Modesty on the Brain

I blame Elizabeth over at That Married Couple. She has been posting on modesty lately, and we discussed it some on Friday, during our virtual book club meeting on The Authentic Catholic Woman by Genevive Kineke. Because of this, I have had modesty on the brain for a few days now.

Modesty and I have been encountering each other for a few years now. As a child and for most of my teenage years, I never really wore anything that was immodest, not because I was pious, but because I was fat. When you’re 15, being 20 pounds overweight will squash any impulse to wear low-rise pants or halter tops (if not immediately, then at the dressing room mirror). So dressing immodestly never really became an issue until college.

I started working out and eating somewhat better in college; I lost (some) weight. Enough that some of the “cute” “trendy” “immodest” things I had liked before now came in my size and didn’t look awful. Success I thought! So for the first time in my life, I began to sometimes wear short skirts, and the occasional halter top. However, the majority of my wardrobe still consisted of jeans and basic shirts.

I have never had very strict rules for myself regarding the kinds of clothes I wear. I have a few rules which have developed over the last perhaps two years. They are not based on anything but my conscience and a general sense of propriety. So I do not expect anyone else to follow these specific rules, though perhaps they may be helpful to some who are trying to think it through.

– I wear tank tops underneath 98% of v-neck shirts I have. I like v-neck shirts, I think they are more flattering on my body than crewneck shirts. But I try to avoid at all times, showing cleavage. So I put a tank top underneath the shirt, and voila! This is a pretty simple solution, and it doesn’t warrant throwing anything away.

– Whenever I wear a skirt, I try to always wear knee-length or longer. This is probably the newest of my “rules”.  In the summer of 2007, I had a revelation that God was calling me to embrace wearing knee-length skirts. So I threw out a bunch of shorter skirts that I had. I now have exactly one-above the knee skirt, and it’s a denim skirt I reserve for the hottest days of the summer and for going to the beach.

– I do not wear bare shoulders or tank tops to Mass. This should be self-explanatory.

– I do not wear shirts that ride up or expose any of my navel or lower back. Though shirts of this kind are (thank God) no longer the fashion, I remember when they were, and how many silly 16-year olds were walking around with their stomachs exposed.

Within these parameters, I wear a variety of different kinds of clothes: jeans, t-shirts, yoga pants, dresses, skirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, etc. I strive to find a balance of practicality, femininity, and comfort. I have not felt God calling me to give up wearing pants, and so I do not believe that one must, in order to be feminine, wear only skirts or dresses. That said, I believe that women should do what God asks them to do, and I salute those women who have given up pants because God called them to it.

Each woman is different, and each woman’s temptations are different. For some women, especially those who are beautiful and in great shape, there is probably a stronger temptation to dress immodestly, because they are closer to fitting the ideal of society, so there is greater pressure to dress in a way that is self-degrading. A woman in that situation may need to adopt stricter guidelines for modesty, to keep from giving in to the pressure.

Other women (like perhaps myself), need to work on embracing modesty more in word and thought. After all, modesty is first and foremost an interior virtue. I’ve heard it said that “A nun forced to walk naked down the street would still look modest, and Marilyn Monroe forced to walk down the street in full habit would still look immodest.” When it comes to modesty, our outward appearance ought to be a reflection of the internal virtue.

Any advice I’d give to a woman who is trying to think through modesty on a practical level? I would just say this; form your conscience well through frequent reception of the Sacraments (especially Eucharist and Reconciliation), and pray daily. If you are receiving the Sacraments frequently, and praying daily, God will tell you if you’re wearing something he doesn’t like. He will put that conviction on your heart and invite you to change it. He will.

And, lastly, one piece of advice that I heard in college that has stuck with me since: “Your dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman, and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”


Something I have been thinking about recently is shoes. I love wearing heels for special occasions and dressing up. Are high-heel shoes inherently immodest? Does anyone have any thoughts or experiences relating to modesty and shoes?

6 thoughts on “Modesty on the Brain

  1. Yay for modesty blog posts! I’ve been reading Elizabeth’s too.

    I was an immodest dresser when in high school and parts of college, too. However, as an adult, I (refreshingly) have modified my approach. My challenge now is to avoid looking frumpy!

    i have it on my 101 in 1001 list to read the book called It’s So You! which my sister recommended. She said it talks about getting clothes that fit and not trying to fit into clothes, fashion wise. I am looking forward to reading it to get some idea of what I should do. I just never learned and I’m not naturally a fashion or clothes person.

    As far as shoes go…I am starting to hit the point in my life where comfort wins out over fashion. I do, however, try to avert my eyes from girl altar-servers who insist on wearing scantily clad feet while serving on the altar, or boy altar-servers wearing scruffy looking tennis shoes…I’m not sure why, but sometimes their footwear seems so inappropriate.

    Great thoughts today~!

  2. Oh, thank you for posting on this! I appreciate getting to see another person’s point of view on modesty as I try to discern how it should apply to me.

    “I believe that women should do what God asks them to do, and I salute those women who have given up pants because God called them to it.” I like that. I also like your nun/Marilyn Monroe comparison 🙂

    And I LOVE your last piece of advice! Do you mind if I share it (giving you the credit, of course)? It just seems perfect.

  3. Oh, I just realized I didn’t mention shoes. I don’t think I’m much help in this regard. I used to love wearing high heels because I thought they looked sexy, but to be honest I looked so awkward walking around in them that it was not attractive in the least 🙂 My husband is only an inch or two taller than me, so I stopped wearing most heels when we started dating. My feet have thanked me.
    All that to say, I don’t think heels are inherently immodest.

  4. Firstly, I love the “tight enough to show you’re a woman, but loose enough to show you’re a lady” advice. Applies to more than dresses, I think! (I like that it’s both morally and aesthetically helpful.)

    Then, whenever I read about modesty, I always think about how modesty is a universal value, but that it’s expressed in the context of culture. What’s modest in one culture might not be in another. That’s why I think it’s hard to say: X is bad, always. Well, no. But it could be immodest where you live. We’d all look pretty immodest to an Elizabethan! 🙂

    Thanks for the good food for thought.

  5. ” If you are receiving the Sacraments frequently, and praying daily, God will tell you if you’re wearing something he doesn’t like. He will put that conviction on your heart and invite you to change it”

    I love it! I think that this is by far the most important thing to remember when seeking to cultivate modesty. Clothing is just clothing. It has no meaning in terms of modesty until there is a cultural (and situational) context. If one is cultivating virtue and true modesty, what to wear will mostly work itself out, no?

    As for shoes, it really depends! I don’t think that heels are inherently immodest (even though they are designed to make one’s posture/walk “sexy”) but there are certainly situations where they could be unnecessarily distracting to others.

  6. Pingback: Shoulders

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