Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Vanity Veil

I like to call my mantilla my "vanity veil." I started calling that when I bought it, after scouring halo-works for the prettiest one I could find, and then spent an embarrassing amount of time in the mirror adjusting it to find the cutest effects. Whee! Head accessories are the greatest.

When I first bought the V.V., I only wore it in private prayer. I've noticed on a few other blogs / comment threads that a lot of women do this. Why is the mantilla like the Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, making its purchasers steel themselves before wearing it in public?

Women are weird about clothes. We care about them, we like to pick ones that are flattering, and we more or less stay aware of fashion trends. Alternatively, we brag that we do none of the previous items. And this too, is vanity, spoke ScienceGirl.

So far, that's not so weird.

What is weird is the policing and psychological mazes that surround clothing choices -- and what other women might be thinking of one's choices. Does the woman with the 4 inch heels and Gucci handbag think that I, in my torn shoes and science conference baggy T-shirt, am a slob rather than a fetching young lady in field-appropriate garb? Is she *gasp* judging me???

Ok, so now what if I wear 4 inch heels and a pretend Gucci handbag and go on a date? Will the women in the baggy t-shirts think "Ew, that snob?" Are they *gasp* thinking that I am judging them and are they judging me for my perceived snobbery? Notice how disinterested I am in the opinions of the men around me, including my hapless date. No, no. It's just about the ladies! Of course, if my date is charming enough, my ego grows uncontrollably and I (in my head) tread ruthlessly on the egos of the women. Why, yes, I am the hottest girl in the room. Yes, my date is the most charming man here. Why, I do believe my literal milkshake does indeed bring all the boys to the yard, for chaste reasons only. I have a smoothie machine with a metal cup like in a diner. That's why it's literal, and not a disturbing metaphor.

Ahem. Anyway. Mantillas. Yes. Women don't hide their mantillas in their rooms because of what men might think! When men weigh in saying "I think mantillas are charming / weird / old-fashioned / teh sexie!" I hear -- if I listen carefully, in my deranged way -- I hear around the blogosphere the sound of a million feminine eyeballs rolling in 500 000 lovely heads.

Sometimes people say "I wore my mantilla! No one attacked me :) Hooray!" I am happy for these naive women who do not understand true ClothingJudgment Paranoia. Meanwhile, poor Sam has been hiding in the kitchen from MantillaRaptor, who is oblivious to the effect of her terrifying fashion choices! MantillaRaptor thinks Sam is scared of her deadly claws and reptile cunning, but no. It's the mantilla.

And so we buy mantillas we wear for our own private rosaries in our rooms. But whom do we have to blame for our fear of TEH JUDGE-MINT! Well, I can't speak for all of the Catholic ladies, but I can speak for myself when I say I have no one but myself to blame! Yes, the first time I saw a mantilla, I thought it was weird, but maybe the person was from Eastern Europe or something. The next several times, I thought it was lame that Americans were obsessed with a Spanish tradition. I also thought they were a bit creepy, because from profile, you can't see the person's face. They don't creep me out if I can see the woman's face. I have this fear of cloaked, hooded figures, possibly because of all the movies I watch. If you see a hooded profile in a movie, and can't see the nose or anything, expect to see a corpse or screaming pre-corpse in the very next scene. When I went on retreat at a Benedictine monastery, the monks were lovely, kind men filled with the light of Christ. In the day. At night, with their hoods drawn up -- ugh! I had to tell myself, "It's okay! They don't have hooks or knives or saws! They are just praying! They won't kill you!" Even a lacy hood is still a hood, ladies! We all know it!

Okay, so I got over my fear, and wore my V.V. to Mass quite a few times, and always when I go to the TLM (haha, all 5 times I've gone). But the thrill wore off, and I found the darn thing a pain, because if I didn't have bobby pins skewered in just right, the thing would slip down continuously and drive me InSaNe. So I stopped wearing it. For like 2 years or something ridiculous.

I am fickle, what can I say? Just look at the frequency of my blog posts. Good thing the Church has some rules, or I would never bother keeping up with going to Mass or praying or doing confession or being charitable or anything! It's like the Mean Old Catholic ChurchTM actually understands human nature or something. Yay for structure.

But then I thought, inspired mostly by Seraphic that it would be fun to do the tradition of covering my head in church. Yes, not prayerful. Not sacred. Fun. This is how I roll, ladies. Chant is fun, prayer is fun, covering my head out of respect for ancient tradition and scripture is fun. Chant and prayer are so much fun / and when they're not, they don't get done! Thomas a Kempis had a lot to say about this attitude toward the spiritual life, and most of it wasn't good. Maybe that's why I only have read half of the "Imitation of Christ," even though it's really short and I started it 5 years ago. Should have pepped it up more, Tommy! A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, dontcha know! You'll never make it in Hollywood!

Thing is, I didn't really want to be my Newman Center's MantillaRaptor because I already kind of am. It's like Skeletor. You're a living, surprisingly muscular skeleton. You yearn for power. You are evil. Did you really have to put on the creepy hood, too?

Well, maybe you did, Skeletor, maybe you did. But I don't have to complete the look! I, who strike people as a traddie because I say things like "People should wear nice clothes to church if they have them," instead of "It's what's on the inside that counts!" and stand up for the Magisterium (yay for hierarchy!) don't really want to complete the ensemble with a lovely lace mantilla that will send the undergrads running to wikipedia.

So I wear hats.

And I get loads of ego-boosting smiles and compliments.

The best such compliment was received when I wore my church hat out for brunch afterward and was told by a gallant, homeless man that I "look like Mary Poppins!"

Reader, in my charming hat, though I am not as cute as Julie Andrews or as poised or as good a singer, I do kind of look like Mary Poppins.

But there are times when a hat won't do, like when you're running late and want something small that can be shoved in a pocket or purse. That's when I become Modified MantillaRaptor! Instead of the blasted bobby pins, I knot the thing like a kerchief using a hairtie. It stays on so well! And I avoid the scary profile-blocking hoodie effect! I end up looking kind of like this girl, who has still managed to miss the boat on church-appropriate attire:

Close, but no see-gar, Miss KnottedWhiteScarf! Thanks for covering your head, now try wearing an entire shirt!

Anyway, I recommend the knotted mantilla, if you are crazy like me and/or are sick of pins. It is very secure that way, and you look ever so fashionable. Also, your peripheral vision will not be blocked. I know some really love that effect of the traditional style, but it drives me nuts. I wear glasses, so my peripheral vision ain't so hot in the first place, and blocking it more really bothers me sometimes. I also like the freedom to look around the church more, because even with pins, my slippery, fine hair caused the mantilla to slide around quite a bit.


  1. I once wore a hat to church and was told to take it of, because I was apparently being disrespectful. It was really upsetting, even more because it was a friend who told me that people were complaining about it. Such a nice hat, like the one of a gondolier.
    When I build myself some courage, I think I will try a silk scarf. Don't know how the parishioners would react if I wore my white mantilla. If the TLM mass was not so darn early and far from home ... They never even blinked at my headgear.

  2. I too have been asked to remove my hat in church!

    I was utterly amazed and could only stammer out "I'm a WOMAN!" As if perhaps my chastiser had simply thought me a short, curvy man who liked flowery hats.

    The sweet old lady suddenly realized something -- either that I was crazy, or that women did used to wear hats in church after all-- and smiled and said "Oh! It's okay!"

    The hat stayed on.

    This was in a Spanish language service, though. I think they were not used to the whole church hat thing, though no one wore mantillas instead. I did notice the men in baseball caps were not spoken to, but maybe they also looked less approachable.

    Depending on what country you are in, head coverings may be seen as disrespectful in general because of local beliefs about the sacredness of the head. A friend of mine who went to Southeast Asia was asked to take off her mantilla in a Catholic church there, because the people have different ideas about what you should do with your head. Like, don't touch their heads. Don't pat the kids on the head. Never ever wear anything on your head in a sacred space. Etc.

    In my own country, where women until recently wore hats everywhere outside their homes, I stand up for my local traditions and refuse to take off my hat if I happen to be wearing one. I am not a man! Just because I am now allowed to go without a hat does not mean I fall under the man rule of hat removing in all buildings or at dinner. I only follow the man rule if my hat looks like a man hat, such as a baseball cap or even a ladies "newsboy" cap. What next? Standing when another woman enters the room? Wearing a boring old suit and tie instead of a sparkly dress to parties? EW! No thank you.

    The bad old days had so many ways to oppress women, but at least we got to choose when to doff our hats. I want more freedom, not less. I think it's so nice that the Church gives us the option now of bare heads in church. Optional is not compulsory,.

    I am curious, Larissa. Were people asking: could you please take off your hat? Or was your friend just reporting rumors of complaints? I think if the latter, I would keep wearing the hat! And I would use my "helpful" friend to report back that women can wear hats in church, and that as a matter of fact, it used to be a requirement! If the friend likes to mediate so much, why not use her to correct people? Actually, sometimes I have had suspicion that when a friend tells me "People are saying..." what they actually mean is "I want to say..." I am sorry you were sucked into the man rule, especially because your hat sounds very cute, but I think your scarf idea is a great plan. Light scarves are so popular now that there are many, many inexpensive options out there, from silk to cotton.

    I will say that all priests have always complimented me on my hats. It is only confused laywomen who have been bossy. One more reason for me to support the all-male priesthood!

  3. Hi, sciencegirl.
    I was on the church atrium speaking with my friend who helps to organize everything before the service. I could hear some whispers and was trying to pretend that I couldn't. When he told me about it, I stammered "I'm a woman, I can wear hats inside" but I had lost my courage.
    And yes, the complaints came from women. Hurray for all-male priesthood!
    Also, I'm gonna be brave and try the scarf. Or, if this little brazilian fall hangs on, my blue beret - we can never know; one day we wake up and it's 70ºF, the next, it's 100 ºF.

  4. I am filled with irrational rage at the idea of fussbudgets telling women to take off their hats in the bizarre misapprehension that it is disrespectul for women to wear hats in church. I was made to take off my hat in a courtroom recently, and I couldn't figure out why. And now I know. People have simply forgotten the rules about women and hats. This is what happens when women give up hats and dress like men for 40 years.

  5. Grr! Well, good thing you took it off in the courthouse or you could have gone to jail for contempt. Sigh. I will find out for you if women are made to doff their hats in American courthouses.

    You can't really remove rules; you can only replace them.

    So, the freedom to go hatless becomes the rule to remove hats in buildings. The freedom to cohabitate without societal disapproval leaves chaste couples yearning to NOT cohabitate without societal disapproval. Couples who don't live together before marriage are just "irresponsible!" Even worse are the ones who don't sleep together! How WILL they know if they are "compatible?" Maybe in a few years we will all be told we should raise a few kids together first, just to see if we have matching parenting styles!

    For there is nothing in society that makes someone bossy and judgmental, but the bossiness proceeding out of the person are what make him judgmental.

  6. Sew a small alligator clip--the ones that you sort of bend to close and open--to the center of the veil front about an inch from the edge.
    Mine is sort of sideways, my daughters like them front to back. One quick clip and it stays put . No more fussing with it in mass. We veil for TLM and usually at our regular parish for about 3 years now. My daughters 11, 13 ans 19 like wearing the veils. My oldest even took it upon herself to wear it to mass at college.

  7. Thanks for the tip, Sally! I sewed in a little clip and now wearing the vanity veil is so much easier.