Phew. I had a hay-day with my latest reviewing item from The Catholic Company. A few weeks ago I had an intense discussion with a friend about morality, modesty and standards for Catholic dress. The book Dressing with Dignity came up to review, and not having read it, I was excited to select it as my next item from The Catholic Company.
Dressing with Dignity is a Catholic manifesto stressing the importance and theological basis for Catholic female dress. Although the back of the book quotes, "Given the circulation it deserves, Dressing with Dignity has the potential to rout the fashion world's penchant for giving women little choice of chic yet modest attire...," the target audience for this book is solely orthodox Catholic women. As much as I would love a wider audience to read about modesty and virtue, let's be honest, how many readers are you going to lose when the author explains that you will go to Hell for all eternity if you have a mortal sin from the repercussions from immodest dress?
The big bomb shell of Dressing with Dignity is this: As a female, dressing modestly doesn't mean keeping improper body parts covered and looking generally presentable at all times. On the contrary, the author claims that pants worn by females is immodest. The author spends the entire book defending why skirts and dresses are the only modest clothing in the eyes of the Church.
The book does have great quotes from past Popes, Saints, and philosophers such as Alice von Hildebrand and Padre Pio. The quotes are insightful and definitely are cause for reflection. Anyone today, Catholic or Protestant, Christian, Jew, Atheist, etc. would probably argue that many women dress disrespectfully for themselves and those around them. The author also stresses the importance of femininity; looking and behaving presentable so as to honor yourself and the family. I couldn't agree more and was further convicted that appearances, while not stressing them, do give impressions to others, and that it is important to present yourself in the way you want to perceived.
Where the book starts to get fuzzy for me are the arguments for women to wear skirts or dresses, and that all forms of pants are immodest, or even a skirt with any form of a slit. The author has some compelling testimony from Padre Pio and past Popes, but at the same time, the bottom line is there isn't, nor will there ever be specific standards for dress dictated from the Church.
Also, the author leaves out practical uses for wearing pants, capris or shorts. What about exercise, riding a bike, pulling weeds from the garden? What about moms who are always on the floor playing with children and changing diapers and find that skirts are often too binding or revealing? What about in places like Minnesota where it can get so stinking cold that leaving the house with a skirt would be crazy?
The author has an extensive appendix in the back of the book with resources to find modest dress. As someone who generally wears skirts more frequently than pants, I was very open to exploring the websites the author suggested. The list of websites leaves much to be desired. First, many of the websites are broken, and one address led me to a website with provocatively posed women--not what you want in a modesty book!
The biggest problem I have with this book is the fashion standard the author has, as evidenced by the websites presented in the appendix. The dresses are old-fashioned. I would label many as "Pioneer" or "Prairie" style, and am convinced that I would draw much more unwanted attention wearing such dated clothes than a simple pair of khakis pants.
I don't want to slam this book, because I believe the message is a good one, it's just extreme. I'm finding that the older I get the more comfortable I am in skirts anyway, so maybe someday I'll make the plunge. I think Dressing with Dignity definitely deserves reading and reflection, just with a grain of salt.