Friday, May 17, 2013

Re-Post: The Eternal Question

If you get a chance, please pray to St. Raphael for an interview I have today (he's probably tired of me, so I figured I'd haul in some new intercessors...)!  Meantime, here's a post from my blog's younger days, about the question of to go or not to go strapless for your wedding dress.  It was the first time a post generated multiple comments and an insightful discussion--if you missed it the first time around, I'd love to continue the conversation here!

photo source

After he's popped the question and you've saved a date, I bet one of your biggest priorities is saying yes to the dress.  It's no small task, obviously.  As a Catholic bride, there are probably even more things you feel like you have to consider, modesty being one of the major ones. It was important to me to wear something modest and classy, but as I was dress shopping, there were a few subtleties and nagging questions that I still think about sometimes.  I figured I'd share them with you, and I'd love to hear what you think.

JPII said, "the dignity of every woman is the duty of every man."  Incredible, right?  I feel like so many issues surrounding modesty can be summed up by the idea that we're created in His image and likeness, and as such, possess tremendous dignity.  We women possess it in a special way- through beauty!  We long to be seen and be called beautiful, and men, in turn, long for that exact beauty.  It all fits together so perfectly.  Sadly, it's easy to see the ways beauty has been twisted, in both men's and women's eyes, by the culture, but it's something we can get back when we know and understand who we are before God.  So, both yours and your husband-to-be's dignity merit only one response: pure love, without any lust or selfishness.  As long as we're on earth we won't be perfect at it, but we can invite it in the best way we can.  The sacrament of marriage does this in such a real, amazing way.  Think about it: a bride veils herself, literally, not because her body's bad or because she has something to hide, but because it is so good, and she is so worthy, that she's not meant to be put on display.

All that said, how the heck does it translate to choosing a wedding dress?  There's lots to consider, and for me it came down to one issue in particular: strapless or strapped?  I pictured what I wanted right away: I wanted my dress to be clean and minimal, with no beads, lace, or trains.  It was finding something to match the image in my head that was the hard part.  Eventually, I fell in love with a gorgeous, and strapless, ballgown style with a pretty sash.  Right away I had a feeling it was the one, but right away I also panicked a little.  My biggest anxiety was that people wouldn't think I was a "real" Catholic if I was wearing something strapless.  Maybe that's weird, letting what I saw as everyone's expectations be the deciding factor, but that's seriously how I felt.  I did, after all, hope that our wedding Mass would be an opportunity to evangelize in a humble way- we offered confessions beforehand and had a litany of the saints as part of the music, but mostly I just hoped that without doing anything but be joyful at receiving the sacrament, we'd witness to the beauty of the faith and the contentment of having waited for one another.  A little later, I realized it was prideful of me to only choose a dress based on how I wanted people to see me, but I still really did want to wear something that would honor both Andrew and the Lord.

Then more anxieties crept in, of the more earthly variety.  Simply put, I wanted to feel pretty and not frumpy.  I was convinced that adding something to what I saw as the perfect dress would ruin the look of it, and that on a 105 degree day, layering anything on top would be impractical.  I wanted so badly to wear whatever I chose for the right reasons, not for selfish, superficial ones.  Ultimately, I did pick the dress I loved, and wore it without any straps or modifications.  I reasoned that I felt comfy in it and not overly exposed (you know how you usually know deep down if something is immodest based on how self-conscious it makes you feel?), I could get it tailored so I wouldn't be yanking on it all day, it wasn't skintight, and the neck was cut straight across, high enough to cover all of my breastage and most of my back.  I truly felt at peace with my choice, and not like I had to justify it to myself or others.  There's a big difference between those feelings, you know?  Sliding scales admittedly aren't the best gague of modesty, but I did feel like the neckline of my dress was higher than some other dresses I tried on, with straps or in halter styles, that were lower-cut.

I don't really know if there's a simple, black and white answer to the strapless question.  I mean, those super tight dresses with necks that dip low and make you look like a mermaid are kind of obviously out, but there really are ambiguous areas within good intentions.  I say if you don't feel comfortable going strapless, what with the possibility of constantly hiking it up, then by all means, skip it and you'll find your perfect gown in another style. On the other hand, within reason, it seems a little legalistic to me to make too many rules for yourself based on expectations.  Rules exist to cultivate true freedom, not suppress it--that includes freedom from anxiety and freedom from lust.  Wear what you know, in your heart, veils and radiates your beauty.  You'll be a blushing bride for a reason--reserving your body for your soon-to-be husband encourages the kind of virtuous shame that protects what's sacred.  The right kind of outfit magnifies your dignity, rather than diminishes it.

Ladies, toss in your two cents!  I hope I didn't come off as some total relativist in this post; my intention was just to offer my ideas about a balanced, virtuous approach to choosing a dress.  Tell me what you think!  What's your take on strapless?  And what criteria have you found helpful as you go shopping?

Comment away, please, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

10 comments:

  1. I'm wearing a strapless dress for my wedding - and I just don't think there's anything necessarily immodest about strapless. In fact, I think I read a Simcha Fisher piece (LOVE her) where she said something about how it's important to remember that clothing isn't inherently modest or immodest - it's very situational. Am I inspiring lust in the hearts of men walking down the aisle with my shoulders bare? Not likely - but even if I was, I don't think their lust would diminish if I had straps or sleeves on my dress, and therefore the onus should not be put on me to cover up.

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    1. Actually thinking about it again, I don't think it was Simcha Fisher - it was a popular Catholic tumblr I follow (badwolfcomplex.tumblr.com, if you're interested, but good luck finding the post. I'm sure her "modesty" tag would be worth perusing, though.)
      BUT this is an excellent Simcha Fisher piece on modesty that I would recommend reading!!
      http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/modesty-responsibility-and-common-sense

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    2. Such good articles; thanks for sharing, Angie!

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  2. I had the same problem when I was picking out my dress. I imagined a strapped, ivory beautiful and simple gown. Anddd I ended up getting a white, beaded, strapless one. It's just what made me feel beautiful and I don't think it was immodest in the slightest. I love this post and I'm glad you've opened up the discussion :)

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  3. My thought in wearing a dress with sleeves was that I was presenting myself, before God, to my husband as a gift. I wanted to reflect my everyday modesty in the greatest of days, striving to be the purest gift as possible. To me, that meant wearing straps. It was well worth small alterations, I think it made my dress look more beautiful, and my seamstress was thrilled to sew the straps on. Many parishes don't allow strapless dresses which makes me stop and think about dressing not just for ourselves, but for God, too. He is an important part of the "big day." :D

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  4. I definitely agree with your points about some dresses with sleeves/straps being more immodest than strapless ones, and I think that there are some very classy strapless dresses around (yours included!). I felt really strongly about some sort of sleeve or strap on my dress and the bridesmaid dresses because I just wouldn't have felt right about wearing a strapless dress in church during the sacrament of the mass, and this was just as important to me (if not more so) for our wedding mass. It's a good point too that some Catholic churches don't allow strapless wedding or bridesmaids dresses.

    I looked long and hard to find a wedding dress that met my criteria of non-strapless/no cleavage/still stylish and even shed some tears over it, haha. I honestly couldn't find anything that met the criteria (lots of the dresses with sleeves were just like you said, with cutout backs and low cut), but I eventually found the strapless lace dress of my dreams and so I added a bolero from Etsy. I think wearing strapless dresses at the reception is entirely different (different atmosphere/not standing at the altar/not in church) so one good solution that some of my friends used was to wear a bolero during the mass and then take it off during the reception. I ended up liking my bolero so much that I wore it the whole night :)

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  5. I also agree about the dresses with sleeves and straps being more---ahem...slutty? Every time I walked into a bridal salon the first thing I told the attendant was that I wanted sleeves and I did *not* want to build them. I thought that if I was going to spend that much on an article of clothing, I wanted it to be perfect just the way it was. It turns out designers really like sleeves and straps because they add structure to the dress that allows a plunging neckline...not quite what I was looking for.

    I do think modesty has a lot to do with body type--some people can be perfectly modest in a strapless gown and some can't. I felt like I really needed sleeves (plus I got married late fall and thought the added warmth would be good!) and I think sleeves are really classy. I ended up finding a lace "coat" to cover my arms, back, and some of my (to me) over-exposed breastage. It wasn't at all what I'd been looking for but it ended up better than I'd imagined.

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    1. You make a really insightful point, I think, about body type--good call. And you looked like a princess on your wedding day =)

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    2. This was what I was going to say, too-- that it depends on your body type. One of my sisters wore strapless and looked beautiful. She's probably a 32A. Me? Uh-uh. No way strapless would ever look modest on this 36D. You really have to know your own body, and not just go by hard and fast rules like "spaghetti straps are bad!" or "shorts must be five inches long!"

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  6. Speaking of wedding gowns and modesty, does anyone know where to shop for trustworthy modest dresses for really cheap?

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