Principles of Feminine Dress
Three outfits of increasing levels of formality which follow the principles of feminine dress which will be outlined in further articles. These examples should be compatible with both Catholic morality and modern life. They also retain a far stronger relation to traditional Western women’s dress than many modern clothes.
Three examples of modern secular dress which do not follow any guidelines and could not have been worn publicly in Western society until very recently.
The art of feminine dress is not so very complicated and when done well can produce a dramatic improvement in the presentation and confidence of a lady. While this fact is undoubtedly evident to all, perhaps less obvious is what actually constitutes tasteful dress. Certainly, if any of us were taught guidelines for dressing well as we grew up, they were not effective. Taken as a whole, the default costume of modern Western people is a t-shirt, jeans and plastic shoes. Such couture has some limited utilitarian benefits, but is sadly lacking in dignity. This point is especially clear when the outfits, poses and behaviours exhibited in modern photographs and film are contrasted with that displayed by all ordinary Western people before the 1960s. Our culture’s prevailing opinion is that dress is entirely a matter of personal taste with no unifying principle or objective standard. This is perfectly in keeping with the philosophical relativism which continues to be preached in education and the media.
In relativism there can be no ultimate standard. Instead, morals, truth, aesthetic judgements and so forth merely reflect social context or personal opinion. There is no higher universally valid authority to refer to in order to resolve differences in opinions. Everyone’s opinions and actions must to be accepted as ‘right for them’. Relativism is self-refuting, because one cannot claim relativism is universally true and valid without claiming that there is universally valid truth. Thus anyone wishing to refute the existence of universally valid truth cannot do so without making a truth claim themselves and contradicting their own position. They must then either give up all criticism of everyone’s thoughts or actions, no matter how distasteful they find them, or they must admit that they do believe objective judgement is possible and they are not a relativist.
Anyone believing in God, or even a platonic realm of forms, must believe in eternal objective principles. After all, if God is not eternal, unchanging and independent of individuals’ beliefs, he is not God. This is not compatible with relativism because God is the ultimate source of truth, justice and beauty. Anyone who does not agree with relativism should not have difficulty admitting that some clothes might in reality be more aesthetically pleasing than others. We could then venture to assert that we can perceive aesthetics and recognise beauty ourselves. If reality and truth do exist, and we are able to perceive them, then with some analysis we can discover general principles to help us coherently choose between good dress and bad.
When analysing clothes from the past, rather than novel modern fashions, there is often broad agreement over beautiful and ugly clothes. Very many people can appreciate the elegance of Victorian attire and simultaneously recoil from the 70s bell bottom jump suit. This may give us confidence that truly effective guidelines can be discovered. In fact, it is quite likely that the awfulness of many modern and post-modern trends were not innocent errors caused by accidently violating an unwritten rule of aesthetic necessity. Instead it should be considered that a number of people involved in promulgating ugly fashions understood that they were revolting against good taste and did so deliberately because of their commitment to fundamentally atheistic social programs.
While those people first involved in rejecting order had the benefit of knowing what order looked like, many of us who grew up later are now not so sure. Certainly we dress poorly, but in large part it is from habit not rebellion. We were reared in sneakers and jeans. If we wanted to be fashionable, Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake were our inspiration. The excitement that an opportunity to dress more formally arouses in younger people gives hope that we are willing to embrace better principles and higher standards if encouraged.
The principles of dress which will be covered here are not exhaustive, but adherence to them should not be difficult and ought to ensure a pleasing and appropriate outfit is produced. First, feminine dress will be addressed as it is more in want of ordering than masculine. Men’s attire remains closer to tradition, and most men can dress better given sufficient motivation and opportunity.
As always, it must be remembered that Western tradition with its attendant beauty flowed forth from Western religion, which is Catholicism. Therefore if we wish to regain and update the beauty of traditional Western dress, we must not forget to examine our religion for any principles which are relevant to this topic. The most important Catholic principle which modern people are violating with their attire is chastity. Many modern clothes draw their appeal from the quality of the flesh that they display, not from their own merits. In order to address this, there will be an element of modesty in the recommendations made here. Please be assured that Catholic modesty is not unachievably strict. It is hoped that the numerous examples given might convince women that dressing well and modestly will not make them look as though they are in costume, or are terrible frumps, but will make them appear at ease with contemporary life. In fact, I hope that modern Catholic dress might become even more beautiful and certainly more comfortable and convenient than Catholic dress of the past. It should certainly be more attractive and achieve a more mature and composed appearance than the dress of secular women.