General Aspects of Fashion by Pope Pius XII
Pope. Pius XII - Undoubtedly clothing must obey three well-known requirements: hygiene, pudency, and decorum
Note from the translator: From "Speech of His Holiness Pius XII to participants in the international congress of high fashion promoted by the 'Latin Union of High Fashion'" on Friday, November 8, 1957. Original in Italian here.
Headers were added to facilitate reading.
The speech will be broken down into parts. Subscribe to receive the new posts.
Following the advice of ancient wisdom, which points to the finality of things as the supreme criterion of every theoretical evaluation and the safety of moral norms, it will be helpful to remember what goals man has always set for himself by resorting to clothing.
The three factors of clothing
Undoubtedly it obeys the three well-known requirements of hygiene, pudency, and decorum. These are the three necessities so profoundly rooted in (our) nature that they cannot disregard or contradict each other without causing repulsion and prejudice. They retain their character of a necessity today as yesterday; they are found in almost every lineage; they are recognized in every form of the vast range, in which the natural necessity of the dress has historically and ethnologically materialized. It is important to note the close and supportive interdependence between the three needs, despite the fact that they arise from different sources: one from the physical side, the other from the spiritual, and the third from the psychological-artistic complex.
The hygienic requirement of the garment mainly concerns the climate, its variations, and other external agents, such as possible causes of discomfort or infirmity.
From the aforementioned interdependence, it follows that reason, or rather, the hygienic pretext is not able to justify the deplorable license, particularly in public and except in exceptional cases of proven necessity, even in which, however, every well-born soul will not be able to escape the anguish of a spontaneous disturbance, expressed externally by the natural blush. Similarly, a way of dressing that is harmful to health, of which not a few examples are cited in the history of fashion, cannot be legitimized by the aesthetic pretext; also, the common rules of pudency must yield to the need for medical care, which, although it seems to break them, respects them instead by using the due moral precautions.
“Pudency, given its strictly moral meaning, whatever its origin, is based on the innate and more or less conscious tendency of everyone to defend one's own physical good from the indiscriminate greed of others”
Equally obvious, as the origin and purpose of the dress, is the natural need for pudency, understood both in the broadest sense, which also includes due consideration for other people's sensitivity towards objects repugnant to sight and above all as a protection of moral honesty and a shield against disorderly sensuality. The singular opinion which attributes the sense of pudency to the relativity of this or that education, which, indeed, considers it almost a conceptual distortion of innocent reality, a false product of civilization, and even a stimulus to dishonesty and a source of hypocrisy, is not supported by any serious reason; on the contrary, it meets with explicit condemnation in the supervening repugnance in those who sometimes dared to adopt it as a way of life, thus confirming the rectitude of common sense, manifest in universal customs. Pudency, given its strictly moral meaning, whatever its origin, is based on the innate and more or less conscious tendency of everyone to defend one's own physical good from the indiscriminate greed of others in order to reserve it, with a prudent choice of circumstances, for the wise purposes of the Creator, placed by Himself under the coat of arms of chastity and modesty. This second virtue, pudency, is a synonym for modesty (from modus, mode, limit), perhaps best expresses the function of governing and mastering, particularly sensual passions, is the natural bulwark of chastity, its valid barrier since it moderates the acts soon connected with the proper object of chastity. As one advances in his education, pudency makes a man feel its admonition from the moment he acquires the use of reason, even before he learns the notion of chastity and its object, and accompanies him throughout his life, demanding that certain acts, yet honest in themselves, (when are) divinely ordained, are protected by the discreet veil of shadow and by the reserve of silence as if to reconcile them with respect due to the dignity of their great purpose.
It is, therefore, right that pudency, almost the custodian of such precious goods, claims for itself a prevailing authority over any other tendency or whim and presides over the determination of the style of dress.
To avoid restricting the amplitude of this third requirement to physical beauty alone and much more to remove the phenomenon of fashion from the desire for seduction as its first and only cause, the term decorum is preferable than embellishment.
And here is the third purpose of the dress, from which fashion originates more directly and responds to the innate need most felt by women, to emphasize the beauty and dignity of the person, with the same means that satisfy the other two. To avoid restricting the amplitude of this third requirement to physical beauty alone and much more to remove the phenomenon of fashion from the desire for seduction as its first and only cause, the term decorum is preferable than embellishment. The inclination to the decorum of one's person manifestly proceeds from nature and is, therefore, legitimate.
Regardless of the use of clothing to hide physical imperfections, youth ask for that prominence of splendor that sings the happy theme of the spring of life and facilitates, in harmony with the dictates of pudency, the psychological premises necessary for the formation of new families; while the mature age from the appropriate dress intends to obtain an aura of dignity, seriousness and serene happiness. In any case, in which the aim is to accentuate the moral beauty of the person, the shape of the dress will be such as to almost eclipse the physical one in the austere shadow of concealment, to divert it from the attention of the senses, and instead concentrate the reflection on the spirit.
The dress, considered from this broader point of view, has its own multiform and effective language, sometimes spontaneous, and therefore a faithful interpreter of feelings and customs, at other times conventional and artificial, and consequently scarcely sincere. In any case, the dress is given to express joy and mourning, authority and power, pride and simplicity, wealth and poverty, the sacred and the profane. The concreteness of the expressive forms depends on the traditions and culture of this or that people; while their mutability is all the slower, the more stable are the institutions, characters, and feelings that those shapes interpret.
Remarks on Fashion Industry
fashion is not only eccentric shapes but a meeting point for various psychological and moral factors, such as the taste for beauty, the thirst for novelty, the affirmation of the personality, the intolerance for monotony, it is then luxury, ambition, vanity
Fashion expressly takes care of physical beauty, (it is) an ancient art of uncertain origins, complex due to the psychological and social factors that are mixed with it, and which has now reached indisputable importance in public life, as an aesthetic expression of costume, both as the desire of the public and the convergence of relevant economic interests. From the in-depth observation of the phenomenon, it emerges that fashion is not only eccentricshapes but a meeting point for various psychological and moral factors, such as the taste for beauty, the thirst for novelty, the affirmation of the personality, the intolerance for monotony, it is then luxury, ambition, vanity. Fashion is certainly elegance but conditioned by a continuous change in such a way that its very instability gives it the most evident sign.
The reason for its perpetual change, slower in the fundamental lines, very rapid in the secondary variations, which have now become seasonal, seems to be found in the anxiety of overcoming the past, facilitated by the frenetic nature of the contemporary era, which has the tremendous power to burn in a short time all that is intended for the satisfaction of the imagination and the senses. It is understandable that the new generations, reaching out towards their own future, dreaming of different and better than that of their fathers, feel the need to detach themselves from those forms not only of clothing but of objects and furnishings, which more clearly recall a way of living they want to surpass. But the extreme instability of the present fashion is, above all, determined by the will of its creators and guides, who have on their side means unknown in the past, such as the enormous and varied textile production, the inventive fertility of the “fashion designers”, the facility of means of information and “launch” in the press, cinema, television, exhibitions and “parades”. The rapidity of changes is also favored by a kind of silent competition, not really new, between the “elites”, eager to affirm their own personality with original forms of clothing, and the public, which immediately appropriates them, with imitations more or less happy. Nor should the other subtle and decadent motif be overlooked: the study of “fashion designer” who, to ensure the success of their “creations”, focus on the factor of seduction, aware of the effect that continuously renewed surprise and whim produce.
Another characteristic of today's fashion is that, while remaining mainly an aesthetic fact, it has also taken on the properties of an economic element of large proportions. The few ancient tailors, which from this or that metropolis unchallenged dictated the laws of elegance to the world of European culture, have been replaced by numerous organizations, powerful in financial means, which, while satisfying the needs of clothing, form the taste of the populations, they stimulate their desires in order to build ever larger markets. The causes of this transformation are to be found, on the one hand, in the so-called “democratization” of fashion, whereby an increasingly large number of individuals are subject to the charm of elegance; on the other, in technical progress, which allows the mass production of models, otherwise expensive, but now made easily purchasable on the so-called “packaging” market. In this way, the fashion world was born, which embraces artists and artisans, industrialists and traders, publishers and critics, and also a whole class of humble workers who draw their income from fashion for a living.
Although the economic factor is the driving force of this activity, the soul is always the “fashion designer”, that is, the one who, with an ingenious choice of fabrics, colors, cuts, lines, and accessory ornaments, gives life to a new expressive model appreciated by the general public. It is not to say how difficult this art is, the fruit of genius and skill, and much more, of sensitivity regarding the taste of the moment. A “fashion designer”whose happy success is certain acquires the importance of an invention; he surrounds himself with secrecy, awaiting the “launch”; therefore, when put up for sale, it collects high prices, while the media give it wide circulation, speaking of it as if it were an event of national interest. The influence of the “fashion designers” is so decisive that the textile industry itself is guided by them in determining its own production, both in terms of quality and quantity. Equally great is their social influence in the role they play in interpreting public custom; because, if fashion has always been the outward expression of the customs of a people, today it is even more so than when the phenomenon took place as a result of reflection and study.
But the formation of taste and preferences in the people and the very direction of society towards serious or decadent costumes do not depend only on the “fashion designer”, but on the whole organized complex of fashion, especially on the manufacturing industry and on the critics, in that more refined sector which he had the highest social classes as his clients, assuming the name of "High Fashion", as if to designate the source of the currents that the people would then follow, almost blindly and as if by magical imposition.
Now, since so many important values are involved in and sometimes endangered by styles, as We have rapidly outlined, it seems providential that persons should enter upon the scene who have received a technical and Christian preparation and want to help freestyles from those tendencies that are not commendable.
People who see in it above all the art of knowing how to dress, whose purpose is, albeit partially, to moderately highlight the beauty of the human body, a masterpiece of divine creation, however, in such a way that it does not remain obscured but, at the on the contrary, let it be exalted - as the Prince of the Apostles puts it - "the incorruptible ornament of a quiet and modest spirit, which is so precious in the eyes of God" (1 Petr. 3, 4).
Thanks for reading Catholic Translator! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Note from the translator: Pudency, from the Latin “pudore” should be understood as the natural desire to cover parts of our body that cause us shame. It has been translated as “modesty” by other translators. But since “modesty” has a broader meaning and the Holy Father uses both words in this discourse (modesty and pudency), it is appropriate to use pudency here.
Note from the translator: Trying to be as faithful as possible to the original words of the Holy Father makes this paragraph hard to read. One may argue that even the original in Italian is hard to understand. In summary, it is generally agreed that hygiene (or even whether) is not a reason to go away with pudency (modesty).
Note from the translator: The Holy Father used the word “bizzarria” which could mean also bizarre.
Note from the translator: The original reads “modellisti”.
Note from the translator: The original only reads “modello” and not “modellista”.