I hope you can forgive me for bringing the subject up again when The Discourse appears to have died down on the subject, but part of the reason for it was that I wanted to mull over a few things because a lot of the discourse is an endless repetition of the same themes. But, as I’m now in my 30s, I see the question of modesty differently than it was in the previous decades. There are still things that annoy me about the approach of Christians across the board, mainly three.
a) The double standard in making modesty about women protecting men from their own sin when a lot of what men wear is immodest too (a voice that is absent from this conversation is faithful Christians with same-sex attraction, have you noticed?)
b) How it seems to be based on a white, average-body-size, middle-class body and conveniently gliss over not only cultural differences across countries (which are reflected in immigrant communities too) but also the aspects of modesty to do with not flaunting wealth.
c) The “modest is hottest” conversation. I’m not advocating for frumpiness, if I had any power I’d bring back the evening dresses for any social occasion after 6pm (even in your own home). I love elegance and for a long time felt like I didn’t really fit in with the stereotypical Catholic look. My husband was perplexed when I was on the phone with him while trying to find the coach for Walsingham a few years ago and I said I found someone who looked like he was Catholic from the way he was dressed, but I’m sure a lot of you know what I’m talking about.
I have dressed like a stereotypical Indie Kid since about the age of 17. My driving license still bears witness that I even had the standard requirement fringe. Think Zoe Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, and that’s a good indication of my wardrobe. I have always had well-shaped legs (I even posed for a painter studying them), so I do like short dresses, skirts, and shorts a bit too much for the approval of the Catholic Modesty Police, but I always try to keep it not too revealing because I’m not young anymore and I’m married, which makes me feel even more grown-up. I never ask the question is it too short, but rather “Does this make me look like someone to ID in a bar?”.
I dress in a very London way, and I have done it since before moving here. I talked about our dreams of London in the Milan scene many times before. One reason why I started dressing this way was that I could wear something that flatters my hourglass shape and find sizes that would go over my extensive hip bone when Italian brands were, not only not to my taste, but also always too small (even my mother who is really petite and lost a lot of weight with cancer has a few XL clothes…). I guess in a way the two things influenced each other. I looked at the kind of women like me, the beauty standard of the 50s, and they wore the same stuff as the girls at the Junkclub in Southend-on-Sea, one of the beating hearts of the indie scene before 2010. They were beautiful and I wanted to look like that. I didn’t have the same confidence wearing the stuff everyone else wore, and so I just gave up trying to fit in. To this day, I have an older style than my own mother who is almost 30 years older than me.
This is one of the reasons why I am taking a different look at the question of modesty. None of what my mother wears is immodest, but it’s really young. In a way, it sends the message that growing old is not OK, which I think is quite prevalent in Italian culture. I don’t mean to dunk on my mother, I think she just buys stuff she can afford to buy from what is available around her. It’s a general trend, I rarely find stuff I like if I visit there, unless it’s vintage or H&M (I have a few Conscious Collection pieces, but that’s a topic for another day). People still buy brands with big logos a lot, which is something I’ve never really liked. If I spend a significant amount of money on something it has to be for the quality and an ethical production chain. I have a lot of designer clothes that you wouldn’t guess they are such unless you are familiar with the brand. And anyway, I have had a spending ban enforced for years now, so my wardrobe has been pretty stable.
This thing about brands and flaunting wealth is the bigger thing about modesty for me. I also dress in a way flattering for my body type and the occasion. I refuse to wear a tent that makes me look like a whale on a beach because I have wide hips, but I also refuse to let that stop me from wearing an a-line dress with a full skirt because of how it sits on them. I apply moderation in the way I mix and match items, from different patterns to what parts of the body are on show, and always keep it appropriate to the time and place. I’m not covering in a beer garden the way I am covering if I’m in church, even just for the heat alone. And I try to stay appropriate for my age, although in a way I still have what may look like a young look. Some of my clothes I love them so much it’ll be hard to give them up, although I’m aware that it is another form of attachment to a material thing that I should purge myself from. Either way, all my decisions revolve around whether I don’t attract too much attention to myself one way or the other.
I live in London, so modest fashion of various degrees is not something that stands out, but a lack of stylishness and frumpiness do. Uninvited male attention comes regardless of how much you show, and everyone else notices things that stand out for better or for worse. While I love to play with clothes and make-up, I don’t think it’s modest to attract a lot of attention to myself whichever the cause for it, so I stick to dress codes very strictly. No underdressing or overdressing for the occasion. I spent most of the years until 17 trying to hide the fact I had a feminine body and it never worked, so I have long stopped trying to fit with the idea of modesty promoted by the Modesty Police. It ends up like in “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” when Carmen goes to try on the bridesmaid dress and her curvy Latina body makes the choice of allegedly modest and appropriate dress awkward. There is nothing I can do, I just can’t hide it. Still, all Christians are called to modesty in all they do, including clothing, and in this season of my life propriety for the place and occasion is what modesty means to me.