Tuesday, 22 March 2011

More on Modesty

Ashley of the Love and Fidelity Network sent me this link to the Wall Street Journal. In the article a Jewish mother wonders why women today allow their daughters to dress "like prostitutes."

As a matter of fact, I am not up on what prostitutes are wearing these days. I know a young priest in Germany who worked in parish right near Hamburg's Reeperbahn a few years ago, and he said that the prostitutes all wore white--white bomber jackets, white shirts, white stockings, white skirts, white leggings, white spike heels--and they all used the same perfume. He could not tell me what this perfume was called, but he said when he could smell it, he knew the woman beside him was a Reeperbahn prostitute.

It is probably more accurate to say that today's daughters dress provocatively. Of course, they might not know that. They might not have the foggiest idea how their outfits look to the men around them. One of the trashiest looks I know is the Catholic Schoolgirl Look. This consists of a tiny uniform kilt on long legs covered only in the thinnest nude hose or, more modestly, coloured tights, with an untucked white blouse.

This, incidentally, was a fashion affected by year after year after year of girls in my high school, including yours truly. I didn't realize how shocking it was until I went to my baby sister's Graduation Mass and was horrified by the handkerchief-sized kilts. In the 80s, the mini was in. In the 00s, not so much, and yet there was the teeny-tiny kilt.

Teenage girls lack the imaginative power to put themselves into the shoes of grown-up men. Because as far as they are concerned ugly old men are invisible, they seem to think that they are invisible to the ugly old men. They want to be seen by teenage boys, and hence the bright, short, provocative outfits.

I'm not sure this has anything to do with carnality, as the author of the piece seems to think. I think the outfits cry out, "Notice me! Love me! Tell me I'm beautiful! Tell me I'm normal!"

God only knows why teenage girls feel a crying need to be noticed, loved and found beautiful and normal by teenage boys, but it may have something to do with the fact that human beings used to marry at that age. Our inner alarm clock does not jive with the outer realities of civilization.

Or it could stem from a life of watching television, reading magazines, seeing movies and goodness knows what other activities that tell us that the admiration of teenage boys is all that and a bag of chips. But even the carefully homeschooled feel a need to be assured that they are normal, beautiful and all that, so maybe it's not just the wicked world.

At any rate, the immodesty of dress of women is a perennial theme. In Jane Austen's day, fast women soaked their thin dresses so that they would stick to their figures all the more provocatively. In the 1920s, women began "to paint" in earnest, and this became so respectable that heavy makeup is part of the Evangelical Woman uniform. In the 1960s, my mother wore miniskirts, and there are pictures of Princess Anne in the early 1970s wearing the highest hemlines I've seen. In the 1980s, the miniskirt came back and Madonna-the-rock-star brought underwear-as-outerwear into fashion. And the cry goes up again and again "Why do we dress our daughters like prostitutes?"

To tell you the truth, I find this vaguely annoying. (The original bit of the WSJ article is the admission that maybe sex before marriage is a bad thing.) Teenage girls have enough problems without older women wailing constantly about how slutty they look. And it's not just a way to sneer at the younger generation. It's also a way to sneer at majority society. In the 80s, daughters of Italian immigrants in my town were told not to dress "like Canadian girls, like putanas." Hey, thanks for nothing.

But clothes do indeed send a message, and they do occasionally attract the attention of manipulative adults, which is something parents should tell their children, sons as well as daughters. I eagerly await a WSJ piece bewailing sons who dress like crack dealers or gay prostitutes.

We should encourage young people to wear clothes that say something other than "Love me" and "I hate Western society." How about "I'd like to be a respectable mother of three one day" and "I'm employable"?

Here is my How to Look Like a Nice Catholic girl again, since it is popular and nothing seems to attract comments on Catholic blogs like "What should women wear?"

Meanwhile I'd avoid wearing all white outfits with white bomber jackets and strong perfume.

Update: Girls, feel free to write at length in the com box about what men should wear.


Janet in Toronto said...

I live in a Toronto neighborhood that includes both a private girls high school and a huge orthodox Jewish community. The contrast in teenage girl dressing could not be more blatant. The orthodox "uniform" consists of all black (coat, long skirt, tights and shoes). Yet having spent some time shopping next to these young women at a discount fashion outlet, they seem so normal, so full of life and laughter.

One of my teenage sons once commented that they are to be lauded for being so visibly faith-full, as they walk down Lawrence West, in groups, sometimes arm in arm, their clothing bearing witness to their faith. It's such a contrast with the mini-kilts, bare legs and Uggs, the wearers of which tend to look stressed-out, self-conscious, and hyper-aware of who is watching them.

All gross generalizations of course. But interesting to the casual observer.

Julie said...

I am of the opinion that men who are young should strive to avoid pleated pants. Pleated pants are for old men!

Collared shirt, a masculine sweater, non-jean trousers. Ahh, very nice.

Julie said...

(Oh! And there's this I just saw linked on facebook: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/us/22pastor.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha23 )

sciencegirl said...

Men of the world! Hear and obey!

At Mass:

a. Daily Mass: if wearing a t-shirt, wear one without a slogan, unless the slogan is your retreat t-shirt or work uniform.

b. Sunday Mass: dress up a bit. Act like it matters to you.

c. Both: Take your dad-blasted baseball cap and/or sunglasses off in church, because I will just be imagining knocking them off for you. And that's not a happy Christian attitude for me to have. Lead me not into temptation!

d. Both: Wife-beater tees or tanktops. Hey, pal, I'm covering my shoulders, and even though yours may be veiled with manfur, you should cover them with some sort of knit or woven material. Or a leather jacket. Without the Hells Angels insignia.


If your tattoos are of nude ladies, give them some clothes! Yours. Cover them.

No flipflops unless you are at the beach. Man toes are not fun to see.

When running:
WEAR A SHIRT! Only the guys who are showing off their bodies run topless anyway, so cut it out. Shirts v. skins at basketball is ok by me because you are not playing bball all around me on my way to work.

Keep the hair gel to a minimum.

Axe deodorant? You can't asphyxiate us into loving you, so stop trying.

Rosaries as necklaces. No, Spanish-speaking people attempting to look cool, even though I know in Spain there is a long history of wearing rosaries, I -- I, sciencegirl -- do not approve in the least. I am going to be all culturally hegemonic and ethnocentric and seeing normal rosaries worn as jewelry makes my slapping fingers tingle. So stop.

Stop showing me your undies. I don't want to know your boxers pattern du jour. There are amazing things called belts that come in many styles. Why not work those into your gang's regalia instead? Older fat men, this also applies to some of you. In fact, the gangsters at least wear underwear that covers the bum, whereas you show me inches of crack. Sometimes in church. I am disturbed that drug dealers have more foresight and consideration than you. Buy a belt or suspenders and stop flaunting your assets.

Confederate flag regalia? Makes me hate you. If you are cool with that, carry on.

So let it be written, so let it be done!

Urszula said...

I agree completely with sciencegirl and Julie, especially on the collared shirts, nice sweaters, and minimal hair gel. I think what deserves mentioning are also nice shoes, especially not wearing sneakers to church (I've seen a lot of really good guy outfits ruined by the wrong footwear).

It seems to me there is a biological basis for instinctively being attracted to men who dress well, but not flashily. When I see a man in a collared shirt, sweater and non-sneaker shoes, he seems to tell me: "I know how to behave appropriately around other people and I can be a good provider" just by the simple fact that he is not wearing sportswear (sloppy T-shirts, running shoes or the horror, sweatpants in public) in a social setting (Men who must wear uniforms for work are an exception).
Also, I thought we were over the phase of parading around in PJs outside of the house but from what I've seen in the US this mysterious plague still seems to afflict even grown men.

kozz said...

Personally, I think clean, pressed clothes, which isn't a throwback to the day of yore, or aping teen fashion, would be great. And of course, smell really nice at all times.

Definitely no to skinny hipster jeans, or those loose baggy ones.

Happy Girl said...

Amen Sciencegirl!

Rosaries worn as jewelry is one of my major pet peeves. I work in a (public) high school where a large percentage of students from all ethnic and religious backgrounds wear rosaries around their necks. In a moment of frustration with the fashion, and disregard for separation of church and state I taught a girl that her necklace was a prayer and told her the basics of how to say it.

Seraphic said...

Heh heh heh! Did that feel good? Payback for ten million comments from Catholic men on what Catholic girls should wear. Ah ha ha ha!

Marie Catherine said...

Amen to all that has been said above.

More to add:

1) Wear clothes that FIT you....not TOO tight, but not 2 sizes too big. This is especially true for the thinner guys. If you want to add bulk to your frame, invest in a couple of nice fitted jackets, cardigans or vests. Rolling up your shirt-sleeves on a button-down shirt also works.
2) If you want to wear a T-shirt, fine, but keep it classy. It's even better if you wear it with a nice suit jacket and a pair of dark-wash jeans.
3) For the love of all that is good and holy, SHAVE!! 5-o'clock-shadow is sexy, but only for a day. Afterwards, it has to go! IF you decide to have a beard, please keep it short and trimmed! Neck-beard is NOT attractive. This especially goes for you men who have trouble growing facial hair.....if it's patchy and only grows on certain places, best to just not let it grown at all.
4) While we're on the topic of hair, please get it cut once every couple of months. A man's hair shouldn't be any longer than his chin, and he should only have it that long if it's curly. In this century, ponytails are for women. Oh, and please don't artificially change your hairline above the ears. It looks creepy and un-natural.
5) I will once again echo others' sentiments about smell. There is nothing more attractive to many women than a man who smells GOOD. Unfortunately, "good" is subjective to many women.....but most appreciate a slight WHIFF of a masculine, woodsy scent.
6) I know this seems like a demanding list, but I think that if men are going to want their future wives to be attractive, they need to step up to the plate and make themselves attractive as well. Women are just as visual as men, if not more so.

dark but fair said...

Dear Gentlemen,

I know that this might come as a surprise to some of you, but we "Nice Catholic Girls" actually do have to practice custody of the eyes too! So please do not make it needlessly difficult for us. Please wear a shirt when you run. I really can't imagine that such a thin peice of cloth can slow you down that much. Please do not wear those teeny tiny swimming speedos either.

Would it really kill you to wear a collared shirt to Sunday Mass? Ties or jackets make all the difference in the world. Wearing a hat when outdoors adds a touch of dignity too. Please do not pair up a navy, old-fashioned suit jacket with faded kaaki slacks. No exposed white socks either please. Almost any lady would secretly be tempted to not take you seriously.

Anne-Marie said...

I think men should just steer clear of owning white socks. That way they can avoid the temptation of wearing them . . .

Nicole said...

I always have a question. Auntie Seraphic, you seem to have a thing for long hair. That is easier to do for Caucasian NCG's. Just grow it out and you have a flowing mane. For us black NCG's many times to achieve the alternative to short hair is extensions, weaves or chemical perms etc......if we do this we then get accused for being fake etc....So what do you recommend then?

Seraphic said...

Nicole! Aaaaah! Aaaaaah! The Hair Issue!

First of all, it is not me. I do not like men with long hair. Men like women with long hair. It is not my fault.

Second, you have no way of knowing this, but I have extremely kinky, frizzy, thick hair that stops growing half-way down my back. In Toronto and Boston, black women ask me if I'm mixed race and black men just hit on me. Well, only if my hair is out of its daily bun.

One day I was in a Toronto coffee shop and was swooped upon by two hairdressers from the black salon up the street.

"Honey, you have to tame that mane," they shouted.

So I went to the salon and sat there all afternoon (little white me looking at all the black ladies, and all the black ladies staring at me) and the hairdressers moisturized my hair like it had never been moisturized before and then blow-dried it straight and then ironed out every last strand with a hot iron.

And for the first time since I was four, I had Caucasian hair. I went home and my mother thought I was wearing a wig. I went to school and my classmates couldn't see me. The difference was THAT dramatic.

So where am I going here?

I know there is something called The Politics of Black Hair. Not being black, I can't comment all that much, except to say not all Caucasians HAVE Caucasian hair. I guess you have to figure out what you really believe, and then stick with that, and tell your critics to bug off.

More below"!

Seraphic said...

Although I had a period where I was only happy when my hair was ironed (and I would go for weeks without washing my hair, which I can do as it takes 3 weeks for my hair to get greasy), I am all for "free to be me", too.

I wouldn't like to wear hair extensions (popular with white British women these days) because they are so nasty for one's real hair. But I think they look amazing with braids. (Incidentally, my hair was made for braids, and I love having my hair braided, but it makes PC people freak out, because once my hair is braided I no longer look mixed race to anybody, but just a wannabe.)

Anyway, my advice is to do with your hair what you want and tell any critics to bug off. It is not easy to go through life with a big afro around your head, which I know FIRST HAND. I know exactly what being natural can mean, and I include a picture above of my hair at its most natural.

At this point, it may occur to you that I am obsessed with my hair. Yes. It is a lifelong obsession. My grandma (born 1904) had hair like this and she lived in Chicago, so you can imagine the displaced racism she put up with as a kid. It was bad. Racists are not very bright.

hip2bsquare said...

Do NCGs think it's odd for a man to wear a suit or a coat and tie to Mass when nearly everyone else is wearing jeans, t-shirts, or sneakers?

Christine said...

@science girl - Many great comments. Ditto on most of them.
About motorcycle jackets: Where in live in the suburbs of NYC at some Catholic events, sometimes I see retirement-age men who wear motocycle jackets with some sort of "cyclists for life/pro-life" logo on the back. It looks like a regular cyclist jacket from far away, but it is pro-life. I think that particular case is pretty awesome.

@Hip2BSquare - I think it's "odd" for a man to wear nice clothes to Sunday Mass, just as odd as it is for young people such as ourselves to be committed to the Catholic faith. To me, dressing nicely to Mass is a sign that a person takes one's faith and oneself seriously. IMHO.

Ditto on pet peeves: too much Axe, Rosaries as jewelry.

Christine said...

@Seraphic - I met Ashley once at a Theology of the Body mini-event in NYC. She's super-friendly and Catholic. yay

Cordi said...


This NCG thinks that if you were to appear at Mass in a suit or jacket when all the other guys were wearing jeans or athletic clothes, you might look a little out of place, but only because you would look like a man in a bunch of boys.

Jane said...


Generally, no, neither I nor my friends would think it odd to see a man in a coat and tie at Mass, regardless of what everyone else is wearing. In fact, it might make him stand out in the crowd, in a good way.

Alisha said...

Men should dress like swing dancers (the ones who danced at the savoy in harlem) and smell nice - I love Play by Givenchy :)

For realz, I don't actually care what guys wear in every day life as long as they are clean and don't have tshirts with ugly things on them. I do think they have to dress appropriately based on where they are though...and I really do believe different guys can rock diff looks depending on their personality. On some guys long hair looks ridiculous...on others it looks very attractive or ridiculous but in a fun way...you should basically know whether you wear what you wear well...