Clothing Rules: Love Them or Hate Them?

Perhaps it's the memory of eight years of Catholic school uniforms, the hated "kneeling test" (if you kneel, your skirt has to touch the floor), nuns trying to rub a port wine birthmark off of my friend's face (sister thought she was wearing makeup), or the time I got called up to Sister Helen's desk and lectured: "Young women are beautiful enough without makeup...." I got caught wearing rouge.

Perhaps it's these memories or just my penchant for wanting to do the opposite of any rule, but I abhor clothing rules. Yet looking around me on a typical day, it's easy to long for the days when women's magazines published rules and everyone sort of, kind of tried to follow them.

Common sense is the best course of action but, well - it's not always common!

Catholic Rules for Modest Dress for Women

Among my Catholic women friends who are concerned with the entire dressing with dignity/a return to elegance movement, there's a tendency to point to Saint Padre Pio as the ultimate arbiter of modest fashion for women. The great saint refused to hear the confession of any woman entering church whose skirt did not fall a modest eight inches below the knee, cover her chest to her collarbone, or had sleeves at least 3/4 of the way on the arm.  If caught borrowing more modest attire so she could meet with the good friar, he'd still boot her out of church.

Now today, we still use these guidelines. Surprised? I was when I read some of Colleen Hammond's book, Dressing with Dignity. (Dressing with Dignity: Second Edition). Colleen cites many church documents to support these guidelines, and for that, I applaud her.

Growing Up with Too Many Rules

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, my mother and grandmother who lived with us taught me the traditional rules about clothing and style. Never wear white after labor day. Always wear a dress to church. Always wear a slip and stockings. And so on.

I remember coming home from first grade feeling hot and itchy in my plaid uniform skirt. I changed into shorts on that bright May afternoon to go outside and play. My mother had a fit. "You can NEVER wear shorts before Memorial Day!" she insisted, and I had to change into pants. And sweat. A lot.

Did I mention how I hate rules?

However..... Alvimann
This used to be what prostitutes wore.
 Now it's touted as fashion

Society Has Gone Over the Cliff When It Comes to No Rules

Society has swing so far to the other extreme of no rules for anyone that going to the store to buy a gallon of milk can feel like a challenge to your senses. The other day at Wal-Mart, that great local melting pot of culture, I stood in line between a morbidly obese woman stuffed into skin-tight psychedelic leggings over which she had thrown a tent-like black t-shirt. Her feet, stuffed into flip-flops, were pedicured to the hilt, with sparkly toes that matched her sparkling fake fingernails. On the other line was a guy with his pants dragging like a soggy diaper and another gal whose shirt pulled up so high I could see the intricate back tattoo that marred her skin while her skin-tight blue jeans dipped so low on her behind that I saw far more of her than I wished. You get the picture.

I remember when people - men and women - dressed when they left the house. They took care with their appearance. Women combed their hair and wore a hat and gloves. Going to church meant pulling out your best outfit, not stuffing your feet into flip flops and sliding into the pew after Mass started. Even going to a store like Wal-Mart meant pants and closed-toe shoes, at least.

Okay, so I'm not big on rules. But I am big on common sense.

So Where Is the Happy Medium? Common Sense

The happy medium is common sense and dignity. Elegance. That's why I called this blog "A return to elegance" not "dress like your grandmother".  

Elegance implies grace, taste and style. It implies that you are dressing according to your age and station in life, but more importantly, according to where you are going and who you are meeting.

Can you imagine Grace Kelly in flip flops or skin tight psychedelic leggings? Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, probably wears yoga pants at home, but I doubt she'd wear them even to dash to the store for some cereal for Prince George. 

She has more class than that.

I may hate clothing rules, but I do embrace common sense.  Common sense would say that...
  • When you leave your house, you change into outdoor clothing. That means no sweat pants unless going to the gym; it means no pajamas; it means real shoes.
  • When going to a house of worship, court, a funeral, a wedding or a formal party, dress up.
  • If your mother would be appalled at what you're wearing, change.
What advice would you add to encourage a return to elegance?

How do you feel about clothing rules?