“Ask a Priest: Is It OK for a Guy to Go Shirtless?”

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Q: Hello, I had a question regarding modesty for guys. Would it be considered immodest for a guy to have his shirt off? I know the comparison is often used that a guy shirtless is no different from a girl in a bikini. If you could clarify the Church’s position on this it would be appreciated. – L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The Church doesn’t publish dress codes as such. It does, however, teach principles that promote modesty.

Modesty in practice can mean different things in different contexts. What might be considered OK at a beach or in one’s own back yard would be out of place in a shopping mall, for instance. What might be acceptable in a Western country, for instance, might not go over well in a more traditional society in Asia or Africa.

Two principles that could guide a person in this area deal with dignity and charity.

First, as sons and daughters of God we should choose clothing that reflects that high dignity.

Second, we should dress in a way so as not to come across provocatively to others. Charity should animate us here, since we are called to love others in a Christian way. And that means we should be doing things that help other people get to heaven. To dress provocatively or immodestly could be a source of temptation and grave sin for others.

As for the shirtless young man vs. the bikini-clad young woman, I think there are similarities, depending on the context. However, given the nature of men and women, the case could be more easily made that bikinis are generally inappropriate except in the most private settings, whereas a shirtless man, say, on a typical beach wouldn’t be immodest.

When in doubt as to what is modest, you might try discreetly asking someone whose moral behavior you esteem.

At a spiritual level, cultivate a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She will help you to live and love modesty.

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