Q. My mother is always talking about the way I dress when I leave the house. If I wear jeans and a T-shirt or a skirt an inch above the knee, is that going against the Church?
A. Hmmmm, let me speculate on why a good mom might be concerned about how her daughter dresses. One concern would be with modesty, and one would be with basic dignity and respect. First modesty.
We live in a culture where men and women (especially women) are being treated as objects rather than persons. Advertisements and pop culture, in general, continually bombard us with images of the “ideal” man or woman. What is the “ideal” man or woman according to pop culture? It’s the male with perfect six-pack abs or the woman with the so-called “perfectly formed body” who is not shy about showing it off. Watch T.V. ads, look at the magazines at the checkout counter, browse the Internet (or, on second thought…it’s best to avoid that), and you will quickly find that the message of our culture is that the body is, plain and simple, a sexual object. Furthermore, if you want to be someone, you have to look like a supermodel. How sad that constant message is. And how demeaning it is to the dignity of both men and women.
So what does that have to do with the way one dresses? Well, too often today clothing is designed to emphasize the exaggerated and erroneous importance of sexual appeal. One’s clothing should be just that…clothing. Unfortunately it is often designed to reveal every curve and shape of the body, rather than to clothe it in modesty and dignity. This is a real problem. It’s especially a problem for the eyes of men because men tend to be easily visually stimulated. If clothing is immodest, it sends a message to every man that you are inviting him to see you as an object. Women do men a great service in helping them see their true beauty and dignity when they choose to dress modestly. For that reason, short skirts or tight jeans might do more damage than you realize.
What about normal jeans and a T-shirt? I’m not sure what the concern is there, but, again, I can speculate. To help you understand this, let me offer a silly illustration. What if your pastor decided each weekend to show up for Mass in jeans and a T-shirt? Some might look at that and think it’s cool that he is so relaxed. The vast majority, however, would immediately see that this is odd. Clothing says a lot about who we are. Priests dress in clerics as a way of expressing that they are priests. The same is true with everyone. What we wear reveals how we see ourselves. Of course, there are times when jeans and a T-shirt are totally appropriate. But what if everyone started dressing this way for every occasion? What if everyone at a family wedding dressed this way? Or if everyone was this casual for Sunday Mass? Obviously this makes a statement that those occasions are no different than a day off at home. So we should dress for the occasion with dignity and respect for ourselves, but perhaps just as importantly, respect for the occasion we find ourselves in. Dressing up for Sunday Mass or a wedding, for example, tells others that you see this as an important occasion. It expresses your respect.
I hope that helps! And, if it is still not clear, then I suggest you will not go wrong by simply trusting the advice of a loving parent.