Can someone be forced to dress immodestly?


My wife has been struggling with a problem concerning dressing modestly of late. It has troubled her so much that she is losing sleep over it.

She is a bridesmaid in a wedding. The bride selected the dresses without any input from my wife. It is now a couple of months before the wedding, and my wife was just recently able to try on the dress, and she isn’t completely sure that the dress is appropriate attire for a wedding at a Catholic Mass. The dress is long, has thick straps, but exposes the shoulders, scoops fairly deep in the back, and has a deep V-neck in the front – so much so that a voluptuous woman would show cleavage. She has no choice but to wear the dress, but fears it would be a mortal sin if she does so. And it would be out of the question to ask the bride if the bridesmaids could drape something around their shoulders. Do you have any input on this issue?


First of all, your wife need not worry that it would be a mortal sin to wear the dress. Mortal sin requires grave matter; so, unless the dress exposes so much skin that a woman could be arrested for wearing it in public, it seems safe to say that wearing this dress does not rise to grave matter. In any case, if there is fault to be assigned here, it would be the bride who chose these dresses without input from the women she asked to wear them and apparently without consideration for whether the dress would be appropriate for an amply-endowed woman.

Secondly, your wife does not need the bride’s permission to wear a shawl over her shoulders for the church ceremony. The bride may choose the dress she would like her attendants to wear – although it is considerate for a bride to seek input on the dress from the women expected to pay for the dress – but being a bride does not give her license to dictate the attendants’ appearances down to the last accessory. Believing that one can force an attendant to attend a sacred religious ceremony in an outfit the attendant fears will make her appear immodest is hardly an attitude appropriate for a Catholic entering the sacrament of matrimony.

I recommend that your wife approach the bride projecting an attitude of confidence that the bride will accommodate your wife’s legitimate concern. Your wife might offer to wear the shawl only for the ceremony and to remove it for pictures and the reception. I find it hard to believe that someone who considers your wife a close enough friend to ask her to be a part of her wedding would refuse such a compromise. But, if she does, your wife might simply state, “Then perhaps it would be best if I simply attended the wedding as a guest.” The bride then has the choice to accommodate your wife or to allow her to drop out of the wedding party.

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