The True Seriousness of Modesty in Dress

I found this quote earlier this week, in The Casuist, Volume IV (1912). The article is “V: Scandal by Immodesty in Dress.” It exposes pretty starkly the difference between Catholicism and Islam, and I wish I’d had it to hand during all the pants and headgear controversies of the early 2000’s.

Immodesty in dress, at least off the stage or outside of masked balls,* will hardly ever amount to more than a venial sin. The custom of the country must be considered. Physical charm is more alluring than dress, and yet no one is obliged to destroy their beauty because others take scandal at it.”

There you go. Venial sin.

Now, of course it’s good to avoid venial sins too!

But yes, while other Catholic manuals of the time spend a great deal of time preaching against “immodesty of looks” (ie, staring or leering), they don’t spend nearly as much time and energy on immodesty of dress. (Given the loquacity of the time, I was amused to find one 1890’s French Catholic homily book keeping it down to a couple of strong sentences. It was almost like the priest was saying, “Ladies, let’s not send any men to hell. Next subject!”)

* “on stage”: Immodest costumes were well-lit and provided a bad example for hundreds at once. It may also be a reference to burlesque shows, fan-dancing strippers, etc., which were more widely available than porn under the laws of 1912.

“masked balls”: They could be totally okay, but were often used as an excuse for groping and sexual invitations in pre-modern times. See, costumes meant there was a lack of easy identification and accountability. So a man or woman who wore an immodest outfit to a masked ball back then was pretty much advertising himself/herself as interested in sexual hookups.

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