Every Filipina must ask herself what a true friend, one who wishes her only the best, would want to see in her external appearance. Whether parent, brother, sister, husband, perceptive child, or one who seeks a lifelong partner, the Filipino takes pride in seeing a woman enhanced by her modesty. The Filipino has always esteemed the woman who is endowed with that air of mystery that comes from her vocation to nurture life within her.
It is in this context that a woman’s style and manner of dress must be understood. For there is a subtle connection between a woman’s dress and her manner, and between these and her vocation to intimacy of love and the procreation of new life. From the first awareness of the shape of one’s body, to that of the boy-girl relationship, of sensuality, sex, social life, marriage, family, community, Church, eternity – there is a progressive growth in the fulfillment of but one design. The presentation of one’s figure in dress, and the study of its movements: these are parts of that one design.
It is then a naturally feminine trait to seek to be noticed and admired through one’s manner of dressing. The desire to be attractive is again a part of the design for creative love. But there is a wholesome way of making oneself attractive, and a way that is debasing. The woman of Christian sense esteems her body and her lovely features as instruments of a human and altogether holy love. She understands that she has no right to use them to signal unwholesome thoughts and desires in men. Compassion directs her to deny encouragement to the perennial playboys who refuse to distinguish between easy women and honest women.
This will explain the true character of “fashion” as a means, and not an end. Unless properly used, fashion exercises a tyranny with its every whim. Fashion tends to dictate what every woman, indiscriminately, must look like: now like a seductress, now like a little girl, now like a shapeless mannequin, now like a boy,. It is an obligation of women to make fashion serve its proper uses and not be dominated by it. This can be done by developing “taste”, particularly, a Christian taste.
Taste means the ability to select that is most becoming to one’s dignity as a person, and to adapt it to pecularities of age, occasion, mood, etc. The obligation to develop taste arises from the role of woman to establish what is harmonious and beautiful in human situations. The test of authentic taste is not “chic” but “elegance”, that quality that is produced not so much by the cut or quality of the dress, as by wholesomeness of personality, and by the bearing and attitude of the wearer. Traditionally there is elegance in even the most simply dressed Filipina.
Authentic taste is, at the same time, the best guarantee of modesty. Poor taste makes victims not merely of the light-headed, but even of those who sincerely desire to be faithful to modesty but fail in courage. A safe rule to follow is the inner feeling, the sincere conviction of the conscientious woman about a particular dress: does she feel “right”, in it? The uneasiness of abbreviatedly dressed Filipinas when sitting in public places comes from the right instinct.
But taste, unlike information, is not had for the asking. Each person must be formed in it. And in this matter, parents bear the principal responsibility. They must be sensitive to the connection between dress and manner of behavior. There are subtle forms of sensuality in dress which find their way into the manner of their wearer. The affectionate gesture, the casual closeness which creates moral problems – these are often encouraged by the manner and style of the dresses worn.
Many parents are amused at the first evidence of slightly overt sensuality in the dress of their maturing child, and they are flattered by the comments and prolonged glances the boys cast upon their growing daughter. They forget that their daughter is no longer a child. They face the serious task of gradually educating their daughter in responsibility towards the moral well being of other. It is not enough to be innocent in intent — like those who adopt even the risque and suggestive, more as a symbol of maturity and worldly wisdom than as a manifetation of sensuality. The particularly vulnerable psychology of the male in these matters, must become the concern of the growing Filipina.
It is in the family that the first basic rules must be formulated: what type of dress is acceptable, where it is appropriate, etc. When some decisions are open to dispute, the fathers of families will be excellent judges of what constitutes modest dress for their daughters.
It is not amiss to point out that boys too can be sensual in their fads. Tight, low-slung pants, unbottoned shirt fronts, the manner of their behavior — all this can be sensually stimulating to the other sex too.
The best motivation that parents can present to the young, who are so much engrossed in self, the appeal to their innate sense of idealism: to the noble and creative destiny of their bodies. It is this which will most effectively make modesty a meaningful quality in their external behavior and inner attitudes.
This idealism must be heightened by presenting the chaste Mary as model and Mother, and must be strengthened by recourse to the Sacraments as well as by the practice of self-sacrifice.
The young Filipino has a right to hope that when he marries, his future bride will be both chaste and modest. But his hope will be in vain should the traditional modesty of the Filipina, that indispensable guardian of chastity, be abandoned and finally lost.
For the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+JULIO R. CARDINAL ROSALES, D.D.
Archbishop of Cebu
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