March 28, 2012

When the subject is Christian women, womanhood, femininity, or relationships, modesty always, always, always comes up.  It was certainly discussed among the attendees of the very woman’s retreat where the idea for The Feminine Gift took root. It has been discussed in every young adult’s group I’ve attended, youth group I’ve led, and very nearly every earnest conversation about Christian living I’ve had with my devout Catholic friends.  We’ve battled amongst ourselves about what modesty is, what it means to be modest, and whether, as young Catholic women desiring to live good Christian lives, we would then have to embrace denim jumpers and forswear ever getting nice haircuts again.


Beauty, personal attractiveness, modesty, and fashion are subjects we have wanted to address from the beginning, so we were very excited when circumstances put us in the path of Marisa Pereira and her ‘stylish and modest’ line of clothing at Michaela-Noel. We were intrigued and not a little enthusiastic by the idea that a woman could dress modestly, but still be attractive and fashionable. Not only by the abstract idea of it, but that a woman was actually doing something concrete to make it possible!  When we contacted her, Marisa very graciously agreed to an interview with The Feminine Gift.

TFG: Any conversation about modesty tends to incite passionate opinions and firmly held ideas.  What does modesty mean to you?  Is it possible to define modesty?
       
MP: The dictionary meaning of modesty is the “quality of being relatively moderate, limited, or small in amount, rate, or level”. Most of the time when we refer to “modesty” we think in terms of dress but modesty to me, is a state of being. It means speaking, behaving and dressing with reserve.

TFG: Does your Catholic faith inform your understanding of modesty?

MP: Yes, believing I am a child of God and made in His image and likeness necessitates me dressing with the knowledge that I am an ambassador of Christ.

TFG: What would you most like to tell young women about the clothes they choose?

MP: I would like to remind them that they are ambassadors of Christ as well and the clothes that they choose tell a visual story about them, to the world. What impression would they want to make? Do they want certain body parts to define who they are or would they rather be known by some of the other character traits that they have been blessed with?

TFG: What bothers you most about current fashion trends?

MP: Nothing about the trends bothers me. Trends and fashions of all sorts are around all the time. There are trends currently to dress elegantly and there are trends to expose our bodies in a vulgar fashion. It’s our choices that make a difference. We can choose which fashions or trends we want to follow so really it’s our choices that bother me.

TFG: Do you have a favourite designer or fashion era?


MP: Actually while there are many talented designers and I like quite a bit that is out there, I am not a big believer in brand names. Being in the industry, I look instead at the quality of the fabrics and construction, the colours and fit and how that might work with my style, personality and my needs. In terms of fashion era, I love the big, lavish (and totally impractical) gowns of the Strauss waltz era. I love hats – actually all kinds of accessories – but especially hats.



TFG: You are the founder of Michaela-Noel.  What led you to start your business?

MP: I have a 14 year old daughter and when I took her shopping for church clothes I realized this category is totally missing for this age group. The clothes are inappropriate and poorly made – disposable clothes. Many young ladies want to be modest and still cool and fashionable. God had already planted a seed in me when out of the blue a couple of years before; I was asked to speak on the topic of image presentation from a Christian fashion perspective. I knew He wanted me to do something more but at the time didn’t know what that was. When I heard this call, the last piece of the puzzle seemed to fall into place.

TFG: What is your fashion background?  Did you train as a designer?

MP: Yes. I first completed college with a BA in French and a minor in Psychology. After that I went back to college and earned a BA in Fashion Design. I do use a lot of my knowledge of psychology when designing, writing and addressing audiences. I have been in the fashion industry for over 20 years mostly working for manufacturers. I never really dreamt of having my own clothing line but I guess God had different plans!

TFG: Will you include women’s clothing as well some day?

MP: The clothes are designed for “young ladies” - teens and up. Since I keep the clothes pretty classic in styling, they are very appropriate for a working young lady as well. I have had requests to design for “seniors” and have also had requests for prom dresses. At this point however, I am focusing on just this category. Right now I believe God wants me to focus on growing the “Stylish but Modest” movement – that involves speaking and writing on the topic as well – all this takes a lot of time, energy and resources – I’ve got to fit in sleep!

TFG: Does Our Lady play a role in your business?

MP: I have a great devotion to Mother Mary and look to her on my good days and not so good days as well because I believe with all she went through here on earth, she understands – especially being a lady and mother herself.

TFG: Who is your customer? Are young women looking for modest fashions, or is it mostly parents searching for modest alternatives?

MP: It’s both – parents and young ladies – even ladies in the corporate world. I have grandparents who are customers as well.

TFG: You live in Atlanta, but the internet spans the world, increasing your potential client base. Do you ship worldwide?

MP: We are open to shipping to other countries and have shipped to Canada. It is a little more involved than domestic shipping in terms of paperwork and the customer will have to pay a bit of “customs” fees to their own country when they receive the package. We encourage people outside the US who are interested to contact us via email and we will work to ensure they become a “regular” customer. J

TFG: You are a business woman, a writer, a mother... what do you consider to be your biggest     challenge?

MP: Each day a different me has a challenge but hopefully another me that same day, has a success to balance it out. Overall, motherhood has the greatest challenges and the greatest rewards as well – I believe it’s because I see that as my biggest gift from God. Besides, I am a single mother – have been since my daughter was nine months old.

TFG: What are you most proud of?

MP: Raising my daughter while juggling it all. Single motherhood is no piece of cake – to put it mildly! I honestly do not believe I could make it without God and a few angels that He has sent my way.

Marisa Pereira is a mother, fashion designer, currently runs a Design and Image Consulting business in Atlanta, GA, is a freelance writer and volunteers at her church and in the community. Frustrated at her inability to find appropriate church clothes for her 14 year old daughter, she heeded God’s call, and created the stylish but modest, Michaela-Noel clothing collection, now available on-line. You can “like” it on facebook here. In her effort to grow the “Stylish but Modest” movement, she analyzes the importance of presenting the best image of ourselves and passionately insists that it starts within. She regularly addresses adult and youth audiences – encouraging and teaching them to make a memorable first impact but more importantly - to create a lasting impression. She is a regular writer for “The Catholic Exchange” and her articles have also been featured in “Women of Grace”, and “Catholic Moms” If and when she has “free” time, she would love to just lie on a beach somewhere and do NOTHING!
Her websites are: www.mpcimage.com and www.michaela-noel.com



8 comments:

  1. What a great post and topic! You NEVER read about modesty anymore or about those that promote it. Michaela-Noel is a God send! This was well done Tess, so very well done!

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  2. Thank you.
    It would be really interesting to get a man's perspective on the topic - and not just about women's clothing. Do men ever think of modesty in conjunction with themselves? Do you consider modesty when choosing your clothes? How do you cope with the visuals while 'out and about' in the course of your day?
    Sadly, modesty is one of those words we no longer honour.

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  3. As we should all know by now, men and women's view of sex is very different. We react differently to stimuli and for whatever reason, it seems more difficult for men to just walk away without falling to the temptation of lust. That is not to say men are weak in this regard for most men DO go through their daily life without acting on their barbaric inclinations, if I may call them that. However, the world has perpetuated the idea that boys will be boys and will sow their wild oats while women will and should entice men by their dress and grooming. If anyone tells you women are not powerful forces in how men conduct themselves, they are liars.

    Modesty in clothing is not usually a factor when men buy clothes. For men, there is very little to choose from in terms of styles that accentuate modest or immodest dress. Most of today's styles for men have no style for ordinary dress. Most styles today are youth orientated which means the 'relax' fit or baggy. If there is anything immodest about men's styles of dress it is in the way the clothing is being worn, such as wearing ones pants half way down their butts. I've even asked a young 20ish girl at work if she found that attractive and she just shook her head no. Somehow, for men, or boys, this idea of exposing their underwear is less a statement of modesty than being 'cool'.

    You ask about what men think of the 'visuals' they encounter in daily life and I can only say this: For a Christian man it is very disconcerting having to deal with his already over active sexuality without being constantly barraged with temptations of the flesh in the way women dress. That is not to say that if a man falls to temptations it is the woman's fault. Men can and have always defeated temptations of this sort but today's fashions makes this battle much worse and much harder.

    Did you ever notice how Christ taught that if a man looks at a woman lustfully that he is guilty of adultery in his heart? Why didn't he mention women in the same regard? Because, being a man, Christ KNEW how easy it was for a man to be sexually aroused by the sight of a woman if he lets his guard down for one moment. Does the sight of a man have the same effect on a woman and in the same degree? I don't know, and I'm going out on a limb here, but I am guessing not. In any case, a man's body reacts strongly to 'visuals' and imagination and if a woman dresses with little left to the imagination, then what IS left to the imagination is a killer.

    Christian men are conflicted by what they see as physically attractive yet at the same time, know that it may prove to be their spiritual demise. On the one hand, we see and appreciate the attractiveness in a immodestly dressed woman, but know that one second more, one measly second look can lead us to sin. As in the interview, modesty is not just about clothing but about all aspects of life. Immodest behavior or speech, like clothing, can and will lead into temptations that we wish we didn't indulge.

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  4. "If there's anything immodest about men's styles of dress, it is in the way the clothing is being worn, such as wearing ones pants halfway down their butts."

    What an interesting point. I would also add - "or wearing tight shirts and/or tight pants". It seems mens styles are swinging from one extreme to another, and they're becoming almost feminized, if that's a word. In the same way that pants-around-the-butt styles are unkempt and disrespectful, there's something odd and decidedly unattractive, to me, about a man wearing a tight, silky, V-neck shirt and uber-tight slacks - which I've seen on some men (and I'm not talking about the world that is homosexual cross-dressing and such). No, there is, and always has been something attractive to most any woman about say, a man in uniform, or a man in a suit or tux. Usually, a uniform is designed for the man - fits perfectly and it has come to represent discipline and virtue - which adds to the attractive-ness. Clothes do really make the man.

    I also agree with your thoughts on women's looks - and how they affect men. Women have a duty and responsibility to dress modestly - and should do so out of love for their fellow man, and I would argue their fellow women too. Although it is true that women are not as visually stimulated as men, for the most part, women do not appreciate immodesty on other women as well.

    Thank you for this.

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  5. While it makes sense, it frustrates me a little that a discussion on modesty ends up being about the male libido. I really appreciated Marisa's words: "modesty to me, is a state of being. It means speaking, behaving and dressing with reserve." Which means that appearance (and clothing) is only 1/3 of the equation.

    And later on she asks: "Do they want certain body parts to define who they are or would they rather be known by some of the other character traits that they have been blessed with?" Which applies equally to men. I agree with Sarah, men in slinky silky shirts and tight trousers are just as immodest as a woman's low cut top. The purpose of those clothes is to draw attention to the body, ignoring the dignity of the wearer - and the viewer.

    In his TOTB series, Christopher West talks about being distracted by a woman in front of him in church flicking her hair. Was that an immodest action on her part, suggesting women should cover their hair, or a personal struggle he needed to work through himself? As we go about in the world, we are responsible to some extent for our brothers and sisters, to help them avoid sin...but not entirely. There is personal accountability as well.

    This makes me think of a story a friend shared with me of when she worked with a man she found very attractive. He used to lounge at her desk for a chat most days, and she lamented to me how unfair it was. If she couldn't heave her bosoms at him, she said, he shouldn't be allowed to wear a fisherman's cable-knit sweater. Different things throw the switch for women as for men... but the switch does go on.

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    Replies
    1. I apologize for my post in that I did not intend for it to go off topic. You make a lot of sense Tess in your last posting. I suppose the following questions that you asked is what set me off on tangent: "Do men ever think of modesty in conjunction with themselves? Do you consider modesty when choosing your clothes? How do you cope with the visuals while 'out and about' in the course of your day?"

      You are right, there is a lot more to modesty than clothing. I shall be more careful in future postings.

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    2. LOL - I know I'm the one that derailed the topic. I'm sorry I seemed to be pointing the finger at you, AF; that really wasn't my intent.

      Modesty, as difficult a concept as it is to grapple with, perfectly illustrates the truth about gender: men and women are different. Because we are different, there are two (kinds) of us, and so one (kind) is never alone, or unaffected by the other, because (as I read but I can't remember where at the moment) the genders only exist, or matter, because there is the other to be different from. A woman is a woman because she is not a man. The same for men, of course, otherwise there would be no need for him to be a man. My rebelliion comes from wanting to say "let women be women without regard for men" - though I am not a 'second-wave feminist', I have been indoctrinated, and am still in detox!

      I asked about men and modesty because I was curious if men ever think about modesty when they buy clothes or dress for the day, or are ever uncomfortable with how another man dresses (aside from the pants around the bum thing, which is just odd and must be incredibly uncomfortable!) There are more men these days paying a lot of attention to their appearance, which to me makes them prettier but less attractive. They dress to draw attention to themselves and highlight the benefits of their gym membership. Do men ever say "hmm, these pants are indecently tight" or do they just decide they're too uncomfortable to wear?

      Man and woman... a dynamic pairing, huh? As in dynamite!

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  6. I agree with you, when we discuss about Christian women there is always one term come in our mind which we call Modesty. Being a catholic, respect for elders and God are primary things you must follow for your life. It haven’t signified that you don’t have freedom to look pretty, it just denote that without losing modesty and wearing a dresses like you can see on Leelach shop , you will still glance appealing and attractive.

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What is a woman? What does it mean to be feminine? There is softness and hardness, compassion and ferocity. There is contentment and adventure, freedom and service. We're conundrums, especially to ourselves, but we all, in some way, possess beauty, creativity, intuition and love. We were made for love, and we are loved, cellulite and all. Here we aim to show every woman the richness and beauty of her own femininity and explore current issues relating to women in our world. We also wish to share our own experiences - exploring the joys and challenges of stay-at-home moms and single professionals and everyone in between. Welcome! So glad you're here!

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