“I’ve seen Pride and Prejudice, and I’ve seen Civil War movies, and the women are not modestly dressed. Why do you have such strict modesty standards for the Civil War Balls?” – A Civil War Ball attendee
That is a fair question, and one I hope to answer in this week’s blog. It is true that the women that you see in “period” movies to not appear to be modestly dressed by our modern standards. Necklines and hem lines have been going up and down for centuries. Even in the 20th century, the flappers of the Roaring Twenties were more scantily clad than the more conservative 1940’s ladies. People showed more skin in the 1960’s than they did in the 1980’s.
To a woman in the 1860’s, a low neckline was an indication of her femininity, and her sense of modesty would be horrified by a woman in pants… or even worse… shorts! It’s interesting to think about the fact that the part of the body a lady endeavored to keep covered at that time was her ankles.
In the book of Romans, Paul says that it is good not to do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Victorian Balls are social events with the purpose of dancing and talking with a variety of people. It is not comfortable for a gentleman to dance or speak with a lady if he feels he must constantly avert his eyes. We are at the balls to build community. Because there are people, particularly men but also children, who would be affected by loose modesty standards, we will always adhere to the rule of – No cleavage, no plunging necklines and no bare shoulders.
So we ask our ladies to dress modestly, knowing that, as it says in the 1828 Webster dictionary… “Modesty is the sweetest charm of female excellence, the richest gem in the diadem.*”
(*Diadem - badge of royalty, a crown)