Sunday, August 5, 2007

what women wear

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/.
LHG

18 comments:

Father Hollywood said...

Excellent observations, Br. Latif. I conducted a funeral (at the funeral home) Saturday. There was a huge turnout, and I didn't see a single woman wearing a long dress or skirt. The older women were universally clad in trousers, and the younger girls were nearly all wearing skirts cut above the knee - some well above (a very small number were wearing shorts or very tight pants).

I didn't see any flip-flops, though. I guess that hasn't become fashionable for funerals yet - but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

Father Hollywood said...

As a postscript, I posted a YouTube link on my blog for the trailer of a movie that touches upon this subject (towards the end of the clip). It is a teaser for an upcoming film that includes commentary by Jennie Chancey of Ladies Against Feminism:

Father Hollywood: The Monstrous Regiment of Women

(I hope the link works, if not, go to www.fatherhollywood.blogspot.com and find the post called "The Monstrous Regiment of Women").

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks, Fr. Hollywood, for your perspective. I find helpful and I welcome the perspective of priests in the parish, and of other regions of the country. Laura Stepp, in the book I reference in my blog entry, does report that at least some statistics on today's young women are better at 1)university campuses with strong Christian culture, and 2)in the deep South. I checked out your youtube trailer; looks to be a film that will be worthy of many viewers.

Fr Watson SSP said...

One of your finest posts ever Br. Latif. Oh that there were courageous Pastors that would teach such wise truths and observations to their flocks. Alas, I am not brave enough. Even with my own hyper-Confessional ladies (we have no women's suffrage) talking against "pants" or advocating "head coverings" (which I do) would be problematic.
You and I belong in the 13th century my friend.
Deo Vindice,
Fr Watson SSP

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Watson,
I seem to get placed somewhere in the premodern world by a lot of people. The only difference is that some mean it as a bad thing (such as those in Lutheran officialdom who have determined that I am not fit to relate to real people in West Iowa, but would be more at home in a monastery), while some see it as a compliment, like you. I'll take it either way.

While I'm pontificating: the traditionalist Lutheran, sinner though he is, is very much IN the 21st century modern world (he is active in it, engaged in it, knows it, prays for it), yet he is not OF it. The bureaucrat Lutheran, ironically, I have found, tends to be in too many ways OF the modern world (eg. his methods, his thinking, etc), while not actually being very much IN it in the sense of knowing it very well. Yet they call the shots. Go figure.

Sorry for the momentary rant. Back on the main subject, though, I hope I don't come across as critical of how pastors are handling issues like fashion & modesty. I trust men like you are doing a fine job. And I pray for you.

Lawrence said...

Funny, or not so, if I think about it. I am the one who has had to set the dress standards for my daughter as she is now begining to growing into a teenager.

The women in my daughter's life all like to dress my daughter in 'cute' stuff. I had to explain that they where teaching her to dress wrongly. We really need to teacher her to dress as a proper lady. I mean in a classy fashionable way, not just a frumpy plain way.

Now, as she is goes into 6th grade, she is the one setting a more conservative style tone in her class of peers by not being the same 'cutsy' dresser as everyone else.

Yes, folks, sometimes Dads know what they're talking about on this whole women's clothing thing.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Lawrence,
Your testimony brings out an important dimension to all of this. Fathers ought not fear being engaged in the lives of their daughters. Whether they explicitly admit it or not (and often of course they explicitly deny it) daughters crave the attention and approval of their fathers. Meg Meeker's recent book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, develops this argument convincingly. I recommend her book to anyone worried about how he is relating to his daughter.

Peter said...

I'm with you on the modesty issue. I'm continually disappointed by parents who allow their children to walk around like trash. As for the note on pants, I'll remain silent, as my dear 76 year-old mother wears them modestly and well, and has done so for many years. And, if we're going to discourage women wearing pants, shouldn't wes discourage the Scottish men from wearing skirts?

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Your mother is one of the saints of the Church. (Of course, sainthood in one sense is our Baptismal inheritance, but I have a special regard for Christ's older members.) Therefore I doubt that if I were a pastor I would touch the issue with one such as her.

...Perhaps, though, I ought not rule out the possibility, the unknowable potential, of taking hold of a teaching moment, if the moment truly seems right, should it arise, with anyone. I believe strongly in two things which together make for great potential for change in the Church: 1. the Lord's power to do what He will, and 2. that God created humans with great curiosity, and great capacity to learn, and change.

James said...

Great post, Latif.

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GodFearing said...

Since I don't fully agree with you, I'm sure this comment will be deleted, showing just how "cynical" some churches have become!

On to my comment about this issue:

I'd prefer women wore dresses, but that time is long gone and it is not going to come back.

As for either men or women wearing "flip flops" or "sandals", closed shoes are a new thing, in Christs day they wore sandals, flip flop style type shoes or went out in barefeet.

So telling one how to dress and what to wear should HAVE NO BEARING on their belief in the Lord, nor should it have any bearing on how they are treated or perceived in any church.

You ae committing one of the biggest sins in my opinion by being judgemental to those in your "flock" and there is ONLY ONE being in the universe that can judge us, and that being is GOD All Mighty, no one else and I'm sure God is not worried about what we wear to church as long as we are faithful and continue to try and live by the commandments within the bible.

I think some of you "preachers, pastors, fathers" or whatever you may be called in your specific church need to go back and do some hard reading and historical research on clothing, shoes, etc.

You may learn something, I'm sorry, but I have to take these comments as cynical to those that would attend your church and if I did, I'm sure I would not stay long with the attitude that is portrayed here!

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Dear "Godfearing,"

I was hoping you had a blog or a web site, that the readers of this blog may come to know you. Consider starting a blog,it's just as easy as commenting at a blog. My post on women's attire seems to have inspired some spirited reaction from you. That's certainly a start. I invite you to keep reading my blog. It will keep your blood circulating at a good rate. And in all seriousness, I welcome the opportunity to actually engage you on anything you may genuinely want to discuss with me in a reasonable way. I haven't the time right now to further the women's fashion issue, but I surely will in the future. Thanks for stopping here.

Rosko said...

Br. Latif,
You almost make it seem that trousers are the only acceptable below the waist garments for men. It must be pointed out, however, that there are pockets of men moving past the pants, so to speak. By this I mean that some men are pushing toward the ability to wear 'male unbifurcated garments'. These are kits, sarongs, caftans, tunics, etc. made for men, cut for men, and usually designed by men. Would we be wrong to allow men to wear these historically male garments? Kilts in the modern tartan sense are an 18th century or more recent things, but pants truly only date back to the 15th. I like what you have to say on this, please don't get me wrong. I will say that men in unbifurcated clothis are generally more comfortable and modest than men wearing pants. That's my only comment. Great post!

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

My good Brother Rosko,
First, note well that I wholeheartedly approve of the use of cassocks by priests and seminarians. Concordia Theological Seminary, I hasten to warn, however, neither approves nor tolerates it, unless of course the offender is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity, or an Episcopalian friend of a seminary bureaucrat, in which cases the wearer needn't necessarily be either male or heterosexual. But I digress.

For laymen, it must be a different story. Pants are relatively recent in history, you are right. That is hardly the most pertinent issue, though. I think, rather, that instead of finding some example in history, and using it to justify going back to it (this sort of crass repristinationism can also be said to characterize the "back to the early church" craze of the post Vatican II reforms, but again, I digress), men generally ought to dress the way that gentlemen of their own tradition dress. For men in modern America (by 'modern' in this case I mean 19th, 20th, & 21st century) that means pants. Indeed, for Scottish, it at times means something else, as for men of other traditions. I do not condemn those traditions. But you and I, Rosko, are men of modern America. So for God's sake, keep your pants on, or one of these days, all this crass historicism will mean that the men will be in skirts and all the women will be in pants. Just what we need, more androgynization. (I know you didn't mean your argument to go in this direction, Rosko, but it's Saturday, as good a day to vent some steam as any other. I'm a Lutheran in a Lutheran world. I gotta blow off some steam once in a while.

Nicole said...

Mostly, I love to buy my dresses from Jessica London store by using coupons...

trishont said...

"3. A lady should dress in a way that is appropriate for the ocassion[sic]."

I'm glad you included this directive. Because I can ONLY wear flip flops, having suffered severe, permanent neuropathy post-chemo. I cannot tolerate anything on my feet. So, yes, I now wear flip flops to funerals. In winter I suffer with barefeet in my boots until I can get inside wherever I'm going and put the flip flops on again.

CJ said...

Jesus and His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary almost certainly wore sandals, which are mighty similar to modern flip-flops, and they wore them without socks, too, because socks hadn't been invented yet.
These hypocrites who go around bellyaching about informal dress need to reread the words of our Lord:

Mat 6:25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

AND

Jhn 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.