Thursday, April 7, 2011

Certain fashions

"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.


John Thayer Jensen said...

It would, indeed, be good to see the original Portuguese. The word 'fashion' in casual modern English may normally refer to styles of women's clothing; it is not clear that even an English translation using the word 'fashion' from 1917 would be limited in the same way. Even today, the word doesn't have to mean that - that is just its default meaning, depending on context.


JMB said...

Do you have the original source? What if Mary is referring to philosophical thought ie rise of communism, statism, that leads to changes in fashion and manners. What comes first - the idea or the manifestation of the idea in fashion, art and music?

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

There are parts of the original documents to be found here. Not sure if it's the relevant part.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree, Erin, about how so much religious fervor gets inappropriately focused on controlling female behavior.

Modesty is about more than dress. From the Free Dictionary:
1. The state or quality of being modest.
2. Reserve or propriety in speech, dress, or behavior.
3. Lack of pretentiousness; simplicity.

Public bragging, preening, raging, displays of wealth, as well as wasting resources (personal as well as natural or public) are all immodest and many of them are in fashion. These are much more offensive than immodest dress - which just makes me wonder about the mental health and self-esteem of the perpetrator.

"Fashion" can be defined as a "prevailing custom or style of dress, etiquette, socializing, etc." according to

The turn of the last century saw a "fashion" among upper and upper-middle class young ladies taking up the cause for the poor, forming the junior league and championing social work.

Also (I can't help myself), about that myth of "bra-burning feminism"


eulogos said...

I also wondered if "fashion" here referred to clothes at all.
Susan Peterson

Carrie said...

I certainly believe "fashion" is referring to clothing in this sense, as can be attested to Sr. Lucia's many strong words on the topic of modesty in dress. She is, after all, the one who heard those words from Our Lady, so I think she would be a great source from which to understand the meaning of what Our Lady said.

That being said, of course fashion is more than just the clothing: it certainly encompasses the attitude behind it. And as someone mentioned, it could very well be that the attitude comes before its manifestation in clothing.

But as Sr. Lucia said, as published in the book "The Intimate Life of Sr. Lucia": "Those who appear indecently dressed are an incentive to sin, and so are responsible not only for their sins, but also for those that others may commit because of them. Reflect that fashion, if it is indecent – and we see that the world unfortunately follows it as if it were the law – is a trick of the devil, a clever trap in which the devil catches souls.” I certainly agree that when people mindlessly follow a certain style of clothing because it is popular, it is indeed a trick of the devil. It is our part to make sure that what we're wearing is in line with God's will for us (read: modest!), whether or not it happens to be considered "fashionable." I wouldn't underestimate the power of modesty; what we wear DOES have an impact on our spiritual lives.

Diamantina da Brescia said...

I speak Portuguese and can translate it into English. I looked at Items A, B, C and D in Portuguese that Charlotte referred to, but did not see anything that looked like it was referring to fashion. If someone were to give me the original Portuguese that Our Lady of Fátima told Bl. Jacinta, I could translate it.

Muito obrigada -- many thanks! :-)

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I wonder whether Jacinta Marto was indulging in fantasy. Do we have any evidence other than her own word for it?

When Oral Roberts told us that God had directed him to raise $10 million in donations or Roberts would be called home, radio DJ's were cracking jokes all over the airwaves. Rightly so. I remember one about a giant dog telling a talk show host to build a dog house big enough for him "or I'm going to die next month."

I'm sure the devotion is sincere. I'm just not sure God really said anything of the kind.

Suburbanbanshee said...

It's not part of anything St. Jacinta got told by the Virgin Mary. She said it herself, in a conversation with the head of an orphanage in Lisbon. It's a saint's words, not words from the Apparition; and she probably learned to be concerned about such adult matters as fashion and bad marriages from the parish priest in Fatima, who was a great preacher against laxness. (And not a big fan of the three kids, either.)

Misquoting Mary seems shockingly prevalent on sites that claim to care about her messages lots and lots.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Apparently this comment was to her godmother, actually. It was elicited by Jacinta seeing some fashionable ladies visiting the orphanage hospital. She said herself that most of her comments came from her own thoughts, and that she had not been taught them by Our Lady.

There are two different versions of the wording:

"Virão umas modas que vão ofender muito a Nosso Senhor. As pessoas que servem a Deus não devem andar com a moda. A Igreja não tem modas. Nosso Senhor é sempre o mesmo."

and some say "Hão de vir", but those seem to be the sites that confuse it with a Marian message.

These days, "moda" is apparently a somewhat deprecatory Portuguese term for fashion or trend - something like "silly fashion". But it apparently is also used in reference to all sorts of trends and intellectual fashions; so without the clue of the fashionable ladies doing good works and visiting the sick and helping the orphan, we'd have no reference for this remark. :)

St. Jacinta gave plenty of good moral exhortations, but it's not all the stuff Our Lady was concerned to convey. She was her own little person.