do think wearing a pastel dress with bright accessories is a really good look, and definitely in right now. Another good look right now is a colourful dress with neutral accessories.

Seraphic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annabel said...

While there is a remarkable amount to be said for dressing modestly, and I do the best that I can, it can be remarkably difficult as a naturally very curvy 20 year old to find clothes that both flatter my shape and look sufficiently chaste; while it may be very hard to attract NCBs with areas of one's flesh on show, it is equally difficult in clothes that do not flatter at all; has anyone any advice on this?

Seraphic said...

Sufficiently chaste to WHOM? That is the six million dollar question. If your grandma says it's chaste, it's chaste. Don't listen to the pale guy with the twitch at the back of the church.

As your Auntie Seraphic, I forbid you to dress in sacks and big scary prairie skirts. And I encourage you to run off to Borders/Chapters-Indigo/Waterstone's and browse "What Not to Wear" by Trinnie and Suzanna. My husband hates them for they are MEAN on TV, but I love their books. They tell you how to dress for your shape, and they are very against women looking like sleaze-buckets.

Suzanna, like me, is a pear. Suzanna is bigger than I am, but the kinds of clothes that look good on her also look good on me, so I study her looks with a beady eye.

Suzanna and I look absolutely foul in turtleneck sweaters, and I personally have no problem with low-necked shirts, as long as my upper arms are covered by sleeves. (I don't think upper arms are immodest, I just think mine are just a tad too fleshy to be on display currently.) If you look at my book launch photos, that is as low as I allow my decollage to go. Of course, I'm 39 (and married) so I can get away with low-collar murder. Covering your upper arms forces the onlooker's attention to your lovely, delicate wrists.

Susanna and I are at one on wanting to emphasize one's waist with belts, shirts and jackets ending right at the waist, and trousers bisecting the waist. This makes us look more like Marilyn Monroe-style hourglasses and less like pears.

My most attractive attributes are my hair, my eyes and my lower legs, so I make sure my eyes always take centre stage (mascara forever) and I am not afraid to wear knee-length skirts. I am afraid to wear miniskirts, though. Very afraid. The only reason my book launch dress is that short is that my mother sort of made a mistake while cutting.

Suzanne says that if you don't like your ankles or your lower legs, you should buy lovely, lovely knee-length boots.

I prefer my clothes to skim, not cling, and if something is a bit tight up top, I make sure no-one can see my bra straps or outline. Ick. But I am 100% against anything baggy. Curvy girls just cannot do baggy. The horror.

Meredith said...

Annabel! Do go look up the fashion blog "Glamourous Grad Student." The proprietress is a curvy 20-something redhead with a nice style... you might find some good ideas.

Lynea said...

Ok. Well, we're going to have to agree to disagree. I believe that the Church's standard in an encyclical on such issues is objective. Justice springs from true charity, and true charity is first ordered to God, not man, and only secondly to man out of love of God. If we stand out because of our virtues that is to be expected. That's part of the not-so-fun-part of being Catholic. Jesus promised us that we would standout and even be persecuted for following him. We're not always going to blend in.

Mary Di Valerio said...

Absolutely amazing post. I really liked reading what you had to say and I agree wholeheartedly on the skirt thing. Either an inch above the knee or floor length. Anything else looks awful. Floral is terribly in style at the moment and I wholeheartledly take advantage of that, wearing cute floral dresses that are cinched in at the waist. Modest, beautiful and feminine. SO glad you made all these points about how it's important to be modest, but equally important to look beautiful.
I agree on the NO WORDS ON THE BUTT rule!! So glad someone finally said that. :)
I've seen girls pull off short hair, but I love having long hair so I'd never cut it. :)
I have to disagree on the "Nice Catholic Shoes" rule though. I have very odd feet that don't fit into most styles of heels without extreme uncomfort. The only shoes (in the heel department) that are actually comfortable for me are platform stilletos. (Generally between 6-7 inches.)
I've recieved very unChristian comments on them before and I always inform a person that "A girl's shoes don't make her a s***. A girl's ACTIONS have the power too, but the shoes she wears don't determine that. Shoes aren't "immodest." Furthermore, there's nothing "sexy" about being on stilts."
My mom backs me up on this, even though we've gotten SO much flak on it. Unfortunately society put a "label" on a certain style of shoe and while Christians don't chose to follow society in some ways, they DO chose to judge/throw stones in other ways.
Daily mass is a blessing. :)
I have to disagree on the historic romantic novel thing though. I've had guys tell me multiple times that they can't take a girl who reads romance seriously. There's nothing wrong with romance, but I think you should be yourself, not what you think someone should be. Read smart stuff if that's you. Embrace your wackiness! The guy should love you, wackiness and all!! :)
Overall, fantastic advice. Most of this is how I've felt for years. :)

Mia Wright said...

I really enjoyed this post with all of its great information!! I am trying to impress a very nice boy at my church so this article was EXTREMELY helpful!! I know I am only 13, but a lot of the topics covered I could very much relate to.

Also, any tips for personal style? I love going shopping at thrift stores to find & remake old things into new. Some of my family & friends look at me like I'm crazy when I show off a new creation. Can I still be myself without getting the same crazy looks, or should I play it safe?
Thanks, Mia

Seraphic said...

Mia, I wrote a whole post for you. http://seraphicsinglescummings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/auntie-seraphic-and-thirteen-year-old.html

Anonymous said...

interesting, great and I am thinking of my cultural cultural context.As an African Catholic woman who chopped her shoulder length hair just the other day. I prefer it to having perm or adding weaves for my afro hair. I like it that way and it is easy to maintain and I find myself doing make up and nice bright dresses and trousers when need be.