Catholics are very much checklist sort of people.
Ten Commandments? Check.
Sunday Mass? Check.
So it would make sense that in wanting to live virtuous lives, Catholics would also want some guidelines. The Catechism and the lives of the saints are excellent sources on how to live virtuously. But what about modesty? Does the Church provide any guidelines for living and dressing modestly? Unfortunately, the answer is not really. Not even the lives of saints can provide an example of modest dress as trends ebb and flow by the year – unless you’re willing to dress in an 18th Century floor length gown. Even though there are no real Catholic modesty guidelines – and there’s a very good reason for this – there are some recommendations that have been made based on the Catechism, Scripture, and reason.
Catholic Modesty Guidelines Are More Than A Checklist
Modesty is more than simply following a dress code. Although dress is one of the physical aspects of living modestly, there’s more to this wonderful virtue. Modesty is a whole way of life and must come from the heart. It’s not just about the body, but the soul, mind, and heart as well.
In Peter’s First Epistle, he tells us that our beauty must lie in our hearts, not our outward appearances (1 Peter 3:3-5). This is why it’s not about how we look or the clothes we wear, but rather what is in our hearts. Furthermore, it’s an attitude and includes our actions, thoughts of ourselves and others, and speech. Even if you’re covered head to toe, you’re still falling short of living modestly if you’re making crude jokes, sexually explicit speech and gestures, and have impure thoughts.
It’s About Common Sense
Although there are no set rules for modesty, we can figure out what we should or shouldn’t wear through common sense. Part of dressing modestly is treating our bodies with respect by not wearing revealing clothing. This includes showing cleavage, having high hemlines, or wearing tight clothing.
How tight is too tight? For jeans and pants, excluding athletic wear, if you can’t pull at least an inch of fabric away from your legs, they’re too tight. For athletic wear, as long as you wear the right top that prevents the backside from being emphasized, you’re dressing modestly.
However, if you’re unsure, there’s a tinge of guilt, or you’re slightly uncomfortable, chances are you should choose clothing that is more modest.
Some Quick Recommendations
1. Dresses, Skirts, Shorts Length: should come to the knee. But be aware of the length when you sit down and how high the hem has risen. If the hemline is too high, but you like the dress or skirt, you can always add pants or capris leggings underneath.
2. Low-Cut Shirts and Dresses: necklines should not be below four fingers from the collarbone. Shirts should not draw attention to the bust, but rather the face.
3. Pants: should not be tight enough to see any panty lines. You should be able to pull at least an inch of fabric away from the thigh, regardless of fabric stretch.
4. Thoughts, Actions, and Speech: should always reflect modesty. This means you should not partake in crude jokes or sexually explicit speech. Furthermore, living modestly means living chastely.