A PAPAL DECREE CONCERNING MODESTY
HIS HOLINESS POPE PIUS XI
12 January 1930
By virtue of his supreme apostolate, whereby the universal Church is
founded, by divine institution, Our Most Holy Lordship, Pope Pius XI never
tires of reiterating the words of St. Paul, to wit: “…women also in decent
apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, … but as it
becometh women professing godliness, with good works…” (I Tim II: 9-10)
Frequently, when the occasion has presented itself, the selfsame Holy
Pontiff has reproved and bitterly condemned immodesty of dress pervasively
introduced into use these days amongst Catholic women and girls, a thing
which not only gravely offends feminine beauty and ornament, but leads most
lamentably to the temporal and worse still the eternal ruin of these same
women and unto the ruin of others still.
It is no wonder then, that the bishops and other ordinaries, as befits the
ministers of Christ, and each in his respective diocese, have opposed, by all
means and with unanimous voice, such misguided license and brazen
impudence, and tolerating the while with calm fortitude, on account of this,
frequent derision and abuse, brought against them by souls of ill will.
So let this sacred consilium of the clergy and of the people, pursue the
same sort of vigilance and action regarding the propagation of discipline as
the holy bishops, with deserved approbation and praise and let it earnestly
exhort these same men that they implement the counsels and the undertakings
begun in due season, and urge them on generously and to the best of their
ability, until this pestiferous sickness be completely rooted out from amongst
the honest affairs of men.
That this aim might be brought the more easily and securely to effect, this
sacred congregation, by the mandate of Our Most Holy Lord, decrees what
follows to be enacted:
1. May parish priests especially, and preachers when the occasion
presents itself, and according to the words of St. Paul “…demand, reprove,
beseech and rebuke…” women to wear clothes that redolent of modesty and
such other things as are the ornament and vanguard of virtue, and may they
warn parents not to permit their children to wear unseemly dress.
2. Parents, being ever mindful of the most awesome obligation which
binds them of caring firstly and foremostly for the moral and religious
education of their children, are to apply particular diligence, that their
daughters be firmly grounded in Christian doctrine and that those same
daughters also zealously foster in their souls, by words and example, the love
of virtues of modesty and chastity; may parents also, in imitation of the Holy
Family, busy themselves about so ordering and governing their family, that
each and every individual within the family home has a cause and incentive to
love and guard modesty.
3. Let those same parents prohibit their children from public athletic
events and gymnastics competitions, or at least, if their daughters must be
involved in them, that they take care to exhibit clothing which is fully in keeping
with modesty and that their parents never permit them to wear
4. May the governesses of colleges and instructresses of schools strive so
to imbue the souls of young women with the love of modesty that these same
young women are led efficaciously to modesty of dress.
5. May those same governesses and instructresses, with no exception
even to their own mothers, forbid admission to colleges and schools, to such
women as wear unseemly clothing, and once admitted, if they fail to come to
their senses, that they dismiss them.
6. Let not religious, according to the letters given by the Sacred
Congregation concerning Religious on August 13, 1928, admit young women
into their colleges, schools, oratories, or gymnasia, who do not observe a
Christian manner of dress, or if they have already been admitted, that they not
tolerate those who do not observe a Christian manner of dress. May they
moreover take special pains in the education of their female students, so that
the love of Christian modesty and holy reserve take deep root in their hearts.
7. May pious associations of women be established and fostered,
organizations which, by their counsel, example and deed, set before
themselves the goal of checking the abuse of dress, which is not consistent
with the dictates of Christian modesty, as well as the goal of promoting purity
of morals and modesty of dress.
8. Into the pious associations of women, let not those women be admitted
who put on immodest clothing; and once admitted, if afterwards they commit
a sin in this regard, and come not to their senses when admonished, may be
expelled as well.
9. Women and girls who wear immodest clothes are to be prohibited
from Holy Communion and from the office of sponsor in the sacraments of
Baptism and Confirmation, and in certain cases, they are to be prohibited even
from entry into the church.
10. When feasts occur throughout the year, which supply a particular
opportunity to inculcate Christian modesty, and especially feasts of the
Blessed Virgin Mary, may parish priests and priests of pious associations and
heads of Catholic societies not fail, by means of a sermon for that occasion, to
recall and encourage women, to a Christian manner of dress. Every year year,
on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let
special prayers in all the cathedrals and parish churches be made, and, where
possible, may timely exhortation be given to the people in the church.
11. May diocesan counsels, discussed in a declaration of the Holy Office
of March 22, 1918, in a spirit of vigilance, and at least once a year, openly deal
with finding ever more suitable means and methods of effectively giving
counsel on feminine modesty.
12. To which point may salutary action, effectively and safely lead. May
bishops and other local ordinaries keep this sacred congregation informed,
every third year, together with a report on religious institution given of our
own accord in letters in the "Catholic World" on June 29, 1923, even concerning
the condition of things and the state surrounding feminine manner of dress,
and concerning works carried out in accordance with the rule of this
STANDARDS FOR MODESTY IN DRESS
"There always exists an absolute norm to be preserved in modesty of dress."
(Pope Pius XII)
“In order that uniformity in understanding prevail...we recall that a dress cannot be
called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers
breadth under the pit of the throat; which does not cover the arms at least to
the elbows; and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses
of transparent materials are improper.” (The Cardinal Vicar of Pope Pius XI).
1. Marylike is modest without compromise, “like Mary,” Christ’s mother.
2. Marylike dresses have sleeves extending at least to the elbows; and skirts
reaching below the knees.
[Note: Because of impossible market conditions quarter-length sleeves are temporarily
tolerated with Ecclesiastical Approval, until Christian womanhood again turns to
Mary as the model of modesty in dress.]
3. Marylike dress requires full coverage for the bodice, chest, shoulders and
back; except for a cut-out about the neck not exceeding two inches below the
neckline in front and in back and a corresponding two inches on the
4. Marylike dresses do not admit as modest coverage transparent fabrics —
laces, nets, organdy, nylons, etc. — unless sufficient backing is added.
However, their moderate use as trimmings is acceptable.
5. Marylike dresses do not admit the use improper of flesh-colored fabrics.
6. Marylike dresses conceal rather than reveal the figure of the wearer; they do
not unduly emphasize the parts of the body.
7. Marylike dresses provide full coverage — even after the jacket, cape or
stole are removed.