Is it possible to call something immodest? Why and how?

A few photos courtesy of wikimedia to clarify my question for Dr. Greg.  He writes, and he’s not the only person to write this, “Modesty requires that we dress in a manner that we deem appropriate . . .”

The gist of his approach, if I understand it correctly — and I think I do not — is this:

If we cultivate a non-lustful, considerate and loving personality, and furthermore make it our policy to try to dress appropriately, we’ll have this modesty thing in the bag.

(Quoting no one here.  Just summarizing my understanding of the position.  Which I assume is faulty.)

This puzzles me, because I keep running into people who are, to the best of knowledge, pure, kind, loving people, but who wear very little clothing.  And I think, “Someone needs to tell them to wear more clothes!”

And other people say, “You’re so fussy!  Stop thinking the worst about everybody!”

(Which is silly, since I don’t think the worst about them, I just wish they’d wear more clothes. Assuming I think something bad about them is thinking the worst about me.  But no matter.)

So my question: Is it possible, in a given time and place — for example, in the Catholic Church in suburban America in 2013 — to assert objective standards of modesty?  Or does everyone get an A for effort, as long as their intentions are good?

For example, if our pious, generous, and hard-working Knights of Columbus started turning out at Mass like this:

Is that okay?  Is it modest?  Who says yes or no?

If our talented and devoted baritones eschew the choir robes and rejoice in the Lord this way:

File:Gymnasts (5892730197).jpg

Is this okay?  Would our pastor be overstepping his bounds to gently inform the fellows they need to put a shirt on?

And what about Fr. E, anyhow? He’s a hip guy.  Tight pants, or skipping the pants altogether and just going with leggings, are the norm anymore.  Of course he’d do it in clerical black, and change out the sequins for a clerical collar, but could he wear this:

File:Roberto Bolle La Bayadere Royal Ballet.JPG

. . . and be called “modest”?

No copping out.  Don’t hide behind, “It’s tacky” or “it’s unfashionable” or “it doesn’t blend in” or “wrong sport”.  No assuming the worst about people — we’ll assume the gentlemen are genuinely trying to be modest.  Assume also, for the sake of the question, that around our little corner of suburbia, many guys dress this way as they go about their daily business.

Are these acceptably modest street clothes for work / church / ordinary social events?  Yes or no?  Why or why not?


Bike shorts: by Lord copplepot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Gymnasts: By Quinn Dombrowski from Berkeley, USA (Gymnasts) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ballet Dancer: By Scillystuff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

2 thoughts on “Is it possible to call something immodest? Why and how?

  1. I think it’s difficult to determine context from any of these pictures, and context is important to one’s choice of clothing. Are they appropriate for deliberately wearing to Mass? Not normally, no. But it is possible for them to be suitable to some occasion, and I think part of what Dr. Greg is saying is that part of healthy modesty is understanding what is proper to wear when and why.

  2. I’m reminded of two things.
    First, an Arabic saying I learned from my Turkish friends: Eat for yourself; dress for others.

    And: how one dresses is a kind of behavior. That is, to dress inappropriately is to behave inappropriately.

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