Modesty in Dress II: Women’s clothing

Last week I began writing about modesty in dress, but I put off the controversial subject of women’s clothing until this week.

Once we start talking about different clothing for men and women we need to see that there really is a different standard. Some people might complain about the ‘double standard’, one standard for men and another for women, but there is actually a good reason for a different standard.

In my opening essay on this subject I observed that while men tend to be more physically aggressive, women tend to be more visually aggressive. So a man needs to moderate his swagger, but a woman needs to moderate her visual appearance, her visual swagger. This moderation of a woman’s physical appearance has to do with more than avoiding the ‘sexy’ appearance, it means not calling undue attention to oneself.

Now there is a big difference between beautiful and sexy. There is nothing wrong with a woman displaying her beauty, but she should normally not do so in a way that shouts out, as it were, “Hey, look at me, look at how beautiful I am.” If it is not modest to go around shouting about oneself all the time, why then would ‘loud’ clothing be considered acceptable. Of course that goes for men as well.

Again and again we need to remind ourselves that our clothing is not just about ‘me’ but even more is about how I respect others.

Finally, though, we have to come to the most sensitive issue: moral protection and sexuality. To put the matter most simply, women are more vulnerable sexually. There is no way around it. On the other hand, men are more easily provoked sexually.

That means that any healthy culture (and clothing is part of culture) requires a delicate balance in order to protect women’s sexual vulnerability, while restraining men’s sexual appetite. We hear a lot today about ‘toxic masculinity’ but this way of restraining men, which basically tells them that masculinity is bad, is one-sided and counter-productive. When the balance between protecting women and restraining men gets out of control – and in our contemporary culture (if it could rightly be called ‘culture’) it has been systematically destroyed – women are the first ones to get hurt. The incidence of single motherhood is one sign of the widespread contemporary hurt. The #metoo movement is another sign.

Sometimes a woman will try to justify her sexy clothing by saying, “Why should I be to blame if he can’t control himself?” Well, no, you are not to blame for his lack of self-control, but how about respecting both your own vulnerability and his weakness?

Women actually have a great deal of power by the way they dress, power that can be used for good or for ill.

A few years ago there was a video that went viral on the Internet, meant to show what women have to put up with. The video was of a woman walking through the streets of New York City and the catcalls she was getting from the men along the way. The claim was that there was nothing risqué or provocative about the way the woman was dressed. No, she was not showing a lot of skin, she wasn’t wearing short shorts or a miniskirt. She was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt that displayed her shapely body. The casualness of her clothing sent a message. She was displaying herself, but seems to have been unaware as to how she was doing so. I think that a woman dressed in a more lady-like fashion would have fared differently and the reactions of the men along the route would have been a bit different. She would have been more likely to elicit gentlemanly reactions.  

It is also important for parents to train their children to dress properly long while they are still in the years of innocence. The current sexualization of young girls is all together disgraceful. Some years ago, in another parish in another state, I was a bit amazed when a mother dropped off her 3rd grade girl for altar server practice; the girl was wearing short shorts with the word ‘hottie’ across the rear end. The girl, to say the least, was not learning a very good lesson about herself and an appropriate way to dress, even in the heat of the summer.

Having written about women’s clothing, let me conclude with some remarks made during an interview and directed towards men by Sam Guzman author of “The Catholic Gentleman”.

“I fundamentally disagree with the adage, ‘Clothes make the man.’ I would reverse that to say, ‘The man makes the clothes.’ The reason I often use imagery of sharply dressed men is for the same reason I use almost exclusively vintage photos.

Men have culturally lost their way, and sometimes the only way to find your way forward is to look back. Fundamentally, dressing well has nothing to do with being a good man. And yet, our clothes, like our body language, are a form of communication. Like it or not, they say something. You go to the store now and it is not uncommon to see people shopping in fuzzy slippers and pajama pants. Because of the extent to which our culture has lost any and all moorings, dressing with dignity can represent a code of conduct, a higher standard. It’s a call back to respect for yourself and respect for others.” (



Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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