Don’t Wear that Mini to Mass

In this Crisis Magazine classic, Benjamin Wiker says we have an obligation not to be unnecessarily distracting to others at Mass.

 
 
As I have not received nearly enough hate mail of late, I thought it best to write something else on modesty, this time modesty at Mass (see my first article, “Drawing a Hemline: Sexual Modesty and the Pursuit of Wisdom”). I realize, of course, how delicate this subject is, but I also know that I am not the only one disturbed by immodesty. I am certain that more than a few priests grind their teeth every week in anticipation of having to minister to the inadequately dressed. 
 
First, we had better be clear about what is meant by immodesty. Immodesty is — and here I hope to quash any gainsaying — the opposite of modesty. Modesty is a sub-virtue of temperance, the virtue concerned with “desires for the greatest pleasures,” as St. Thomas Aquinas said. We are animals, Aquinas noted, and as animals we have a natural desire to preserve ourselves as individuals “by means of meat and drink,” and as a species “by the union of the sexes.” Simply put, like all animals, we naturally desire food and sex — not in the raw, contemporary sense of uncontrollable appetites that must be sated at all costs, but in the ancient, sane sense of desiring to preserve ourselves by nutrition and our species by procreation. Modesty is concerned not with the sexual act itself, but with the public presentation of our sexual nature.
 
In this article, I am concerned mostly with the immodesty of women rather than that of men at Mass for three reasons. First, we live in a time when women’s fashions, especially miniskirts and skintight blouses, happen to be more immodest than men’s. Such was not always the case. For example, in Chaucer’s “Parson’s Tale,” we hear of “the horrible disordinat scantnesse of clothyng” of the men, who “thurgh hire shortnesse ne covere nat the shameful membres, to wikked entente.” This particular jeremiad by Chaucer’s good parson concerned the tight hosiery worn by the men of the day that left nothing about either the “privee membres” or “the hyndre part of hir buttokes” to the imagination. But today, unless men start wearing bicycle shorts to work and to Church, mainly women partake of such public immodesty. I have yet to see a man in spandex shorts inside a church, but I have seen myriads of miniskirts — worn even by women having their children baptized — and more than a smattering of spaghetti-straps. 
 
The second reason I shall focus on women is that, to be frank, I am an incurable heterosexual, and I have no idea how immodest fashions on men might affect women. I can only assume that if men took to wearing bicycle shorts to Mass, they might have the same effect on women as miniskirts have on men. 
 
Third, I think it is true, judging from human history and the sorry march of the naked and half-naked in movies and advertisements today, that women are able to affect men more powerfully by their immodesty than men are able to affect women.
 
There are several layers of difficulty in discussing immodesty in our culture. I’ve classified them according to the retorts undoubtedly already on the lips of my detractors as they read this article. The first is, “I have the right to wear whatever I want!” (also known as “Who are you to tell me what I should wear?!”). The second is, “But that’s what’s in fashion!” The third is, “That’s your problem, you dirty old man!” And finally, we have “Well, do you want us to go back to Victorian times, when even the glimpse of a lady’s bare ankle caused a scandal?”
 
 
I Can Wear What I Want
 
To refute the assertion that we have a right to wear whatever we want, imagine the following. Doing your best to concentrate on the great spectacle of divine grace that is about to unfold, you are dutifully and fruitfully praying before Mass — dutifully because you regard attending Mass as a holy obligation wherein you are bound not only to worship God but also to strive for the removal of the impurities that keep you from Him, and fruitfully because you have on this rare occasion penetrated the fog of sloth and distraction that normally envelops your tired soul and are truly feeling the loving presence of Christ.
 
Into the church I stride, hoofing it proudly down the central aisle right past your pew, sporting a set of antlers from Cervus elaphus, the North American elk. It is an impressive rack, just the kind that sets the does to nudging and whispering — twelve points, not counting the knobs. Be honest. No matter how deeply in prayer you had mercifully fallen, wouldn’t you be jolted completely out of the sweet arms of grace? Wouldn’t you, now kneeling amid the shattered pieces of your holy reverie, say to yourself, “Antlers! That idiot is wearing antlers!”
 
Further, imagine that I shuffle proudly into the pew right in front of you, fully aware that I had attracted everyone’s attention. And there you are, stuck for the entire Mass, peering through my great rack at the priest. And there you are a bit later at the most holy part of the Mass, the elevation of the consecrated Host, framed for you by those same ridiculous antlers. And then, walking up to receive our precious Lord, you are not piously thinking, “My Lord and my God,” but either impiously cursing or uncontrollably laughing. Your chance to restore your soul is shot for the week.
 
On the way out, you decide to confront me. (Good for you!) “Why did you wear antlers to Mass?” you ask politely. “Surely you must know everyone was staring at you?”
 
Immediately, and with a dark and offended glare, I reply, “Who are you to tell me what to wear? I have the right to wear whatever I want!”
 
Wouldn’t your response be, “Where could you conceive of getting a right to wear antlers? Furthermore, what about my more sacred right — and duty — to concentrate during the Mass? Your display was utterly distracting!”
 
Let’s step back from our imaginary exercise and ask ourselves: Don’t we have a right not to be drawn away from the Mass? Don’t we also have a very serious moral obligation not to draw others away? If you were at the foot of Mount Sinai, and “the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly,” and “as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder,” wouldn’t you be violating something great, terrible, and holy by dancing in front of people, waving your arms, or shimmying about in an effort to distract them? How much more should we avoid distracting others when God Himself, with a great, terrible, and holy love, becomes our food and drink?
 
Let’s return to the foyer of the church. I take off my antlers and say, “You are absolutely right, madam, and your miniskirt is every bit as distracting to all the men as my antlers are to you — only worse. Immodest dress is made to be sexually attractive. Why else do they call it ‘sexy’ if not to capture the effect it has on the opposite sex? Whereas there is no biblical commandment about staring at antlers, Christ has warned that ‘everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5:28). This is the same Christ who said, ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him [or her] by whom they come!’ (Luke 17:1). If you knew that this very Christ were going to be here today, in person, awful in His power and purity, severe in His demands, steeped in the agony of the crucifixion, and blinding in His resurrected holiness, how would you have dressed? Well, madam, He was here. And I am fairly certain that any conscious attempt to distract or attract others from Him is a most serious offense.”
 
 
Short Skirts Are In
 
So they are, just as second-skin hosiery was the rage for men in Chaucer’s day and bustles and corsets were for women in the 19th century. But what is in fashion at any particular time generally reflects a particular culture’s beliefs and desires. We may always ask whether those beliefs and desires, and the fashions that develop as a result, are worthy. For example, corsets, which caused the near-asphyxiation of many women, should be judged as unworthy. Women were not made to have the waists of wasps, and the attempt to make them so was destructive.
 
Similarly, fashions may betray a culture’s belief that the overt expression of sexual desire be released from the confines of the marital bedroom and let loose in public. Miniskirts are the result of the sexual revolution. Whether any particular woman means to express her solidarity with that revolution or not, her abbreviated clothing speaks for itself.
 
 
It’s Your Problem
 
Am I a dirty old man? We are all dirty — stained with sin, covered with the soot of our continual struggle to climb the purgative hills of this life, soiled by backsliding, and smeared with repentant tears. Such is our condition in this life if we are at all honest about the state of our souls. We are all here to be cleaned, to be washed in the blood of the Lamb in a strange and frightening ritual that, if the veil God mercifully drapes over it were lifted, would drive us all to our knees in dread.
 
Yes, we are here to be cleaned, not to roll in the ever-more-choking dust of our culture. The culture is obsessed with sex, money, Persian-style luxury, frittering away precious time in shallow entertainments, catering to every cry of the flesh for the most trifling and ignoble pleasures, art that does not elevate, music that excites the savage beast, and a continual circus of violence in our re-paganized theaters. The Church must be a sanctuary of holy sanity, an island of retreat amid the swell and bluster of sensual degradation and intellectual dwarfism. The Mass must save us from mass culture. 
 
When the vanities of this culture invade the Church, that is a sign of war. And that is why I am as opposed to immodesty as I am to pop music, seedy and utilitarian architecture, flagrant displays of wealth, and every other seepage from out there to in here. We should be evangelizing the culture, not the other way around. We should be making sorties promoting modesty from inside the Church, rather than carrying the indiscreet trappings of the culture within its gates.
 
 
Back to Victorian Times?
 
As C.S. Lewis said, when you are lost, retracing your steps to find your way back to the proper trail is actually progress. For example, why shouldn’t we want to go back to a time when it was safe to walk the streets at night, when our children were not gunning each other down at school, and when men were fighting over women rather than fighting for the right to marry other men?
 
But returning to the old days is not the issue. There need not be a golden time to which we must refer when trying to reform ourselves morally. The pagan Romans of the early Christian era were just as morally degraded as we are. The Romans’ “good old days” were those of the fifth century B.C., when the famous Twelve Tables of the law commanded that all deformed babies be exposed, and those of the second century B.C., when Cato the Elder instructed farmers to sell slaves too enfeebled by age to work, so as to avoid having to pay for their maintenance. The Christians came to form the Romans into Christians, not to reform them into “old Romans.”
 
This has always been true for Christians, who are called to a severe standard of holiness in any age. When Christianity baptizes a culture — whenever and wherever that culture may be — the holy waters act not like a comfortable bath but like an acid that eats painfully away at the culture’s cherished sins. That is why Christians of all times are called to be martyrs, for to be a martyr means, first, to be a witness and, second, to take up the cross. We are called to be witnesses to severe holiness, not to blend in with the culture so as not to be noticed — and that includes how we dress. Further, if we are truly witnesses, then we will experience the weight of the cross and the sharp pain of the nails by going against the grain of the culture — and that means that we might be mocked for being out of fashion.
 
That is why we should not only dress modestly inside a church but outside as well. If what we wear speaks, then it ought to shout loudly and visibly in the near-naked public square that Christians think differently about the body and sexuality from Planned Parenthood, Dr. Ruth, Hugh Hefner, MTV, Madonna, and Dear Abby. We are commanded not to hide our light under a bushel, and certainly a woman cannot hide her modesty under a miniskirt any more than a man can hide his under a pair of bicycle shorts. So it is not a question of going back to Victorian times but of going forward to better times of our own making. 
 
Modesty, then, is not the gnarled offshoot of some happily bygone age. It is, and always was, one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. These, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory.” “Purity requires modesty [emphasis added],” the Catechism continues, as “an integral part of temperance,” one of the four cardinal virtues. Far from restricting us, “modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden.” Modesty veils sexuality, not because sexual desire is evil but because the culmination of sexual attraction is properly the privacy of the intimate union of male and female, who become one flesh. With regard to public life, theCatechism says that modesty “inspires one’s choice of clothing.” May these words inspire us all every Sunday (and all the days in between).
 
 
My Modesty Guidelines
 
As I do not think I can skirt the issue (so to speak), I will end with guidelines for achieving modesty at Mass. Although I have used the examples of bicycle shorts for men and miniskirts for women, there are obviously many ways for both sexes to be immodest. Further, while all immodesty is inappropriate at Mass, not all inappropriate clothing is immodest. Antlers are not immodest — they suit the Elks Club quite nicely — but they are inappropriate at Mass. Garish beachwear is likewise inappropriate at Mass, even when it is modest.
 
At Mass, one obvious rule for both men and women is that clothes should cover the body (which is their function) but not cling to it. That which is skintight — whether pants for men or even a long dress for women — is to the eye, and hence to the imagination, a second skin. Clothes that act as a second skin are too close to revealing the first skin and are therefore immodest at Mass.
 
Second, how about a knees-to-neck rule? Everything between the knees and the neck should be covered — on both men and women. This frees us from all niggling nit-picking about the exact status of every possible item of clothing. Plunging necklines, rising hemlines, bare midriffs and backs, short shorts, and so on are all taboo. That does not mean that some clothing that violates the knees-to-neck rule might not actually compromise modesty, but the knees-to-neck rule, combined with the loose-clothing rule, would certainly eliminate all immodesty. Drawing the line a little too broadly is better than drawing it too close to an occasion for sin. Better to filter out than let a philter in.
 
So, see you Sunday. My antlers will be in the trunk of my car, just in case.
 


Benjamin D. Wiker is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author of the new book,
 The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Regnery, 2009). This article originally appeared in the April 2001 issue of Crisis Magazine.

 

Benjamin D. Wiker

By

Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need To Know. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com, and you can follow him on Facebook.

  • Austin

    Bicycle shorts on men at church? The horror.

  • pammie

    I am very appreciative of this second in a series on modesty. I have tried explaining to younger people the concept of “appropriateness”—“No Gerard, wearing your pj bottoms in public is NOT appropriate,even if you do find them comfortable and convenient.”–which is a side issue to modesty I think.
    The underlying principle for both is respect for other people’s sensibilities and the civilized desire to make an effort to be pleasing(not sexy)-a much forgotten concept in both the secular and Catholic mileux.

    I recently went to dinner with several young men dressed in clothes that looked as though they were in the later stages of decomposition and treated to the sight of numerous dirty, hirsut toes hanging over worn out flip flops. A picture neither charming nor appetizing. However, it is understandable for a generation bereft of standards and a rudimentary understanding of modesty and appropriateness.

    I’m less forgiving of the 50-Something man ambling down the aisle at Mass in gym shorts and “Da Bears” t-shirt. They have every reason to know and do better.

  • Laura

    Thank you for this! I argue weekly with my 13 year old daughter that NO, she may NOT wear shorts to Mass…even the longer pair! And of course, I have to hear that “but so & so is allowed…” She is allowed to wear capri length shorts (past the knee), skirts & dresses.

    One time, we had a family show up for Saturday vigil Mass (which seems to really bring out the immodest & innappropriate, for some reason) in their bathing suits, hair still wet, with only t-shirts to cover (both girls, too).

    Fr. routinely, every year, puts something in the bulletin…but some people just don’t care.

  • nora

    thank you. when my children were young we went round and round on what they wanted versus what I said they could wear to mass. My son fought valiantly to wear shorts during summer,I said no the church is air-conditioned. He said it was to be comfortable and I said there are going to be many times in life where you will be uncomfortable and someone will tell you no,teacher,boss,anyone with authority,that’s the way the world is. He wanted to wear jeans and I said it would be nice to wear dress pants because Mass was important enough to express sacredness and posture which is due to worshiping the Lord. To this day he always tries to dress accordingly to that which is held sacred to all of us as Christians. My daughter went through the mini-skirts with leggings stage. Well on one occasion this one skirt began to get shorter and kneeling when at Mass turned into an athletic event so her skirt would not go shorter than was legal in any country or planet. Well this skirt was her all time favorite and we went round over round about it being to short and how a young lady needs to the very least be respected to the priests who are practicing celibacy and any other young man who will only look at her sexually. Well I finally hid the skirt and she couldn’t find it since her room was a mess and she forgot about. About two years later she came across it and I confessed to the dirty deed. Mass is not a ballgame or picnic how we dress and our posture and attention is directing the way we feel for the sacredness in the presence of Christ.

  • Ann

    Great article.

    Many things can distract us from the purpose of being at Mass. Certainly immodest clothes on women, but for the men, also dirty jeans, sneakers, sports jerseys, sweatshirts etc.

    While sometimes I get angry that people wear rags to Mass, I try to remind myself, at least they are here. I believe our priest feels the same way deep down. I know Jesus would not care if we wore rags if all we had was rags, but if we have better?

  • Kamilla

    “Modesty is concerned not with the sexual act itself, but with the public presentation of our sexual nature”

    That’s the problem, isn’t it? If we uderstood that, miniskirt, bycicle short and antlers wouldn’t be an issue, would they?

    Kamilla

  • Pammie

    Ann my daughter used to give me the same argument,”At least I’m going to Mass.” And I would tell her yes and that a lack of appropriate attire let everyone know exactly how she felt about attending…nothing special or important, not something worth making much effort for;sort of a duty like mowing the lawn every week. A lack of financial resources is something entirely different.

    Keep up the good fight Laura for it will be worth it in the
    end. At some point the light bulb will come on and she will make you very proud.

  • Susie

    Awww. But I want to wear the antlers! [smiley=cool]

    Great article.

  • Kevin Codd

    Excellent article. I wish women knew how many men truly appreciate modest clothing choices (especially at mass).

  • Micha Elyi

    Into the church I stride, hoofing it proudly down the central aisle right past your pew, sporting a set of antlers… Be honest. No matter how deeply in prayer you had mercifully fallen, wouldn’t you be jolted completely out of the sweet arms of grace? Wouldn’t you, now kneeling amid the shattered pieces of your holy reverie, say to yourself, “Antlers! That idiot is wearing antlers!”

    “Antlers”? Uh, Mr. Wiker, there’s no a,n,t,l,r, or s in ‘codpiece.’ [smiley=laugh]

    (When) people wear rags to Mass, I try to remind myself, at least they are here. I believe our priest feels the same way deep down. I know Jesus would not care if we wore rags if all we had was rags, but if we have better?

    After I saw the woman in the tight leopard print outfit, I concluded that those people genuinely believe they are wearing their better clothes. Poor dears, they need our prayers.

  • Ann

    Ann my daughter used to give me the same argument,”At least I’m going to Mass.” And I would tell her yes and that a lack of appropriate attire let everyone know exactly how she felt about attending…nothing special or important, not something worth making much effort for;sort of a duty like mowing the lawn every week.

    I totally agree! I’m all for dressing for Mass, from young to old. This is just something that I’ve been battling in my own mind. I know for me, I can get so caught up in judging all the shabby, raggy clothes that I see at Mass, that I lose sight of why I am there. (Especially now that it is summer, ugh)

    In our parish, the biggest offenders of any sort of dress decorum are the teenagers, boys and girls. And I can get all Mrs. McJudgey, Why don’t their parents make them dress better, on and on. And then I remind myself, at least their parents brought them here and maybe that is all that they could do for today. And I think of all of the children who aren’t even getting that.

    I guess it’s a matter of perspective. I can either sit in the pews ruminating on the loss of decorum. Or I can tell myself, “At least they are here, and aren’t we glad of that!” And hopefully be an example by what I choose to wear.

  • Ann

    Just another comment, this is really part of a wider discussion on the deterioration of women’s fashion over the past fifty years or so. Men’s clothes have gone down too, but women’s far more so.

    I’m sure the women out there can agree with me on this, it’s not easy to find clothes that are appropriate and modest, yet attractive, with a proper fabric weight, cut, and style. Whether for Mass or everyday wear.

  • Lindy

    “I can only assume that if men took to wearing bicycle shorts to Mass, they might have the same effect on women as miniskirts have on men.”

    Trust me, they don’t. It’s one significant way men and women are different. (Ha ha!)

    Ann: I agree; the difficulty of finding well-made and stylish (though modest) clothing without spending a fortune is a great difficulty. Especially if you’re still in your twenties and don’t want to dress in a sack, or like a fifty year old.

  • Sue from Buffalo

    Just another comment, this is really part of a wider discussion on the deterioration of women’s fashion over the past fifty years or so. Men’s clothes have gone down too, but women’s far more so.

    I’m sure the women out there can agree with me on this, it’s not easy to find clothes that are appropriate and modest, yet attractive, with a proper fabric weight, cut, and style. Whether for Mass or everyday wear.

    How true and when a woman is pregnant it is even more difficult. When I was pregnant 4 years ago, I struggled very hard to find appropriate clothes that I could wear to church in the summer. Winter time is not as difficult but summer? It was horrible, absolutely horrible. And try to find shorts for day-to-day wear that isn’t way too short. And this is for pregnant women!!! God help us.

  • Must respectfully disagree

    Though your thoughts are respected, I must disagree. There are a million and one things that can distract someone at mass more than a woman. Though I am well endowed, I refuse to wear sack cloth just to look unattractive.This kind of opinion is the same one that has women in other countries wearing veils. It’s rediculous.Are we next going to say that infants or the mentally challenged should not be at Mass as I have had these groups set by me making it impossible to even hear the mass let alone see it through bobbing heads and flailing arms. I have seen the mentally challenged pull the glasses of a near by Parishner and even hit an elderly person seated near .But if someone suggested that these people “stop distracting others” this person would be out of line! This to me is a distraction. Yes I know that Men are made with (Animal like?) instincts but perhaps they should put some effort into curbing these .
    On another note, These young people are not our future, they are our Present. Perhaps we need to move beyond the 1950’s . Today’s fashions are not long dresses anymore. Personally I find short skirts less offensive than Hooters T shirts. (Yes I see them at Mass but ignore them.) Perhaps there are some who push the limits of Modesty but honestly to say that women are responsible for the man who looks at their body’s distraction is like saying that a woman asks to be violated. I pray you don’t buy this too. Thank you for listening to my views

  • arizona insurance

    I think the negative news in the past few years have taken a toll on the sanctity of the church by some. They go to mass because they know it’s right but they do not have the same reverance. Some has to do with the way the media portrays the church. But the bible does say to hold each other accountable. Perhaps there is too little of that anymore.

  • Michael McMillan

    An excellent, much needed article on a very important, though ignored, issue.

    Instead of bulky antlers, us men should just wear something practical this summer: sleeveless, bare shoulders or waists, diaphanous, plenty of thigh, etc. Nothing sexy like tight bike shorts, just cool, loose, practical clothes like tank tops. Forget coats and ties. It’s over 100 degrees here. Whatever women are doing, go and do likewise. Perhaps they will eventually gag.

    I’ve always wondered how women consider themselves comfortable in tight pants which are a second skin. I couldn’t sit still if my pants were doing what theirs do. [Description left out for the sake of decency.] Those are a plague. Don’t Christian women realize what they’re showing off, including in church? Don’t their husbands and fathers care what’s on display? My wife would find herself going to church alone if she considered dressing like many others her age do. She doesn’t want to, anyway.

    > Ann: I agree; the difficulty of finding well-made and stylish (though modest) clothing without spending a fortune is a great difficulty.

    My wife finds very nice, long skirts and other things at re-sale shops [whatever they’re called]. We’re going to one tomorrow. That is a kind of shopping I’ll never mind tagging along for — her getting things to look both feminine and dignified as an ambassador for Christ. The rest can have their tight jeans, capris, etc.

    > Especially if you’re still in your twenties and don’t want to dress in a sack, or like a fifty year old.

    Well, from my 55 year old perspective, 50 year olds don’t dress much better. Many of them would be significantly improved by wearing “sacks,” as you call them. The youth culture drives what everyone wears. It used to be that children dressed like their parents, now parents dress like children. Dressing like a normal 20 year old is no plus for a Christian in today’s society.

  • Nick Palmer

    I was having lunch with a close friend a few weeks ago discussing life, the universe, and everything. Bob is a very orthodox Jew, after both he and his wife were raised in more “reformed” families. He noted his shock that he saw Catholics heading into Mass in downtown Newton, MA on Sundays NOT well dressed. He found the clothing typically worn by parishioners wholly inappropriate.

    It caused me to pause. And, to dress up a bit more since then…

  • Jason Negri

    Yes I know that Men are made with (Animal like?) instincts but perhaps they should put some effort into curbing these .

    Trust me, we do make an effort. Just asking for a little help in church, that’s all.

    … to say that women are responsible for the man who looks at their body’s distraction is like saying that a woman asks to be violated.

    If you’re including inciting lust as being “violated”, then yes, you were asking for it. If not, then there’s no connection. You well know that you can make yourself more or less attractive to men depending on how you dress and what you show. So don’t try to pretend that women are not responsible for making men look at their bodies with desire. That’s how the sexual instinct works. You all dress to allure the males, we club each other over the heads until the strongest emerges, then you propagate the species together. We’ve refined and civilized the process a bit over the centuries, but that’s basically how it goes.

    [and a side note to Mr. Wiker: were you to show up in my parish sporting those antlers, I’d be the first to stare at you. I might even get up the gumption to approach you and say “nice rack”]

  • Ann Youngblood

    Wish you lived here! We have men who wear bike shorts, men who wear gym shorts and (even a one or two bathing suit attendees)to daily mass and men who are old enough to know better. We have men who wear really raggy tee shirts too. We are in a hot climate area and lots of exercise concerned people but I’m so glad Father comments once in while to remind those who do things right after Mass that there is appropriate dress for Mass.

  • Jay S

    Why can’t people take the same effort for Mass as they do for Mass? It is not that much hard to put on a polo/golf type shirt and a pair of slacks as it is to put on a T-shirt and shorts. A decent dress that you could wear in an office, rather than manbait dress.
    Here is what really gets me. If you went to a courtroom in T-Shirt and shorts, you would be forced to leave the courtroom or be arrested. If we dress up for court, why not Mass?

  • Deb

    Good article, thanks!

    What I find amazing is that women are perfectly cool to show cleavage anytime. Even my friends from church and those who should know better wear the low cut shirts. My husband is baffled and finds it uncharitable on their part, as do I. I feel strongly that the sense of Modesty has gone out the window in favor of “style”. I find that I can be stylish and modest at the same time. Clothing stores really do sell some pretty yet modest clothes…you just have to search a little.

  • Pammie

    No one mentioned sackcloth, unless I missed it. Your exterior dress reveals your interior disposition for the most part. The way you regard your physical endowments will be very evident to all by the way you dress/undress them. The old feminist canard that women have no responsibility for the way they dress themselves is just plain silly and the cause of much grief for women and men. Yes men have the responsibility to guard their eyes, but we don’t want to make it extra difficult do we? Especially as Catholics, when we are asked to encourage and help others and not be a stumbling block for them. Kamilla’s quote is worthy of much meditation.

    I’m not sure how the mentally disabled got into this conversation, but they have no choice in their difficulties and abilities to distract. You and most of us do. That is the difference.

  • Mary

    I too have difficulty finding clothing that fits, is modest, and not too pricey. I must resort many times to wearing men’s t-shirts so that I can wear something that covers me. Occassionally I find a top that I can wear but I have discovered that the same top or shirt does not necessarily fit everyone the same. I have tried many shirts that fit someone who is small or average in front appropriately but as I am very well endowed they tend to dip quite low on me. All I want are simple classic clothes that look nice and are modest. Something I have noticed is that you can take a pair of women’s slacks and a pair of men’s slacks — they look almost idential and the women’s cost three times as much as the men’s and the fabric is also not as good a quality. I have also shopped at places that have used clothing and I have only found one item that I could wear.

  • Laurajean

    “I refuse to wear sack cloth just to look unattractive.”

    There is a big difference between looking attractive and looking sexy. There is no need to look sexy in church. Ever. Period. In fact, one might say the only appropriate place for a “sexy” outfit might be in one’s bedroom. Attractive can be achieved without the sexiness. That’s what is missing from most young ladies’ understanding (and wardrobes)

  • sibyl

    Ok, this is EXACTLY the article that I’ve been hoping to read: written by a man, addressing exactly the objections we all hear. Now, the question is, how do we get this article into the hands of every single pew-sitter in the country?

    I don’t want to go back to the 50s. I don’t care about head-covering for women, or gloves in public, or having one’s elbows covered, etc. But I care when I have a 12 year old daughter who is starting to look like a woman and who needs to see examples of modest, pretty attire that shows respect to God and charity toward men. (And for the record, I’m not even 40 years old yet, so it’s not like I was raised any different.)

    How can we help our pastors to reintroduce this conversation with their congregations? Certainly by setting an example, and we try: my sons wear “church pants” and button down shirts with dress shoes, my daughters must wear knee-length (or below) dresses or skirts and appropriate shoes, and my husband and I dress the same, including a tie for dh.

    One of my ongoing “apostolates” — work that God keeps giving me — is to try to present Catholicism to fervent Protestant believers in such a way as to open a door for conversion. But these are people who value obedience to God above being in style or going along with fashion, and sometimes I cringe to see how fellow Catholics look to these folks. (And I’m not talking about richness or poverty, but about what the clothes reveal of the person’s priorities.)

  • sibyl

    Forgot to mention: we are living on a public school teacher’s salary, in a large city, and have six children. All the aforesaid “church clothes” we get at the thrift store or from hand-me-downs. Shoes included. Each kid has maybe two outfits that are only for church, so these clothes generally last and look nice until the child has outgrown them. (Just to head off the tired argument that maybe people who wear miniskirts do so because they can’t afford skirts with more material…)

  • Ann

    I’m glad I’m not the only one struggling to find clothes!

    Skirts: Let’s start with skirts. Even if you find one that is long enough, they are mostly made of flimsy, see-through materials offering no support, no need to say more there. Often, you’d be better off in a pair of pants. Back in the old days, women wore hose, but that is so out of style now, so you’re out of luck there!

    Tops: Now you’re dealing with sleeveless or spaghetti straps, maternity looking shirts even though you’re not pregnant or shirts that too tight. If you try to buy blouses that are looser, then the arms and shoulders won’t fit you properly. Then there is the whole scoop neck problem.

    Pants: Pants are either too low or too high.

    Maternity clothes: Ok, for some reason, this is the exact opposite. Maternity clothes are often tight, better to show off their “bumps” Some of the clothes don’t even cover the bump.

  • respectfully disagree

    I must say that I do not know why I even left my comment as when people get stuff in their heads, nothing its going to change it. I guess that there are enough people stuck in the 50’s that there will always be men and sadly women too who feel a man’s sinfulness is her fault. Either way, let me clarify; I bring up infants and handicapped solely in a respectable way as being distractions during mass. I realize that they can not help their conditions but yet the subject was distraction and that is why I brought it up. I also mention that I have heard from many of people that women who are violated ( and I don’t mean looked at lustfully ,I do not use words that may be inappropriate for young readers)have asked for it because she was dressed sexy. This mentality is horrible !As a matter of fact I just heard of a girl who was abused by a Priest while in Catholic school( wearing a uniform)and someone said….. If those uniforms weren’t so revealing, This made my blood boil ! This child was dressed in the uniform that was ordered from the school. She asked for nothing. Shame on anyone who would say different. I just feel that the mentality is connected. Yes people sometimes dress inappropriately, I would not debate that. But we are responsible for our own sins. Maybe a better example would be that if a man enticed me with diamonds, and I cheated on my spouse, would it be my sin ? Of course! In life Satan is constantly bringing temptation our way. We , as Catholic’s are instructed to ask for God’s grace to resist temptation and avoid sin . No doubt anything I say will change anyone’s minds but Thanks for the opportunity to express my views

  • Pammie

    Mary I can understand your frustration. All of us who do not fit into a “cookie cutter” size (sigh) can relate. If you don’t mind this suggestion: Have you ever tried buying a size that will fit your “problem area” and having it tailored to fit? I know this sounds pricey and does add cost to your budget. One would probably have to settle for less clothes, but those clothes would look and feel better to you.

    Sibyl you asked some great questions. Do you have any other parents who feel as you do? Perhaps a group of you could approach your pastor with your concerns and let him know parents today need all the help they can get in order to direct their children well. Young people should at least have the good example of their fellow Catholics at Mass. Our pastors need to know they have our support when they speak out on this type of thing. What about a special few lessons in the religious ed classes and/or homilies on the subject? It would be good to have some kind of literature (like the above article) on hand. I think there are modesty resources on line, but you would have to make sure they are not too extreme. Every now and then someone puts their own home printed guideline(from the net)in our parish pamphlet rack, but one should always have permission to do so.

    Hope y’all find these suggestions useful.

  • Pammie

    Firstly, I’m glad that you took the time to express your opinion. Secondly we are not talking about criminal violence against women and children. No one supports that. What we are talking about is the resposibility of both men and women to care about how their dress and physical appearance effects others. As for your example, yes the man who tempted you to sin thru your weakness for diamonds is also guilty of a sin. God did not excuse either Adam or Eve for that apple-eating incident or buy the “she tempted me defense”. Cain asked God ,”Am I my brother’s keeper” (i.e. am I responsible for his welfare). The Bible itself tells us that we are.

    The ’50’s don’t really have anything to do with this topic. Catholics are always and everywhere called to be apart from the fashions of their time and place when those fashions and styles are inappropriate and/or immodest or diminish the respect we are to have for one another. We are called to be witnesses to a better way, which is to be mindful of how our behaviour affects others. I assume that applies to women and men equally.

    I think you probably agree with this but maybe are confusing feminist thought with Catholic thought. Just remember modern feminism seeks to make all women feel perpetually victimized.

  • Michael McMillan

    The excuses used by Christians to follow the irreverent crowds are always interesting.

    Did you see Michelle Obama before the Pope? She looked great, as well as feminine, stylish, distinguished, respectful and modest, even with her veil. How much more should we be respectful coming before a holy God in worship, not to mention in general as His representatives to a lost world.

    “I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly” –1 Timothy 2:9

    To hear the excuses today, we should be asking: What was the Apostle Paul’s problem? Couldn’t he control himself? Why didn’t he mention men? Shouldn’t he mind his own business?

    And since it keeps coming up, would Saint Paul have approved of the 1950s?

  • Nathan Cushman

    I’m not as horribly concerned about this issue as some folks, though it does matter to me. But this is now one of my all time favorite InsideCatholic articles! I pretty much completely agree with it, and totally love the style. Though I do wonder what exactly is meant by a shirt reaching a woman’s neck? Is this comparable to a standard mens’ t-shirt?

    I’m trying to push myself to dress better at Mass. I’m sad to say that I’m someone who often wears the “decomposing” pants, old sneakers, shorts, and t-shirts (though not with distracting images).

    I do have a few excuses. I’m young, I was raised in a beach town where casual clothing is the norm, I don’t have much money for clothes, I live near Phoenix and it’s 116 degrees outside this weekend, it gets kinda hot inside even though the A/C is going, I get sleepy and distracted by the heat…

    Also, my wife only has to wear knee-length skirts, so why can’t I wear knee-length shorts?

    Oh, but those are mostly bad excuses. After all, I do dress up in pants for work.

    What I wonder is if it is acceptable for me to wear nice shorts and a polo shirt (as I’ve been doing recently), when it gets up near 100 degrees (or hotter, like this weekend). I think these things fit into Mr. Wiker’s standards of acceptability. And, if so, what kind of shoes do I wear with that?

    I recognize our grave responsibility to be “our brother’s keeper,” and I don’t want to be distracting others any more than I want women, or men wearing innapropriate t-shirts, distracting me.

    On that note, that’s the biggest issue I’ve had with men. Some men will come into church wearing a t-shirt with a half-naked woman on the back, or with foul language. Now, even I find that disturbing and hard to believe.

  • Nathan Cushman
  • Susan

    The entire country suffers from a lack of taste in clothing, for the most part. If this were not true, why would there be a host of shows on tv explaining to women (mostly) how to dress appropriately. I’m talking about TLC’s “What Not to Wear”, and the numerous “makeover” segments on Oprah, and not to mention all the fashion mags devoted to this topic. I personally can attest to being horrified at the clothed population at Disney World a few years ago.

    Therefore, I have some guidelines for my children. For the boys, collared shirts and khakis at Mass, and for the girls, dresses or skirts and nice shoes. For myself, I wear the heels for Mass and I do dress it up a notch, but you see, I’m a SAHM and quite frankly, weekly Mass is really the only opportunity that I can dress up on a regular basis.

    Rather than getting bogged down with “modesty”, I’d rather teach my children how to dress appropriately, and to be able to make those judgement calls. To the beach, one wears a bathing suit, to a church, one dresses nicely.

  • M.T.

    I really enjoyed this article and heartily agree with what you have expressed in it, Mr. Wiker.

    To those who find it hard to find modest and stylish clothing:
    I’m with you there! I find it helpful to pray to Our Lady for help finding clothes that are beautiful and appropriate.

  • Y.R.

    I appreciated this article so much…I am very frustrated that our Priests don’t bring it up more!!! I do not believe for a second that the inappropriately dressed people (young or old) do not have better clothes than shorts, flip-flops, and low slung jeans. If they have money for the cellphones they are texting on and Starbucks then they have money for a polo shirt and a pair of khaki pants (this outfit works for a boy or girl, standard school uniform available even at Target). We are raising our family of six (so far) on one income….my children all have 2 church outfits, my daughter wears dresses (no bare shoulders or short skirts). Modesty does not equal sackcloth (and that is a very tired argument) …I do not care how “well-endowed” one is….it is still possible to dress in a way that does not call attention to one’s body. When you go to church you are visiting God in His house, leave the play/pay attention to me clothes at home.

  • G.

    Should I stroll down the street in high boots and riding breeches you would assume I was about to go ride a horse, in overalls with a wrench in my pocket you would think me a mechanic. A white jacket and stethescope would suggest a doctor, a white hat and jacket would bring chef to mind. So if I am wearing a see-through top with spaghetti straps, a short skirt and spike heeled boots I cannot object if you think my profession or intention is one that frequents street corners and has many unnamed “friends”.

  • FamilyMan

    Just a few comments:
    1) Lands End. For those of you with hard to fit bodies (which is almost everyone), my wife and I have found that this company provides many options for women that are simple, pleasant and fit well. [I have no financial interest in the company–just great satisfaction.] They frequently run specials and clearance/overstock items. Even in our poorer early days, their sales were a valid option. And you can’t beat the guarantee.

    2) Someone mentioned that clothing for men tends to be cheaper and better made. Again, my wife and I have found that to be true for our 5 daughters over the last 20 years. So we pick up the boys shirts instead. Sure, the colors tend to be a bit less diverse (men really only relate to the fundamental colors in the 8-pack of crayolas), not much for prints or pink, but they are modest, well-made and cheaper. Oh, and the darker clothing tends to last longer since it is more stain forgiving than lighter clothing.

    3) I’ve seen plenty of well-dressed people who keep checking their watches and shuffle out the door after receiving communion. Let’s settle for modest and clean? Even that isn’t always possible. I often apologize to the priest after Mass when I drag a smelly troop of Boy Scouts in from a campout. I’ve yet to have a priest suggest maybe we shouldn’t have come.

    4) One argument I didn’t see, and maybe missed, is regarding the hard-wiring of men (which I believe the author alluded to). We tend to be visually oriented. Modest clothing brings my eyes to your face.

  • Hess Family

    I’m not sure how the mentally disabled got into this conversation, but they have no choice in their difficulties and abilities to distract. You and most of us do. That is the difference.

    The sharp pain I’m experiencing must be whiplash from the abrupt about-face commentors have done regarding respecting other parishioners during the Mass.

    In previous articles, I (and others) have been called horrible things because we wanted to be able to exercise our “sacred right — and dut[ies] — to concentrate during the Mass,” usually over the embarrassing and distracting displays of those around us whose attitude is, “But it’s my RIGHT to do this! If you don’t like it, you can [insert rude comment]!” This includes badly behaved children, breastfeeding mothers, etc. When these things happen, I want to say with the author, “Your display was utterly distracting!”

    Why the double standard? The mentally challenged indeed have no ability to control themselves. The rest of us do, and we owe our fellow parishioners the courtesy of modest dress and quiet, antler-, breast-, and distraction-free Masses.

  • Johnnyjoe

    STORY #1
    So my lovely wife and I are downstairs in our home parish church (built in 1905), and we are teaching an NFP class. We had a few extra jackets and sweaters (it was June) because we knew that by 1:00 on a Sunday afternoon, the basement was going to be an icebox.

    We began the class by explaining to the group that the reason it was so cold down there is because our 87 year old pastor keeps the A/C down LOW in the summer, and the cold air settles in the basement. That “cold” church keeps the ladies in the spaghetti strap dresses coming in with a nice wrap for their shoulders (and longer warmer skirts too!).

    The lady on the first row – her eyes got REAL BIG, and she said, “THAT’S why its so cold here in the summer!”. It never even occurred to her – and she, I swear, only had spaghetti strap dresses in her closet for like 5 years!!

    She has dressed MUCH more modestly – and warmly – since.

    STORY #2

    So we are on a little vacation taking our eldest daughter out to California for her to start school at Thomas Aquinas College. We stop in Grand Junction, Colorado overnight, and have to find a Church on Sunday morning.

    We find this parish – a large oval church with stadium seating, and this woman on the organ who thinks we need to “practice” One Bread One Body for some dang reason (there is more to that story….) – and in walks a pretty young lady in a tennis outfit. A tennis outfit like they wear in Tennis Camps – you know, EXTREMELY short skirt, trunks underneath, tight athletic top. I was already so distracted by the liturgy nazi wearing the Clint Black microphone, and then little skimpy Miss Crissy Evert wanabee gal plops her bare shoulders and deep cleavage right under my nose (What are you looking at you dirty old man!)

    So I says a prayer to my friend Padre Pio… “Say Padre, do you think you might find a way for this young lady to get chilly?”.

    Now it’s AUGUST, and it was 90 when we left the hotel at 9:30 am, so it isn’t what you’d call cool in the church – I had nice bead of sweat dripping down the center of back.

    But I had to smile…. the poor dear took a chill – she physically shivered – and I had to suppress a chuckle. She picked up the nice matching sweater she had bought with the ensemble, and covered at least the cleavage gorge and the bare shoulders.

    I figured I could find a way not to be distracted any more from that point forward…. thanks to Padre Pio!

  • BBRN

    In this media-obsessed age a major problem has arisen that has had a huge effect on my family–the problem of addiction to pornography on the web. One man at a 12-step meeting expressed regret that spring had arrived because that meant that women and young girls became a major temptation due to their scant dress.

    In church this is offensive to me but I also look at it through the eyes of all of those who suffer with this disease–and it IS a disease just like alcoholism. The men affected are not “dirty old men”; many are highly respected members of their communities. Some of them are even beloved and highly respected pastors,priests, brothers, and ministers. For those men, as well as for myself, a grandmother and a cradle Catholic, I appreciate the parents who provide strong guidlines for their children’s dress for church and those who dress for the Lord as they would if they were going to visit the President or the Pope, because Our Lord is so much more than any human!

    Thank you Mr. Wicker. I am going to forward this article to my pastor to see if it can be a bulletin insert in the near future!

  • Andrea

    My reaction to this post and most discussions about modesty in a church context is that is has the wrong focus. Why do modesty discussions become inevitably about women’s clothing? This then limits a discussion about a virtue to one gender and outward appearance. Women then have to be the guardians of another’s virtue, almost exclusively. This is exactly the idea in Islam about veiling women–that female bodies are such a temptation to others that they have to be entirely obscured. Christian thought rejects both this denigration of the body and the focus on eliminating all temptation instead of mature resistance of sin.

    Do people dress inappropriately in all settings in the US? Yes. How do people learn and adopt better dress? Generally by really becoming part of a community and adopting the dress norms around them. I can harangue my staff all day about what business casual means, but a greater influence is to see that they aren’t dressing like 80% of their coworkers. So, if you see someone inappropriately dressed at church, it may mean that they are new and your friendship is needed more than your lecture.

    The ONLY sermon I ever heard on this topic that was decent was in Bethlehem PA a few weeks ago. The priest spoke about modesty in the context of appropriately revealing. Just like the Eucharist is veiled to be unveiled at the right moment, we should (both men and women) think about what we reveal in what context. Beyond clothing and sexual intimacy, he emphasized that this revealing also is in sharing our relationships with others–are we immodest in revealing too much in relationships that are not emotionally intimate.

  • Marcia

    Well, we actually did see someone wearing antlers at church. Not only antlers, but antlers with bells – at Christmas Eve Mass.

    I can assure you, like immodest dress, it was quite distracting.

  • Amy

    As the mom of 7 children (16, 14, 11, 10, 7, 5, 2) my children are not given any choices on the style of clothing they were to Mass. The girls wear dresses (no argument) and the boys wear slacks and button up dress shirts even in the summer. My husband and I’s attire also reflect the childrens in that I’m in a dress, hubby in slacks and button down dress shirt. Yes, the teens have tried to talk me into jeans and shorts but they know this is a battle they aren’t going to win. However, that’s the approach my husband and I have when it comes to anything faith/church related. It’s approached with reverence and respect and we are trying to relate that to the children. If we TRULY believe Christ is present in the Eucharist and that the
    Catholic Church is the one true church why would our clothing not reflect that reverence for Him?

  • Cable Car Couture

    It’s about appropriateness. A bathing suit at the pool or beach is completely acceptable. At church, it is not. I have a great admiration for women who choose to be modest and covered and do so fashionably — because it IS possible. Mini’s may be in, but so are stylish knee-length pencil skirts and long undershirts that cover a bare midriff. We don’t have to be slaves to fashion, but we can indeed be modest fashionably.

    It’s also about respect. Respect to ourselves, to those around us and to God who created us.

  • Michelle

    Mr Wiker, I so appreciate you addressing this topic. The more this message is spoken, the more likely women will realize how important it is. It is a privilege and responsibility to be a woman, and part of our dignity comes from leading our culture in virtue. It begins with the heart and mind, and the decorum of our bodies does show who we believe we are and both how secure we are and where our confidence lies. I am an attractive 30 something woman with three small children. I know it is possible to be fashionable, well dressed, and not a distraction. It does require effort, like all things do in this culture we live in. My friends are able to do this as well. We didn’t until the men we so cherish in our lives (faithful virtuous, honest guys) gave us this message and helped lift us out of the culture a bit. I personally am distracted by other women who choose to flaunt their body (unknowingly I hope) with inappropriate attire. I am angered when it occurs in God’s house, by women who are just unaware. I think it is often based on a need for attention, competition, insecurity, etc. It is also more than a stumbling block for only men. Women are also visual, and believe me, they notice too. Many women who are pregnant and sacrificing their figure resent half naked females prancing around reminded them of what they don’t “have” at the moment. There is a saying that women dress for women as much or more so than for men. Women unfortunately have a lot of pride in the area of seduction, and they know it. The road to sanctity requires us to renounce the seduction of Eve for being window like our Lady of heaven, of virtue and goodness. She was beautiful but didn’t need to flaunt it. That’s where real dignity of womanhood occurs and most honest women who reflect on the matter know this.

  • Trish

    If you would dress appropriately to meet the president or the Pope then why wouldn’t you dress appropriately for the Lord?

    God Bless.

  • Hbanan

    A fine article, and I support dressing respectfully for Mass. I didn’t realize mini-skirts were back in style, though — this summer it seemed like the trend was more for knee to mid-calf A-line skirts. Ladies, am I not being stylish, again???

    I used to go to Mass in too casual of clothing — nothing immodest, just not dressy enough. I really love to dress well for Mass now (though for daily Mass I can only wear my work clothes).

    I must say that sometimes distractions at Mass are caused not by the immodesty, but by the sheer attractiveness of some people. There was this guy at Mass one time who was so good looking it was all I could think about. I was sitting behind him, and all I could see was the back of his neck. It looked really beautiful, for some reason, which was weird because I’ve never noticed that about any man before. It’s the back of a neck, for crying out loud. Not exactly R-rated material. I hoped his face would be ugly so I could get him out of my head, but when he turned around to shake my hand at the sign of peace, he had gorgeous, piercing green eyes and a great smile. I almost melted. I think I certainly blushed (curse my Irish heritage)! And I did not receive communion. I wasn’t lusty — just way too preoccupied with this very handsome man.

    This guy was wearing normal business/casual clothes. It wasn’t his fault he was so amazing. And being a heterosexual woman, it wasn’t exactly my fault for noticing, though a holier woman might have been able to not be so overwhelmed.

    This experience has made me even more sympathetic with the people who stress the need for modesty in Mass and other places. Weirdly, though, I think I would have been less attracted had he been wearing shoddier clothing. His perfect posture & conservative dress, which showed respect for the place of worship and for those around him, only made him more attractive to me. Wearing ratty jeans or a stupid t-shirt would have been disrespectful to God, but it would have made my problems go away.

    “Brother Donkey,” St Francis called his body. The occasional bizarreness, unfairness, and ridiculous nature of opposite-sex attraction (OSA) just sometimes makes one grow a bit in humility. I mean, I was struck so dumb by a man’s neck I couldn’t even try to get to know him after Mass!

    Three cheers for modesty, but sometimes you will just be attracted to your brothers or sisters in Christ. Especially if they are impossibly good-looking. Maybe there should be a burka that only the really beautiful Catholics (men & women) have to wear in church.

  • Emma

    I used to have to be forced to go to mass and put up a good fight, too. I refused to wear nice clothes, etc. now, I only wear dresses and skirts to mass.

  • Jen

    Oh, sister — been there. It sounds like this guy had a lot of very attractive qualities which were distracting to you in Mass, which he certainly couldn’t help.

    I think maybe this article might have been more directly to the point if Mr. Wiker had used “sexually arousing” in place of “distracting”. Yes, we get distracted by tons of things. No, those things are often not the fault of those who are distracting (though I’m a fan of parents who try to control their noisy children during the homily). We offer these things up, pull ourselves back together, and try to refocus.

    But this is hugely different from someone who is dressed so as to be sexually arousing to men. Why “to men”? Because, ladies, that’s the hard wiring. Just a fact. You’ll notice that none of the people who objected to this fact here were men. If men had the same effect on women, there’d be similar admonishments directed at them.

    There’s nothing in the world wrong with dressing attractively, even if it is “distracting.” There’s everything in the world wrong with dressing so as to tempt another into sin.

  • Lyn

    I can assure you concerned parents out there that if you stick to your guns and make your children dress appropriately and modestly for church, it is a practice that will stick with them throughout their lives.

    As a teen in the 80’s, dressing like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper was all the rage. My parents insisted that I leave the fingerless lace gloves, the midriff-baring net tops, and tulle-layered mini’s at home safely tucked into the closet with the red-leather ankle boots and fishnet stockings.

    Thankfully, I outgrew coordinating my outfits according to hollywood fads, and into a modest style all my own.

    Now I am more comfortable in mid-calf skirts, to-the-waist modest summer (and winter) sweaters, and black leather mary-janes (with heels, I did retain a bit of a shoe fascination). I don’t even feel comfortable wearing pants to Mass, and honestly, it’s a choice that I now make out of comfort but can attribute my preferences to my mother’s “Mass-appropriate dress code” growing up.

    I am now approaching 40, and am often complimented (by women) on my classical, traditional, stylish taste in dresses and skirts, and I have peace in my heart, knowing that I have not caused any of my spiritual brethren to stumble.

  • workingclass artist

    Descriptive of an ongoing difference of opinion between the generations…Although I want to encourage my 19 year old daughter to “express” herself and explore her sense of fashion creatively I have had to be quite blunt at times when she dresses to go out in public ( she is relatively modest in church ) By asking her…” What are ya sellin with that outfit? ” The point I have tried to get across to her is that She should consider what part she plays in presentation of herself to the public and the message of the presentation….I believe she will “grow” out of it and compared to many of her friends ours are mild skirmishes….Cultural Narcissism doesn’t make it easy….

  • Joe

    I am not sure if you are familiar with What Not To Wear on TLC. The show is all about appropriate presentation (i.e. clothing, hair and make-up). Its is truly amazing that through a little bit of effort, how great and modest) one can look.

  • Monica

    I do wish you would have included men as well since I frequently end up behind a guy who apparently gets paid to advertise for Tommy Bahama. The shirts most often have scantily clad women on the back holding martinis or something. They are sultry and seductive beyond what I see any women wear at mass, including the strapless and halter numbers that I see. I have had to move seats before so my boys wouldn’t be staring at this.

    also I would like to tell you that you have instilled in me a serious desire to wear antlers to mass…

  • shelly

    I agree with everything you wrote with one exception!

    ” I can only assume that if men took to wearing bicycle shorts to Mass, they might have the same effect on women as miniskirts have on men.”

    ummmmm… no dear. that is a visual i try to stay away from! LOL

    and it’s got to be b /c women are not visually stimulated as men are… it’s just the way it is.

    I don’t think i’ve ever seen a guy wear something immodest to Mass. Inappropriate, yes [and far too often]! But not immodest – not that i can recall anyway.

    thanks for a great article to ponder and pass on smilies/smiley.gif

  • Odysseus

    Mass is the wedding feast of the Lamb. We should dress at mass as if dressing for a wedding.

  • Mary


    Thank you so much for shedding light on this important issue. We have to keep speaking out about it. That’s what God would want us to do. I remember one time at Mass the Priest approached a teenage girl and told her that her stomach must not be exposed and her shorts were too short. [smiley=shock] The girl left Mass and never returned. But the Priest did the right thing.

    We need to dress appropriately, we need to speak out, we need to pray for these people. And…..if you wear glasses and see someone who distracts you, take off your glasses [smiley=wink]

  • Mary
  • Goo

    Hbanan, I hope you are joking that you didn’t go to communion. Did you commit a mortal sin? You said you didn’t lust after this man. If you gave in to distraction this was your sin, but I’m pretty sure that’s venial. Anyone? We shouldn’t be scrupulous. Maybe receiving our Lord in communion is exactly what you needed. Maybe that great grace would have helped you fight the distraction?

    General comment: I and a dear friend are always hashing this point out. It’s a very important one. I believe both men and women have a responsibility to both guard their eyes (but this is more important for men because of their “wiring”) and dress in a way that does not draw lust (and because of the “wiring” again, this probably does fall more on women). We can say how this is not fair all we want, but I think that is the way nature is. I am not sure why the author made such a big deal about Chaucer and the second skin pants. Most women do not go around thinking of men’s private parts, even if they see a man in bike shorts. Maybe it’s different if you sit and watch episodes of Sex and the City every day.

    By the way, it wasn’t clear to me whether the author is saying men should never wear bike shorts. Surely he cannot be saying that. It is appropriate athletic attire for that sport. And bathing suits are appropriate at the pool, beach or lake.

    I think it is wrong for the author to try to instill a dress code. We can all agree on certain principles here. Deep cleavage: BAD. Very short skirts: BAD. But the neck-to-knees rule is even more conservative than the dress code at my alma mater, TAC. There I think it was four finger widths below the clavicle (the knee part is the same — skirt has to touch the ground when kneeling). That kind of dress code is helpful and appropriate on a college campus where formation, both intellectual and spiritual, is taking place. It also just keeps things simple. But as adults out in the world I don’t think it is a good idea to have random lay authors creating dress codes. The people that would heed it probably don’t need it. Those that need it probably won’t heed it. This particular code is also somewhat arbitrary and very difficult to follow. I think it means that women could either wear a men’s T-shirt or a turtle neck. There really are not many dresses or blouses that go all the way to the neck. Let’s be realistic here! Also, are knees really that sexy? I do think very short minis that show half or more of the thigh are too revealing. But I think it’s fine to wear a dress or skirt that comes a bit above the knees. This doesn’t strike me as too revealing. This is the type of thing that mature, well-formed adults can figure out on there own without the esteemed author’s code.

    That said, I thank the author for bringing this topic up and making some very good points. The necessity is apparent every Sunday in summer. Just two days ago we were subjected to a pubescent girl (12 or 13) in a silky halter dress of electric blue, tight at the top. Her bra straps were showing in all their glory because apparently she doesn’t know about strapless bras. And her face was loaded with make up. I tried so hard not to have uncharitable thoughts. But I was unable to quell the “what in the world are these parents thinking?”

  • Goo

    Let’s be careful not to confuse stylishness and immodesty. I think some women think they are superior Catholics if they wear Land’s End ankle-length skirts, baggy blouses and mary janes. That is modest, certainly. It is also after a certain classic, traditional fashion. That is fine for some women. That happens to not be my particular style. But it is possible to wear clothing that is stylishly modern and be modest. It just might take a little more work and there might be moments of frustration. You may try on that cute blouse and be tempted because it’s a perfect fit and looks so great. But you know deep down inside it’s too low in front and you shouldn’t get it. So you don’t and you keep looking. Some women enjoy that challenge and like a little flair in their dress. Some women prefer the ease of the more classic look. Neither is morally superior (as long as both are modest)!

    I mean no disrepect when I say I think the world would be really boring if everyone wore Land’s End!

  • Y2

    I know that this article is about attire, but one commentator mentions breastfeeding. I ask respectfully if you have ever tried to get to Mass with an infant, say, 3 months or less. That and try to watch several other children, too, because it’s daily Mass and your husband’s at work. So the infant is hungry. And you’re telling me I have to schlep my whole family outside just so I can suckle my infant when in Rome there are paintings of the Blessed Virgin suckling the Christchild??? Breastfeeding can be done with no external showing of the breast. And besides, anyone who finds that sexually alluring has a huge problem. I am trying really hard here not to lose it.

    People, we in this country have a problem in that our country has Protestant puritanical roots. There is something wrong when nourishing a child who cannot wait to be fed in the way God meant that child to be fed is thought to be an immodest act, especially when done discreetly. (I have never seen a mother in Mass not concerned with covering herself while nursing. Have you?)

    You can be as orthodox as possible, but maybe you are tainted by a culture that does not understand human nature. Maybe you have too much time on your hands or you have problems focusing on the wonder of the Mass that you are worried about mothers nourishing their infants.

    I am sorry to get so heated. But this strikes me as a very erroneous position, and I truly pray for this family that they will spend their energy worrying about real problems and leave nursing mothers alone.

    God bless the Hess family.

  • Hess Family

    I ask respectfully if you have ever tried to get to Mass with an infant, say, 3 months or less. That and try to watch several other children, too, because it’s daily Mass and your husband’s at work.

    That certainly sounds like a situation outside your control. My comment certainly wasn’t directed toward those whose circumstances make it impossible to keep silence or avoid distractions during Mass. It was about those who attitude is, “It’s my right to do X, so stuff it if it distracts you.”

    The thrust of this article seems to be twofold: 1) reverence for the Mass; AND 2) respect for those around us.

    There are several articles on this site (and others; they’re not hard to find) in which people claim that anything they do that distracts others during Mass is A-OK as long as it’s child-centered, but they heap abuse on people who dress immodestly for the same Mass. Inevitably, they claim that immodest dress is irreverent and disrespectful of other parishoners.

    It’s bad to unnecessarily distract others during Mass? Amen, I say. BUT that includes a wide range of avoidable behaviors, not just low-cut tops and Speedos.

    Please read (or re-read) the breastfeeding and children-at-Mass articles, and listen to those same people who (rightly) decry women who dress like bar hounds snarl at people who complain of ill-treatment at the hands of badly behaved parents. It reminds one of the saying, “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.”

    It’s a contentious subject, and there’s no need to apologize for getting heated. I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about this after years of bad experiences, and it’s hard for me to keep a level head sometimes, too. No, I don’t think Mass is the place for breastfeeding (unless there are extenuating circumstances), but modesty certainly isn’t the concern.

    My apologies to IC for yet another off-topic post.

    God bless you and yours, too. [smiley=happy]

  • Y2

    Where can I read some of these articles/commentary on breast-feeding at Mass. I am interested.

    I am sympathetic to you when you complain of parents who think that anything child-centered is automatically A-OK. For example, if you cannot control your 2-year-old and you let him run about in the back of the church making all manner of noise. Take him/her out and let the child run off some steam. Or prolonged crying, etc. But so far I disagree about breast-feeding as it is a very natural act and certainly necessary at a moment’s notice when a baby is very young.

    Now note here I am not talking about breast-feeding toddlers! That can and should wait. Give ’em a bottle or a sippy cup if you must. Or take them out if you can’t do that.

    I am talking about tiny, non-food-consuming infants who cannot understand that they have to wait 1/2 an hour to be nourished. Why can a mother in this instance not position herself discreetly in a corner armed with blankets and whatnot? You say it is not an issue of modesty. Wherein, then, lies the distraction? I always thought the distraction in breastfeeding was that people were deathly afraid they might catch a glimpse of a white patch of breast skin. Maybe even a nipple, the Lord forbid!!! Where’s the distraction? Is it just the very fact that a person (no matter how small) is being given food in the church? I honestly wish to be enlightened here. Tell me about your bad experiences and what the distraction is.

    Thank you, and all good wishes. And thanks to all you readers for suffering through a slightly tangential matter.

  • Margaret Cabaniss
  • Administrator

    Where can I read some of these articles/commentary on breast-feeding at Mass. I am interested.

    Hi Y2,

    Here are three articles we ran on the subject. As you’ll see from the comments, they inspired a lot of discussion.

    “Why I Nurse at the Mall… and at Mass,” by Kate Wicker
    http://tinyurl.com/6oggco

    “Woe To Them That Are With Child, And That Give Suck,” by Steve Skojec
    http://tinyurl.com/6277sg

    “Why Children Belong at Mass,” by Kate Wicker
    http://tinyurl.com/r2b677

    Hope that helps.

  • Hess Family

    Hello Y2:

    At the risk of being censured for being off-topic (eek!) again, might we contrive to trade e-mail addresses? I’m not sure how to accomplish this without doing so publicly, but perhaps the administrator would help us.

    I would welcome the opportunity to discuss privately these issues with someone who appears both kind and reasonable.

  • HBanan

    Nope, not joking about not going to communion. Sometimes I don’t at daily Mass. Usually I regret it. I am not recommending that people don’t receive communion if they think someone else at Mass is cute! I am kind of scrupulous sometimes — I know it wasn’t a mortal sin, and that communion takes away venial sins (and maybe I wasn’t even in venial sin mode). But, I felt bad about being so distracted the entire time, and I offered up not going for some cause or other, I forget what. I thought at the time that Jesus probably thought that was stupid, or whatever polite word our Lord would use to describe my action of not receiving Him (“whited sepulchre?” “den of vipers?”). Sometimes I use the sacrifice of not taking communion as a penance for everyone who does go to communion under mortal sin, esp. those who are proud of it. It’s the perfect excuse! Probably that’s also something that is kind of dumb — fasting from the Eucharist? Gimme a break, right? It would be better to take Communion AND spend an hour in adoration but, wouldn’t you know, I never make the time even though there’s a tabernacle not 5 minutes from my workplace. Sadly for the state of my soul, my greatest regret of that day is not flirting with the hot guy after Mass, and one of the larger regrets of my life is that at 27 yrs of age, I still don’t know how to flirt & just freeze up and blush at the thought of trying to hit on someone — my priorities are so screwed up.

    Bad Catholic! I shouldn’t take communion now… oh wait…

    I wish the people who complain about the mean old Church making them feel Catholic guilt would acknowledge that the Church says it’s a sin to feel too guilty!

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  • Administrator

    Hello Y2:

    At the risk of being censured for being off-topic (eek!) again, might we contrive to trade e-mail addresses? I’m not sure how to accomplish this without doing so publicly, but perhaps the administrator would help us.

    If you’d like to exchange email addresses privately, you may send an email to me: alert(AT)insidecatholic.com

    I’d be happy to connect you.

  • Goo

    First I want to say I didn’t mean to be judgmental. I saw what I thought was a red flag and wanted to get correct information out there about Catholic thought/teaching on the matter of “worthiness” to receive communion.

    Am I the only one concerned here? The idea of sacrificing receiving communion seems really strange to me. Do you really think that your sacrifice is more efficacious than if you were to receive communion and offer THAT for your causes (people who receive in mortal sin, etc…) Is there a priest out there who will back me up on this?

    (Sorry for the off topic stuff.)

    Without wanting to sound harsh, I want to say we have to beware of delusions of self-importance. Your little sacrifices are important and they are gifts to the Lord. But how much greater is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the presence of His Body and Blood in communion. I alway cringe when I hear people say “Jesus would want this or that,” but the temptation here is too strong for me to resist: I honestly believe (based on Church teaching) that Jesus would rather have you receive Him (how beautiful) than sit in the pew and deny yourself this grace. Don’t forget communion is not only for your benefit or that of those you are offering it for. You are communing with your Lord and Saviour. He loves you infinitely and wants you to commune with him in that Sacrament he gave to us. I almost put “communing” in all caps to emphasize. But I have realized of late that all the posters that use all caps seem to be slightly to totally unhinged. So I decided to refrain.

    I’m not sure what to say about your “flirting problem” but maybe you should talk to a good priest… Opus Dei priests are awesome on matters of the heart. I am serious. See if you can find one near you.

    I feel like I am offering gratuitous advice here, but you are the one who mentioned this stuff. Maybe you shouldn’t worry so much about flirting with “hot guys” (or was that a joke?). As a woman who has been married for over 10 years I can tell you one thing I learned throughout courting and marriage is that guys don’t really want forward women. They would rather do the chasing themselves. You are young and you have plenty of time. (I got married in my late 20’s and was nearly 30 by the time I had my first baby.) Be patient, pray to St. Joseph, and get to communion, sister!

    God bless.

  • Goo

    I must be at least slightly unhinged. I see that an all-caps “that” slipped out. Sorry!

  • Erin Manning

    Like most Catholic women, I agree that people (men and women) should dress modestly and appropriately for Sunday Mass.

    But I start to cringe when specific items of clothing or rules get mentioned–oh, not mini-skirts or spaghetti-strap tops, as no woman over the age of four can wear those in public without looking silly–but more innocuous things like v-neck tops or flip-flops. I’ve been wearing flip-flops to Mass for a couple of weeks. I broke my toe a bit ago and can’t wear normal shoes just yet. Is that okay?

    And when a rule like “neck to knees” gets cited, I think of women’s shirt options, and wonder: does that mean only crew-neck shirts or turtlenecks are appropriate for Mass? If you wear a blouse, do you have to button it all the way to the neck? In 100+ degree weather? Is it okay to wear a v-neck polo shirt if you use a cute pin to secure the fabric a bit higher than the highest button, or is the pin going to draw too much attention to the cleavage area? Is a woman who is somewhat well-endowed required to wear jumpers so her endowments don’t show at all, or is a completely shapeless t-shirt okay, even if a man looking at her can still *tell* she’s well-endowed at which point his imagination may fill in the details her shapeless shirt is erasing?

    What I’m getting at is that while there are certainly things that shouldn’t be worn to Mass (halter tops, bathing attire, shorts, mini skirts, skintight clothing, spaghetti strap or strapless dresses, obscene t-shirts, fishnet stockings paired with stiletto heels, French maid costumes–do I really need to keep going?), many other items aren’t a barrier to modesty in and of themselves, and depend for their modesty on the intention of the wearer and the wearer’s realistic assessment of how he/she looks in the clothes. Many a person has been judged and condemned for immodesty when he or she is only guilty of sartorial indifference or cluelessness, after all–and who is guilty of the worse sin, the unwittingly revealing dresser or the one who sits in judgment upon him or her?

  • vee

    Erin, you make some good points.

    I just want to add that I just had a Mass experience that put this all in a different perspective for me. I went to a Spanish Mass, although I am not a fluent Spanish-speaker, as it was the only option on this particular Sunday. Let me just say that if many of these commentators and maybe Mr. Wiker attended this Mass they would really have a hard time. In every direction there was a woman with spaghetti straps and bra straps (usually red or black) were showing. In addition, kids were crying, screaming all over the church. I even saw one woman eating a lollipop (maybe it was for a sore throat?) and another with earrings the size of small plates in bright silver (this made me think of the antlerssmilies/smiley.gif).

    I was trying (hear me any of you who will censor me for paying too much attention to the wrong things) so hard not to be distracted, but it was so different an experience than my little country parish with mostly quiet farm folks. Then I thought of this article and this com feed, and I ended up rejoicing in humanity and in different cultures! I thought, God bless these people for their love and acceptance of children. Not that I think every parish needs screaming children and visible bra straps. But I loved that fact that I was part of this wonderful collection of human beings praising God (very loudly in some cases!) in all of our flesh-and-blood humanity. And it made me think that right then all over the world in so many countries, cultures, languages, God was being praised and the Eucharist being celebrated. It also made me realize that love for people in all of their humanity is very Catholic! And how sad and narrow if we all go ’round looking at how other people’s faults are the cause of our own failings. Anyone remember how Jesus treated the Magdelene???

    Let’s ask ourselves how much cultural conditioning we have. And can we make our faith bigger and more important than our culture? Try going to your local Spanish Mass. Get outside of your little bubble.

    Finally, this experience solidified in my mind the total absurdity of the idea that anyone has some kind of right (where does this come from?) to attend Mass completely undistracted.

  • fred

    husbands instruct your wives to dress modestly…wives obey…children obey…quite simple

  • bucket truck

    I like Minis, maybe if more women will wear minis at church there would be more people attending services [smiley=happy]

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