Elegant Modesty

by Anne Ross Kootz

Why We Want It

Young women are particularly focused on their appearance in order to attract men. This is the biggest market for retail clothing! For decades now clothing marketed to women, particularly the teen/college age group, is designed to emphasize the sexual availability of the wearer – not the sexuality, the availability. Understanding the desire of women to attract men, one must also realize how men think. Women who dress to send the signal of a cheap eyeful, or an easy one-night stand, will attract men who want this. Do these men care what is in the head or the heart of that woman? Unlikely.

However, there is good news: women can dress attractively to interest men who will notice first her head and her heart. Then what follows will more likely be a respectful, enduring relationship. The goal is to conceal, not reveal. The artistic eye of a good clothing designer can help by providing clothing that sends this signal: I am beautiful – inside and out. The designer will use the tools of line, color, contrast, fabric, quantity, coverage, fit, and combination, and situational appropriateness, to draw the eye of the beholder up to the face.

How We Get It

The eye follows line and points of contrast. Clothing that draws the eye up will start with: vertical lines. (This has the advantage of making the wearer appear more slender, as well.) quantity – of fabric as well as the number of clothing items, will only hint at the feminine shape, rather than reveal the details. Color is used carefully, keeping in mind the woman’s natural coloring.

Use the darker, duller colors below, brightest near the face. Contrast draws the eye as well, so wear colorful jewelry or scarves near the face. Hats are ideal for both drawing the eye up and increasing perceived height.

Additional points include proper fit, allowing for some extra room (not only slenderizes, but is also more comfortable than tight fitting clothing) and fabric – smooth fabrics slenderize, nubby/textured finishes draw the eye and add apparent weight.

Summing it up, how would a “summer colored” woman dress on a pleasant autumn day for classes at a large university, when, in addition to productive study, she hopes to attract the authentic gentleman with whom she might have a happy future?

Foundation garments – always! – completely concealed by clothing.

Long sleeved knit tee in a color that compliments her face – such as soft aqua.

Midi length (mid-calf) A-line khaki skirt – yes skirt – lends extra grace to her walk, in a compatible neutral – such as medium taupe. This sways gently while walking, and its length continues to conceal when seated.

Pantyhose or knee highs compliment any ankle. In this case, taupe.

Flat shoes – dark brown slip-ons, for example, are comfortable for walking between classes.

Cardigan – color coordinated with the skirt – a similar shade of taupe or cream. This contributes to modest concealment while also adding interest. (Layers also evoke higher economic status.)

Sweaters can be worn loosely about the shoulders as the day warms.

Understated makeup and uncluttered hairstyle – adds beauty to the face without drawing attention to itself.

Finishing touches – those European style rayon scarves, or any other silky scarf that coordinates with the turquoise and taupe while adding color and contrast, for example in a paisley pattern for autumn.

To really set yourself above the crowd, a coordinating beret, if weather is cool enough.

Now What?

What does our college student do once she has caught the eye of that intriguing young man? She smiles! Now he sees the virtuous, vivacious woman he has been seeking, and is encouraged to say hello!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. OK – great if you have a slender, youthful figure, but I am a bit short and round. What can I do?

Make more use of the vertical line:

Instead of A-line skirt, use a straight line version – be sure it has a slit (ending below the knee) for walking comfort.

Instead of a high-hip length cardigan, use a longer cardigan that hits around mid thigh, with vertical knit-in ribs.

Shove the sleeves of the tee and cardigan up (secure with rubber band) to just below the elbow – these folds on the arm have a surprisingly slenderizing effect on the total look!

Definitely make use of a beret or decorative headband.

2. What if it is just too hot for a beret and cardigan?

Lighten everything up:

Keep your layers but modify them for conditions
use flat sandals (not tacky flip-flops!) instead of shoes.

Ditch the hosiery, but keep the skirt length. The swish will cool you as you walk.

Use a lighter weight tee – keep long sleeves (pushed up to elbow.)

Trade the cardigan for a lightweight woven shirt – open at front for that vertical line.

Trade the beret for a decorative hairband or clip

3. Great ideas – but I don’t have anything like this in my wardrobe, and can’t afford to buy much!

Thrift Stores!

Some of my favorites are the Goodwill and Savers.

Well organized, well lit, clean, and always a great selection. On my suggestion, my 20 year old son actually found a perfect fit, 3 piece, 3 season taupe worsted wool suit there, $25! (And I was suddenly brilliant.) This kind of place has yielded amazing treasures for me, too.

Check White Pages for thrift stores and second-hand stores in your town.

eBay is another terrific place to shop for attractive, modest clothing – you can’t try them on, but you can compare posted measurements to be assured of fit. Downside is shipping cost, upside is prices often so low shipping won’t matter much.

4. I work for a pizza restaurant. Have to wear a uniform — polo shirt and pants. How can I be elegantly modest in this work situation?

Check with your owner/manager — he or she may be delighted to accommodate you.

Might you use a shirt size that drapes rather than clings? Only top one or two buttons unbuttoned?

Might you wear a below-knee khaki skirt in place of pants?

If pants are required, use a larger size that covers your derriere somewhat loosely.

Would a small scarf loosely knotted around the neck be within standards?

A decorative hair band or clip does its usual good work.

5. My hospital work requires scrubs – not at all flattering in color or style. Now what?

Make sure the scrubs are loose in the bust line and derriere, in good condition, and highest quality you can afford.

Your neat, non-fussy hair style, understated make-up and small earrings are especially important in this situation.

A decorative hair band or clip does its usual good work.

Add that sunny smile as often as possible to improve your looks as well as brighten a tough day for your patients.

6. What should I do when the weather is really beastly cold?

You might still manage a skirt very well, with stretch leggings (dark) under the skirt.

Of course, wear warm boots!

Slacks in the correct neutral might be appropriate if they are slightly loose and your derriere is concealed beneath a long coat or sweater.

Denim jeans can also work IF they are in relatively new condition.

A rayon or other warm scarf does double duty, as does the hat/beret!

Wear gloves or mittens. Warm head and hands provide great comfort in cold weather.

7. Now it’s beastly HOT! How to be modest and cool as possible?

Layers are still your best friend. Use ‘breathable’ fabrics such as light cottons and washable silk blends.

As dark colors absorb heat (remember your high school science classes?) and light colors repel, so – use the lighter colors in your palette for your layers, and save the darker/brighter ones for accents like earrings and hair accessories.

Your mid-calf A-line skirt is again your good friend. It swishes and cools you as you walk!

8. I will be attending a formal dinner and dance. Do all these “rules” still apply?

A basic rule of elegant modesty is dress for the situation.

Formal events call for formal fabrics (satin, silk, crepe), and high heels.

Find out what the hostess (if any) of the event will be wearing.

Floor length formals are always elegant and attractive. Anything else is merely trendy.

A lower cut neckline may serve in this case; 4-6 inches below the collarbone, max, to showcase your 16-18″ strand of pearls. (There are also beautiful, inexpensive fakes.)

Off the shoulder? You do not need to bare your shoulders for anyone but your husband.

If an otherwise perfect formal is bare shouldered, add a cutaway jacket in the same fabric. Otherwise, a long panel or scarf worn about the shoulders is not only modest, but especially elegant.

Slit up the side? Never! If the skirt has a generous sweep, there is no need for a slit.

Hunt for modest formals on eBay or CraigsList, for example, with ‘mother of bride’ as search words.

See my suggested links below for other online stores that feature elegantly modest formal wear.

9. What should I wear for swimming and at the beach?

Again, practice situation awareness —

Lands’ End (online) and Penney‘s have a huge selection of attractive, modest one-piece and two-piece swim-wear.

A swim skirt over a one-piece in your best color is both modest and appropriate — in the water.

Out of the water, wear the swim cover-up you brought – a batik print caftan, for example, that hits near or below the knees.

A hairband or headscarf will keep your wet tresses out of your way, as well as adding height and elegance!

The Battle for Purity

§ 2520 Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires. With God’s grace he will prevail

  1. by the virtue and gift of chastity, for chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart;
  2. by purity of intention which consists in seeking the true end of man: with simplicity of vision, the baptized person seeks to find and to fulfill God’s will in everything;
  3. by purity of vision, external and internal; by discipline of feelings and imagination; by refusing all complicity in impure thoughts that incline us to turn aside from the path of God’s commandments: Appearance arouses yearning in fools;
  4. by prayer:

I thought that continence arose from one’s own powers, which I did not recognize in myself. I was foolish enough not to know that no one can be continent unless you grant it. For you would surely have granted it if my inner groaning had reached your ears and I with firm faith had cast my cares on you.

§ 2521 Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

§ 2522 Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.

§ 2523 There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.

§ 2524 The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.

§ 2525 Christian purity requires a purification of the social climate. It requires of the communications media that their presentations show concern for respect and restraint. Purity of heart brings freedom from widespread eroticism and avoids entertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion.

§ 2526 So called moral permissiveness rests on an erroneous conception of human freedom; the necessary precondition for the development of true freedom is to let oneself be educated in the moral law. Those in charge of education can reasonably be expected to give young people instruction respectful of the truth, the qualities of the heart, and the moral and spiritual dignity of man.

§ 2527 “The Good News of Christ continually renews the life and culture of fallen man; it combats and removes the error and evil which flow from the ever-present attraction of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of peoples. It takes the spiritual qualities and endowments of every age and nation, and with supernatural riches it causes them to blossom, as it were, from within; it fortifies, completes, and restores them in Christ.”

More Guidance

Modesty: Clothing – Fr. Ripperger 19:34

Mother Miriam: Modesty is Essential to Living a Virtuous Life 54:12

The Blessed Virgin’s Guide to Catholic Modesty Catholic Answers

The Blessed Virgin’s Guide to Modesty Catholic Answers

Leah Darrow on Modesty 4:25

A Message from Leah Darrow – Fashion and Modesty 1:53

A Message From Leah Darrow – A Word to Men 1:14

Questions on Fashion in Ladies’ Dress Catholic, and thorough!




Lands’ End

Pure Fashion Guidelines (skirt guidelines too short)

Jen Clothing LDS. Warm weather, semi formal

A Dressy Occasion LDS


Elegance noun

  1. Refinement, grace, and beauty in movement, appearance, or manners. Tasteful opulence in form, decoration, or presentation.
  2. Restraint and grace of style. The essence of “elegant modesty” is refinement, grace and propriety in dress and behavior.

Modesty noun

  1. The state or quality of being modest.
  2. Reserve or propriety in speech, dress, or behavior.
  3. Lack of pretentiousness; simplicity.


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