Saturday, August 16, 2008

What Women Wear

Lately, I have been mulling over the manner of dress of Christians (don't look now, but that's totally a stolen chapter title from Book 18 of Augustine's City of God - which you, being proper Catholics, have a dog-eared copy of). What women should wear is often a source of great contention, and this is a bit puzzling until you realize that the highly-charged emotional screaming matches are about what is highly visible and a major concern - clothes. (Incidentally - the clothes make the man, women (sometimes) make clothes ---> women (sometimes) make the man?)

What do we learn, almost from the moment we first begin to toddle around and enchant impressionable grownups, from the fairy-tale of Cinderella?

Clothes matter.

Clothes matter a lot.

Jane Austen poked a bit of fun, in her novel "Northanger Abbey," at the young women who noted others' dresses so much that they might as well have a notebook handy so as to record an evening's worth of gowns (such is my remembrance).

Louisa May Alcott had a female character in one of her more odiously sanctimonious novels exult that her rival's pink dress was utterly demolished because there was only a green couch to sit on, creating an unsightly clash of color.

People have been paying attention to what other women wear for a very long time.

There is, however, the temptation to behave badly towards fellow human beings when it comes to clothes because we can elevate ourselves above our rivals - or at least, above those people we don't like very much.

Of course, clothes can be a handy thing to form judgments on - it's probably not prudent to approach a person in strange costume who is mumbling to himself.

But, when you bring in modesty, well... you should duck for cover because there will be fireworks in the discussion that night.

This has, I think, somewhat to do with the whole Traddie/Novus(ie) snafu, because where you find debates about modesty, you often find either the pants/skirt debate or fashion/modesty or you often find in comment boxes something akin to: "Well, thank GOODNESS I go to the Latin Mass where people don't expose their shoulders or arms or wear less than ankle-length skirts!"

These are good things to talk about. However, there is also then the added temptation to adapt modesty to fit an agenda if you're facing up someone who believes one Mass is highly superior and the other is highly inferior to someone who rather likes the Mass considered inferior and exposed arms. Because, if the Mass is superior then, maybe, so are its attendees - or at least their judgment, since their judgment has obviously caused them to prefer what is superior.

The question, in some instances then, morphs from "what is modest," to "what is modest according to this bunch of Mass goers"? The ankle length skirt becomes a badge of affiliation, rather than a modest skirt. The attendee of the "inferior Mass" is then, in some sense, a rival with their arms akimbo and bare.

But because of our unity in Christ, we are not rivals.

That's all I have to say for now. Draw your conclusions, take it as a cautionary tale, and remember - keeeeep your shoiit on!

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