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Suzanne Azzi wrote:

Dear Catholic Apologists,

I have read some Catholic articles on the Our Lady of Fatima warning which claimed that Mary-like modesty is required in all females at all times and that females must not wear:

  • bikinis
  • pants
  • shorts, or
  • strapless evening dresses.

They claim there are priests and nuns which support the fact that there is a time and place which determines modesty but actually there is no time or place. They claim this is a sin of relativism.

I am confused because some say:

  • the time and place in a culture, play a role in modesty, while others say
  • there is no time and place in a culture and dress must always be consistent.

  • Can I still wear pants, bikinis, strapless evening gowns and shorts without committing
    a mortal or venial sin?

Thank you.



  { Does time and place in culture play a role in modesty and can I still wear these without sinning? }

Bob replied:

Hi, Suzanne —

Thanks for the question.

You'll get a better response if you use our "Ask a question" button on knowledge base page instead of writing us directly.

Modesty cannot be reduced to a question of inches. Modesty is an attitude. There are modest women villagers in Africa who go about with their breasts exposed because that is their culture.

Modesty is intimately connected with sexuality and the question of sexual shame. Venerable John Paul the Great touches on the subject in several places in his books, in particular:

Edward Sri reviews some of this in this article:

Check this out as well:

I think there are some reactionary Catholics who go too far; who would essentially advocate for a Catholic burqa. The key is to base your conclusion on Magisterial sources and not nineteenth century American fashion. What you need to do is, form yourself in:

  • the meaning of the body
  • the dignity of the human person
  • the meaning of sexuality, and
  • then apply your conscience to specific situations.

Look for studies on the Theology of the Body (Pope St. John Paul's work), although you should look for digested versions, as the work, itself, is very difficult to understand. You need to understand the root reasons for why things are modest and immodest, rather than follow with a measuring tape a checklist of forbidden clothes.

That said, different circumstances calling for different clothing is not relativism.

Relativism is that idea that there is no absolute truth. If I say that I shouldn't wear shorts in Mass but it's OK to wear shorts when working out, that is not relativism.

Most people in this century recognize that what you wear to the beach necessarily covers less skin than what you wear at a wedding. What you wear at a ball game is different from what you wear to work, unless you're an engineer like me. That's not to say that modesty isn't required in each case; it is, but the standard is different. Anyone man who doubts that, ask him if he would come to work with his shirt off and if he would go swimming with a shirt on.

I know I haven't answered your question the way you probably wanted, but hopefully, I've given you a direction.

Bob K.
[Related posting]

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