Can You De-Code the Dress Code?

Several weeks ago at church, I noticed a group of high-schoolers who were getting ready for their Confirmation and were therefore waiting in line for Confession. What had me troubled was that many of the girls had on the “Soffe” shorts–the jersey knit gym shorts with the one-inch inseam. A couple of the girls actually wore these shorts with the waistband rolled down to make them even skimpier. As short as they were, they could now easily be compared to bathing suit bottoms. I wondered if their parents or their teachers had taken the time to let them know what appropriate clothing was for the sacrament of Confession.

I do not believe I am alone in my musings. Many parents today comment on the lack of modesty in the dress of our youth – especially to church. Of course the grandparents are just aghast at the total lack of respect in dress and decorum shown by most of our youth today. In pondering why we are in this plight, I realized it is a general lack of instruction on what is acceptable and what isn’t, combined with a reluctance to upset the apple cart – in other words, to just say no.

1. What positive steps do we take to control this behavior?

Recently a father told me that he liked some modest dress options he had seen, but was wondering if his 14-year-old daughter would like them as well and be willing to wear them to church. Seriously!?

Call me old-fashioned, but as a mother of an almost 14-year-old, I believe it is my right and duty to have the power to make decisions about what my daughter wears – to church or anywhere else, for that matter. Mind you, I do not always hear, “Oh, Mum, you’re right, why didn’t I think of that?” More often, I get “But everyone else wears this” or “Other parents don’t have a problem with their kids wearing this.” Not that that helps change my perspective; I just have to remind her that I am not “everyone’s” mother. So all you parents who indulge your kids and give in to their inappropriate choices, please realize that you are inadvertently setting a standard. Once I am not contributing financially to my daughter’s living expenses, I will not be able to have a say in what she wears; but hopefully by then it will not be necessary. If my teachings haven’t worked, at least I can rest assured that I have done all I could. Until that time, I plan on executing my God-given rights as a parent. Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

2. Do we educate our kids and model how to dress appropriately for different events?

How much value do we place on our children’s physical appearance? Is that the first attribute we discuss when describing them to others? Do we teach them that they present who they are – not what they look like  – for approval? Do we teach our kids to categorize their clothes and help them understand that what may be appropriate for the beach is not necessarily so for church? Do we have set standards and expectations of what is considered modest and appropriate? Do we use well-worn excuses – pardon the pun – to justify our own lack of appropriate dress? Some of us dress very well for business and other occasions. We actually decide what we will be wearing to an event in advance! But when it comes to church, we give our dress no thought because it’s one day we don’t have to dress up. Shouldn’t it be the one day we do dress up, because we are preparing for a special meeting with our Creator – on the most important day of the week? And shouldn’t we be modeling this for our kids?

3. Do we provide them with options of clothing that are appropriate for church? Do they lack church clothes?

A friend recounted that his daughter was so stressed about visiting a potential high school because she wanted to make “the right impression.” Even though she would be visiting in her school uniform, they bought a lightweight “North Face” athletic jacket (which cost $200) for the visit!

Let’s take an inventory of how much we spend or allow our kids to spend on their branded wear. Nike or Converse trainers, $100 – $200; Abercrombie tees and tanks, $20 and up; Vera Bradley purses, $21 – $75; UGG boots, $135 – $250.

Are we reluctant to spend the money to dress our kids well… or are we just reluctant to spend the money to dress our kids well for church?

I challenge parents to quit griping about “society” and doing nothing to change the status quo. We are society, and we can institute change. It all starts in our own homes with our own families.

Marisa Pereira


Marisa Pereira is a mother, fashion designer, currently runs a Design and Image Consulting business in Atlanta, GA, is a freelance writer and volunteers at her church and in the community. She holds a BA in Fashion Design and a BA in French with a minor in Psychology and has worked in the Fashion Industry for over twenty years. Frustrated at her inability to find appropriate church clothes for her 14 year old daughter, she heeded God’s call, and created the stylish but modest, Michaela-Noel clothing collection, now available on-line. Having lived in multiple countries, she is acutely aware of the emphasis cultures place on visual appeal. She analyzes the importance of presenting the best image of ourselves and passionately insists that it starts within. She regularly addresses adult and youth audiences – encouraging and teaching them to make a memorable first impact but more importantly - to create a lasting impression. Her websites are: and

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  • sevknorr

    thank you for your timely article!
    I am so impressed with your clothing line!
    modest, cute, trendy and a bit romantic-
    i know my college age daughter will love it.
    i am sending her the link now

  • My parish is very close to a beach and I can’t tell you how many people come to Mass wearing their bathing suits. I know there are so many that say “well at least they are there”. I understand that but it’s not those who don’t have “church clothes” it just that they cover more skin going to Applebee’s than they do for Mass??

    I’m a big fan of modesty!

  • patti

    I think the article is excellent and I agree with it with just a cautionary point. When you mentioned the father wondering if his daughter would wear the modest dress choices he had been shown, you said “Seriously?!” Now if the father had said he was not sure if his daughter was willing to dress modestly, then I’d be all for that response and would have added a few more exclamation points. However, if it’s a matter of he wasn’t sure his daughter would wear those styles (that was my impression according to how it was written) our kids do need to be allowed some leeway. And maybe I just misunderstood that statement.

    My girls know there will be no cleavage. They’ve also been told dresses are too short and they won’t be wearing them without pants underneath. The girls have jobs and often buy their own clothing but modesty is expected regardless of who pays for them.

    Once the standard is set we need to let them do their thing within those limits. Thus far, my girls usually choose modest clothing. They are still in high school and I hope it stays this way. Unfortunately, I have some good friends who set strong standards and their girls have grown up now dressing very immodestly with some body piercings and tatoos thrown in. So, we can do our best and entrust our children to God and then pray it sticks.

  • Well said, Marisa. We need these reminders quite often. It’s been some years since an article on modest dressing was published here.

    Often the focus of modest dressing is on the girls. Guys too need to learn how to dress modestly, especially those who wear their pants below or at their buttocks and expose their crack.

    Besides dresses, I think modest dressing should also include accessories worn. I would think that cross ear studs and anklets can be included as non-modest – probably blasphemous?

    Reminds me of an occasion when my sister was taking her 10 year old daughter to a Ke$sha concert. My niece wrapped a rosary around her wrist to use as a bracelet. My sister ticked her off by telling her that the rosary wasn’t a fashion statement.

  • mpereira

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. It is up to us, so spread the “Stylish but Modest” movement and like us on facebook as well. “Michaela-Noel”. The clothing link is

    Patti, I appreciate your point. My take is that kids often do not like something and it is my duty as a parent to encourage them to make some choices that they don’t quite like. (such is life) Hopefully one day they will gravitate to it since they are now familiar with the concept.
    jamespereira, interestingly, I have a brother James as well and had some people ask if he had posted because it didn’t sound like him…
    If we disect all the categories, there is so much to approve and disapprove of isn’t it?…

  • dusek04

    @jamespereira, how are anklets blasphemous? I’ve never heard that.


  • @dusek04, I was referring to anklets with crucifix or crosses. Well at least it disrespectful.

  • christymomof3

    Ke$ha for a 10-year-old? I guess your sister is unaware of the lyrics. I battled my son for a year or so over Ke$ha and Lady Gaga before he finally decided to stick with music with no lyrics. The beat can be irritating, but at least it does not celebrate rebellion.

  • kaylancor

    Wonderful article, though I would seriously doubt many Catholic families (who often have more than one child, maybe like 4 or 5+) would not be spending $100-$200 on one item of clothing!

  • kaylancor

    christymomof3: You might want to check out the local Christian channels (for music) as I’ve discovered the music is really modern now.. not like it was when I was younger. I was impressed with the music by the Christian artists today. Very pop-like but with good messages. KLOVE channel, I believe has a list of some of the popular artists.

  • kaylancor

    I also think it should be noted that parents need to set an example. Too often I’ve seen ladies at Mass wearing very low-cut tops that emphasize their chest area and honestly, that really isn’t appropriate. It sets a very bad example to the girls who will also think that is the norm. I know anyone who has shopped at the local dept store can verify how hard it is to find modest attire for girls today. But keep looking, you can find them if you search or layer items if necessary. Many girls tops are scoopneck or lower and that is just so wrong. Or there are words on their bottom, which again… just makes people look at their rear. Honestly. Who is designing these outfits! Talk about perv!

  • tansdb

    I am so happy to have read this article. As a catholic priest I find difficult at times to speak about the dress code to young boys and girls. Good initiative such this are very very praiseworthy. My dear parents for christ sake….kindly do train your children in this regard. We are going to the church to see and adore the Lord. Let us not attract or tempt the people by our dressing. Let it be modet. Wish you all the best. May God bless you.