Sexy is No Substitute for Class

The Apparition of Our Lady of Fatima
May 13, 1917
"More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason... Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much... Woe to women lacking in modesty." 
-- Our Lady of Fatima, Blessed Jacinta Marto
As I type this entry, we are just a couple weeks away from the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Virtually all public conversation now revolves around that. However, I want to take us away from that for a moment and move into bigger topics. In a previous essay I discussed strategies Catholic families could take to weather the coming storm that is about to befall us in the United States. In that essay I mentioned the eventual re-evangelisation of North America, and rebuilding of Christendom, which will inevitably follow the collapse of modern Western Civilisation. As I mentioned, the coming storm that will persecute Catholics (and other Christians) is unavoidable, regardless of who wins the American presidential election in 2016. The election just determines the length and intensity of this storm.

So now what we need to be thinking about is the long term. The time for saving this current culture has passed. It is now time to talk about how we will start over, completely from scratch. We begin in a very personal way, and that is by the way we dress.

I think its fairly obvious to say that something went horribly wrong with all fashion trends in the middle 1960s. By that I mean from the 1930s through early 1960s, with just a few exceptions, there were certain expected norms in American fashion trends. With only a few exceptions, a reasonable degree of modesty ruled the day. It certainly wasn't a prudish time, and far from puritan, but it was fairly consistent with the cultural trends of the 18th and 19th centuries, leading up to that time. For this reason, I would consider the 1930s through early 1960s the apex of American women's fashion. It was sophisticated, smart, practical, beautiful and classy. But in about 1966 things started to change. Women's clothing got a little more daring, revealing, tighter and sexy. The descent into the sensual abyss was rapid. By 1970 it was just plain weird, and men's fashion quickly followed suit. The 1970s were a strange time indeed. I have often said if the late 1960s were America's "party" than the 1970s was America's "hangover." I grew up in the 1970s, and to this day, I don't understand it. It was a strange time. Maybe it was all the pot and psychedelic drugs they were using back then. I don't know, but it was weird. The 1980s were my teen years, and I can tell you exactly what the impetus was behind a lot of our fashions in the 80s. It was to get rid of the 70s! We wanted every trace of that decade as far behind us as possible. For all of our big hair, loud colours, shoulder pads and suspenders, you will notice a recurring theme about the 1980s. What was it? Look closely. It was a nostalgic admiration of the 1950s. Look at some of the most popular movies of the 1980s and you'll notice that many of them are set in the 1950s. Much of the pop art and music had that bubblegum look and sound of classic 1950s art and rock n' roll. Speaking as a teenager from the 1980s, I can tell you first hand, we admired the 1950s, and we wanted to emulate that in some ways, but at the same time we wanted to be modern and different. We wanted to set our own trends that were unique, but we couldn't help look back at our grandparents' generation with just a touch of envy.

My time (1980s onward), may have gotten a bit more sophisticated, but the sensual trend continued in a downward spiral. The pattern was more flesh, tight fit and less to the imagination. This of course is particularly seen in so-called "bathing suits," but we see it in contemporary street dress as well. In the 1990s a new style began to gain popularity -- grunge. While essentially modest, to a point, it was defined by just plain sloppiness. Sadly, by this time, Americans simply forgot how to dress like Americans.

I believe the prophecy of Our Lady of Fatima about women's fashions is now fulfilled in its entirety, and while many of you ladies may think I'm picking on you, in reality, I'm just stating a fundamental truth. When it comes to fashion, women set the pace and direction. I'm sorry if that's offensive, but its true. Women define fashion. Men just follow along in this area. Let's be honest here. If men defined fashion, we men would all be wearing tunics, britches and boots, looking like something akin to late Medieval farmers. Sorry guys, but that's about as "creative" as it gets for us.

Women have always been the primary drivers of fashion change. Leave men to their own devices and nothing changes at all. Men only think about two things when it comes to fashion. One, is it practical? And two, does it make me look like a girl? If the answer is "yes" to the first, and "no" to the second, it's a winner!

Since women drive fashion trends, it is women's clothing that is primarily responsible to leading us into a place that offends the Lord. Let's be frank about this. The overarching trend of the latter half of the 20th century, until now, has been more flesh and less class. In some cases, with the deep necklines, high skirts, short shorts, etc., it's been down near pornographic. While this does excite men, of course, I can tell you (as a man), I have always been more attracted to a woman who dresses modestly, but in a classy way. Truth be told, if you put any woman in in 1930's through early 1960s skirt and blouse, I'll find her more appealing than most of the women today. You see, there is something about the male psyche that is a bit more sophisticated than most women give us credit for. While female flesh and curves are naturally attractive to us, on a purely carnal level, they only reveal WHAT she is -- a woman. However, if a woman dresses in a modest but classy way, it reveals something more. It reveals WHO she is, and that (pardon me) is a hell of a lot more attractive than the immodest and "sexy" attire most Western women wear today.

The key to modesty is to draw attention to the head, particularly the face. When a woman dresses like this, she's telling others (especially men), that she's a human being. She's a person, not an object. Now of course, sometimes the arms and shins need to bear just for practical reasons. Climate can be a factor, as well as manual labour. However, there are ways a woman can cover the shoulders, waist, and most of the legs, without looking prudish. Many of the Christian modesty movements today look toward the Amish as an example, and I personally think this is a mistake. I think our Catholic women need to be a little smarter than that. Being modest does not mean one has to sacrifice beauty. Modesty does not always mean frumpy.

To re-evangelise and rebuild our civilisation from scratch, we're going to have to start with ourselves, and I think this begins by picking up where we left off before our fashions went crazy in the middle to late 1960s. I'm not talking about completely going back, as in "retro" or a "throwback," but I do think faithful Catholic women, who are seeking modesty and fashions that don't "offend our Lord," need to look at the modest fashions of the 1930s, through early 1960s as a model or template to work from...






Understanding that hairstyles, makeup and accessories will be different today, I think this is a good place to start. Quite frankly, I think modern hair styles and makeup often look better (more natural) than what we saw in decades past. What will follow, quite naturally, is men's fashion. If faithful Catholic women start dressing like this again, Catholic men are naturally going to start feeling under-dressed in their presence, and they'll probably take it up a notch; with some nice slacks, a button shirt and maybe even a tie. Who knows? They may even start asking you for fashion advice! If they do, please ladies, don't go by what you see in the magazines. Men should look manly, as well as modest and classy. Do try to help them understand that.

I think this is where we really need to begin. If you're a Catholic woman, who takes the teachings of the Church seriously, along with the message of Our Lady of Fatima, the "ball is in your court" on this one. What's it going to be? Are you going to make a statement, please our Lord, and dress like you're letting people know WHO you are? Or are you just going to conform to the culture that tells you to only let men know WHAT you are? Will you aspire toward a fashion of modesty and class? Or will you just settle for the prevailing fashions of tight and sexy?


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of '' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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Arminius said…
Bravo Shane. One of the challenges here in the desert southwest is the cultural lack of inhibition towards Mass "dress." It seems that there is almost a race to show as much of the flesh that is possible. It can be quite distracting.

I am not advocating for strict dress codes at all. But there needs to be an understanding, taught even from the lectern, about the effect of clothing or lack thereof has on others.
Arminius said…
If I may add, Archbishop Chaput's remarks at Notre Dame may add to this discussion.

Particularly this quote: "In Philadelphia I’m struck by how many women I now see on the street wearing the hijab or even the burqa. Some of my friends are annoyed by that kind of “in your face” Islam. But I understand it. The hijab and the burqa say two important things in a morally confused culture: “I’m not sexually available;” and “I belong to a community different and separate from you and your obsessions.”

I have a long list of concerns with the content of Islam. But I admire the integrity of those Muslim women. And we need to help Catholics recover their own sense of distinction from the surrounding secular meltdown. The Church and American democracy are very different kinds of societies with very different structures and goals. They can never be fully integrated without eviscerating the Christian faith. An appropriate “separateness” for Catholics is already there in the New Testament. We’ve too often ignored it because Western civilization has such deep Christian roots. But we need to reclaim it, starting now."

I too have very serious concerns with the content of Islam, in particular their treatment of women and children. However, it is the very openness of feminism's sexuality, that has earned it's target status amongst the Mullahs and Imams.
And don't forget prom dresses. If you are going to single out bathing suits, prom dresses also deserve a closer inspection. (I graduated high school in '86 and went on to be a teacher, so I have lots of data)

In the 80's we were all about big ball gowns at prom. Hoop skirts. The "Southern Belle" Guinea Sax look. But as the 90's dawned, we sent our girls to prom in gown-less evening straps. We went from feminine and flirty to outright sleezy, all in a few years.
Elisa BlissfulE said…
Yes, these dresses are lovely. But where on earth would a woman today find clothes like this? They look like they would take advanced sewing skills.
Elise Hilton said…
I do indeed like these dresses. But what about the young lady who plays softball? Or simply likes to ride a bike? Or is busy cleaning the windows? Dresses are not always practical.