What's Wrong With Modesty

By Carolyn Shields

 "I love vulgarity. Good taste is death."

-Mary Quant, creator of the miniskirt

There is hope for fashion and it comes in the form of maxi skirts. The reason our skirts were shortened in the first place was for practicality. Skirts were difficult to manage when we started working in factories in the late 1800s, and a few years later we had to chase our downtown bus connections to work our secretary jobs in the city (picture: Mad Men's Peggy...or, you know, I'll insert a picture for you). Heavy petticoats just didn't cut it for our changing roles.


This practicality makes sense, but it created a whole new criteria for dress that has arguably replaced the notion that clothing represents your dignity. If clothing is now all just for practicality, well then explain those tight black legging things to me. (Seriously, are they even called leggings?) Or if clothing is now dictated by comfort then 1) our identities are lost in these new criteria and 2) unisex garb redefines our sexualities that can be so beautifully expressed by what we display on our bodies. 

But the habit does not make the monk, right? Just because I have a couple of shorter summer dresses does not make me unchaste, just as wearing sweaters doesn't make me a saint. However, your clothing DOES influence the way people identify and look at you. And, shall I say it, how you view yourself. It's really not shallow at all to have a crappy day and then to have your mood brightened because you changed into those flattering jeans that compliment you. It's the beautiful truth about being a woman: we can simply enjoy those beautiful little gifts God gives us. (Like Bunch-a-Crunch improving your mood tremendously, but I digress). But the point is that because our moods brighten simply by finding a flattering piece, that's proof enough for me that clothing influences the way you feel about yourself, and how others view you.

And yes, there will be a man who comes along who loves you for you, despite what you wear, but clothing still matters. If it didn't, explain business suits, or explain nuns' habits and priests'  clerics. And check it, so many religious orders seem to have lost their identity post-Vatican II partly because they did away with exterior impression.

I remember, though, years ago when I was crushing on my old boyfriend, how endearing I found it when he had bad hair days. His black, curly hair would be in disarray, and I learned that physical appearance is only so deep. It made me hope that one day there may be a man who will also smile at my outward disheveledness*, and wonder what kind of night I had, and maybe ask, and maybe a conversation will follow, and then skip right to the proposal. I learned that we don't always have to look perfect, because the one who will love you can see beyond that.

So even though we've got Emma Watson promoting the modesty movement (though the first images of her on google clearly shows she's more talk and less action), and though it seems that 'modest is kind of hottest' is catching on a tiny bit what with Hipster sweaters and maxi feminine skirts, there's still this giant sad squad of women who think either their boobs belong outside their shirts or believe that bandeaus beneath transparent tops is okay. But why are we displaying clothes on our bodies that detract from its beauty? Why would we ever frame a Monet with a frame found at a yard sale?

Let's go back to the skirt. 


It's time to have a Marilyn Monroe moment. It's a nice, summer day and you're walking downtown, and the breeze filters by, and ooh, the breeze really picks up...and wants to pick your dress up as well. What do you do? You prevent your dress from flying up. You naturally go to stop it from revealing what you already have shown. This is a natural reaction. Women revel in mystery, remember?

And yes, it completely sucks to see scantily-clad women always getting a guy, but you know what? You don't want those men. And these women don't want to be pursued, they view men as a prize that they can win by cheap trickery and using men's eye for beauty against them. So don't fall for it, because so many of us have been there. Keep it buttoned. Keep it tucked in. Keep it sharp.

Sometimes we trick ourselves too into believing that our bodies look better in something that isn't necessarily modest. Because I can't pull off the calf-length dress, I'll just settle with the mid-thigh. Because I feel bloated today, I'll just wear the plunging neckline blouse to keep attention up here. We have all seen contorted reflections in the mirror before, but modesty isn't about flattering you, it's about protecting both you and him. Women so often unknowingly pay homage to the Cult of the Body. We idolize bodies, and we take it too far sometimes. We may not have golden calves at CVS, but we've got photoshopped models surrounding us. The average American girl diets for the first time when she is eight years old.

We try to defy age, defy our physicalness*, defy who we are all the time, but rather if we accept our unique identities and our common one, being Daughter of God, modesty comes into play naturally. Modesty doesn't begin with the designer, with the sales rack, or with what's in your closet--modesty begins in your heart.

 *I make up words all the time and care not.