Modesty Is More Than What We Wear

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.

Clothing

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.

Decorum

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.

Humility

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.

By

Jeannie Ewing believes the world ignores and rejects the value of the Cross. She writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief.  As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters and is the author of From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore , and Waiting with Purpose.  Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines.   She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website jeannieewing.com.

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  • Pax

    I have yet to see, in most anything, an actual definition of modesty that can be used to get from the definition to many of the things people say modesty is or requires.
    What is the core of modesty and how does it relate to humility and love?

  • haubrock

    I think it is interesting that a woman who has taught her 4 year old daughter to judge other women based on the way they are dressed is writing an article on modesty. There is a standard, however my standard is not necessarily another’s standard. This becomes a subjective sticky wicket when the more orthodox among us would prefer it to be black or white.

    Many of our fellow citizens could care less about their how they carry themselves, who they mock or their appearance. For them, life is not the binary choice of good versus evil. And if we are honest with ourselves, we do not hold ourselves or those closest to us to this very high standard. Compassion, mercy, love, kindness, patience are not just words, they should be a lifestyle of every Christian.

    However, we should be cautious of profaning what is holy and embracing what is false and we also need to remember we are incapable of judging another’s heart fairly and accurately. Matthew 7:1-5 is always a good standard.

    In my life I embrace many non-negotiables. And I want others in the world to embrace these standards because I know empirically their lives will be better for it. However, for many reasons people have difficulty reaching these conclusions on their own. And when they see and hear a pompous windbag spouting off about immorality that just pushes them further away.

    That is where I see the gray in many hard situations. I try really hard to maintain the dignity of the human person when dealing with others whose lifestyle and manners I disagree.

    We can end up being right and winning the argument but we lose the soul.

    Make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ.

    Praying the Litany of Humility can help.

  • Pax

    I think your commentary, while mostly right, is a little lacking in kindness. I do not think the authors intended audience is the ‘unchurched’ but rather those who already are deeply convinced of the value of modesty and she is attempting to reflect on what that value is and how it can be correctly lived for oneself. Also, i think you are misreading the article if you are talking the judgments of the 4 year old in the beginning of the article as something the author is advocating. Instead , they are something she is cautioning against.

  • Debby Rust

    It has ever been so that the subject of modesty is a touchy subject, especially for women. Our Lady of Fatima specifically addressed immodesty as She bemoaned the fact that “many fashions will be introduced that gravely offend my Divine Son”. I would rather imagine that slacks and a nice sweater with appropriate jewelry may seem just fine to most (are they?), but I would have to question whether slacks are appropriate for Holy Mass. Most women wear slacks to Mass. They are blending in, and not attracting the attention of others. But they definitely are attracting the attention of Our Divine Lord in the Holy Eucharist. If we so adorn ourselves so as not to attract attention in and among our peers, BUT errantly believe we are totally fine in dressing like this before the King of Kings, then we have not the first inkling of Who is Present in our Churches.
    Mary-like standards of modesty were once spoken of from the pulpit AND addressed frequently by certain devotees of Our Blessed Mother. In my humble opinion, MOST cannot grasp the concept of modesty in deportment because they fail to model themselves and their interior life after Our Blessed Mother. Dying to vain self daily tends to teach us all we need to know if we LOVE enough to want to be molded by the Immaculate Mother of God.

  • haubrock

    I have read it. In what context do you think it would be helpful to me?

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