Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Attire of Women at the Traditional Latin Mass

Update - 5-7-2014:
Another version of a Latin Mass dress code from a traditional Catholic chapel states, "Out of respect for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, always remember to wear your 'Sunday Best' when assisting at a Sunday Mass."  The same chapel has a dress code much like the one quoted below.  I really like the statement about "Sunday Best" because it emphasizes that not just modesty but reverence is also related to how to dress for Mass.

Update - 7-14-2013:
Since so many people visit this post, and since the post is in part a quote from a mid-20th century etiquette book and in part a link to a blog site that talks a lot about modest clothing but doesn't actually provide any rules, I thought I'd write a short update.

The reality is that most diocesan Traditional Latin Masses don't actually have a written dress code so first timers may not know what to expect.  Some traditionalist chapels where only the Tridentine Mass is celebrated do have written dress codes that are on the chapel's website (if any) and posted at the entrance.  But the actual dress of the regulars at a diocesan traditional Mass is basically identical to that of those adhering to the dress codes at the chapels.

Here is a sample taken from the website of one such chapel:

"Ladies and Girls:
Modest dress or skirt
Head covering
No tight-fitting, low-cut, short, slit, sleeveless or revealing clothes
No pants or trousers"

Some people think this means dressing like someone out of Little House on the Prairie and some people joke about them being "Amish Catholics".  I think that look is just fine for someone who likes it but it isn't necessary.  In fact, not only is it possible to dress elegantly within the confines of the above-quoted dress code, but it is actually easier to do so.

There are many options for modest dress that are not the least bit frumpy. For instance, the classic "little black dress" can be quite elegant.  If it is of opaque fabric appropriate for day wear, well past the knee in length (mid-calf is better), not too tight fitting or cut too deeply at the neckline, and has at least elbow length sleeves (3/4 or longer is better), it is modest dress. Add a hat, mantilla, or chapel cap and you're fine.

As for what to do in hot weather, see my post Dressing for Mass in Hot Weather.

Original post:
In her pre-Vatican II book on Catholic etiquette, Kay Toy Fenner had this to say about the appropriate attire for women at Mass:
“Women must always dress modestly for any church service. There is no permissible exception to this rule. The preferred costume is a suit, coat, or dress with long sleeves and a modest neckline, hat, gloves, stockings, and street shoes. Regardless of how warm the weather may be, a low-cut dress or one without sleeves should not be worn. Any dress must have, at the very least, a cap sleeve or a collar that covers the shoulders.

“Shorts may never be worn; neither should slacks, except under the exception noted below.

“A head covering, preferably a hat, is obligatory, but a scarf or veil is permissible.

“Exceptions for women: a woman planning to attend services while on the way to or from work or school may wear the costume proper for the activity in which she is about to engage. This means that a woman whose work requires her to wear slacks may wear them to Mass; a nurse may wear her uniform; a schoolgirl may wear headscarf, socks, and school uniform. But this permission does not extend to sports clothes such as a gymnasium suit, tennis dress, bathing suit; and it is allowable only when the choice is between attending services in working clothes or failing to attend.”
Today, women who go to the traditional Latin Mass are reclaiming long skirts, long sleeves, modest necklines, and hats. Since such attire is difficult to purchase ready-made, they are also reclaiming their sewing needles. Read one woman’s view of this phenomenon here.

Fenner, Kay Toy; American Catholic Etiquette (Newman Press, Maryland, 1961), p. 229. Italicized emphasis in the original.

Fantin-Latour’s “Charlotte Dubourg”, from Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.


Jan Baker said...

Hello the blog, Miss Spinster,

You visited my piece on fashion and tradition, so I found yours by backtracking! This surely is a wonderful piece of history you made available to us.

In a few minutes I'll be on the road to the local crisis pregnancy center, where I help out with the Spanish speaking women, in a circle skirt of rayon/cotton in those nice fall transitional colors, with a crisp ruffled white blouse and black linen vest--on my Trek 7200. The skirts never get caught in the chain, but when I'm just going to the store or just out for a spin, I might wear a shorter shirt, with narrow pants beneath. At the beginning of the summer the doc was talking about knee replacement and I was shopping for a cane, but now, with a little bike action, I'm climbing the stairs unassisted, AND I have dressed like a lady.

And had a ball! One gets treated ever so much better dressed like a lady,and one can pop into church for a visit any old time. Then I switch my helmet for a mantilla from Halo works (I mention them because you can wad up their products and stuff them in a purse, without any wrinkles; I believe in a pinch I could fix a flat with one). If anyone notices, and marvels, I murmur, 'It helps to always have the right headgear.'

Aren't we glad we have tradition? I have a rosary hanging on my bike stem, and I use it! Please pray for the restoration of tradition to the Church!

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

I agree with some but not all..

Marie-Jacqueline said...

Jan, Thank you so much for your visit and enjoyable comment. You really have a way with words! And yes, we must pray fervently for the restoration of tradition. -- Marie-Jacqueline

Marie-Jacqueline said...

Catholic Mom, It's always nice to hear from you. Thank you for commenting.

Janet Baker said...

Hi again, Miss Spinster Marie-Jacqueline! Someone visited me from your site which caused me to come visiting, and I am so amazed that you have all these wonderful articles on arranging flowers for mass! I never saw them before! Our new pastor has insisted that we share the task of arranging, rather than one person doing it as heretofore. At first I was diffident and stressed, but lately, with experience and a few good articles (I'm going to study yours as soon as I finish this comment), I've gotten better, and it is a deeply spiritual activity to me, I mean by that it feels like prayer, I feel like I am placing things for the enjoyment of Our Lord of course, in the tabernacle, but also Our Lady (will she like that single white lily?) and St. Joseph and St. Theresa and Pius X! (Pius X gets oranges and reds--the hammer of Christendom!) I think of them and try to make things I think they, from knowing a little about their lives and their ideas, might like. It's so much fun. Of course, I sew too, I like to make things,arrange things, it might not be fun for everyone. I have a post from Pentecost that involves both fashion and flowers! It's Fashion and Faith, Again, on the first page of my blog.

I made three special work out dresses recently--loose, knee length, elbow length sleeves, totally modest but of sports fabric, that is, the wicking/breathing/cooling/stretchy kind. So they look almost like gym wear! I wear tights under. Well, the guys at the gym treat me so well. There's no cussing even though there might be ten youngish guys and a scattering of older ones back in the free weights area, but never anything inappropriate out of them--I have sons, I know what they're capable of, so I consider this an influence. Once all the smaller five pound and ten pounds weights were gone when I came back to work out, so I sighed and remarked to no one in particular, 'Oh, I guess I can't work out today, the weights are all gone,' and before I could turn around to go (go look for some! I was only kidding about not working out!)('Cause I work out for Jesus!) the crew had scattered and the smaller weights started to show up back in their holders. They made eye contact not once, nor do they ever. But they are paying attention. Men like modest women. That's just a fact. I consider it a side benefit and their way of loving Jesus, too, and I don't hate them for it.

We Catholic women are not Amish or Muslim or protestant. We can do every job in the world except a priest's, we can go to all the school we want and still stay home if we want, we can move freely throughout our world (the Catholic one we're going to make again, and still a lot of that spirit right now even in our ruined and formerly Christian world) and our only tribute is to dress modestly by choice. I will take that deal. We are losing it, though. Nudity for women is apparently now a requirement everywhere, or we don't get invited. If only girls would get it!

Gonna go check out your flower arranging posts! Go check out my piece on Pentecost and those deep red roses.

Marie-Jacqueline said...

Hi Jan, It's so nice to hear from you again. The spirit you describe for flower arranging is the one I'd like to encourage in all church flower arrangers.

Would your consider submitting some photos of your arrangements that I could post for the readers of this blog? If you submit some text too we could make it a guest post if you'd like.