Today I was in the Human Life International office in Rome, and it is lined with books in both Italian and English. There are bookcases all along the walls, and they are seven book-storeys high. They cover dogmatic theology, moral theology and life issues. Father Cessario stands, in book form, next to Charlie Curran, which I cannot really imagine happening in real, non-book, life.
So which book, out of all these riches, did I choose to read while drinking my tea, eh?
It was the one on modest dressing.
What is with us Catholics and modest dressing? If Father Z introduces the topic on his blog, the combox goes wild. Safe in anonymity, the boys hasten to tell the girls what to wear, and the girls get creeped out, even if they already dress the way the boys suggest. And very rarely do the girls tell the boys how they should dress, which is, of course, like George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Ah, George Peppard. Blonde men were born to wear sharp grey suit jackets, they really were. Paul Varjak (aka "Fred Baby") could also rock a cardigan, white shirt and straight tie combo. Really, if men cry over the tight and vulgar trampy outfits women wear today, what about OUR womanly feelings before the male slobs who people the streets? Not even Doc Golightly wore a baseball cap downtown. UGH!
Anyway, I think most of us are fascinated with clothes because clothes are in themselves fascinating. Whatever "Slutwalkers" might say, clothes send messages about their wearers, and always always have. I have among my belongings (in Edinburgh) an incredibly feminist and Marxist book written in the early 1990s, and it is called The Language of Clothes. It's written in angry jargon, but it agrees that clothes send coded messages. And it mentions that marvellous book that came out in the 1980s that, after a heck of a lot of scientific research, concluded that the best outfit for professional women was a grey suit with a knee-length skirt and sensible shoes, i.e. a female version of what successful men wear to the office. But OH NO (continues this feminist book), this was IGNORED. Instead of encouraging women to wear clothes that said "I'm a serious professional", the fashion industry encouraged women to wear to the office clothes that said "I put my sex life before absolutely everything."
The modest clothing book I read today was dotted with exclamation points and rhetorical questions like, "Have you seen what's on TV these days?" I could spend a delightful hour making fun of it, but I won't. No doubt young women need encouragement to wear pretty, feminine and modest clothes, so as not to be swept along miserably with "what everyone else is doing." And I did enjoy its quotations from various popes. The early 20th century popes had no problem dissing women's fashions, even in 1910. Sadly, the authoress does not explain exactly what was wrong with women's dress in 1910. However, she does mention that subsequent popes did not like women's trousers.
(The authoress wrote "pants", but you should all know that at least 70 million English speakers use this word only for underpants. Never ever ever refer to your pants in England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. The fact that some American churches bear signs reading "Women must not wear pants in church" throws British Catholics into hysterics.)
Padre Pio apparently really, really hated women's trousers. According to one story, he refused absolution to an Italian-Canadian woman on the grounds that she sold women's trousers in her clothing store. She could have absolution only if she got rid of them and then came back, and if she just went to an easier priest for absolution instead, Padre Pio WOULD KNOW. So the Italian-Canadian woman went home and got rid of the garments so hated by Padre Pio. This, by the way, was in 1963. Imagine what Padre Pio would make of your leggings, you minx!
Padre Pio didn't want you in the confessional unless you were wearing a skirt, and that skirt had to fall at least 8 inches below your knee. This worried me because I am short, so when I got back to Hilary's, I got her measuring tape to see how long that was. Happily, that is still above my ankles. It was also above where the green linen skirt I am wearing today falls, so I could have sailed right into Padre Pio's confessional. (But it is alarming to think what he might have said to ME!)
It is worth noting that, despite his abject hatred of short skirts and trousers, that Padre Pio is one of Italy's most beloved saints. There's a church a half mile away from where I sit that is incredibly ugly and with the ugliest furnishings except for the statue of Padre Pio, which is itself very nice. The elderly ladies with whom I went to Mass yesterday at the chapel just around the corner from Hilary would not have gotten into P. Pio's confessional, however, as mostly they wore thin dresses that fell above their knees.
(It was the Novus Ordo, I hasten to add, not because I think the Novus Ordo encourages short skirts, but because I don't want anyone to think the Trids of Lazio trundle off to Mass in short skirts. They don't. The females ones wear lovely dresses or flowing skirts, and sometimes mantillas or smart hats.)
The authoress blames Coco Chanel for the downward spiral in women's clothing, and to give the authoress credit she doesn't mention that darling Coco slept with a Nazi, too. Special mention is made of the bikini which, it might surprise you to know, Annette Funicello never wore in any of those beach movies. She sometimes wore two-pieces, but it was actually in her contract that she would never be made to wear a bikini.
Do you know, once when I was teetering on the edge of a serious exercise addiction and weighed only 117 pounds, I tried on a bikini in a store called Bikini Village. But I didn't buy it. I just could not imagine appearing in public like that. I just couldn't. Wearing full vampire makeup on the subway, sure. Bikini, never.
My scariest purchase recently was an ankle-length denim skirt. It was scary because TLM-loving Catholic women are getting a reputation in Catholic circles for dowdiness, and particular mention is made by critics of ankle-length denim skirts. However, like denim jeans, denim skirts do go with almost anything and they wear well. They're tough and strong and can be dressed up or dressed down as you like. You can even wear them to pubs to watch football matches.
Frankly, I'm not interested in wearing trousers or jeans any more. I just like skirts and dresses better.
Well, sound off in the combox. Why are so many of us so fascinated with women's clothing?