‘I don’t want men to look at me like a piece of meat’: Why the UK’s most modest woman insists on covering up… and says British schoolgirls dress ‘like prostitutes’
Could this be the most modest woman in Britain? Lillian La Mantia is so cautious about flashing the flesh she even wears a full-body bathing suit to the beach.
As well as covering her hair, Lillian likes her outfits to reach from ankle and wrist right up to her collarbone. And she’s on a one-woman mission to get the other women in Britain to stay – at least a bit more – covered up.
The 34-year-old, from near Farnham, Surrey, who only wears flat shoes and never uses make up, says women in the UK could learn from her example.
But she is at her wits end trying to find clothing that doesn’t bare some part of her body. And she is frequently stunned by how little some women wear on the streets.
Lillian said: ‘It saddens me how women feel like they have to show off their breasts and, in some cases, bottoms, to feel like they look good.
‘You see women wearing very short skirts, sandals and tops that only just cover their breasts and earrings and nothing else.
‘Sometimes you see girls who are maybe 12 and they are wearing make up and high heels and clothing that is just not appropriate for a child.
‘It should shock you when you see a child dressed as a prostitute.
‘Some of the girls going to school look like they are Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. It wasn’t that long ago that’s what a prostitute wore.’
Part of Lillian’s unconventional dress code is because she is a Seventh Day Adventist, a church which encourages but does not demand modesty.
Her views on baring flesh have some similarities to those commonly associated with the Amish community.
But more specifically, the former PA at a pharmaceuticals company simply believes modesty is best – because it means she’ll get more respect when she is out in the streets.
She said: ‘I was with some friends who were visiting from outside the UK recently and they couldn’t understand why some women were undressed in the cold.
‘For me, dressing modestly is about respect – for myself, my husband, the other people around me. I don’t want men to look at me like a piece of meat. I’m not out to seduce people when I go to the shops.
‘Some people might say I dress like I’m Amish, but I always aim to be fashionable. I just don’t need to show off my chest to do that.
‘I wear dresses because I want to be feminine. I expect that some people probably see my views as old fashioned or strange, but it’s something I’ve decided for myself – and it works well.
‘My clothes have a function – they cover me and keep me warm.’
Her husband Gabriele, an Italian chef, also shares her views on modesty and prefers that she doesn’t wear make-up or dye her hair.
Even on the beach Lillian covers up with a specially designed suit that meet her needs – covering her down to her mid-calves and up to the neck.
The mother to two-year-old Joshua says her quest for modesty has left her frustrated at the clothes on offer for women in the UK.
And she has been left on the verge of tears after shopping all day and not finding a single thing to wear.
She said: ‘When I was looking for a wedding dress I asked the shop assistant if they had one with sleeves, and she brought me one with inch-wide straps.
‘I just walked out of the shop. Sometimes I’m so frustrated I could cry. I don’t think I’ve seen a neckline in the recent years that I’m comfortable with, and you are lucky to even get sleeves.
‘I have had to order things from Mormon websites in the US, and I’ve even thought about opening my own shop for modest women in the UK.
‘Many of my clothes come from charity shops, because some ‘older’ fashions tend to be more modest. But these days even that is becoming more of struggle.’
So limited are Lillian’s choices that she has even resorted to making her own clothes.
About 50 per cent of the clothes in her wardrobe are made from modest patterns she has found online.
But Lillian says the clothes she wears make people treat her better than women who subscribe to the latest immodest fashions.
She said: ‘Men will open doors for me and won’t swear in front of me, and they talk differently to me than they do to the other women.
‘I tend to get treated with more respect because of what I wear.
‘I dress like a lady and I think people respond to that – they treat me like a lady.
‘I’ve got respect for my body and I don’t want anyone other than my husband seeing it.’
But the upside to thrifty Lillian’s dilemma is that she spent just £40 on clothes last year – mostly on thick wool tights for winter.