QUESTION 169: OF MODESTY IN THE OUTWARD APPAREL
We must now consider modesty as connected with the outward apparel, and
under this head there are two points of inquiry:
(1) Whether there can be virtue and vice in connection with outward
(2) Whether women sin mortally by excessive adornment?
Article 1: Whether there can be virtue and vice in connection with outward apparel?
Objection 1: It would seem that there cannot be virtue and vice in connection
with outward apparel. For outward adornment does not belong to us by
nature, wherefore it varies according to different times and places.
Hence Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. iii, 12) that "among the ancient
Romans it was scandalous for one to wear a cloak with sleeves and
reaching to the ankles, whereas now it is scandalous for anyone hailing
from a reputable place to be without them." Now according to the
Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 1) there is in us a natural aptitude for the
virtues. Therefore there is no virtue or vice about such things.
Objection 2: Further, if there were virtue and vice in connection with outward
attire, excess in this matter would be sinful. Now excess in outward
attire is not apparently sinful, since even the ministers of the altar
use most precious vestments in the sacred ministry. Likewise it would
seem not to be sinful to be lacking in this, for it is said in praise of
certain people (Heb. 11:37): "They wandered about in sheepskins and in
goatskins." Therefore it seems that there cannot be virtue and vice in
Objection 3: Further, every virtue is either theological, or moral, or
intellectual. Now an intellectual virtue is not conversant with matter of
this kind, since it is a perfection regarding the knowledge of truth. Nor
is there a theological virtue connected therewith, since that has God for
its object; nor are any of the moral virtues enumerated by the
Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 7), connected with it. Therefore it seems that
there cannot be virtue and vice in connection with this kind of attire.
On the contrary, Honesty [*Cf. Question ] pertains to virtue. Now a certain
honesty is observed in the outward apparel; for Ambrose says (De Offic.
i, 19): "The body should be bedecked naturally and without affectation,
with simplicity, with negligence rather than nicety, not with costly and
dazzling apparel, but with ordinary clothes, so that nothing be lacking
to honesty and necessity, yet nothing be added to increase its beauty."
Therefore there can be virtue and vice in the outward attire.
I answer that, It is not in the outward things themselves which man
uses, that there is vice, but on the part of man who uses them
immoderately. This lack of moderation occurs in two ways. First, in
comparison with the customs of those among whom one lives; wherefore
Augustine says (Confess. iii, 8): "Those offenses which are contrary to
the customs of men, are to be avoided according to the customs generally
prevailing, so that a thing agreed upon and confirmed by custom or law of
any city or nation may not be violated at the lawless pleasure of any,
whether citizen or foreigner. For any part, which harmonizeth not with
its whole, is offensive." Secondly, the lack of moderation in the use of
these things may arise from the inordinate attachment of the user, the
result being that a man sometimes takes too much pleasure in using them,
either in accordance with the custom of those among whom he dwells or
contrary to such custom. Hence Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. iii,
12): "We must avoid excessive pleasure in the use of things, for it leads
not only wickedly to abuse the customs of those among whom we dwell, but
frequently to exceed their bounds, so that, whereas it lay hidden, while
under the restraint of established morality, it displays its deformity in
a most lawless outbreak."
In point of excess, this inordinate attachment occurs in three ways.
First when a man seeks glory from excessive attention to dress; in so far
as dress and such like things are a kind of ornament. Hence Gregory says
(Hom. xl in Ev.): "There are some who think that attention to finery and
costly dress is no sin. Surely, if this were no fault, the word of God
would not say so expressly that the rich man who was tortured in hell had
been clothed in purple and fine linen. No one, forsooth, seeks costly
apparel" (such, namely, as exceeds his estate) "save for vainglory."
Secondly, when a man seeks sensuous pleasure from excessive attention to
dress, in so far as dress is directed to the body's comfort. Thirdly,
when a man is too solicitous [*Cf. Question , Article ] in his attention to
Accordingly Andronicus [*De Affectibus] reckons three virtues in
connection with outward attire; namely "humility," which excludes the
seeking of glory, wherefore he says that humility is "the habit of
avoiding excessive expenditure and parade"; "contentment" [*Cf. Question ,
Objection ], which excludes the seeking of sensuous pleasure, wherefore he
says that "contentedness is the habit that makes a man satisfied with
what is suitable, and enables him to determine what is becoming in his
manner of life" (according to the saying of the Apostle, 1 Tim. 6:8):
"Having food and wherewith to be covered, with these let us be
content;"---and "simplicity," which excludes excessive solicitude about
such things, wherefore he says that "simplicity is a habit that makes a
man contented with what he has."
In the point of deficiency there may be inordinate attachment in two
ways. First, through a man's neglect to give the requisite study or
trouble to the use of outward apparel. Wherefore the Philosopher says
(Ethic. vii, 7) that "it is a mark of effeminacy to let one's cloak trail
on the ground to avoid the trouble of lifting it up." Secondly, by
seeking glory from the very lack of attention to outward attire. Hence
Augustine says (De Serm. Dom. in Monte ii, 12) that "not only the glare
and pomp of outward things, but even dirt and the weeds of mourning may
be a subject of ostentation, all the more dangerous as being a decoy
under the guise of God's service"; and the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv,
7) that "both excess and inordinate defect are a subject of ostentation."
Reply to Objection 1: Although outward attire does not come from nature, it
belongs to natural reason to moderate it; so that we are naturally
inclined to be the recipients of the virtue that moderates outward
Reply to Objection 2: Those who are placed in a position of dignity, or again the
ministers of the altar, are attired in more costly apparel than others,
not for the sake of their own glory, but to indicate the excellence of
their office or of the Divine worship: wherefore this is not sinful in
them. Hence Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. iii, 12): "Whoever uses
outward things in such a way as to exceed the bounds observed by the good
people among whom he dwells, either signifies something by so doing, or
is guilty of sin, inasmuch as he uses these things for sensual pleasure
Likewise there may be sin on the part of deficiency: although it is not
always a sin to wear coarser clothes than other people. For, if this be
done through ostentation or pride, in order to set oneself above others,
it is a sin of superstition; whereas, if this be done to tame the flesh,
or to humble the spirit, it belongs to the virtue of temperance. Hence
Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. iii, 12): "Whoever uses transitory
things with greater restraint than is customary with those among whom he
dwells, is either temperate or superstitious." Especially, however, is
the use of coarse raiment befitting to those who by word and example urge
others to repentance, as did the prophets of whom the Apostle is speaking
in the passage quoted. Wherefore a gloss on Mt. 3:4, says: "He who
preaches penance, wears the garb of penance."
Reply to Objection 3: This outward apparel is an indication of man's estate;
wherefore excess, deficiency, and mean therein, are referable to the
virtue of truthfulness, which the Philosopher (Ethic. ii, 7) assigns to
deeds and words, which are indications of something connected with man's
Article 2: Whether the adornment of women is devoid of mortal sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that the adornment of women is not devoid of mortal
sin. For whatever is contrary to a precept of the Divine law is a mortal
sin. Now the adornment of women is contrary to a precept of the Divine
law; for it is written (1 Pt. 3:3): "Whose," namely women's, "adorning,
let it not be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold,
or the putting on of apparel." Wherefore a gloss of Cyprian says: "Those
who are clothed in silk and purple cannot sincerely put on Christ: those
who are bedecked with gold and pearls and trinkets have forfeited the
adornments of mind and body." Now this is not done without a mortal sin.
Therefore the adornment of women cannot be devoid of mortal sin.
Objection 2: Further, Cyprian says (De Habit. Virg.): "I hold that not only
virgins and widows, but also wives and all women without exception,
should be admonished that nowise should they deface God's work and
fabric, the clay that He has fashioned, with the aid of yellow pigments,
black powders or rouge, or by applying any dye that alters the natural
features." And afterwards he adds: "They lay hands on God, when they
strive to reform what He has formed. This is an assault on the Divine
handiwork, a distortion of the truth. Thou shalt not be able to see God,
having no longer the eyes that God made, but those the devil has unmade;
with him shalt thou burn on whose account thou art bedecked." But this is
not due except to mortal sin. Therefore the adornment of women is not
devoid of mortal sin.
Objection 3: Further, just as it is unbecoming for a woman to wear man's
clothes, so is it unbecoming for her to adorn herself inordinately. Now
the former is a sin, for it is written (Dt. 22:5): "A woman shall not be
clothed with man's apparel, neither shall a man use woman's apparel."
Therefore it seems that also the excessive adornment of women is a mortal
Objection 4: On the contrary, If this were true it would seem that the makers
of these means of adornment sin mortally.
I answer that, As regards the adornment of women, we must bear in mind
the general statements made above (Article ) concerning outward apparel, and
also something special, namely that a woman's apparel may incite men to
lust, according to Prov. 7:10, "Behold a woman meeteth him in harlot's
attire, prepared to deceive souls."
Nevertheless a woman may use means to please her husband, lest through
despising her he fall into adultery. Hence it is written (1 Cor. 7:34)
that the woman "that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how
she may please her husband." Wherefore if a married woman adorn herself
in order to please her husband she can do this without sin.
But those women who have no husband nor wish to have one, or who are in
a state of life inconsistent with marriage, cannot without sin desire to
give lustful pleasure to those men who see them, because this is to
incite them to sin. And if indeed they adorn themselves with this
intention of provoking others to lust, they sin mortally; whereas if they
do so from frivolity, or from vanity for the sake of ostentation, it is
not always mortal, but sometimes venial. And the same applies to men in
this respect. Hence Augustine says (Ep. ccxlv ad Possid.): "I do not
wish you to be hasty in forbidding the wearing of gold or costly attire
except in the case of those who being neither married nor wishful to
marry, should think how they may please God: whereas the others think on
the things of the world, either husbands how they may please their wives,
or wives how they may please their husbands, except that it is unbecoming
for women though married to uncover their hair, since the Apostle
commands them to cover the head." Yet in this case some might be excused
from sin, when they do this not through vanity but on account of some
contrary custom: although such a custom is not to be commended.
Reply to Objection 1: As a gloss says on this passage, "The wives of those who
were in distress despised their husbands, and decked themselves that they
might please other men": and the Apostle forbids this. Cyprian is
speaking in the same sense; yet he does not forbid married women to adorn
themselves in order to please their husbands, lest the latter be afforded
an occasion of sin with other women. Hence the Apostle says (1 Tim. 2:9):
"Women . . . in ornate [Douay: 'decent'] apparel, adorning themselves
with modesty and sobriety, not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or
costly attire": whence we are given to understand that women are not
forbidden to adorn themselves soberly and moderately but to do so
excessively, shamelessly, and immodestly.
Reply to Objection 2: Cyprian is speaking of women painting themselves: this is a
kind of falsification, which cannot be devoid of sin. Wherefore Augustine
says (Ep. ccxlv ad Possid.): "To dye oneself with paints in order to have
a rosier or a paler complexion is a lying counterfeit. I doubt whether
even their husbands are willing to be deceived by it, by whom alone"
(i.e. the husbands) "are they to be permitted, but not ordered, to adorn
themselves." However, such painting does not always involve a mortal sin,
but only when it is done for the sake of sensuous pleasure or in contempt
of God, and it is to like cases that Cyprian refers.
It must, however, be observed that it is one thing to counterfeit a
beauty one has not, and another to hide a disfigurement arising from some
cause such as sickness or the like. For this is lawful, since according
to the Apostle (1 Cor. 12:23), "such as we think to be the less honorable
members of the body, about these we put more abundant honor."
Reply to Objection 3: As stated in the foregoing Article, outward apparel should
be consistent with the estate of the person, according to the general
custom. Hence it is in itself sinful for a woman to wear man's clothes,
or vice versa; especially since this may be a cause of sensuous pleasure;
and it is expressly forbidden in the Law (Dt. 22) because the Gentiles
used to practice this change of attire for the purpose of idolatrous
superstition. Nevertheless this may be done sometimes without sin on
account of some necessity, either in order to hide oneself from enemies,
or through lack of other clothes, or for some similar motive.
Reply to Objection 4: In the case of an art directed to the production of goods
which men cannot use without sin, it follows that the workmen sin in
making such things, as directly affording others an occasion of sin; for
instance, if a man were to make idols or anything pertaining to
idolatrous worship. But in the case of an art the products of which may
be employed by man either for a good or for an evil use, such as swords,
arrows, and the like, the practice of such an art is not sinful. These
alone should be called arts; wherefore Chrysostom says [*Hom. xlix super
Matth.]: "The name of art should be applied to those only which
contribute towards and produce necessaries and mainstays of life." In the
case of an art that produces things which for the most part some people
put to an evil use, although such arts are not unlawful in themselves,
nevertheless, according to the teaching of Plato, they should be
extirpated from the State by the governing authority. Accordingly, since
women may lawfully adorn themselves, whether to maintain the fitness of
their estate, or even by adding something thereto, in order to please
their husbands, it follows that those who make such means of adornment do
not sin in the practice of their art, except perhaps by inventing means
that are superfluous and fantastic. Hence Chrysostom says (Super Matth.)
that "even the shoemakers' and clothiers' arts stand in need of
restraint, for they have lent their art to lust, by abusing its needs,
and debasing art by art."