Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CLXIX.: OF MODESTY IN DRESS. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
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QUESTION CLXIX.: OF MODESTY IN DRESS. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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OF MODESTY IN DRESS.
Article I.—Can there be virtue and vice in matters of toilet?
R. In the exterior things that man uses there is no vice, but only on the part of man himself who uses them immoderately. This immoderation may appear in two ways: one way is in comparison with the standard of custom in the social circle in which the person moves. Hence Augustine says: “Offences against manners are to be avoided according to the different fashion of manners. The convention of society, sanctioned by custom or by law, is not to be violated by the private whim of any citizen or stranger: for ungainly is every part that is not in agreement with the whole to which it belongs.” In another way there may be immoderation arising from the inordinate affection of him who uses exterior things, when a man comes to luxuriate too much in such things, whether his use of them be according to the custom of the society in which he lives, or go beyond that custom. Hence Augustine says: “In the use of things there must be no luxury: for luxury not only abuses wickedly the custom of society in the sphere in which it lives, but often even goes beyond that custom, and breaking out into the foulest excesses, openly shows the shame that it formerly concealed behind the veil of customary observance.”
On the side of defect there may be a twofold inordination, one in the way of negligence and refusal to take any trouble to make one’s outward man what it should be; the other is making these very deficiencies of toilet a matter of vainglory.
§ 2. They who are in positions of dignity, or again the ministers of the altar, wear more costly robes than other men, not for their own glorification, but to signify the excellence of their office or of divine worship: and therefore there is no fault in their so doing. Nor yet does he who wears a meaner dress than his fellows, always sin. For if he does it for the maceration of the flesh, or the humiliation of the spirit, it is an act of the virtue of temperance. The wearing of a mean dress is particularly proper in those who exhort other men by word and example to penance, as the Prophets did, of whom the Apostle says: “They wandered about in sheep-skins.”1
Article II.—Is indulgence of the love of dress a mortal sin in women?
R. As regards female dress the same points are to be attended to as have been noted above concerning toilet generally; and moreover there is one other special fact to be observed, that is given in the text: “And behold a woman meeteth him in harlot’s attire, prepared to deceive souls.”1 However, a married woman may lawfully lay herself out to please her husband, lest he despise her and form other connections. Hence it is said: “She that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”2 And therefore, if a married woman dresses well to please her husband, she may do so without sin. But those women who neither have nor want to have husbands, or who are in a state that binds them not to marry, cannot without sin seek to please the eyes of men to make them fall in love with them, because that is to furnish their neighbour with an incentive to sin. And if they dress themselves with this express purpose, that people may fall in love with them, they sin mortally: but if it is done out of thoughtlessness, or vanity and love of display, it is not always a mortal sin, but venial sometimes. Some ladies however in this situation may be excused from sin, when their dressing is not done out of vanity, but in compliance with a fashion to the contrary of what has been laid down: though such a fashion is not praiseworthy.3
§ 2. Women’s painting of themselves is a species of counterfeit that cannot be without sin.1 Such painting however is not always fraught with mortal sin, but only when it is done for lasciviousness or in contempt of God. It is further to be observed that it is one thing to counterfeit a beauty not possessed, and another thing to conceal an ugliness arising from any cause, as from sickness or other such incident: for that concealment is lawful.2
§ 4. In any art of manufacturing articles that men cannot use without sin, workmen making such things would thereby sin, as directly supplying others with an occasion of sin: thus it would be if one were to manufacture idols or articles of idolatrous worship. But any art that there may be, the products of which can be used by men either for good or for evil, as in the case of swords and arrows, is not a sinful art to practise; and only such arts as this ought to be called arts.3 Where however the products of any art are for the most part turned to evil use, arts in that case, though not unlawful in themselves, are to be exterminated from the city by the official act of the Sovereign. Since then women may lawfully adorn themselves, either to maintain the becoming level of their state, or even somewhat to improve upon it, and please their husbands, it follows that the makers of finery for this purpose do not sin in the practice of their art, except it be possibly by inventing sundry superfluous and curious novelties.1
[1 ]Hebrews xi. 37.
[1 ]Prov. vii. 10.
[2 ]1 Cor. vii. 34.
[3 ]To illustrate St. Thomas by a later Doctor of the Church, we quote from the Life of St. Jane Frances, Quarterly Series, p. 37: “One day at dinner, when the Bishop (St. Francis de Sales) had his usual place next her as mistress of the house, he observed that her dress was more fashionably made than usual. Taking an opportunity when he could not be overheard, the Bishop said to her in a low voice: ‘Madame, should you like to marry again?’ ‘No, indeed, my lord,’ she instantly replied. ‘Then you should pull down your flag,’ he said, smiling, but in such a way that she could not take offence. Madame de Chantal perfectly understood him, and when she took her place at dinner the next day, her dress was docked of certain little trimmings and coxcombries which had given it the appearance of smartness.” (Trl.)
[1 ]See q. 111. art. 1. (Trl.)
[2 ]So, says the Angelic Doctor, the lady may paint—if she is ugly. (Trl.)
[3 ]The rule here given regulates the compounding and sale of poisons. (Trl.)
[1 ]Here ends St. Thomas’s long examination of virtues and vices, which has occupied the whole of the Secunda-Secundæ so far, besides the general treatment of the matter in Prima-Secundæ, qq. 55—88. The remainder of the Secunda-Secundæ, here presented, is mainly a treatise on the religious state, which, as a state, is the culmination of moral excellence, and the exposition of it a fitting last word from Aquinas Ethicus. (Trl.)