October 22-28, 2001
volume 12, no. 153

The Egalitarian Revolution    part three

Why do women only have to dress well?

    Like most women, I am an inveterate people-watcher. Naturally, therefore, as I walked through the parking lot to assist at a traditional Latin Mass recently, I noticed the family walking ahead of me. It was the kind of Catholic family I admire: the mother herding together three children under age six, the father young and good-willed, willing to endure the inconvenience and discomfort of a long drive with his family on a hot summer mid-day and prepared to fight the little battle to keep his exuberant children well-behaved during Mass. Perhaps because of the heat, or perhaps because the family was going to some park afterwards, he wore a plaid open-necked, short-sleeved cotton shirt, blue jeans and tennis shoes. When I entered the Church, I found his outfit repeated (with varying degrees of informality - e.g. khakis instead of jeans, sandals instead of tennis shoes) by men of all ages present there.

    The sermon Father preached was excellent, and it was preceded by a brief introduction warning the ladies present about the importance of women dressing modestly and appropriately not only for Mass, but whenever they go out. A woman or young lady who dresses with a certain elegance, modesty and feminine charm can edify society, be it at the grocery store or theater, and thus exerts a good Catholic influence. These observations on feminine clothing are absolutely true and I hope they will be the topic of another article. But today I would like to deal with men's clothing.

    Most traditional men become indignant when they consider how, after Vatican II, a multitude of priests abandoned their cassocks and collars to adopt more "comfortable" secular clothing. This aspect of the aggionia-mento of the Church with the modern world they reject absolutely. I don't know what the young father in blue jeans and an open shirt would have thought if the priest had abandoned his cassock and collar and "opted for" more comfortable attire to wear at Mass, but I don't think he would be pleased. Nonetheless, for the sake of comfort and convenience, he - along with so many other traditionalist men - had abandoned his jacket, tie, and polished shoes. If he were to have an appointment to meet with the Bishop, governor or another important dignitary, he would certainly put on a suit coat and tie. Yet when he approaches the altar to receive Jesus Christ the King of Kings in Holy Communion at the most sacral of ceremonies, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he somehow finds it "enough" to don a short-sleeved shirt, blue jeans and tennis shoes.

    Clothing for men that once never would have been acceptable in the business place, at a party or even at a good restaurant, has now become commonplace at Mass, even among traditionalists. No one registers any shock to see tennis shoes, T-shirts or blue jeans at Mass or at the theater. What has happened here? A new component other than Vatican II has entered the picture in the last forty years. This is the triumph of the revolution in the customs. Because I do not believe most American men would appreciate or benefit so much from a criticism based on aesthetics or fashion sense, let me try fields they are more habituated to, that is, practical considerations and the realm of principles.

Clothing: A spiritual as well as material end

    Clothing, considered from a strictly practical and material point of view, one might argue, is only to cover the body. At most, the modern man might recognize its function to provide a certain sense of decency. However, those who know that man is more than mere matter also know that clothing is more than just a covering for the body. According to the natural order of things, clothing should also render a service to the soul.

    As customs, manners and clothing developed under the healthy influence of the Catholic Church, it was considered a norm of common sense for clothing to complement the man's personality, as well as his class and office in life. His attire even helped him exercise the influence necessary for his position. It was not just the priest and Bishop who wore their respective cassocks, but professors, lawyers, judges, military officers, clerks, and so on assumed the clothing and honorary decorations befitting the dignity of their work.

    "How elitist!" one might then exclaim. Much to the contrary. We are not just talking about the upper class and professional men. Consider this panorama of middle-class English society in 1569 who are mixing together at Bermondsey, then a pleasant district for recreation. The clothing ranges from expensive dresses that would not have been out of place at court to "ordinary" working clothes and military uniforms. However these "ordinary" clothing, as well as the bearing of the people, appear almost royal by modern standards. Each outfit expresses the varying degree of responsibility of the function that the man carries out. Each man reflects the sense of the dignity of his work, and also his very condition as a man, made to the image and likeness of God. Whatever the social class, in a epoch that is concerned with elevating man, an era athirst for dignity, grandeur, and seriousness, then the apparel - common or professional - accentuates the impression of these values in each person.

Next Issue: Part Four

Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.

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For past columns by Dr. Horvat, see Archives of Echoes of True Catholicism

October 22-28, 2001
volume 12, no. 153
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