Feminine Genius: The Dress
“Month of the Dress” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

The “Bright Maidens” were originally three from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. Now, we all take up the cross to dispel the myths and misconceptions. Welcome!

This post is one month in the making: one month of flowing dresses, feminine prints, and (shocker) thinking about outfits and make-up. For the last thirty days, I promised myself that I would wear a dress or skirt at every opportunity. I only failed once.

Before the Month of the Dress, I was a frequent skirt-wearer. Of the things women complain about, dresses should never be on the list.

I don’t own the rights.

I expected to come out on the other side of the Month of the Dress a new woman. I would be well-rested, prettier, empowered, a better chef, able to speak to small cartoon animals, and sing a high F.

Expectations being what they are (generally wrong), I learned something unforseen: I’m already the woman those characteristics represent.

Half way through the month, this empowered woman got a flat tire and had to [call my beau to bring his fancy equipment to take off the bad tire and] go to the mechanic for a replacement. I was dressed for the gym, ie running shorts and a t-shirt, when I walked in the doors of the mechanic’s.

I don’t have to go all the way to Mrs. Manners’ reaction because I know my Gramma was looking down screeching, “You look like a rag-a-muffin!”



I became very aware of my informal wardrobe, though any other month of the year, this would be a standard outfit for a trip to the mechanic. In the first two weeks of the dress experiment, I lamented the fact that I didn’t notice much of a difference in my behavior or manner after fourteen days. Then there I was, in public for the first time without a skirt on and I felt exposed.

Lest you think one shorts-clad trip to the mechanic flipped me into an anti-pants woman, I will tell you I am donning a pair of six-year-old running shorts, a t-shirt with paint on it, and my hair in a messy bun at the moment I write this.

After my uneasiness at the mechanic’s wore off, I realized it wasn’t the dress itself or the fact that women “are supposed to” wear dresses that caused discomfort on the day I “failed” at the Month of the Dress. But what was it?

At the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel hails Mary and calls her “full of grace.” In his apostolic letter, MULIERIS DIGNITATEM, Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote that the dialoge from the Annunciation reveals the “supernatural dimension” of the event. 

Grace never casts nature aside or cancels it out, but rather perfects it and ennobles it. Therefore the “fullness of grace” that was granted to the Virgin of Nazareth, with a view to the fact that she would become “Theotókos”, also signifies the fullness of the perfection of” what is characteristic of woman”, of “what is feminine”. Here we find ourselves, in a sense, at the culminating point, the archetype, of the personal dignity of women.”

A woman was the only being on Earth capable of being the mother of God, the person to bear Him, or the first to touch Him. The feminine “mystery” is a confusing concept, which is so evasive and inexplicable, one wonders if we are just repeating a buzz word that has been used for centuries.

John Paul II’s deconstruction of the Annunciation shows that the “mystery” of a woman is the fact that she is more than utilitarian or for objectification. As Mary is the archetype of the personal dignity of women, she is our example.

In a later letter, John Paul II writes, “The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the ‘feminine genius’ and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the ‘handmaid of the Lord’ (Lk 1:38)” (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women).

My wearing a dress or skirt for thirty days made an impact on my routine. I spent more time on looking nice, which made me more present when interacting with others outside of my home. I made the effort to be creative when selecting outfits, since the limited wardrobe bound me to repeat them.

I attempted to put on an aire of grace in the form of a dress, in communion with my feminine identity.

However, it was the commitment to the arbitrary thirty day rule that caused the abiding change I underwent this month. Why is a dress the outward appearance of femininity? Does that apply to every woman? How does this relate to my faith?

The Church finds in Mary “a source of constant inspiration” because she was obedient to the Word of God, choosing to use the gifts He gave her for His plan, unselfishly. She served God and in doing so, served others: “a service of love.”

“Precisely through this service Mary was able to experience in her life a mysterious, but authentic ‘reign.’ It is not by chance that she is invoked as ‘Queen of heaven and earth.’ The entire community of believers thus invokes her; many nations and peoples call upon her as their ‘Queen.’ For her, ‘to reign’ is to serve! Her service is ‘to reign!'”- Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women

That’s the real “dress” for a woman: service.

Good thing, because as much as I praise dresses and their ease, I’m going hiking next week. I cannot think of a more unfeminine thing than me sweating and pulling on a skirt that clashes with my hiking boots as I walk up a mountain.

“I think you look good in shorts, too, though,” said my beau. I’ll learn to cook a recipe that I know he’ll like. And I’ll wear my pink bermuda shorts and a blue t-shirt while I make it.

UPDATE: A friend randomly read this passage from 1 Peter 3:

“Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.”

How perfect! This is not a condemnation or an outlawing of the “adornment,” but an emphasis that “the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition” is “precious in the sight of God.”

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