Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Internal Summer Modesty Debate

In summer my thoughts turn to modesty and the challenge that this poses for our dress (I've noticed this trend has been beginning to pop up on other blogs to as we face the challenges of warm weather and swimsuit season). My thoughts on the issue have fluctuated over the past few years since I've begun to think about modesty more.

This was a big change for me initially. I spent the summers from the age of 15 until I graduated from college as a lifeguard and swim instructor, so I wore a bathing suit pretty much all day, every day and I was thrilled when I moved to a college pool and could wear a two piece. So the first big challenge is usually my bathing suit. I love to swim. I don't love bathing suit shopping.

In the past few years I've worn various practical one pieces and a maternity two piece where the loose top flows down over the bottom. This year I discovered swim dresses and was actually quite pleased with what I found. They look something like this, although I can't find the site I bought mine from now, where the suits were much less expensive. I wouldn't wear a swim dress out walking down the street, but it will be fine from my dash from the pool to my towel.

The skirt and dress issue doesn't really pose a problem during summer. Long skirts and dresses made of lightweight, breathable material (like cotton) can really be quite comfortable. And after wearing a skirt for quite a while, I've learned that I really can do pretty much anything in my skirts that I could do in pants.

My personal standards for my skirts and tops have come from that tiny feeling of discomfort I get when I feel something isn't modest when I'm wearing it. If I find myself tugging a skirt down or a top up, then, despite the fact that it's probably 10x longer than the norm in our culture, I've got to make a change. I've finally begun to discover the lengths at which this happens and here are my own personal (for me) standards when I search for clothing.

Skirts and Dresses: Must be knee length of longer. If they are right around knee length they must be loose enough that they aren't going to hike up to mid thigh when I sit down but still cover to the knee (oh I discovered that the hard way).

Tops and Dress Tops: No cleavage whatsoever. If a dress is strapless or has spaghetti straps, than it's going to be paired with a sweater, even in summer (although their are some cute short sleeved sweaters now). But (and this is where it becomes difficult) it also can't be impossible to nurse in (or even particularly time consuming to be able to nurse in). Thus I sometimes pair thin or no straps with a sweater, to facilitate nursing while remaining modest.

Shoulders: I struggle with this the most. I have wide shoulders for a woman. It can be hard to find shirts that look right. Thus for me, strapless or spaghetti straps were pretty much the way to go, back before I started thinking about these things. Now it's still a battle to find tops that fit correctly and that aren't tight on my kind-of-strong-at-the-moment-baby-lifting-arms (who knew lifting a 40-something lb toddler and a 20-something lb baby would be such a great workout!). Usually I go with a sweater to solve the issue. But I'll admit I struggle with this every single year!

I know that these vary widely from woman to woman, but I thought I'd share what I've come up with for me! Do you have standards that you hold yourself to? If you do how did you come up with them?


  1. I was going to suggest this etsy shop:
    Unfortunately she's due for her baby and her shop is closed. I have four of her undershirts and they work perfectly with low cut dresses, spaghetti straps, nursing. Basically it's a high necked kimono style shirt that ends just under the bust. Using knit fabric you could make these yourself. If you'd like I can make a mock up on paper and send you the sewing directions.

    As for modest swimwear, I just bought my first bathing suit in years and I'm delighted it's modest in the top. All the bottoms are shorts but you might like them. I found the site on She's right in saying the grab bag is reasonably priced. I didn't buy from there because what I wanted wasn't in my size but I found a bathing suit in the clearance section for a good price. Very Hawaiian, like surfing and wet suits mixed together.

    I found this great site for little girl dresses you will like:

  2. If I look in the mirror and think: You look like grandma (or alternatively, a nun or a Mormon), it's too matronly or too mature.

    If I look and the mirror and think: "You look like Britney Spears," it's too trashy/flashy.

    Everything else is fair game for me. We're in Southern California, and I have three under 5, so I am a big fan of shorts and tank tops for convenience and comfort (also nursing access - yes!) I look like most of the other middle-class moms around town - I'm in my 20s and I prefer to dress my age. I really don't think too much about modesty, but obviously I'm not running around in hot pants and tube tops with lucite heels : ) I almost never wear skirts or dresses unless I'm going out or to Mass. I feel too dressed up in them - it's a mental thing!

  3. I usually layer, tank tops underneath everything, that way nursing is easier with exposing my chest or my stretch marks. It also solves the problem with cute but low-cut tops. I don't mind showing cleavage for my husband but when we go out, I prefer to be covered up.

    I will show my shoulders. I too have wide shoulders and very broad ones too, (back when shoulder pads were in style I looked like a football player in pads).

    But I don't usually wear spaghetti straps or strapless shirts. Tank tops almost always have straps wide enough to cover my bra straps because I hate when they don't (this is only when I have a jacket or sweater to cover the thin-strapped camis).

    I will layer two tank tops in the heat of summer when I'm outside but not really going anywhere (or in the car on a trip), but both straps together usually cover most of the top of my shoulder so I don't mind to much.

    I think I've mentioned before, I don't mind skirts and shorts that hit a little above my knees, but I think that's because even though I'm 3 inches shorter than my husband I have longer legs than even him, so a couple of inches above my knees is still far enough down on my legs that I'm comfortable. My only exception to this is pencil skirts, khaki, denim or other. They must be at knee length, otherwise they ride up WAY too much when I sit down and then I feel like I can't move in them.

    Well that's me... :)

  4. I've been holding higher standards lately, but that hasn't always been the case. I wouldn't say that I wore sleazy stuff; I just didn't think about it all that much and wore what others wore.

    But then someone made a comment to me at church and after that I started reevaluating my wardrobe for Mass because as I said I was oblivious that I was wearing anything "wrong." I've never considered myself to be trying to send that kind of message or wanting to but apparently I was. Then it snow balled. Now my husband says I'm Amish because I cover my hair and wear ankle knee-ankle length skirts and dresses. Funny because I wear modern clothes.

    So to finish your question here are my standards after deciding that even my shoulders seemed to send the wrong message back then. (Granted the person didn't get specific with me they just mentioned that the outfit I picked out was a little over the top and were surprised.)

    Skirts and Dresses: I wear knee length skirts during the summer and ankle length or knee length with tights over the winter. Saves me money and keeps me from being hot. The only alternative is shorts and pants. Since I'm short, boy shorts look ridiculous on me and girl shorts are too short. Pants don't seem to fit right with my wide hips and narrow waist. I sometimes wear a business skirt with a business suit. Those skirts are a little short so I wear them with tights and only for special occasions.

    Tops and Dress tops: I'm all about layers. Because of my weird proportions I usually wear a normal length shirt. It covers more in the chest area and the belly (the bottoms have to be petite or the skirts drag the ground). I do wear sleeveless usually with a crochet wrap or a cardi. Normally I wear a short sleeve in summer and long sleeve in winter. Because of nursing and crazy cleavage maternity wear, I'll also wear a nursing or regular tank underneath.

    I suppose the downside to all this is before I was comfortable in my own skin and didn't worry about others opinions. Now it's like I've become OCD. I try to reign myself in and not go all 3/4 length shirts and ankle length skirts without slits, but it's hard when you've suddenly started worrying that the way you are dressing has unintentionally caused someone to misjudge you. Am I doing this for me or to appease someone else or for God? I've been asking God for guidance, but no answer yet. Maybe you have some ideas on how to maintain dignity without giving up and going Mennonite? How far is too far? Or why did you decide to go more modestly as you've aged?

    Sorry so long.

  5. My standard is below the knees, no cleavage, and my shirts must have some kind of sleeve on them, even if it is just a cap sleeve. (I always like to bring a sweater to church, though.) Then again, I'm a teenage girl, so I don't have to worry about nursing or fitting a very womanly figure...:)

    How I came up with the below the knee is because of when I'm sitting down. If the skirt is below the knee, then there is no way anybody could see up my skirt when sitting down (without legs crossed.) I've seen girls underwear when they wear above-the-knee skirts while sitting down. Not very pleasant. No cleavage because it is so sexual and not-very-good-looking. And cap sleeve because it looks so much better then no sleeves. In my opinion, sleeve-less just looks silly!

  6. I am one who never gave a thought to modesty - I did used to dress trashy. However, as I have matured, so have my clothes. As for a bathing suit, a couple of years ago, I bought a pair of capri-style pants and a tank-style top and I felt much more comfortable in that. I like the surfing style suits much more as they keep you more covered.

    As for other clothes, I have unfortunately settled into a pattern of t-shirts, sweats, and jeans. I gained a lot of weight after a medically necessary hysterectomy and I just can't seem to find skirts and dresses that make me comfortable right now. However, I am feeling a tug (dare I say 'calling'?) to dress more femininely. So I am taking steps to take off some of the weight and I plan to reward myself with some modest, feminine pieces. Skirts/dresses will definitely be below the knee, blouses will have no deep Vs. I don't mind being sleeveless, but I stay away from strapless or spaghetti straps unless I have a covering.

  7. I've been slowly replacing my entire wardrobe. Partially out of necessity (3 kids in 2 years!), partially to conform to new standards of modesty.

    Bottoms- All I wear right now are skirts and occasionally, capris. In part because skirts do feel more modest and feminine, in part because I just don't think jeans look all that good on me anymore now that I've had a few kids, haha. Skirts are much forgiving of weight/body changes. For me, I tend to aim for mid-calf length and never above the knee.

    Tops- My biggest issue is my naturally large chest, on a petite frame. Something that would be perfectly modest on someone else with my frame, would be near obscene on me. Your typical solution- sweaters/cardigans- doesn't work for me. If I can find one that fits my chest, it is much, much too large everywhere else. If it fits everywhere else, I can't even close it around my chest. I can't wear spaghetti straps, because I need my bras to have wide straps for support. (I also have teeny, tiny shoulders, so these wide straps will show because they are much closer to my neck than they would be on someone with larger shoulders). Sweaters also tend not to be very long- so with the extra fabric needed in the chest area, they will typically ride up too high. What I usually do is wear tops with sleeves, and a wide-strapped tank underneath. I wish I could find some other solutions, but my problem doesn't seem to be very common- at least in the blogging world. :/

  8. My summer wear tends to be T-shirts, and jeans/long shorts, one of two dresses, or knee length/ ankle length skirts. I've gained alot of weight lately and needed a new wardrobe so I went more along the lines of longer skirts. Unfortunately most of my long skirts look wintery. I'm going to keep looking for more summery skirts that make me look longer. I'm kind of short at 5'4 and I have no midriff to speak of so finding clothes has always been a challenge. I do wear sleeveless but never to mass. I always tried to keep it at least short sleeves for mass. And I always cover my head at mass. Winter wear tends to be long skirts, tights, and sweaters.

  9. I like this quote and do try to live by it. I know many people think I'm weird, but I like the classy look it gives and it's very modest. Plus, I'm very grateful that I've learned to sew. It's very hard to find dresses that adhere to this standard:

    Standards of Modesty in Dress
    Imprimatur dated Sept. 24, 1956
    "A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat; which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows; and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees.  Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper."
    The Cardinal Vicar of  Pius XII

    As for the swimwear, I don't care to swim, so I usually have a lounge type dress that I run through the sprinkler with when my kiddos are playing. I did at one time have a swim dress that I loved with a skirt to the knees that snapped so it didn't float up when I was in the water. Sleeves were on there too. The sleeves and knee length "body suit" was made of a spandex type attached under a lightweight jumper made of a parachute material that dried quick and was flattering, comfortable, and modest, so much so that I really didn't feel like I needed to rush to grab a towel after getting out. Instead I could keep an eye on all my little ones around the pool.

    Hope you feel better soon!

  10. Kateri Sullivan said... "If I look in the mirror and think: You look like grandma (or alternatively, a nun or a Mormon), it's too matronly or too mature."

    I had to laugh at that since I live in Salt Lake City. Once I was shopping at a needlepoint store in town. I was wearing a plain, black, long-sleeve tee shirt; calf-length khaki twill skirt; black Mary Jane shoes; and a black scarf with lace trim. (The scarf was "Cecily's" from Garlands of Grace, so it didn't cover all of my long hair like a full veil or snood would.) Plain clothing to be sure, but I'm a big girl in her 40s. The Mormon clerk (could tell from her CTR jewelry) asked if I was a nun!

    For swimwear, have you seen or I haven't purchase from either site, yet, so I can't say anything about the quality.

  11. I've always been careful with skirts, since I have very long legs and anything much above my knees looks scandalous. It pains me to see the most adorable skirt on the internet, only to look at the measurements and realize that it will barely cover my rear end. Lately, however, I've felt called to dress more modestly. I'm discerning vowing my virginity to God (not to be confused with public consecration)and I have felt that I should be notably modest if I'm going to be a bride of Christ.

    I'm in the process of changing my wardrobe now. I don't really wear pants unless it's to exercise (though I do think loose-fitting pants can be modest; I just prefer skirts), and I wear a shrug or sweater with strapless/spaghetti strap/sleeveless shirts and dresses. Most of my skirts hit the top of my knee and I'm getting rid of the ones that don't. Eventually, I want my skirts and dresses to at least hit the bottom of my knee.

    I have a small chest, so cleavage is not a huge issue (I don't even wear bras!), but I'm in the process of tossing or modifying shirts that show too much when I bend over.

    I swim laps for exercise, so swim dresses really aren't practical and the excercise necessitates a reasonable degree of tightness in the suit (you won't get anywhere wearing a bag). I'm shopping for a new suit, and I'm looking for a suit with a high neckline, high back and a reasonable hip coverage. I'm looking at water polo suits right now, since they cover to the neck.

    As far as exercise clothes, my goal is to wear knee-length shorts or capris and a shirt with sleeves. I think that this is modest, while allowing me to fully engage in the activity.

    On a related note, I really try to be fashionable, to show people that one can dress modestly without looking like "they're in some kind of cult" (not intended to offend you, Cam). As an example, I think some Muslim and Indian women dress beautifully, though they cover a lot. I want my clothing to be appealing to everyone, even if they're not into modesty. That's the only way modesty will become the norm. To this end, I tend to avoid long denim skirts or prairie style stuff, since they, in my opinion, make modesty separate from mainstream society.

  12. P.S. I love that plaid skirt/ brown shirt outfit. It's really sophisticated and modest without screaming so. As plaid maxi skirts and wrap shirts are very in vogue now, you have totally beat the designers to it!

  13. Regarding the quote by Peklet Mom...

    I think it is important to let people know that this directive was not issued to the Catholic female population at large but to a girls' school. I know this because I did exhaustive research on it several years ago in response to claims that women (like myself who wear short sleeves and the like) are acting sinfully for not following the directive. The papers are currently inaccessible in a box somewhere in my garage but the info is available for those who are trying to find it. One of the obstacles was that the original was not in English but again, it's all out there for the tenacious.

    I bring it up not to discourage women from dressing modestly but because we all deserve the truth, not an organization or individual distorting it (even slightly) to sway others to their opinion, however well-intentioned. To Peklet Mom's credit, she did not claim it was Church teaching, only that she liked it. But I think it is appropriate to make the distinction for others who may not know.

    My children and I were once treated pretty uncharitably by some women who hold that statement to be binding Church teaching and I would hate to have others led into that error.

    At any rate, I love the ideas and discussion here... just thought I'd add that clarification.

  14. I've been reading your posts on headcovering and modesty & other blogs I'm constantly amazed by readimg of women who's husbands don't want them to dress modeatly or wear skirts.

    My husband and I discuss these issues constantly. Like most men he likes me to look attractive & pretty but always always modest. In that (and her's where his advice is so important) I would never want & he would never want me to look "sexy".

    I'm sure pants / trousers can be modeat but for me a skirt / dress is always more feminine which is (almost) as important.

    Your modesty standards are pretty muxh like mine. I do wear skirts just above the knee but only with thick tights otherwise longer. I think cleavage and straps need to be covered and as one I'd definately advice other smaller women - you do need a bra, men notice - things show and it sends the wrong signal.

    I'd love to wear a swimdress but they are just a bit conspicuous. To me even the most modest bikini shows too muck but a low leg one piece is okay. The important thing is to cover over it with a dress unless you're swimming or at least lying down.

    Love you blog - an inspiration even to heathens (non Catholics) like us !

  15. My advice - ask your husband / father / brother

    The point is to avoid dressing in a way which provokes the wrong throughts in men and they will know what that means.

    Its not just what you wear it when & where and wHatever feminists say if you believe our sexuality is sacred to marrage it's your responsibility.

  16. This is very interesting to me. I dress for comfort, no matter the weather. I do have my own limits as far as modesty is concerned (I don't want to stand out or draw attention to myself), but my standards are more relaxed than yours.

  17. My standards on modesty have got progressively more strict / careful whatever you want to call it since I got married and became a mother. I look at things I used to wear now with amazement. It's a strange thing but from what I read in blogs I think that happens to most of us.

    Somehow it also seems easier and more natural to wear more feminine clothes, I hardly ever wore a skirt when I was single - it felt too dressy except for special occassions. But now I wear them 90% of the time. I put that down to pregnacy and motherhood - you just are more feminine and of course skirts are also MUCH more flattering.


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