Monday, May 21, 2012

Timeless Fashion Advice from St. Francis De Sales (un gentilhomme Francais)

 Mademoiselles, let's talk fashion.
        “Dress like a lawyer, walk like a lawyer, quack like a lawyer,” our former Dean used to say.  Like a good duckling, I took her advice the moment I waddled into law school.  I even donned duckwear with rive gauche Platinum pedicure on my webbed feet... to a children’s party, up for a hike in the mountains and down to laze at the beach.  As an official duck, I shed off the constricting suit-feathers only on casual weekends and obviously, for household chores (can’t very well wear pearls, silk and pantyhose as a floor manager, can I?).  When I had my own ducklings, a new buzzword entered my fashion vocabulary.  No, not soccer sweats, but modesty.  Decence in French.

Modesty wasn’t a welcome word because it meant either throwing away half my wardrobe or wearing the duck jacket again in a scorching desert summer.  Talk about 'hot couture'! :)    But after reading that Our Lady of Fatima said "certain fashions... offend Our Lord very much," and an 11 year-old Garabandal visionary was admonished by Our Lady for being too vain about her nail polish and that Our Lady only had two full length robes which she alternated and kept immaculately clean, I began to rethink my fashion policies and the motives behind choosing what to wear.  My wardrobe got a complete makeover.

St. Francis in Chapter 25 of Introduction to the Devout Life offers this helpful guide on a wardrobe makeover. Hey, I trust the guy –he’s a chic French. (The words in parenthesis are mine just because I can’t help but comment.) 

1.   “All Christian women should wear ‘modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.’  (1 Timothy 2:9) As to the quality and fashion of clothes, modesty must depend on various circumstances, age, season, condition, the society we move in and the special occasion.”  
(I construe it a given that Church Sunday best means dressed to the nines as your closet and budget dictate.  I’m always suitably impressed that in the South, men wear suits and ladies wear dresses to worship Our Lord at Mass. Ooh la la!)
2.   “As to cleanliness, that should be uniform and we should never, if possible, let any part of our dress be soiled or stained…  Always be neat, never to permit any disorder or untidiness about you.”   (Fashion tip:  Did you know that baby wipes can remove lipstick stains and just about anything on clothes so long as you dab the spot immediately?)     
3.   “A wife may and should adorn herself according to her husband’s wishes when he is present.”  (Madame, if the monsieur is fashion impaired and insists on pairing magenta plaid with leopard print, point out the faux pas of catching a stiff shirt and tie on a football field or golf course.  That visual should help. )
4.   To single women, St. Francis advises: “Grant greater latitude to maidens who may lawfully desire to attract with the view of ultimately winning one in holy matrimony.”  (Without overstepping the boundaries of the number 1 rule on modesty, I should say. Remember, mon amie: a man who's after your decolletage is not a keeper.)
5.   On age-appropriate dressing, St. Francis stresses: “Everyone laughs at old women who affect youthful graces—such things are only tolerable in the young.”  (Gack! You mean nobody thought I was cute when my daughter and I did the mother-daughter matching thing? Guess not since there's nothing cute about girls dolled up like risque adult models either.)
6.  “Dress according to position, so that good and sensible people should not be able to say they are overdressed, or younger, gayer ones than they are underdressed.”  (Oui, oui. Couldn't agree more.  Let ducks be ducks and leave the peacocking to peacocks.)
7.  “Avoid all vanity, peculiarity and fancifulness.  As far as may be, keep to what is simple and unpretending.”  (Unless you want to set off security alarms that you're a suspicious poseur like a certain little duckling who was so desperate to be a duck.  Or worse, just another duck swimming in the mainstream fashion of the river Rhine.)
8.   On hair don’ts: “St. Peter bids women not be overparticular in dressing their hair.”  (What would he have to say about dyeing, I wonder, because I can’t bring myself to like gray –it just doesn’t go with a brown skin tone.  Then again, My Creator picked the color scheme.  Who am I to complain? Hmm. I'll write a post in 10 years.)
9.   On accessorizing: “We count vain a woman as wanting in modesty, or at all events what she has becomes smothered in trinkets and furbelows.” (Gasp! My earring collection!)
10.  Finally, “I should like my devout man or woman to be the best-dressed person in company, but the least fine or splendid and adorned, as St. Peter says, with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.”

 Ouch. Apparently, I not only have my spring cleaning cut out for me, but an internal make-over is called for.  If my blog is quiet for the next few days, you’ll know I’m working on a meek and quiet spirit.  And if I start back up again, and you catch me wearing little baubles on my ears, it means I’ve failed, and I’ll have to ask St. Francis for graces to follow his fashion advice. Gulp. Excuse moi... le gulpe.
Timeless Guide to Fashion and other things
P.S. Most modesty commentators say that as a general rule, shoulders, thighs/knees, cleavage and the curve of a derriere are not for public consumption.  My personal rule is that if it flaps when I wave or jiggles when I run, it's had it's day in the sun.

P.P.S St. Francis' En Vogue also has this to say about vanity: "Some people are proud and conceited because they ride a fine horse, wear a feather in their hat, and are expensively dressed but who can fail to see their folly, or that if anyone has reason to be proud over such things, it would be the horse, the bird and the tailor?" (See, lawyer-saints have plenty of fashion sense and a sense of humor.)
         Vive Decence. (Long live modesty.)

Thank you for giving me a chance to resurrect this favorite post on Top Ten Tuesday.
            Photo 2 courtesy of

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