Part 1B of Pope Pius XII’s Allocution to the “Latin High Fashion Union”.

Even as the origin and purpose of clothing is clear, so is the natural exigency of Modesty, understood both in the broadest significance — which also includes due consideration for the sensibility of others toward objects that are repugnant to the view — and above all, as a protection for moral character, and an avoidance of disordered sensuality. The singular opinion which attributes a sense of modesty to the relativity of this or that education — which, indeed considers it almost as a conceptual deformation of an innocent reality, a false product of civility, and even a spur to bad character and a wellspring of hypocrisy — is not supported by any serious reason; on the contrary, it meets an explicit condemnation in the supervening repugnance toward those people who, at times, have dared to adopt it as a system of life, confirming in this manner the rectitude of common sense, manifested in universal customs. Modesty — paying attention to its strictly moral meaning whatever its origin — is founded on the innate and more or less conscious tendency of each person to defend one’s own physical wellbeing against the indiscriminate greediness of another — which with a prudent choice of circumstances, is akin to reserving it for the Creator’s wise purposes, uniformed by Him with the mail hauberk of chastity and modesty. This latter virtue, bashfulness, has the synonym “modesty,” from the Latin “modus,” measure or limit; which perhaps expresses better its function of governing and mastering the passions, particularly the sensual ones — and it is the natural bulwark and strong outer wall of chastity, since it moderates the acts proximately connected to the particular object of chastity. As his guard is raised, Modesty makes the human feel her warning, even before he acquires the use of reason, and even before he first learns the notion of chastity and its object; and [Modesty] accompanies him throughout his entire life, requiring that certain acts, decent in themselves, are protected by the discreet veil of shadow and the reserve of silence, as if to reconcile them with the respect due to the dignity of their grand purpose — because they are divinely willed.

Therefore, it is just that Modesty, as if it is the repository of such precious goods, should claim for itself a prevalent authority over any other tendency or caprice, and should preside over the determination of styles of dress.

And here is the third final purpose of clothing, from which fashion most directly draws its origin, and which answers that innate exigency felt most by Woman — to emphasize the beauty and dignity of the human person by the exact same methods that provide satisfaction to the other two [purposes]. To avoid restricting the amplitude of this third exigency to physical beauty alone; and even more to remove a desire for seduction from the phenomenon of fashion, as its first and only cause; the term “elegance” is preferable to that of “adornment.” An inclination to elegant decorum of person manifestly proceeds from Nature, and is therefore lawful.

Leaving aside a recourse to clothing in order to conceal physical imperfections, Youth asks clothing for that accentuation of their glow which sings the happy melody of life’s springtime, and in harmony with the dictates of Modesty, makes it easier to start the psychology necessary for the formation of a new family. Meanwhile, Maturity means to obtain an aura of dignity, seriousness, and serene happiness from appropriate clothing. In any case in which one so aims to accentuate the moral beauty of the human person, the form of dress will be such as to almost eclipse what is physical by an austere shadow of concealment, to turn the attention of the senses away and concentrate in its place on the reflection of the spirit.

Considered from this broader side, clothing has its own multiform language — and it is efficacious, sometimes spontaneous, and therefore faithfully interprets feelings and customs — and at other times, it is conventional and artificial, and as a consequence is scarcely sincere. In any manner, it is given to clothing to express joy and grief, authority and power, pride and simplicity, riches and poverty, the sacred and the profane. The concreteness of its expressive forms depends on the traditions and culture of this people or that; when they change more slowly, the institutions, characters and feelings that those shapes interpret are more stable.

Fashion pays attention expressly to give emphasis to physical beauty — it is an ancient art of uncertain origins, a complex mix of psychological and social factors, that is here; and which in the present has attained an indisputable importance in public life, both as an aesthetic expression of custom, and as a desire of the public and a convergence of relevant economic interests. From well-founded observation of the phenomenon, it seems that fashion is not just a bizarrerie of forms, but a meeting point of diverse psychological and moral factors such as the taste for beauty, the thirst for newness, the affirmation of personality, and the intolerance of boredom, no less than luxury, ambition, and vanity. However, fashion is elegance conditioned toward continuous mutation, in such a way that its own instability becomes its most evident identification mark. The reason for its perpetual change — slower in fundamental lines, most rapid in secondary variations, arriving seasonally — always gives insight to the anxiety of surpassing the past, aided by the frenetic disposition of the contemporary age, which has a tremendous power to burn through everything destined to satisfy the imagination and the senses, in a short time. It is understandable that new generations reaching out for their own future, having dreamed of different and better things than what belonged to their parents, feel a need to break loose from not only their forms of dress, but from the objects and furnishings which most clearly remind them of a kind of life that they want to surpass. But the extreme instability of present-day fashion is determined over all by the will of its designers and influencers, who have, on their side, methods unknown in the past: such as the enormous and varied textile industry, the inventive fertility of modistes, the ease of media information and launches through the press and movies and television and exhibitions and fashion shows. The rapidity of change is also favored by a sort of silent race (really not new) among the “elites” who are eager to assert their own personality with original styles of clothing, and the public, which immediately gloms onto them through copies that are more or less good. Nor should one neglect the other subtle and decadent motive – the care of the modistes — who rely on drawing away attention from others in order to ensure the success of their own creations, and who are aware of the effect caused by continually provoking a renewed surprise and caprice.

Another characteristic of today’s fashion is that, while remaining principally an aesthetic matter, it also has assumed the properties of an economic element of major proportions. The few old tailors of haute couture, who dictated the laws of elegance without a challenge in the world of European culture, from this or that metropolis, have been replaced by numerous organizations with powerful financial means, who, to shape the taste of whole populations while satisfying clothing needs, stimulate their desires, in order to build ever larger markets. The causes of this transformation are found, on the one hand, in the so-called “democratization” of fashion, by which an ever greater number of individuals are subjected to the spell of elegance; on the other hand, it is found in technical progress, which allows the mass production by fashion designers of so-called “confections” that would otherwise be costly, but are now made easily purchasable at stores. In this way there arose the world of fashion, which includes artists and artisans, industrialists and retail workers, editors and critics, and an entire class of lowly laborers as well, who all make their livings from fashion.

Yep, this is really long. There’s about three more paragraphs before we get through Part One! Also, I think my head will explode if he says “psychological” again….

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Filed under Church, Dress code, Translations

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