Lately I cannot help noticing certain trends in the area of female attire, trends upon which I'd like to comment.
It seems that just about everywhere I go, whether it be a shopping mall, a grocery store, a bookshop, a library, a church, whatever, I see females of almost every age level in flip flops in stead of shoes. By every age level I mean little girls, older girls, and their mothers in their thirties or forties. This trend seems to exclude only the infant and the truly old.
I have never seen more skin, and among a broader range of females, than I do these days. This trend is not quite as age inclusive as that of the flip flops, but still alarmingly broad, and seems to be getting younger and older each season. By more skin, I mean whatever area you have in mind, legs, chest, belly, all of it.
Skirts are getting shorter and shorter, while flirtatious pants are more in than ever. That is, pants (of either denim or softer fabrics) which are tight at the top to draw attention to the rear area, sometimes full length, many times shorter, showing off some leg.
Breasts and cleavage are on display everywhere.
Yes, yes, I know, I open myself up to great dangers by discussing such things so openly. Despite the risk of jokes about why one notices such things, or the risk of criticism of being too old fashioned, too unrealistic, too out of touch with the modern world, or legalistic, the man of the Church is called upon to speak up on precisely such issues as this. Our girls and women are worth the effort.
There are other trends in female fashion worthy of comment, but I think I hit some of the basics, or highlights. Now one thing you will notice about what I observe above is that some of it actually contradicts each other. For example, there are short skirts, and there are long pants. These seem to be opposite trends. Let me explain what I think is going on. We have very different trends in the feminist world competing. One tends toward the notion of obscuring one's femininity, the other tends toward the notion of flaunting and exploiting one's femininity.
Pants are an interesting case because the danger, it seems to me, goes in both directions with the choice to wear pants. It is very difficult for pants not to show off your rear end, unless a girl is determined to utterly hide the fact that she is a girl, and in that case will end up wearing loose blue jeans that make her fit in with the guys. So girls who like to utterly hide their girlhood can find the pants to serve that purpose, while the girl who wants to be flirty knows precisely what she is doing with pants. In the area of blue jeans she will find the tight, low rise fit. And outside the realm of jeans there is a whole world of flirty pant styles. Indeed, in between these two types of girls, there is the girl who does not want to be a man, and is not aiming necessarily to be "sexy." She, nonetheless, I contend, will find it difficult to find pants that do not either show off her rear, or on the other hand make her look like a man.
In the area of skirts, as I say, they are truly getting shorter and flirtier. We see it in high school girls and junior high girls, on the street, in the stores, and even at church. We also see it, I hasten to add, with adult women on television, whether news ladies, or actresses, or whatever.
Okay, so what is behind all of this? First, this is not to condemn every girl who dresses in these ways. I have gained good friends in the world, some of whom seem to know no other way than to dress provocatively. Some women do so perhaps in a completely conscious effort to flirt, show off, and give boys ocassion for sin, some perhaps out of a truly neutral notion that this is how girls dress, and I really believe that many girls fall in between these two attitudes. That is, they don't get up each morning consciously aiming to show off their bodies, yet they cannot be completely ignorant of the fact that this is what happens when they wear much of what is in their closets. Most of these girls need love, guidance, and good examples.
Second, this is not to condemn each particular of what I observed above in some absolute way. We need to recognize, I think, that over all, there are trends in motion which are harmful to our women.
I propose that there are three basic principles which ought to govern how girls and women dress. 1. A lady should dress femininely. 2. A lady should dress modestly. 3. A lady should dress in a way that is appropriate for the ocassion.
1. Dressing femininely is to avoid dressing like a guy. Is it absolutely immoral for a girl to wear pants? Without going to that point, we ought to admit that, despite the very feminine styles out there, pants are historically men's clothing. As I argue above, there seems to be an almost inherent danger for women wearing pants, that is, she will either look mannish, or flirty; but neither is very ladylike, is it? Dressing femininley also means, I think, avoiding other articles of clothing that are overly "frumpy." Some girls, it seems, (and women) need to be reminded that they are made by God to be women, and that they ought to take pride in that gift and high calling.
2. Dressing modestly is something about which today's fashion culture, media, and entertainment industry know virtually nothing. The world will not help us on this. Our girls and young women have a truly uphill battle. Anyone who wants to learn what that culture is really like should read the recent book by Laura Sessions Stepp, Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both (Riverhead Books, 2007). Though I know bits and pieces of this culture from some of my acquaintances, this book was a great eye opener for me. Again, these young women need our unconditional love, friendship, prayer, and guidance. They need us to speak up.
3. Dressing appropriate for the ocassion also seems largely lost in today's world. This, for example, explains the flip flop craze. Flip flops are designed for the beach, or perhaps the house and yard. In the army we were required to wear them in the shower, we even called them "shower shoes." They are basically, however, beach wear, not shopping attire, not attire for visiting the President of the United States, as the womens' championship LaCrosse team did a couple years ago. The flip flop, on the face of it, seems neither slutty nor masculine (they do show off a girl's pedicure, after all), but they do betray a laziness, and a lack of effort at dressing for the ocassion. Another area where we would do well to stress the value of dressing for the ocassion is church. We Lutherans believe there is something truly sacred at church, ecpecially at the Holy Mass, where we hasten as a chaste bride to meet our Lord (borrowing a phrase from a great eucharistic hymn). We ought, therefore, to wear our doctrine on our sleeve, to manifest our faith, and our reverence, by dressing like ladies and gentlemen. Men dressing the best they can, in coat & tie (or collar & cassock for the clerics), women in skirts that at least cover their knees, feminine shoes that do not show off the pedicure, and avoiding deep plunging cleevage, and yes, even being taught the value of the traditional practice of veiling the head.
I would also like to offer links to a few web resources that might prove helpful on this whole issue. One is Pure Fashion, which can be found at http://www.purefashion.com/. There are two good pages at the traditional Catholic "Fisheaters" web site I'd recommend, one is www.fisheaters.com/modesty.html, and the other is www.fisheaters.com/theveil.html. Also, you might check out the resources at http://www.ladiesagainstfeminism.com/.