What is modesty for mothers?

Recently, we were at the pool with my VERY FIT friend Mrs. X and her five children. Mrs. X was in a fairly skimpy bikini. After 5 kids, she still has the figure for it.

At the pool that day, instead of asking Mrs. X for a juice box himself, my 5-year-old son asked me to go ask her. Twice I told him it was his responsibility to ask her if he wanted a juice box. Finally, as I was becoming impatient, he told me, “Mom, please ask her for me. I’m embarrassed to, because Mrs. X doesn’t look modest.”

We aren’t the modesty police in our house. The girls and I all wear shorts and tank tops, among other things, in the summer. But it was instinctive to my son that cleavage and midrift are not OK.

Fast-forward two weeks. Yesterday, I was watching the children play in the sprinkler with our wonderful neighbors who are Orthodox Jews. Their girls are 10-year-old twins and 6, and they wear pretty, knee-length skirts. They are highly creative with plenty of spunk. And their mother and I discussed how modesty in dress seems to correlate with ladylike posture and gentleness in demeanor. Orthodox Jewish women don’t wear tank tops or shorts.

I am not going down the path of over-scrupulousness in dress. We’re all in agreement that the goal of our vocation is to be in the world: in our appearance, to blend in or better. Slouching around town in ankle-length denim jumpers and white sneakers with unkempt hair and without makeup doesn’t do anybody any good. But really, I’m wondering if shorts and tank tops are the best I can do as a 30-year-old Christian mother with several children. I find that it’s impossible to buy stylish shorts that aren’t too short on me, and tank tops just aren’t that dignified. Who needs to be seeing my mid-thighs or my shoulders? In the summer, skirts just above the knee and lightweight shirts with cap sleeves are just as cool and much prettier. Lightweight dresses are easy and breezy. Exhibit A: my husband’s and children’s compliments when I dress this way.

Not all summer styles befit Catholic mothers. As I make new warm-weather clothing purchases (rare!), I am shifting toward more feminine and modest alternatives.

"Thank you for all your years of blogging. It has been such fun and a ..."

A Final Post
"Just for anyone researching this subject, I teach elementary music and most pop songs, lyrically ..."

Pop Music and Kids
"MA, it took me forever to comment on this post, but wanted to thank you ..."

Christmas to-do list
"Way to go, MA! That's the spirit, just one step at a time. I started ..."

Christmas to-do list

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I like JCrew’s 7 inch length shorts, available online only. u00a0Not so short that your bun cheek hangs out the back, but a little shorter than bermuda shorts. u00a0nnMy personal opinion is that bikinis are bad news bears. u00a0I would go as far as to say it makes the baby Jesus cry. u00a0Especially now that apparently it’s super normal for 7 year olds are wearing the push up and string bikinis. u00a0Or at least they are at my pool. u00a0I just tell my daughter that the money were saving on sunscreenu00a0when she wears her rash guardu00a0can go towards the ice cream fund. u00a0That seems to work for now… u00a0 u00a0

  • Marcy Klatt

    I just don’t feel comfortable in shorts or tank tops any more.u00a0 Part if it is modesty and part is not being young/thin anymore.u00a0 I love crop pants/capris/whatever they call them now.u00a0 They are just as cool as shorts but more modest.u00a0 I wear shirts that are not sleeveless.u00a0 I have never worn bikinis or anything bare midriff anyway.u00a0 It really makes me uncomfortable to see mothers wear that stuff.u00a0 I was really disgusted when I was pg with my youngest 8 years ago to see the cr-p that was sold for pg women, even in places like JC Penney.u00a0 Bare midriff!u00a0 We went to my son’s baseball game and there was a young mother 8 months pg. with a crop top on and short shorts.u00a0 I was stunned.u00a0 Have people no shame.u00a0 I don’t care if you think pg women are beautiful but cover yourself, you are a mother.

  • mommyto6boys

    How to Be Immodest About Modesty- Simcha Fisher – 7/1/11u00a0 “Tireless vigilance about immodesty in others.u00a0 This is nespecially loathesome in children.u00a0 Iu2019ve heard women boast about how ntheir six-year-old son makes cutting remarks about the attire of a womann who jogs by the house:u00a0 u201cMommy, that lady must not like herself very nmuch!u201du00a0 This is not the kidu2019s fault, of course.u00a0 Itu2019s the mom who shouldn be smacked upside the head.u00a0 Obviously we must set standards for ourselves, and teach our children how to dress and behave.u00a0 But we are in charge of how we dress, and unsolicited rudeness about other peopleu2019s choices is rude and counterproductive.”Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/how-to-be-immodest-about-modesty/#ixzz1So3o8aXg

  • Mary Alice

    So, I have never talked to my kids about modesty, but recently an oggling encounter with a well endowed teenage girl in a bikini taught me that in addition to modesty, I need to teach them about shielding their eyes — for politeness and to protect themselves, they can’t sit staring at someone’s body, even if that body is presented in a way that seems meant to be stared at.u00a0 nnI went through a phase of wearing a rash guard myself, and I think I am going to go back to it, for sunscreening, comfort and modesty.u00a0 I am down in the sand playing with my kids, so I show off too much top even in a modest suit.nnI have no objection to shorts, but I have also switched to wearing more skirts, it turns out that they are much cooler and more comfortable.u00a0 Old Navy has plenty of cheap ones this summer.

  • Just this morning I was blogging about the messages that we send to children through the clothing we buy for them (all the pinks and blues), and I think this is all related. The way we present ourselves reflects our understanding of our own identity, which in turn reflects our understanding of God. So while I’m no member of the modesty police (I’ve never felt comfortable in shorts, but I do love tank tops!), I think it’s important to have conservations within the family about the messages that clothing sends and what we want to present about ourselves to those we encounter.u00a0

  • The real question is what does any particular outfit or swimsuit communicate about our worth as daughters of God?u00a0u00a0 Our buzzword is thatu00a0certain thingsu00a0don’t represent the “truth andu00a0dignity of the human person.”u00a0 Yes, I am weird, but you come up with really random stuff when all of a sudden youru00a05 year old son starts asking all sorts of questions about the VS window display you just inadvertently went past.u00a0 FWIW,u00a0I am in the anti-jumper/shapeless/unfashionable camp but don’t wear shorts to mass.u00a0 I wear skirts and pants to mass and longer (at least 6″ inseam but I am 5ft 10”) shorts at other times!u00a0 When it comes to suits, well, we’ve been down that road before on this blog.u00a0 I give bikinis and cleavage bearing suits a 2 thumbs down.u00a0 I have to admit I get a little defensive when people say six year olds should have no clue about what is or isn’t appropriate.u00a0 My 7 year old daughter is a shwred observer and has been peppering me with questions about why she or I won’t wear X,Y, or Z for literally two years.u00a0 WHen fielding questions the standards we are setting have been pretty well formed.u00a0 So yes, they know things aren’t appropriate but we have talked about the fact that a lot of people don’t know or understand and we have to love them etc. etc.u00a0 We are also working on custody of the eyes too, in a natural way.u00a0 We’ve had some questions about “fashion swimwear” displays at Tar-Jay and the pool opens a whole new can of worms.u00a0 I tend to take them at the most family friendly time of day- i.e. the fewest numbers of sunbathers.u00a0 I cringe as to exactly how this is all supposed to work when my sons go through puberty.u00a0 I would freak out if I walked into the TV room and they were watching what we see at the pool on TV- so why is it ok at the pool????u00a0u00a0

  • Red

    Children need to be taught about modesty, and about respect for other people and adults.u00a0 Since modesty is really about respect for our bodies and those around us, we can’t teach one lesson without the other.u00a0 That being said, what JM’s son said is completely appropriate and shows good formation.u00a0 You cannot expect a 5 year old boy to understand or know how to approach a woman who is dressed inappropriately.u00a0 He asked for help from his mother, which is exactly how you want a child that age to respond when he is confused.nnYou all know my thoughts on women and bikinis.u00a0 I don’t ever find them appropriate.u00a0 And yes, I teach my children this lesson, but I also teach them not to disrespect an adult!u00a0 There is a fine line between being firm about right and wrong, and being judgmental and rude.u00a0 It’s important to walk that line well in raising our children.

  • JMB

    My older daughters are in that stage where they are completely clueless about their bodies and how others view them.u00a0 I have to remind them that when they leave the pool, they need to cover up.u00a0 They can’t run around in their bathing suits on the front lawn or walk to their friend’s house in a bikini.u00a0 Not cool.u00a0 I do think some children are more aware of their bodies than other children.u00a0 I seem to remember always being aware and concerned about how I looked.u00a0 I’m not sure if this was truly healthy, as I have spent a lot of time (as an adult) working on my own self esteem by trying to stifle the voice in my head that tells me that I am too pale, too short, too fat.u00a0 I actually mustered up the nerve to walk around our town pool in my bathing suit this summer without a cover up.u00a0 I know this sounds so vain and ridicules, but I’m almost 45 and this is something that I’ve never been able to do, and when I did have a hot rocking body (in my early twenties) I didn’t appreciate it. It was very cathartic for me.nnAs for me, I wear a lot of sundresses in the summer.u00a0 I find it easy to just pop on a dress and go about my day.u00a0

  • olivia demkowicz

    My general rule of thumb is that whatever I wear I must be able to envision my daughter (now 2) wearing when she is a beautiful young lady of 13 or 14 and just beginning to be noticed by the opposite sex. This has included me throwing out a lot of tank tops, tighter jeans, and shorter shorts/skirts. If I can imagine her wearing it and looking like a lady, then I can wear it. I have to start setting the example now. I am also adamant about her wearing longer dresses even at this age and teaching her to sit like a lady, etc. My boys (5, 3, and 8months)u00a0already think scantily clad women are “gross.” I’m fine with that for now! I shop almost exclusively at Land’s End these days. They really have nice, feminine and modest clothing that is stylish and not too expensive, same goes for their bathing suits. I always receieve compliments when I dress more feminine than “hot” and those make me feel good because I feel like I am reflecting my true nature rather than what our culture thinks is our nature.

  • olivia demkowicz

    I also wanted to add. I think it’s really important that we also teach our children about healthy body images. Growing up, my mom was never happy with her weight, and was always on a diet, wishing she looked more like a magazine cover. This led me to have unrealistic ideas of what I should like like and how thin I should be, etc. I think we should model healthy living and a realistic body image for our children. It will help when it comes to modest dress if they don’t think their goal is to look a certain way for someone else, but rather to feel confident and good about themselves and their own bodies. Does that make sense?

  • Mary Alice

    And, even when we are trying to walk that line well, our children say stupid, rude, embarrassing stuff sometimes, like commenting about smoking, other people’s dress or, recently, my little boys who asked an old man why his toenails were so long and yellow.u00a0 I wanted to crawl into a hole, but this is a good time to just pull them away and repeat the phrase “we do not make personal comments.”

  • Red

    so true!

  • Jurismater

    SO sorry everyone, my husband just let me know that the graphic that I put up contained an inappropriate expression… my sheltered upbringing!

  • Jurismater

    Olivia, this is such a great point, thank you. I need to be much more careful about the way I handle my own body image issues around my girls.

  • Elizabeth M

    My 10-year-old daughter knows we are more careful about modesty than others. She doesn’t wear bikinis (neither do I, but I’ve NEVER had the body for one). If she has a sleeveless sundress, she has a light weight cotton sweater to wear over it for Mass. She knows we pick 1-piece (or full “tankini”) bathing suits that are “appropriate.” I guess we talk more about being appropriate, or not showing too much skin rather than specifically the term modest. nnBut one thing that works for us is that we’ve always –in issues unrelated to modesty too — talked about how as Catholics we are different than “everyone else” in some ways. We have values that are not the same as today’s mainstream culture and we aren’t giving up our values just because they aren’t cool!nnNow, we’re not uber-Traditional separatist Catholics at all. (We don’t even home school!) But, we’ve taught our kids that sometimes we are not just like everyone else. This covers going to Mass each week, saying grace, appropriate language, honesty, and clothing choices. nnWith this basic understanding, we’re hoping to have at least a little less of the arguments about “but Suzie gets to do.. or wear…or go to…” because we’ve long explained that we’re not trying to be like anyone else. (This also applies to our son in other things, he doesn’t care about clothing!)n

  • MagistraLatina

    At Fatima, Our Lady warned of the immodest styles that were to come.u00a0 As a Catholic and trying to be a good example to my children and others in this world, I attempt to do my best at dressing modestlyu00a0 – my ‘shorts’ are actually culotte style (found them at Macy’s) and are breezy, comfy, and flattering.u00a0 I love to wear flowing sundresses – which is one great reason I love summer!u00a0 My children and husband like it when I wear such attire.u00a0 Also, I notice that those in the world, whether at a doctor’s office or at the grocery, are more respectful of me.u00a0 There’s a lot to be said about the manner in which one dresses.u00a0 (and bikinis are always a no-no, I don’t care how ‘great’ one’s body is)

  • Kate E.

    I’m finding this discussion interesting not so much from a religious based modesty issue (since I’m not religious) but as a good summer clothing discussion. I’m never that comfortable with just shorts and a tank but I do like to be cool and comfy.u00a0 I’ve really been loving a tunic and capri leggings this summer and I have been wearing a lot of dresses. But what do you modest ladies do about the rolling around with toddlers issue? I’m not a totally rough and tumble mom and I do know how to keep my ankles crossed at appropriate moments, but I find I squat, bend over, pop down on the sandbox,a lot during the day (not to mention the time the 18month old flipped my dress full up in the middle of the grocery store).u00a0 I have taken to wearing bike shorts under my dresses to provide a “safety net” and I have to say that I have been loving the hanna andersson bike shorts for under my daughter’s dresses too (although she is still young enough for a diaper cover). But I’d love some feedback…are you ladies just better at keeping everything underwraps? Do you do a bike short? Leggings?nnAnother issue I’m having is with the tops of the dresses. I’m pretty busty and I find between hauling the little girl up and down, the tugging on the dress, etc that if I’m not careful it starts to sag, gap, and the modest v-neck is now flashing way more then I’m comfortable with. I’ve contemplated getting some of these http://halftee.com/ which do seem like a great idea, more cool then a full tank top.u00a0 But at some point with a layering tee, bike shorts, and then a dress…it might be getting a little warm? Or maybe that is just the 100degree heat wave talking.nnAs for modesty, the 5 year old just stripped naked and ran out the back door today announcing it way too hot for clothes. He may be a lost cause.

  • Thank you for such an interesting post. I ditched the shorts, skinny jeans and tank tops two summers ago for modest dresses and skirts. For mass I also started covering my shoulders as well as my head with a mantilla. It was only this summer though that I switched my bikinis and got a one-piece (what can I say… I’m Australian – it took a while for the whole beachwear modesty thing to catch on).u00a0nnThere are only three problems I’ve encountered. Occasionally I feel dowdy and/or bored with my dress choices. Second, they are not always practical – say for yard work, painting or weeding (I am the handy one in my house). And third, I occasionally feel like a freak at mass with my mantilla and shawl/dress. u00a0nnhttp://www.adoptivus.blogspot.com/

  • Walkerpercy

    Mantillas at church, bikinis at the beach- I love it!u00a0 I think this is quite natural and lovely.

  • Jurismater

    Walker, what kind of a chauvinist perv are you? : )u00a0

  • When it comes to the “motherhood” part in particular, au00a0couple ofu00a0points have come to mind (for me, at least). 1) As a mom to a child who requires a lot of assistance, I’ve had to rethink my wardrobe quite a few times.u00a0 Being special needs, my son often needs help walking so i’m doing a ton of bending over, squatting, lifting, carrying etc. of a child who is no longer a baby.u00a0 So on the one hand yes I feel like women should care about their appearance in the sense that it shouldn’t just be about “function over form”… but on the other hand as a mom I need to consider, is the outfit i’m wearing really functional for my everyday life?u00a0 Specifically I’ve found I’ve had to be careful with tops with a wide neck as well as short or evenu00a0medium length skirts.u00a0 As well as long flowing hair, jewelry, etc. 🙁 Sometimes it’s not even about the article of clothingu00a0itself so much as how weu00a0″carry ourselves” while wearing it, and I’ve found that the particular physical logistics of my motherhood role just do NOT lend themselves to stretchy, fragile clothing.u00a0 u00a0u00a02) The second consideration would be environment or audience.u00a0 I remember Red did a great post about bathing suits I think this time last year, and it’s been on my mind again with the summer season.u00a0 Back in college, in a beach town, I lived in bikinis.u00a0 Yet, right or wrong, that was with my college peers.u00a0 Though I’m still athletic, nowadays my swimming takes place with the family at the beach, or at a pool club with other families, other children, other women and their spouses.u00a0 It’s not just about whether I feel great in a bikini but whether I’m making other people feel uncomfortable.u00a0 nu00a0u00a0 I’ve also noticed that, come Sundays, I’ll hunt through my wardrobe looking for something “Church appropriate” and this has made me wonder…as Christian women, shouldn’t everything we wear be “Church appropriate” whether we’re going to Church or not?u00a0 Too casual or athletic wear is one thing, but if an item is considered too immodest for Church then isn’t it probably too immodest for everyday?u00a0 nn3) Budget is always an issue for me and in fact I’ve noticed one of the reasons I feel like I dress too “young” is because most of my clothes are actually ten years old! LOL.. I dress like a teen because I bought these outfits when I actually was one.u00a0 Stores like J Crew, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic do sell ladylike clothing but to be honest I can’t afford it, even on sale.u00a0 In case you are in the same boat,u00a0a couple of resources I use for inexpensive but modest clothing are:–Target–Kohls–Forever21 (I know, not what most would think of but actually their online site has an entire line called Love21 that is cut looser and more modest, and meant for non-teens.u00a0 They also have a nice selection of one piece bathing suits by the same line, as well as a Maternity line!)

  • JMB

    I think Ann Taylor Loft is a great resource for inexpensive, stylish clothes.u00a0 Very frequently they have “40%” off entire store sales. nnI agree with what you say.u00a0 However,u00a0 I don’t think we have to dress like we are going to Church every day.u00a0 Although I do go to daily Mass often,u00a0 if I have worked out or walked the dogs prior to Mass, I will often go to Mass in those clothes.u00a0 And before I get flamed for going to Mass in yoga pants, let me tell you that I look fine compared to some of the get ups that the senior citizens wear for Mass.u00a0 I figure if Christ calls me to Him, he calls me as I am.u00a0 If it means going home and changing out of my workout clothes, I will probably get distracted and not go.u00a0 So I’d rather go.nnI think sometimes we are too hard on ourselves, and I think it can be troublesome when the “outward” signs of holiness (what are they? being modest?u00a0 wearing only skirts?) get in the way of our inward journey of becoming closer to who we are meant to be.u00a0