When we hear the word modesty, we tend to imagine a woman clothed in long dresses or slacks and a blouse covering her arms and chest. Our oldest daughter, Felicity, picked up on this concept at a young age. By the time she was four, she’d often whisper to me when we were out in public, “Mom, that lady isn’t dressed modestly – I can see her belly” or “Mom, that lady’s shorts are too short.” She knew, based on this concept, what was appropriate and inappropriate by how comfortable or uncomfortable she felt seeing someone’s attire.
Modesty is often stressed for girls and is viewed as a “feminine” virtue. In reality, there are at least five hallmarks of modesty that can aid all of us.
This is the most obvious aspect of modesty, as explained above, but there are still some facts about whether your choice of clothing is modest or immodest that may surprise you. Clothing isn’t just modest as long as it covers your body; it’s also about the type of clothing you wear.
Fr. Chad Ripperger has a series of short homilies on the subject of modesty (which you can find on his website, sentrad.org or on YouTube), and he explains that you shouldn’t wear anything that draws attention to your appearance. This is true on both ends of the spectrum — wearing something too flamboyant or something too plain.
There are some Catholics (whom he affectionately calls “Catholic Amish”) who believe that modesty means wearing long, unadorned dresses with absolutely no jewelry or makeup. On the contrary, Fr. Ripperger says this is actually immodest, because it draws attention to yourself.
His advice? Dress according to your state in life. For example, if you are a carpenter, wear jeans and work boots. If you are a financier, wear business suits. If you are a teacher, wear cardigans and nice slacks.
Appearance and Accessories
Some of us go overboard when it comes to how we adorn our bodies, too. We all know men and women who wear flashy jewelry, too much makeup, or perhaps are even obsessed with tattoos or body jewlery. Fr. Ripperger says that these are also examples of immodesty.
If we return to the guideline of dressing according to our state in life, then we will opt for tasteful accessories, rather than loud hairstyles or colors or odd piercings and excessive makeup. Modesty, however, doesn’t mean always having a bare face and never enjoying your favorite piece of jewelry with a nice outfit.
Again, our appearance should match our state in life. The key is to put prudent thought into our overall presentation to the world. For women, tasteful makeup and accessories are perfectly modest when paired with clothing that is elegant, comfortable, and flattering. For men, a nice watch or cuff links are fine to complete a business outfit. But when we become obsessed with lipstick, watches, and blush — or piercing every orifice on our face, we’ve crossed the line into immodesty. Respect your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and take care of yourself without focusing too much on yourself (which is vanity).
Respect of Clergy
You might believe that negative speech against your pastor is the sin of gossip (and it is), but there’s more — it’s also immodest. Fr. Ripperger explains that respect of clergy (whether or not you agree with or like them) is a crucial component to the virtue of modesty. Extend that to every conversation you have about someone else, and you will notice that gossiping and immodesty go hand in hand.
Instead of badmouthing a priest or bishop (or even the pope) to someone else, say a silent pray for him. Then you will be exhibiting modesty of speech.
Do you tell crude jokes or laugh when someone else does? If so, you’re speaking immodestly. Decorum, or how you carry yourself, is fundamental to modesty. Speaking loudly (especially in the sanctuary at Mass or other sacred places), snorting, belching, and foul language are other examples of lack of decorum.
Carry yourself with dignity and poise wherever you go. That’s not to say you can’t let loose and share a hearty laugh with your family or friends. It just means to be cautious about what you say and guard your speech. In fact, Fr. Ripperger believes that a truly modest person seldom speaks at all but rather listens far more than contributing to verbal conversation.
Ultimately, modesty is closely related to the virtue of humility. When we are humble, we don’t care if our hair is perfectly coiffed or makeup conceals our natural beauty. We have no desire to speak ill about our ordained priests (or anyone else), and we don’t participate in conversation that violates the virtue of chastity.
If we desire to grow in modesty, we have to pray for humility of heart. We have to stop drawing attention to ourselves and be content with a more hidden life, a life without pretension or vanity. Begin today by asking God for the virtue of humility, and you will gradually notice you are drawn to a modest lifestyle, too.