For You Shall Go to the Ball....with a Modest Dress!

Hello everyone!

Seeing as how I'm sort of new around here, allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Catherine, and I'm a traditional Catholic in her early 20's. Besides blogging (which I do a lot of, LOL), I also knit, crochet, garden, sing in my church, write fiction novels...oh yes, and look for employment. I recently graduated college with a double degree in agriculture and history.

I also have a great devotion to Our Lady, and study a lot of topics related to the feminine sphere. One of my favorite topics is modesty in dress - especially after I embraced total modesty over the past 5 years.

Which brings me to today's topic...

Now that spring is finally upon us, high school upperclassmen are preparing feverishly for their upcoming graduation. And with that often comes...

A dance!

A dance, when done right, is a proper diversion for a young lady. I will say that going to a secular high school prom or college dance is a dangerous occasion for sin for a Catholic maiden. A lot of modern dances accentuate hip movement and the songs are obscene. Even if you are modest in clothing, you still commit a sin of immodesty if you participate in such an activity. Plus, the modern style of dance just isn't flattering, no matter the clothing.

While I did enjoy my own secular prom at the time, hindsight really is 20/20. In the 5 years since my own high school prom, I'm sure that the secular style of dance and music have only worsened.

Since then, I've grown a bit wiser since I have experienced good dances - especially church dances. So, if your homeschool co-op or church is hosting a dance, I would say GO! In this way, not only will you be properly chaperoned (another thing that seculars lack - what do you know!), but the music and dances will be in much better taste.

It can take a few forms - a formal, a prom, or...just called a dance. It can include old styles of dances, such as reels and minuets (if you are at a historic ball!), or classic ballroom dancing. Swing dancing has also become popular among some Catholic parishes.

Whatever the dance or event is called, the very idea of a dance usually causes headaches in the female ranks. Because the age-old question must be addressed:

"What in the world am I going to wear??"

A simple skirt and blouse doesn't cut it. For such a rare and formal occasion, it calls for a beautiful, elegant dress. Not something flashy, but one decorated with taste that leads the eye to the face. A dress that will make the girl's inner beauty shine.

I am of the opinion that every girl should have a formal dress in their closet, whether you wear it once or twenty times. The question to secure one?

Well, there are two ways - buying a dress and making a dress. I will, therefore, go through each and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both methods.


Buying a Formal Dress

I have noticed a trend towards higher necklines, due to the increasing conservative voice and demand in recent years. A favorite style seems to be a high neckline (and maybe short sleeves) made of only a lace overlay fabric. Considering that the style for the longest time was no sleeves or neckline, it's a considerable improvement. Still - keep in mind that lace still requires sufficient backing according to the Vatican guidelines for modesty.

However, the plunging/off-shoulder bodices, the thigh slits, and booty-tight dresses are still out there, in large quantities.

There are a few ways to buy a formal dress - the most common being shopping online and buying it in a department store. You can also buy a dress at a secondhand/thrift store, but like with any thrift store find, the condition is the biggest factor.

Shopping online for dresses is easier in theory (especially in the finding-the-dress step), but much more risky. For one thing, you can't see what the actual product is until it gets to you, and there is no guarantee that it will fit. Not to mention the million things that could go wrong in processing and transit. There are some websites such as Jen Clothing that have really pretty modest dresses for a good price, but I would not follow this route unless you are desperate.

Which leaves your run-of-the-mill mall department store.

Should you decide to go this route, I would recommend taking your mother and a few friends with their mothers as well. Besides it being a good opportunity for socializing, their opinions are valuable assets. 

When looking at individual dresses, examine them front to back, and open up the skirt as far as it will go to see it's fullness. The latter is paramount; it's important to know just how much movement the skirt is going to give you. And often, the slits are hidden in the folds of the skirt, making it look more modest than it really is!

A decent gown (for a department store) is one that doesn't have slits in it and has a solid bodice, with a fairly high neckline. When trying on such gowns, look out for tightness, especially in the hip and chest areas. Most formal gowns are floor length, so that shouldn't be an issue (if they are too long, they can be hemmed quite easily). Forget looking for a sleeved gown, unless you happen to be frequenting a Mormon store.

As many girls find out the hard way, the selection of formal gowns at normal department stores are often limited and too often just too immodest. More often than not, it's hours wasted in sheer frustration. Even if you do find a decent gown, you will still need to purchase a short jacket (also called a bolero jacket) in order to cover your shoulders, back and arms. These can be found in bridal shops and online through retailers, including Amazon.

Sewing a Formal Dress

This is honestly my preferred method of securing clothes in general. I'm actually just now starting a second formal gown for a dance that I'm going to in a few months.

I will say it takes a fair amount of skill to sew a formal gown. Formal fabrics, such as satin, taffeta, and faille fabrics tend be beasts to work with. Satin especially is slippery, from previous experience. The other disadvantage of using this route is that it will take a lot more time. Depending on how crazy your life is and how fast of a seamstress you are will factor greatly into the completion time. It will take between 50-100 hours between the pinning, cutting, serging, sewing, and decorating the dress.

But the feeling of pride, when you finish a dress like this, is wonderful. In a sense, it is a custom dress, one of your own design.

The first step is finding the pattern. A word of caution again: most prom patterns are for popular styles of dress, which includes a lot of immodest ones. Even vintage patterns sport low necklines and no sleeves. (Remember, it's been historic precedent over 200 years that women show more in evening gowns than in day dresses. Don't ask me why....). However, there are modest ones out there! Check the big companies first (McCalls, Butterick, Simplicity, etc.) and then if you are unsatisfied, try some of the patterns from this links page.

Once you find the pattern of your choice, look at the back of the envelope to find out what fabric you need and how much, as well as any notions that you need (thread, zipper, etc.). From there, it's a simple matter of collecting the materials and following the instructions....with long hours over the sewing machine and serger. And yes, serging is necessary - fabrics such as satin really need to be finished because they fray very easily.

The nice thing about sewing the dress is that it is much easier to alter it to fit the modesty guidelines. Depending on your sewing level and the pattern, if you do end up settling for an immodest pattern, you could substitute different pattern pieces from other views or even from other dresses.

For my dress, I'm using Simplicity 1195 View A - which is one with the lace overlay bodice style I mentioned before.

Simplicity Pattern 1195 Misses' and Miss Petite Special Occasion Dress
Image Copyright: Simplicity Creative Group. All rights go to Simplicity Creative Group. Included for reference only. Click HERE to view the pattern online. 

But instead of the overlay, I'm altering it so the entire bodice out of the main fabric. At this time, I'm not sure what exactly I will be doing for decoration. (If you are interested, keep an eye out on my personal blog, Working by Candlelight ( for future posts about the dress!) 

Additional Tips

1. Have a plan set in place on how you will acquire the dress, preferably with your mother's knowledge and consent, about 1-3 months before the actual date of the dance. This will give you time for research, and if you are going the seamstress route, gathering all the materials that you need.

2. If you have Pinterest, make a board for potential dress ideas. This will help narrow down the color and style you want to look for, and will give you ideas on how to decorate the dress tastefully.

3. Whether you are buying a dress or making one - be sure to choose a color that will flatter you! The last thing you want to look is washed out or sick on your big day! Look for a color that will bring out your eyes, make your complexion look uniform, and goes well with your hair. Do a drape test, if you can!

4. Match your accessories and shoes around the dress. For lighter dresses, white is a great accent color, and black for darker dresses. Just be careful again about being washed out! Also a note on the shoes - should you go for heels, I would heartily recommend 3" or less. There is no point in being taller than all the guys, or killing your ankles.


Our Lady greatly desires us maidens especially to be an example of modesty to others. While it is easy to do this on a day-to-day basis, for some situations like a dance, it can be more difficult.

Even though I'm not a fairy godmother who can whip out a dress from thin air....I do hope that this post was at least some help to you. For anyone that is going to a dance in the next few months, I wish you all a wonderful time...and dearly hope that you find a prince, if God so wills.

In Cordis Mariae, 


  1. "but one decorated with taste that leads the eye to the face." I like it!! XD <3 Great post, Catherine! For my graduation soiree, it was casual, so I wore a skirt, blouse, and jean jacket. But for our homeschool winter formal, I wore a dress I had gotten last year for Christmas. I found it in the adult formal dresses at Macy's. Macy's actually has a good selection most of the time, as long as you're not looking in the junior's section. XP

    1. Thank you, Sarah!!!

      Oh wow, neat!! Pity there isn't a Macy's near me *pouts*. I think avoiding the juniors section in general is probably a good idea *shudders*.

  2. Awesome post! I like sewing...but idk if I'd have the patience to sew a formal dress. XP I'm considering it for our homeschool dance next year though, because then I can customize it. :) I went to a dance in January, and the dress I got was from JC Penny's - the women's section. I remember looking in the junior's section and just....yeah. No way I'd ever get one of those dresses. :P

    (I know Ceci btw.....I found this blog 'cause of the M4M PB forum ;) )

    1. Hi Gabrielle, and welcome!!

      I can totally understand! It's a lot of work, but the reward is well worth it.

      Pennys is pretty decent - but yes, the juniors section in any store is just yick...

  3. Great post! Thanks!
    I've had great experiences with ordering clothes from here, : and would highly recommend it! As long as you check your measurements before ordering, the dress should fit well!

    1. You're welcome, Claire!!

      Wow, thanks for the website recommendation! I did check it out and those dresses are really beautiful!!

    2. No problem! I know right? :)

  4. This makes me want to make my own dress. Lovely post Catherine.

  5. Nice title for your post, Catherine! ;D

  6. This is an awesome post, Catherine!:) I love the idea and it would be defiantly be helpful for sewing dresses.

  7. Just had to share this, Mikarose (the place I previously linked) is having a graduate sale! from the 23rd-30th of April! 20% OFF single item in-store,10% OFF entire online order!


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