Defining the moral problem of fashion and its solutions
If it is not that the problem of fashion constitutes reconciling the person’s external ornament with the internal ornament of “a tranquil and modest spirit” in an equilibrium of harmony. But an internal moral problem truly exists around such an external, contingent, and relative fact, if some are asking themselves, ‘What is fashion?’And if this is granted, in what terms is the problem going to be posed, and with what principles should it be resolved?
There is not a cause to deplore at length the insistence of not a few of our contemporaries to force a removal of moral dominion over the exterior activities of Man, as if they belonged to another universe, and as if Man himself were not the subject, the end, and therefore, the responsible person, before the Supreme Ordainer of all things. It is very true that fashion (like art, science, politics, and similar activities that are called “profane”) has its own norms for achieving an immediate end for which it has been appointed; always and invariably their subject is Man, who cannot set aside those activities from turning toward the ultimate and supreme End, to which he himself is ordered totally and essentially. So the moral problem of fashion does exist, not only insofar as it is a generic human activity, but more specifically in how much it is expressed in a common field, or one very close to evident moral values, and even more, in how much fashion’s purposes, honest in themselves, are more open to being confused with the crooked inclinations of human nature, fallen through original sin, and transmuted into an occasion of sin and of scandal. Such a propensity of corrupt nature to abuse fashion not infrequently led ecclesiastical tradition to treat it with suspicion and severe judgments, expressed with lively firmness by distinguished sacred orators and zealous missionaries and even by the “bonfire of the vanities,” which were reckoned among the people as efficacious eloquence, in conformity with the customs and austerity of those times. By such manifestations of severity, which at the foundation showed the Church’s maternal solicitude for the good of souls and the moral values of civilization, however, it is not licit to argue that Christianity demands an almost absolute abjuration of the cultivation or care of the physical person, or its external dignity. Anyone concluding this in this sense would demonstrate himself to have forgotten how the Apostle of the Gentiles wrote, “The women should adorn themselves — in decent clothing, with self-control and modesty.” (1 Tim. 2:9)