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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Who Wears the Pants?

I've never met a nun who actually told anybody that patent leather shoes reflect up. I'm also shocked that anyone would believe anything so crazy. Telling young women that having dinner with a young man at a table with a white table cloth could remind the poor man of bed sheets and give him ideas. Does the young man bear no responsibility for being that nuts? Good lord, boy, say a Hail Mary and order your salad!

I have often been asked what I think of the whole patten leather shoe question, to which I reply,"If you are that desperate as to try to look into some shiny shoes....go for it." It's not going to work anyhow. Pathetic.

Today's reader question:
I've been thinking about this post - separating the practice from the person. Of course we forgive the sins of those around us, and yet the Bible says even a child is known by his actions. While a person most certainly can change, their actions show us much about their character.This thought has led me to another area I've been researching. Standards for modest Catholic dress.... can one really say that their manner of dress has nothing to do with their heart? Common sense tells us that a person's choice of clothing does tell you something about them. Colleen Hammond's book "Dressing with Dignity" has much to say about the history of women's clothes, the Church's thoughts, etc. What do YOU think, Sister? Willing to share your thoughts on this? Should women wear only dresses and skirts? Are pants ok? Inquiring minds want to know!

And I suppose you believe that every young man with his gigantic pants hanging off of his visible underpants is a 'gangsta'?

I addressed the topic of what women wear in my very first post. Having grown up in the Midwest and spent a lot of years in Chicago, I am well aware of the assault to the eyes that occurs when all the winter coats come off. But there is much to be said, so let's take things one at a time.

...the Bible says even a child is known by his actions. Known, maybe. But not judged by the likes of us.

... can one really say that their manner of dress has nothing to do with their heart? Yes! One can say that! Oh boy, can one say that. Some people just have bad taste. There are lovely people who don't realize that horizontal stripes are not a good idea for some figures. The Goodyear Blimp is moored near our home in California. One day we thought it had pulled loose from it's moorings, but it was Mrs. Waggy, one of the neighbors and a good Lutheran woman, in horizontal stripes doing some weeding in her front yard.

"You can't judge a book by it's cover." There's a reason people still say that all the time.

What are we to say, for example, about these poor middle-aged women who wear red and purple and feather boas and the like and pretend to be fifteen for an afternoon? I'll admit I'd like to knock their heads together, but are they bad people because they've signed onto some silly club? Alright. They are. But only for the afternoon. And not really bad. Just ill-mannered and obnoxious. Nothing a good confession can't handle, provided no one gets hit by a meteor on the way home. Perhaps they'll get lucky and the meteor will simply knock off their hats. I'll put it on my prayer list.

Let's not forget the slaves to fashion who wear unflattering low riding jeans because those pants are in style. If they actually did have the idea to dress in these things to attract men the sin is in the desire and not in the execution, not when a year's worth of Taco Bell is riding over the low ride. Poor things.

Which brings me to the next part of your question. Should women wear only dresses and skirts? Are pants ok?

Alright, I am. Although, I don't care to watch "Murder She Wrote". Maybe I'm merely a duddy.

I've mentioned this before: any type of clothing can go horribly awry. (See illustrations at the bottom of the page.) We like to dress sensibly, with purity in mind, but if you tip the scale too far in wrong direction you'll simply draw attention to yourself and everyone will point at you and whisper that you are the tenth wife of the Mormon in the dell.

The right pants would be better than the wrong skirt and they can save your legs from frostbite in the winter. The right skirt would be better than the wrong pants if the pants have a low riding waistline or pants that are very tight. Or...with horizontal stripes.


Anonymous said...

I had a friend in college whose mom was up in arms because she bought a(very modest)dress with a tiny strawberry applique on the collar. Said the strawberry was suggestive. Go figure!

Anonymous said...

It's true that we shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, BUT and this is big, unfortunately that's not what the majority of society does.

Most people do judge you by what you wear or how many Tats you have or how many piercings you have on your body. It's sad, but true!

Oh and I know a few Mormons who actually dress very "cool", but still be modest!

Anonymous said...

Modesty is a wonderful thing. I wish everyone would develop a big helping of it. I don't want to see too much of anyone's skin. So please people- put your clothes on.
Stripes, dots, plaids, I don't care just cover up! I've got a neighbor with a rose tattooed on her upper breast, she's in her 60's! That rose has gone from a bud to a long stemmed rose. She's laughed at and pitied.

Anonymous said...

Not to offend, but it's actually 'patent' leather. There is a very amusing book, can't remember the author, called *Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?* about growing up in Chicago going to Catholic schools.

Anonymous said...

Errrr......actually.... dare I say it, I rather LIKE red and purple together!

Anonymous said...


My husband and I started taping and watching "Murder She Wrote" but we had to stop because of some questionable moral relativism and the use of the Lord's name in vain about every 10 seconds--And I am no fuddy duddy.

We still like Poirot, Columbo, Miss Marple (even though we were very upset that the nun was the murderer in the last episode we saw) and Sherlock Holmes, however.

Saint Maker said...

Oh sister you make me laugh. And you make sense all at the same time! Nice post.


Saint Maker said...

Oh and about red and purple... I was headed out the door to CCD one evening in H.S. and I had on red overalls... with a soft purple sweater. Egads. My father was offended and made me change my clothes. too funny.

Amy said...

That is a sticky point. Yes, we should not judge people by what they wear but are you not going to have second thoughts if you drop your kid off at school and see thier teacher wearing a shirt that's neckline goes down to their belly button and wearing daisy duke shorts? Would anyone stop and think, "Ah, there is a good up standing citizen that I want my children to emulate?"
It is an ugly truth, after all, said teacher could be a completely lovely 30 year old virgin, but the way we dress does reflect how people veiw us. Just as someone in a denim jumper and long sleeves is automatically thought to be a Mormon.
Dressing with Dignity is a wonderful book but you don't have to wear dresses all the time. In summer I tend to, but in winter... you bet I am in pants. It's cold out there! Now if it were 1888 and I had four layers of petticoats on and a pair of bloomers, I would be fine... but what would people think if I wore those? Oh... yeah, Amish. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sister and commentors (amy caroline - I was the original poster, and you know exactly what I was thinking about people judging us based on clothes!) I actually feel much better, and it is nice that someone else has read the book Dressing with Dignity.

Sister, your pictures of women in skirts (appropriately dressed) and the comment that any style of dress can go awry was well taken.

I think I was looking for a way to be the "best" Catholic possible, but to be honest - I have realized I was having some pride issues in this also. Lots to get on my knees about, that's for sure! Being the "best" we can be for God doesn't mean seeing ourselves as better than others.

Off to check on the boys in the backyard.

Colleen Hammond said...

I'm heartened to see a couple ladies have read "Dressing with Dignity"! :-)

Sister, I was pointed to your Blog the other day and have enjoyed reading through the archives. And I'd love to send you a complimentary copy of DWD. Email me privately with your address and it'll be in tomorrow's mail. info@ColleenHammond.com .

A couple of comments.

If I see a young man with his gigantic pants haning off of his visible underpants, do I think he's a "gangsta"? Nah, but I certainly would raise my eyebrows if he asked to court my daughter!

Our fashion choices DO have a subconscious effect on others--and our choices display our inner morality (or lack of it).

I read once that clothing may cover the body, but it reveals the soul.

But, since I'm Catholic, I like to look at what the Popes say instead of cute little sayings!

Pope Pius XII: "It is often said almost with passive resignation that fashions reflect the customs of a people. But it would be more exact and much more useful to say that they express the decision and moral direction that a nation intends to take: either to be shipwrecked in licentiousness or maintain itself at the level to which it has been raised by religion and civilization."

So, no...you can't ALWAYS "judge a book by its cover" because there are exceptions to the rule. But do we live our lives by exceptions or by rules? I've found that yes--most of the time, you CAN discern a book by its cover. But that's just my personal experience. Not judging their soul, but discerning my associations (and those of my children).

Sister, I especially loved this comment: "We like to dress sensibly, with purity in mind, but if you tip the scale too far in wrong direction you'll simply draw attention to yourself and everyone will point at you and whisper that you are the tenth wife of the Mormon in the dell."

AMEN! AMEN! AMEN! And if I may add--Frumpy is NOT holy!

Again, I like to turn to the Popes, and here's one of my favorite quotes--again from Pope Pius XII:

"The trend of fashions is not in intself evil. It flows spontaneously from teh social nature of man, in accordance with an impulse which inclines him to keep in harmony with his fellow-men, and with the way of acting of those amongst whom he lives. God does not ask you to live ouside your times, so careless of the exigencies of fashion as to render yourselves ridiculous, by dressing in a way opposed to the common tastes and practices of your contemporaries, without considering at all what pleases them.
In following fashion, virtue lies in the middle course. What God asks of you is to remember always that fashion is not, and cannot be, the ultimate rule of conduct for you' that beyond fashion and its demands, there are higher and more pressing laws, principles superior to fashion, and unchangeable, whihc under no circumstances can be sacrifeced to the whim of pleasure or fancy, and before which must bow the feeting omnipotence of the idol of fashion."

Whew, I got a bit long-winded! But, this is obviously a topic close to my heart. :-)

God bless,

Colleen Hammond said...

Oops, forgot this one:

"Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh."
Phillipians 4:5

Anonymous said...


Thank you so so so much for posting!! Wow... I enjoyed your book so much! Just finished it, lots and lots to think about. Not only my manner of dress, but that my heart maintains a modest attitude. Way harder than wearing a skirt! (am I making any sense?) I enjoy your blogs also. To realize that modest dress doesn't mean wearing a sack was quite a shock! Sounds silly, but from some other sites I had begun to think that was the case.

Since I am already walking a fine line in trying to please my hubby (who does not see the need of modesty nearly as much as others shall we say) and also trying to develop / maintain my convictions, knowing I can be still be decently fashionable is a great relief.

Thank you again!!!

Anonymous said...

'Fashion' is the latest trends. But 'style' is dead. The feminists killed it. Sex is sold every where even when the real product is a household cleaner! The mystery of womanhood is gone. I would prefer the days when an accidental glimpse of an ankle had men turning their heads.

Anonymous said...

I wish, at a minimum, that people would dress appropriately to Mass. Trousers with a belt and tucked in shirt (polo or button down) for the boys and men; trousers or skirt with a blouse for the gals. Too many flip flops, tanks (I see more of the gals that I care to, thanks!), TIGHT tops (again, the chesty gals), shorts (I wouldn't mind nice, knee length ones), shirts that show "that year's worth of Taco Bell is riding over the low ride".

And, I'm learning to take my advice: quitting the jeans and putting on trousers with a nice top. Once I can fit some of my nicer skirts again, I'll wear those, too.

Don't get me started about the public pools!!

Anonymous said...

You go to Mass to meet the Lord, dress accordingly. We have a SOON to be mother who wears a skin tight, spagetti strap, low cut top to Mass! Doesn't the Church have any kind of dress code? It used to be women had to cover their head shouldn't they be told to at least cover their shoulders, stomachs and behinds?

Anonymous said...

At risk of having tomatoes thrown at me.... I think a dress code for Mass would be quite reasonable. I personally believe that is far better than some of the attire I've seen being worn to Mass. No one is forced to be Catholic, and if you choose to come to the Lord's table - dressing appropriately is appropriate.

I'm not saying suits and ties - but surely some guidelines like no spagetti straps or strapless tops, no short shorts, no bathing suits, etc.

I admit - I am a very new Catholic. I am so astounded at the riches of what is offered in the Mass that I am appalled when I see such carefree attitudes. I just don't get it... as in want to scream "Don't you realize what you have here? Can you show some respect in Mass??"

Sigh... climbing down off my soapbox.....

Anonymous said...

I think I heard someone say that the dress code is up to the individual priest to, ahem, mention in a loving way to the individual or a general reminder to the parish during announcements.

Kasia said...

Angela, I know exactly what you mean. I entered the Church at Easter myself.

I try very hard not to notice what other people have on, but there are times (most notably when they're sitting right in front of me in their sheer top) it's difficult to avoid noticing. The parish I visit on First Fridays *does* actually have a sign up at the door to the church, saying that you are about to enter the presence of the Lord and that beach wear (including tanks and shorts) is not appropriate.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but it is unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

Up to the individual priest? Interesting. From what I hear it seems like that route has resulted in questionable dress occuring around the country (I won't speak for other countries, perhaps their parishioners have more modesty).

At the beginning of the summer our priest did put a letter in the bulletin about appropriate dress. However, it was fairly bland, mainly suggesting that bathing suits and strapless tops weren't the best choice.

How different from the time when Padre Pio refused to allow those immodestly dressed into the confessional! I do gather he had rather strict standards, but I find that story to be quite interesting. He had the autothority to uphold standards of modesty for his time. I'm not sure what would happen if one of our hard-working priests today did such a thing.

Colleen Hammond said...


The Catholic Church DOES have a dress code. Here are the guidelines:

“A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper.” (Guidelines developed and released by mandate of Pius XI by Donato Cardinal Sbaretti, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Council under Pope Pius XI).

Like Kasia said, it's hard not to notice what other people are wearing (or not wearing). Just think about our men, who have hormonal reactions when they see certain things. If WE as women notice the tacky and revealing clothing and find it distracting, think of how it effects our men. YIPES!

In 1915 (goodness gracious-- think of what women were wearing in 1915!!!), there was a General Pastoral Directive issued that stated:

"Women must be decently dressed, especially when they go to church. The parish priest may, with due prudence, refuse them entrance to the church and access to the reception of the Sacraments, any and every time that they come to church immodestly dressed."

So when Anonymous said that it's up to the individual priest to mention "in a loving way", I suppose that's true. But to me, it's more of a REQUIREMENT of the priest to mention it--in order to protect the purity of everyone, as well as to show respect for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

A priest I know regularly announces from the pulpit that Holy Communion will not be given to women who do not wear clothing that meets the Vatican Guidelines, so don't come scampering up to the Altar in attire that does not meet those basic requirements. He also mentions that he has the responsibility to protect the purity of the Altar Boys.

I only wish there were more priests like him...don't we all!!!

Anonymous said...

The purple and red I can forgive. But what I find appalling is the HUGE amount of "concealer" the woman on the left in the picture is wearing. That ain't concealing NOTHING, just drawing attention to the fact she is trying to conceal something.

If she tries to conceal her wrinkles, what ELSE is she trying to hide? Hmmm?

Colleen Hammond said...

Anonymous wrote:

To realize that modest dress doesn't mean wearing a sack was quite a shock! Sounds silly, but from some other sites I had begun to think that was the case.

Amen!!! That's part of what prompted the book. :-)

Sometimes it's tough to be moderate and balanced, especially when our husbands may want us to wear "that outfit that you look so good in"! But the eternal rewards are worth it--as are the immediate temporal rewards! People WILL treat you differently when you demand respect by dressing in a dignified and elegant manner.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to give the thumbs up to Colleen Hammond. DWD is a much needed book.

Also, regarding the dress with the strawberry on it... A "strawberry" is another name for the girl in the neighborhood who, er, puts out. Bluntly, she is the neighborhood nonprofit whore. Fashion designers are hip to this. Wearing a dress with a strawberry on it is the same as wearing one of those shirts that says, "Porn Star".

Anonymous said...

The strawberry is news to me. I learned the cherry meant 'virgin for the plucking' from my teenage daughter. As for the husband- behind closed doors, dear.

Anonymous said...

Or is it 'virgin for the picking'?

Anonymous said...

Also, regarding the dress with the strawberry on it... A "strawberry" is another name for the girl in the neighborhood who, er, puts out. Bluntly, she is the neighborhood nonprofit whore. Fashion designers are hip to this. Wearing a dress with a strawberry on it is the same as wearing one of those shirts that says, "Porn Star".

That is the funniest thing I've read all day.

Anonymous said...

It is lovely to see this discussion of modest attire, and I am grateful for it.

As it happens I know one of the twoladies in the photograph. She is a kind and principled person, always modestly dressed, who does not deserve to be criticized in public for dressing appropriately to an occasion --which was a meeting of a club devoted to red hats and purple clothing as a symbol of courage and happiness in aging.

We have duties in charity to her and to everyone, and no reason to gossip about a specific person's hat and make-up. She is doing no harm, was in a private place, and can't be responsible for other people's decisions to include her picture on their web sites and blogs.

These remarks are public and would hurt her feelings, and this blog is a public place. So I wish the posters would reconsider them.

Anonymous said...

I had NO IDEA that a little strawberry could carry such a meaning. Sigh.... so sad to demean a most delicious fruit.

I notice again how it is the wonderful, innocent things that the world corrupts. For instance, "rainbow" now carries some meanings definitely NOT in the OT!!!

Sister Mary Martha said...

Lisa, I'm very sorry this was a picture of your friend. I couldn't get the picture off, so I squeezed it down to atomic size.

I'd love to see women find a better way to celebrate aging. One that doesn't involve acting like a goofenhiemer, but that's just me.

Which was exactly my point. Many people don't present themselves well, or make choices we would not make for ourselves (that even include concealer), but we are not to judge their hearts because of their hats.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Sister! Your point is a good one and your blog is always a treat.

Anonymous said...

The point about "not judging hearts because of their hats" is well taken. Many times people may truly not realize the impact of their dress on others. Thinking of myself as a girl / teen .... I think my mother wasn't sure enough of herself to stop some of the outfits I wore (now to my utter embarrasment).

That is some of what led to my orginal posting. Yes, we need to be careful of how we judge the appearance of others. That being said, there are many women who are concerned and want to know dress guidelines from the church, in order to present themselves in the best manner possible as they seek to live God-pleasing lives. The comments above simply prove that they can not look at the dress of women in Mass and follow their lead, and so need to go directly to the Mother Church for direction. I would LOVE to have a priest like Colleen desribed - announcing the need to follow Vatican guidelines and protect the altar boys. Many of the women in my parish would fall over in shock if any of our priests were do to such a thing. I had an RCIA leader tell us how wonderful it would be if the church would begin praying to God our MOTHER - and the priest siting in class didn't say a word. SIGH.......

Colleen - do you have any place where people are able to write in to you with questions? I didn't see that on your blog, although my technology skills are so minimal that I might have missed it. I was wondering if a place where women could write in with questions / comments / share experiences would be helpful. Maybe not, it might be way more labor intensive than I realize.

Thank you to all for your input! This has been a wonderful thread.

Anonymous said...

I made the comment about the priests and it being up to them to tell people to dress modestly . . . I was trying to be loving in my saying that. And, I totally AGREE with Colleen and the other posters on this site that the priest ought to out of loving obligation, regardless of whom he offends, to dress accordingly. I live on a military installation and we get a new priest every year or so. Each one is quite different. . . they each have their own tag lines, for example: Confession! (not bad, it got me in there after hearing it so long and passionately - now I'm a regular). Our last priest: Get over yourself! I think he even hinted at modest dress . . . I do know he did say bluntly to the guys in the pews one Sunday to "keep their trousers zipped" when talking about waiting until marriage. He was also big on "reading your catechism - a great gift to the faithful." I just wish they'd all risk being hissed at for telling it like it is: cover up, modestly.

Colleen - I'm going to buy your book!!

Love to all,

Colleen Hammond said...

Strawberries, white table clothes, and shiny shoes...what an education I'm receiving! ;-)

Anon wrote: "Colleen - do you have any place where people are able to write in to you with questions?"

I have a Yahoo Group here:http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DressingWithDignity

Or just email me at info@ColleenHammond.com (but I'm way behind on emails!) :-(

Sarah, it sounds like you see quite a string of priests through a military installation! And if you'd like a signed copy of my book, you can get it at http://valoramedia.com/order.html.

But if you order directly from TAN, I think they'll give you a discount on more than one copy.
Here's the long URL: http://www.tanbooks.com/index.php/page/shop:flypage/product_id/669/keywords/dressing+with+dignity/

Saint Maker said...

We had a lovely priest, Father Cordier, God rest his precious soul, who gave a short speech at the start of every summer. We lived in a tourist town near a beach and you can imagine the outfits that would appear for Mass. He did it in a gentle manner but the point is he did it.

I wish more would follow his example.

Honestly, I do believe that some people are simply not aware.

AND I think that being 'sexy' is thought to be a dignified way to BE these days. ('These Days' ... boy that sounds old) Anywho, it is the most overused adjective when it comes to fashion and I've even heard it used with recipes on TV shows! Sheesh.


PraiseDivineMercy said...

Wow, I was totally naive about the shoes thing. I thought it was passed down from my grandparents generation-- My grandmother told me she could spot the military types (like my grandpa) by their well shined shoes.

Anonymous said...

I like the red hat ladies. What could be wrong in having good clean fun?
Any ideas on how we approach our priests to push modesty in Church?

Heather said...

Does anyone else notice how on cops when they search some gangsta wannabe and find something illegal the first response is "These aren't my pants!"

Sister, don't forget some of those lovely pictures of the Pope's hats in one of your prior postings!

The whole appropriate dress is a problem for our separated bretheren as well (I joined the Church at Easter this year!) I had the same issue when I was attending church services. At least the Protestant service doesn't provide an opportunity for these poor souls to parade their bad dress sense around for the whole congregation.

The sad truth is that any "uniform" sets up expectations whether its a man in a military dress uniform or some goth kid in black with enough eye liner to make Tammy Faye look restrained by comparison.

I used to work in a jail and when my students would argue about "judging a book by its cover" I would point out that when you go out into the larger world, it is appreciated when an individual takes the time to dress appropriately for the situation. It exhibits an understanding of the mores of the group and demonstrates respect for that society or group.

Until the Vatican drafts a Fashion Police Force, we as the layity can lead by example, teach our children and families to dress appropriately and why, and use any leadership roles (RCIA, CCD Instructors, women's groups) to teach our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Barring that, all that's left is to offer them the Peace of Christ.

Anonymous said...

Here's an unexpected risk of modest dressing: I lived for a while in a forest in AFrica, as a new bride, and worked in town at a hospital. I only had one outfit nice enough to wear to town: a navy blue jumper and a white blouse. Well, BEING a new bride I soon started to show a new bump. As I got more and more pregnant I got stranger and stranger looks.

Finally I realized the problem: from my clothing everyone assumed I was a nun!

So deinfitely, watch out for those books and their covers. Who knew I would cause a scandal because I was TOO covered up?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your humorous and insightful posts, Sister Mary Martha! They are so much fun to read.

On the topic of modest dress, what do you think about shoes? I am a Eucharistic Minister, and we are required to not only abide by a modest dress code, but also wear only closed-toed shoes. Of course I abide by these rules at mass, but outside of church, am I sinning if I wear sandals? I ask this also because I am considering entering religious life, and I know it is customary for sisters to wear closed-toed shoes, too. When did this tradition begin?

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

"Finally I realized the problem: from my clothing everyone assumed I was a nun!"

You don't have to live in Africa to have this problem. Here in the US if your outfit is dowdy and you wear a crucifix, you probably look like most nuns. :)

Andrew Cruze said...
This comment has been removed by the author.