"Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Divine Lord very much." --Our Lady's words to Jacinta Marto, one of the little seers of Fatima.
The above quotation is one that you will run into whenever discussions of modesty in dress take place among Catholics. Some people present it as a pious point to ponder; others use it as a club to enforce early 1900s standards of dress, particularly female dress, as the only possible modest dress for Catholic women; still others dismiss it entirely.
I find the quote to be similar to other quotes from the past that are taken somewhat out of context, like this one. Oh, it is not that I am saying that Our Lady is being misquoted; as far as I know, that particular phrasing/translation is the most commonly seen one (though I have seen people insert the word "immodest" between "Certain" and "fashions"). But I think that those who take this out of context take it to mean one thing only: that some articles of women's clothing would be introduced which are inherently immodest and that these articles of clothing in themselves are offensive to God, such that no decent woman ought to wear them; then, further, those who read the quote this way point to the introduction of slacks for females soon after Fatima as "proof" that what Jacinta was referring to as being offensive to God was definitely the wearing of slacks or trousers by women.
Here is where I wish I could find the original quote by Blessed Jacinta in her original language--because I've also seen the quote translated as "Certain fashions and styles will be introduced..." which makes me wonder just what the original words are.
The reason I wonder is because only a few years after Fatima, the fashion and style of the Flapper made its appearance.
Looking back, the Flapper seems to us a vintage figure of fun, so to speak. Her "shocking" dresses are not all that shocking now (except for the most extreme sort), and her ditching of the traditional corset and binding undergarments in favor of less complicated foundations seems more like something to celebrate than to excoriate (and, indeed, I've never seen even the most modest ladies calling for a return to the modest undergarments of the Fatima day and age, some examples of which may be seen here).
However, the Flapper was more than a pioneer in less massive garments; she was also a girl who drank, smoked, danced, went to "petting parties" where her conduct with members of the opposite sex was uninhibited and truly immodest; she shunned religion, laughed at anything conservative, and cultivated "an air of nudity," as this writer says, in her bare-armed and bare-stockinged style.
What was shocking about the Flapper, though, was not merely her clothes; it was her manner, her attitude, her desire to flaunt areas of her body which up to yesterday everybody covered up, and her casual approach to sex and physical encounters. The Flapper as a type (because there were probably a lot of silly girls who aped the fashions without immersing in the philosophy) was presenting to the world a truly immodest new mode--that is, a new fashion. And until the Great Depression, the Flapper's hedonistic and overtly sexual mode of dressing, acting, and living was increasingly accepted by, quite frankly, people who ought to have--and did--know better.
Now, do I think that Our Lady had the Flapper specifically in mind when she told Jacinta that certain fashions would be introduced that would offend Our Lord very much? Not necessarily--but I do think that Our Lady was talking about more than clothes. And just as the fashions of the late 1960s and early 1970s were wrapped up in revolt against decency, ideas about free love, bra-burning feminism, and the like, so were the fashions introduced by the Flapper about a lot more than what people were wearing.
What kinds of fashion might offend Our Lord today? I think the answer is both complicated and simple: complicated because it's hard to pinpoint specific clothing items that are always and everywhere immodest, but simple, because if we're looking at the attitudes and mindsets behind some of the ways people have of dressing we can figure things out much more easily. Here's the simple part: clothing which is designed and worn specifically to sexualize the person wearing it, to reveal in a lust-inducing way parts of the body which ought to be kept hidden, and to do so as part of a cultural mindset which promotes the notion that sex is simply recreation and has no intrinsic meaning or value beyond that of scratching an itch or relieving oneself ought not be worn by Christians.
How can you tell if clothing fits that description? Well, I think padded bras for eight-year-olds are a pretty obvious example; most, alas, of what hangs in the "Juniors" department is going to be problematic, and anything designed on purpose to display large amounts of female cleavage or certain male assets in a way designed to cause people to violate the sixth commandment ought to be rejected.
For the most part, I think that dressing modestly is not that hard to do. I don't share the notion of some Catholics who think that Our Lady was holding up 1917 in Portugal as the last stronghold of modest clothing (and if she was, then I demand that men go back to wearing suits all the time, too. There, I said it.). I think that what Mary said was what she said: that certain fashions would be introduced which would offend Our Lord--and, frankly, from the Flapper to the 1960s to some of today's clothing choices, it's pretty easy to identify the fashions that offend Him--because they're meant to.