Last summer, I spent two consecutive weekends in Miami where I saw it all… literally. It’s nearly impossible to walk down the beach and see a one-piece bathing suit anymore. Not that there’s anything wrong with a bikini but there’s definitely a difference between a moderate two-piece suit and an “illuminating” G-string. Face it ladies, 99.9 per cent of us cannot afford to have every nook and cranny of our bodies highlighted.

Miami was 24/7, in your face immodesty. At the checkout counter of the local supermarket a very pregnant, very exposed Britney Spears on the cover of Bazaar magazine was staring me right in the face.  There’s nothing wrong with the bellies of pregnant women, but not with my corn flakes. What will the five-year-olds think? .

“Taste” and “class” seem to be obsolete words when it comes to fashion. Clothes keep getting skimpier and more vulgar with each year especially amongst teenage girls. Read a magazine, turn on a TV, watch a movie — Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are today’s teen role models. They brag about their sexual romps and dress licentiously. They get paid for their inanities, while our young girls pay the price in their self-respect . They want to be hip and “fit in” with their peers so they wear the clothes these celebrity ninnies parade around in.  

It’s not your 13-year-old daughter’s fault that she dresses decadently; it’s yours. For starters, don’t buy your daughter clothes that you think are improper. If you see that she is wearing something unsuitable, don’t allow her to leave the house. As her parent, you should demand respect from her. This is where a strong father figure plays a huge role in a young woman’s life. A mother instils a sense of style, dignity and grace in a young girl but her father should tell her if she is dressed inappropriately. If she is elegant and modest, men will have more respect for her, her peers will have more respect for her and more importantly, she will have more respect for herself.

There was a time when flip-flops were considered acceptable attire for a beach, not a restaurant and certainly not for the White House. Last year some members of Northwestern University’s Women’s Lacrosse team showed up, at the White House, wearing flip-flops to meet with President George W. Bush. The fact that these girls were even allowed in the White House wearing flip-flops, is astounding to me. As a Catholic and a former resident of Rome, one of the things I’m proudest of is the fact that no one is allowed to enter St Peter’s Basilica wearing tank tops and shorts. Why didn’t the White House have the same courage to say No to these girls?  

As a teenager, in the early 90s, I attended a Catholic all-female high school in Washington DC, where we all wore uniforms. Skirts had to be below the knee. If they weren’t, the Dean of Students would reach into her box of spares and pull out a 100% polyester ankle length kilt. You were forced to wear it the remainder of the day. Nothing was more humiliating than that. No one did it twice.

Standards are needed not just at school, but at work, too. A couple of years ago, I worked in Italy. There political correctness barely exists but its fashion counterpart does. I was astonished when a colleague told me that women were required to wear pantyhose and closed-toed shoes in the office. “This would never fly in America,” I thought. But she was right: a certain formality helps to create a professional environment. According to Yahoo! HotJobs research, 75 per cent of recruiters believe that how you dress for work affects your job, salary, and possible promotions. Warren Davis, Director of Recruiting and Employment for RadioShack Corporation, believes “non-verbal behaviour,” including how people dress, speaks as loud as our actual work performance.

As a working gal, I keep an eye on work-place fashions. Recently I was on the Metro in Washington, DC. An attractive woman got on wearing a beautiful tan suit. I noticed all eyes were on her. She was wearing a white t-shirt that ended right below her chest. Her entire torso was uncovered from her chest down. With a briefcase in one hand and laptop in the other presumably she was off to work.

What ever happened to the era of chic, the era of Audrey Hepburn, when women acted and dressed like ladies? Immodesty simply lacks style. Can you imagine Grace Kelly dressing like the starlets at the Emmy awards? If singers, actors and models dressed more appropriately, young people would follow. There are a few — Patricia Heaton and Kathy Ireland spring to mind — but not enough.  

Many women prattle on and on about how the sexual revolution liberated them — and yet they still feel compelled to attract male attention by dressing badly. That’s slavery, not liberation. I’m no puritan. I think women should accentuate their beauty. I don’t believe in hiding underneath layers of drab clothing. I cringe whenever a woman walks by in an oversized, pinstripe, “man” suit. You are not a man, darling, so please don’t dress like one. You can be just as smart, professional and successful in a pink skirt and heels as in a black frumpy suit. You’re different — equal but definitely different. You ought to look attractive, but do it with style and elegance. Sophistication is sexy; smuttiness is not.

Guiomar Barbi lives in Washington DC. From 2001 to 2003, she lived in Rome and worked at the US Embassy to the Holy See.