Category Archives: Dress code

Medieval Bodice Lines

Shadiversity has an interesting non-work safe video on medieval sex. (It’s not racy… it’s just not a safe topic for your work computer. They speak frankly.) Generally a good video, although it seems to have some strange ideas about the practices of medieval Catholicism. Just because it’s in a reference book, that doesn’t mean somebody was asking every question. (Outside of things like general confessions for somebody’s entire lives… and even then!)

Anyway, reenactor/researcher Rosalie Gilbert points out that, during her 13th century period, one could show quite a lot of decolletage in dresses, even though hair and sleeves were covered.

Here’s the rule, straight from a queen:

“A decent woman doesn’t have a dress cut lower than her armpit.”

Depending on the positioning of one’s bust, that could be fairly low!

Of course, this was a time when the preferred young lady bosom was often compared to “apples,” and we’re not talking jumbo apples like we have today. So the low cut may have been a kindly gesture, as it was to the young English stick ladies in the Regency… but also it’s good for older ladies of more bosom to be able to…um… lead fashion. Yeah.

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Part 2B of Pope Pius XII’s Allocution to the “Latin High Fashion Union”

Therefore the Church neither blames nor condemns fashion when it is aimed toward the just dignity and adornment of the body; however, it never fails to put the faithful on guard against a facile misdirection of it.

This positive attitude of the Church derives from motives very much higher than those purely aesthetic or hedonistic ones assumed by a renewed paganism. She [the Church] knows and passes on that the human body, God’s masterpiece in the visible world, at the soul’s service, was elevated by the Divine Redeemer into a Temple and instrument of the Holy Spirit; and must be respected as such. Therefore, its beauty must not be exalted as an end in itself, and even less, so as to demean that acquired dignity.

On this concrete ground, it is undeniable that alongside honest fashion, there is another that is an shameless cause of disturbance in ordered spirits, if not actually an incentive toward evil. It is always difficult to indicate, with universal norms, the boundaries between honesty and immodesty of a hairstyle depend on many factors; however, the so-called relativity of fashion with respect to times, places, persons, and education is not a valid reason to renounce, a priori, a moral judgment on this or that fashion, that at that moment, goes beyond the limits of normal reserve. Almost without being questioned, this immediately averts one from where provocativeness and seduction, the idolatry of material things and luxury, or just frivolousness, are sheltered; and if designers of shameless fashion, or of contraband perversion, are skilled in mixing it into a set of aesthetic elements that are honest in themselves, unfortunately human sensuality is more dextrous at discovering it and quickly feeling its fascination. As said elsewhere, a greater sensibility for being warned of evil’s snare — far from constituting a label of blame for those gifted with it, as if it were a mark of internal depravity — is on the contrary, the countersign of chastity of the soul and vigilance of the passions. But as long as the moral relativity of fashion may be vast and unstable, it always exists as an absolute of salvation, after having listened to conscience’s admonition as a warning of danger: Fashion must never provide a near occasion of sin.

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Part 2A of Pope Pius XII’s Allocution to the Latin High Fashion Union

Part II
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)

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Part 1C of Pope Pius XII’s Allocution to the Latin High Fashion Union

Although an economic factor is this activity’s driving force, the soul is always the “fashion designer” — that is, the one who, with an intelligent choice of fabrics, of colors, of cut and line, and of accessories, gives life to a new expressive fashion design that is appreciated by the general public. It goes without saying how difficult this art is — the fruit of genius and experience, and even more, of a feeling for the taste of the moment. A design which is certain of fortunate success acquires the importance of an invention; it is surrounded by secrecy in preparation for the “launch;” and then when put on sale, it is sold for high prices while the information media give it wide circulation, speaking of it as if it were an event of national interest. The influence of fashion designers is so decisive that even the textile industry is guided by them to plan its own production, both for quality and quantity. Their social influence is equally great, in their part in interpreting public custom. So if fashion has always been the exterior expression of a people’s customs, today it is even more so, rather than when its phenomenon evolved as the fruit of reflection and care.

But the formation of taste and preferences in the people, and the steering of Society itself toward serious or decadent customs does not depend only on fashion designers, but also on all of the complex organization of fashion, and especially on manufacturers and critics in that more refined sectors which has clients from the highest social classes, taking the name of Haute Couture, as if to designate through it the source of the currents which people then follow almost blindly, as if through a magic spell.

At this hour, in the face of so many elevated values being called into question by fashion and sometimes jeopardized — so many that we have enumerated them here with quick hints — there providentially appears a work of people who are prepared both as Christians and in a technical way, who propose thus to contribute to freeing fashion from trends that cannot be commended; of people who look above all to the art of knowing how to dress, whose purpose is indeed (however partially) to accent the beauty of the human body, that masterpiece of divine Creation, in a way that would not be hidden in shadows, but exalted — as it was expressed by the Prince of the Apostles, by”the incorruptible ornament of a tranquil and modest spirit, which is so precious in the eyes of God.” (1 Peter 3:4, Italian translation)

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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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Pope Pius XII’s Speech to the “Unione Latina Alta Moda” (Nov. 8, 1957): Part 1A

Okay, this is from the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Volume 49 (1957), pp. 1011-1020.

It’s quite long, and it’s in Italian. It was never translated officially into Latin or any other languages, as far as I can tell. And I don’t know anything about the “Latin High Fashion Union.” Allocutions are not high on the magisterial totem pole, but it is something from a pope. So let’s take a look at it, especially since random quotes from it tend to appear in modesty discussions.

There seems to be an English translation that comes up on Google Translate, but it is obviously non-literal from the get-go. (If you follow the link and see for yourself, you will see what I mean.) So this is going to be my unofficial translation, but leaning on whoever did the dynamic translation.


Read out to those who were present for the International Convention held in Rome by the Latin High Fashion Union:

With a full heart, I am giving you my paternal welcome, beloved sons and daughters — the promoters and associates of the Latin High Fashion Union who have desired to come into Our presence, to deliver a testimony of your filial devotion; and at the same time, to implore heavenly favors for your Union, placing it from its birth under the auspices of Him to Whose glory every human activity must be directed — even those which are apparently profane [ie, secular], according to the precept of the Apostle of the Gentiles: “Whether you eat, whether you drink, or whether you do any other thing, do it all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:16) With Christian views and intentions, you propose to tackle a problem as delicate as it is complex, in which at all times, unavoidable moral reflections have been the object of attention and anxiety in those people who have a duty in family, in society, and in the Church, and who must act to preserve souls from the snares of corruption, and the whole community from a decadence of morals — the problem, that is, of fashion, especially female fashion.

It is just that Our gratitude, and that of the Church, should respond in the same way to your generous intentions; and with Our fervent wish that your Union, born and inspired by a healthy religious and civil conscience, may attain, through the enlightened self-discipline of fashion designers themselves, the twofold purpose declared in your statutes: to bring good morals to this important sector of public life, and of contributing to elevate fashion, indeed, to an instrument and expression of civility.

Eager to encourage such a laudable enterprise, We willingly agree to your desire that I lay open to you some thoughts — in particular, on the correct approach to the problem, and also indicating some practical suggestions about its moral aspects, designed to assure that the Union has a well-accepted authority in a field so often contested.

I. Some General Aspects of Fashion

Following the counsel of ancient wisdom that points to the final purpose of things, so that the supreme criterion of every theoretical evaluation is the security of moral norms, it will be useful to recall what purposes Man has given for resorting to clothing. Without a doubt, he obeys the three well-known exigencies of Hygiene, Modesty, and Elegance. These are the three needs so deeply rooted in [human] nature that they cannot be disregarded or opposed without provoking repulsion and prejudice. They keep their character of a “need” today, even as yesterday; as they are found in almost every human lineage, so they are recognized in every form in the vast gamut in which clothing’s necessity has been made historically and ethnologically concrete. It is important to notice the tight and coordinated interdependence among the three exigencies, despite them flowing from different wellsprings: one from the physical side, the other from the spiritual, and the third from the psycho-artistic complex.

The exigency of Hygiene deals mostly with the climate with its variations, and with other external agents as causes of hardship or infirmity. From the aforementioned interdependence, it follows that a hygienic reason — or better, a hygienic pretext — is not meant to justify a deplorable license, particularly in public — and outside of exceptional cases of proven necessity — and even then, all the same, any well-raised soul will not be able to escape the distress of a spontaneous anxiety, externally expressed by a natural blush. In a similar way, some manner of dress that is harmful to health, of which many examples can be cited in the history of fashion, cannot be legitimized by an aesthetic pretext. Even so, the common norms of Modesty must yield to the requirements of medical care — which, although it seems to break the norms, respects them by acting with due moral caution.

More later.

Here’s an old unofficial translation that was dug up by eCatholic2000! Ha, I’m not the only one digging! But I will probably keep going, all the same.

I’ve changed my translation of “decoro” to “Elegance.” It’s permissible in Italian, and it seems more fashion-conscious than “decorum” or “dignity” or “decoration.”

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“De Inhonesto Feminarum Vestiendi More”

A lot is said about supposed Vatican or papal documents on feminine modesty in dress. But the Internet is not exactly great on providing exact information. So here I present a literal (but unofficial) translation of an actual Vatican document.

(The bad news is that the OCR is terrible, and the book is not in public domain in the US. I will try to find an original volume or some microfilm, if I can remember to do it.)

You can find the Latin document in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. 22 (1930), on pages 26-28.

Here is that volume on

Here is that volume on Documenta Catholica.

Instruction to Diocesan Ordinaries:
“De inhonesto feminarum vestiendi more”

(aka “On a degrading custom of female dress”)

Issued by: The Congregation of the Council (Sacra Congregatio Concilii — now subsumed into the Congregation of the Clergy)

Unofficial translation: Maureen S. O’Brien


Our Most Holy Lord Pope, Pius XI, with the force of his supreme apostolate, which is performed within the whole Church, never ceased to teach what St. Paul did — that is, “The women in decorative* apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety… and with good works, as is right for women professing piety.” (1 Tim. 2:9-10)

And numerous times as occasion was given, the same Supreme Pontifex expressed disapproval sharply, and condemned a degrading custom of dressing among both Catholic women and girls, introduced today here and there, which not only offends gravely against feminine splendor and ornament, but even more is also the true ruin of these women in the temporal world — and what is worse, throws others into the most miserable everlasting ruin.

Therefore, it is nothing strange if bishops, and others in the office of Ordinary, have also opposed this kind of crooked license, and every kind of forwardness, in their own dioceses and with one voice — enduring, with a strong and patient soul, no few mockeries and scorn for this reason, brought upon them by people of bad will.

And so, let this Sacred Council describe the vigilance and merited action of this kind of Sacred Prelate with approval and praise, to the clergy and people of approved discipline. Then may it encourage them vehemently, so that they may persevere what they have undertaken, with advice and a suitable beginning. And let them urge eagerly for the sake of men, until this deadly plague may be rooted out from the honest association of humans.

So that it may be put into effect more easily and safely, this Sacred Congregation has decided to establish what follows:

I. As occasion is given, let parish priests and preachers particularly “insist… reprove, entreat, rebuke” (2 Tim. 4:2) about how women wear clothes, so that they may understand modesty, that they may be the ornament and guard of virtue; and let them warn parents not to allow their daughters to wear disgraceful clothes.

II. Mindful of that most grave obligation which they hold, to care for the morals of their offspring and for their first religious education, let parents show particular diligence so that their daughters may be set up solidly in Christian teaching, from their first years; and let them eagerly kindle the love of the virtue of modesty and chastity in their souls, by word and example. Let them be busy with imitating the Holy Family’s example in their own families, in order to set up and govern their families in that way. And so let each family have a cause and an invitation for loving and serving modesty behind its domestic walls.

III. Let parents keep their daughters away from public drills and assemblies of exercise [in immodest clothes]. If their daughters should be forced to take part, let them take care that their clothing shows that they have dignity. Never allow them to wear degrading clothing.

IV. Let principals of colleges and schoolteachers strive to embue the souls of girls with a love of modesty, so that they may be efficaciously influenced to dress worthily.

V. Let these principals and schoolteachers not admit girls that wear clothes that are less than worthy, into colleges or schools; and let those who have been admitted be sent back to their mothers, unless they stop and become reasonable.

VI. Let religious women** not admit girls, nor tolerate those already admitted, who will not keep a Christian custom of dress, in their colleges, schools, oratories, or recreation facilities, according to the letters from August 23, 1928 sent by the Sacred Congregation of Religious. Indeed, let them show particular care in educating female students, so that the love of holy bashfulness and Christian modesty may drive deep roots into their souls.

VII. Let pious women institute and encourage associations of women, which by advice, example and goal of work may decide ahead of time to restrain abuses in the wearing of clothes, by the Christian modesty which disagrees with it; and to promote purity of customs and worthiness of dress.

VIII. Let no one who wears degrading clothing be admitted into pious associations of women. Indeed, if an admitted woman should go wrong in such things afterward, and she will not act reasonably after being warned, let her be expelled.

IX. Let girls and women who wear degrading clothing stay away from Holy Communion, and from the office of godmother for the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. And if the case warrants it, let them be prohibited from entrance into their churches.

X. When festivals occur throughout the year, let parish priests and sacerdotes, as well as heads of pious Unions and Catholic guilds, take the particular opportunity to teach Christian modesty to women, especially on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Do not let the opportunity pass to call them back and excite them for dressing according to Christian custom. And on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived without sin, let them complete the particular prayers in every cathedral and parish of the Church, whatever the year; where one can do so, let it be considered an opportunity for encouragement, during solemn sermons for the people.

XI. Let the diocesan council act with vigilance upon what was given in the declaration of the Holy Office on March 30, 1928, advising women efficaciously on better means and reasons for modesty, at least once a year, by declaration.

XII. Indeed, so that this healthy action may advance more efficaciously and safely, it is preferred that bishops and others in the office of Ordinary, also in the third year, alone and with relation to religious institutions, should observe the norms of that instruction given in the Letter “Orbem Catholicum” from June 29, 1923, also upon the condition and status of things concerning the custom and works of women’s dress.

Given at Rome, from the chair of the Sacred Congregation of the Council, on January 12, on the Feast of the Holy Family, in the year 1930.

Donato Cardinal Sbaretti Tazza, Bishop of Sabina-Poggio Mirteto, Prefect.

Giulio Serafini, Bishop of Lampsacus, Secretary.

* Greek: kosmein – “decorated”, with connotations of “orderly, decorous.”
Latin: ornato – “decorated, ornate.”

** religious women = nuns and sisters.

Stuff to notice:

1. Nothing is said about the particular fashions being condemned.

2. No particular hemlines, necklines, or other measurements are mentioned.

3. Totally okay with Italian churches making you wear more clothes, if you want to see the indoors.

4. That said, it’s also totally okay for laywomen to start clubs and apostolates about their concerns.

Other stuff to notice:

This site has a totally different wording for this decree. Their Latin decree appears to be on a similar topic but written in 1954, from the same Congregation but with different folks in charge. Obviously I need to check the 1954 volume of Acta.


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Oh, and Mary Didn’t Say That.

The oft-quoted bit about “Certain fashions are going to be introduced which will offend Our Lord very much” is not from the Apparition messages. It’s something that little ten-year-old St. Jacinta said to her godmother who came to talk to her in Lisbon, as part of her usual small outbursts of fervor. Given that the parish priest of Fatima at that time was a great crusader against dancing and other forms of fun, and given that some crazy fashions were already around during WWI (and worn by the fashionable Lisbon ladies who stopped by the hospital to do good works), it’s not too hard to look for sources of her concerns. “Fly luxury! Fly riches!” and similar standard words of wisdom were also part of her comments.

This doesn’t mean that the words of even a child saint should be disregarded; but we worship Christ the Truth, not Christ the Convenient Internet Urban Legend.


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Found Out Where the “Dress Like the Virgin Mary” Thing Came From

In 1953, a Fr. Bernard Kunkel in Bartelso, Illinois got the idea to start a campaign identifying prom dresses and wedding dresses that were modest enough for Catholic women to wear. These were to be given a special “Marilyke” tag by department stores. Slogans for the campaign included: “Be Marylike! Buy Marilyke Gowns!”, “Be Marylike By Being Modest”, and “Whatever the Blessed Mother Approves”. So apparently department stores in Catholic areas went along with it. (I sure as heck don’t ever remember hearing about this before, but apparently that’s where the Internet meme comes from.) The stuff about Fatima condemning modern dress also came from this campaign. There was a big push to get girls to make a Blue Army-like promise to dress modestly.

Apparently the very word “Marylike” was popularized in the US by Kunkel, because some academic who did a study of the American version of Kolbe’s Immaculata magazine (for annoying gender study crup, of course) found that the first time the word was ever used was in a Marilyke promotional article in 1953.

However, the word does seem to have had a lot of vogue in the 1850’s and 1860’s, when it was used not so much about modesty, as about holiness and gentleness in behavior (often a description of devout men), or as the two poles of being Mary-like and Martha-like. “Un-Marylike” was used only to describe an Australian May’s weather. (This is only the fruit of a quick search, however.)

Here’s an old Time Magazine article about the Marilyke campaign. Apparently Fr. Kunkel ran an outfit called the Purity Crusaders of Mary Immaculate, which eventually morphed into being called “the Marylike Crusade” or “the Marylike Apostolate”.

Notice that much of the wording in the article is still quoted word for word on the Internet, thanks to the extensive reach of their pamphlets.

Apparently the campaign was still around in 1965, because some Catholic magazine had an article about Marilyke bras coming out! But it ended in 1972. Somebody has tried to revive it, but this group seems to be unapproved and to be connected with the Fr. Gruner “the Pope is lying to you about Fatima” crowd.

I found out about this Marilyke stuff from a book called A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America by Jenna Weissman Joselit. (Lots about churchwear. Had no idea that Jewish ladies wore chapel caps in synagogue in the Fifties and Sixties, until rabbis decried their similarity to yarmulkes.) Apparently many books about the history of American fashion trends mention it.

I’m ambivalent about this. Obviously, there’s a need to promote modesty (ie, not dressing like a skank or an idiot), and I’m not so naive as to think nobody dressed like a skank in 1944, when Kunkel began the group. But a group that was against sleeves above the elbow in 1953, and still is, is somewhat out of touch with pastoral reality. Also, it’s ahistorical, since there’ve been plenty of Catholic countries where women wore short sleeves or commonly tied or rolled them up to work. (Depending on climate.)

Apparently I missed some kerfuffle in our local traditional Mass group a few years back, when the attempted revival of this group was ordering women not to wear blouses cut “two inches below the pit of the throat” instead of the traditional “three fingers below the collarbone” (about two inches), on pain of not receiving the Sacraments. If you were a tall lady with a short neck and a long chest, you’d practically have to wear a high collar to fit this recommendation. Also, instead of the traditional “fingertip length” or “X inches/fingers above the knee”, they didn’t even want females to wear skirts at all above the knee. That means that my parochial school plaid jumper from 1978 and most of my childhood dresses (which of course hit above the knee) were the clothing of a hussy. Um. No. I’m a dowd and a prude, and yet I think this is ridiculous.

I don’t know why this sort of thing goes so bad so quickly. You’ll see (allegedly Catholic!) condemnations of skirts that taper inward from hips to knee as inherently immodest, or of fitted suit skirts, or of wearing clothing that is fitted at all. (And of course, the “modest clothing rules” are usually either entirely aimed at women, or there’s a lot of transvestite guys going to traditionalist events.)

Things that were more than modest enough for these people’s great-great-grandmothers aren’t modest enough for some of these people; they aren’t so much “spiritually Semites” as spiritually the Saudi religious police. You can’t lay all this at Kunkel’s door; but a lot of folks seem to have started down the crazy separatist road from his driveway. It’s worrying.

UPDATE: Apparently the earliest Internet copy of the Marylike Crusade pamphlet is not even a true copy, even though the transcriber retained the Nihil Obstat (and it’s interesting that it never got an imprimatur, huh?). The transcriber helpfully “updated” it and “interjected” material from unapproved private revelation. But that’s totally okay, because the transcriber prayed over it. (Nothing like being so traditionalist you’re functionally a Protestant….) So yeah, you can be really really secure using it. Really. Yup yup yup.

The pamphlet (hopefully only in the made-up update) actually starts off by condemning Barbie and all fashion dolls, apparently totally unaware that fashion dolls have been around as long as women have sewed clothes samples. Oh, and apparently they cause they cause little boys to lust in their hearts. The fact that little boys mostly use Barbie as a hammer, or to distress their sisters by popping off Barbie’s head or limbs, is apparently not known to the writer of this pamphlet. So you can see what sort of bad name it’s determined to give to modesty.


Filed under Church, Dress code